Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One Thousand Three Hundred and Forty-nine

So I did something I never thought I would ever do, which is to attend the South by Southwest music conference (SXSW for those “in the know”). This is a huge event for Austin, and we in AVRS have categorically avoided it as it is crowded, expensive, and mostly designed for industry folks and hipster parasites. However, 1349 was slated to fly in from Norway to play two shows over the weekend so we were not about to miss out on their performances or company. Things started off a bit rocky as only Chris, the band's sound engineer, arrived on the expected day. Through a flurry of text messages we discovered that the band had been delayed in Holland. Sanguine and The Carcass were also out of pocket at this interval so Chris and I decided to venture over to the free afternoon showcase with Enslaved and Motorhead. We arrived at 11:30am to a line of people that stretched around the block. Put a sign up that says “Motorhead” and “free” on it, and hordes of punkers, rockers, bikers, burnouts, and skeezy already drunk chicks will beat a path to your door. Chris and I marched past everyone and got our VIP passes at the front gates. Membership has its privileges. The temperature was a convenient record high of 90 degrees so we sat at a picnic table in the rear of the open-air venue and talked for a while. Then the first band came on with a terrible and booming stage mix and played unintelligibly for twenty minutes. Enslaved was supposed to be next so I walked up to the front only to see the band striking their gear. It turns out they had just performed, though the sound rendered them unrecognizable. No matter, they would play two more shows tomorrow.

Napalm Death was up next and I have decided that this band is like finding something long rotten in the back of your refrigerator- once it was good, but it then becomes forgotten and then an unpleasant surprise when you next encounter it. The band's sound was even more horrid than Enslaved's (I guess this is what a free show sounds like) and their performance was stale and tired. Barney Greenway gimped around the stage like a doofus and Mitch and Shane look like they stood too close to an open flame. I was wondering how old the band was when Barney answered my question in his slurry Birmingham accent- 27 years old. That's awful. They don't have a single founding member left in the band so does that even count? And the last time I liked anything they did was 17 years ago. They went on to illustrate my point by crash-landing their tiresome cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” as their closer and left the stage to a smattering of applause. By the time Motorhead came on Chris and I were melting and the sound had not improved at all. We ended up with Jessica from Nuclear Blast and decided to walk over to the Metal Maniacs party in a club on Sixth Street. It was dark and cool and there were plenty of refreshing beverages, though not much else in the way of anything interesting. Some people came up and said hello, though generally I go undetected when I am in street clothes. I picked up multiple free copies of the new Metal Maniacs which features an Averse Sefira interview. I get sick of buying magazines that feature us so it was a nice change to get a handful of them for nothing.

Chris and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and then we were joined by Erika for dinner. Finally we got confirmation of 1349's arrival. They missed their connecting flight in Houston as well so they had to be rerouted up to Dallas and then to Austin. Sanguine and their SXSW host Renee went to get them at the airport and brought them to the festival registration office five minutes before it closed. The guys looked obliterated from their thirty hours of travel, so we managed to find a club that served food and got them some dinner. A few people recognized them and said hello but we were mostly incognito. More amusing was how many times I was mistaken for a member of the band as well. Afterwards we went over to the Relapse showcase and Erika and I sat on the curb because we did not want to pay to see High on Fire (painfully boring) or Municipal Waste (a party band cash-in for kids too young to remember DRI). We ultimately got the band over to Renee's house and then went home for a few hours of sleep.

1349 was set to play both an afternoon and evening showcase with Enslaved so I caught up with the guys at the dubious looking Vice Magazine venue, which was a vacant lot in an east side ghetto. We stood around talking and watching the stage be built while trying to grab as much shade as possible. I talked a bit with Ivar from Enslaved and told him about how early on his band helped convince my band that longer songs were the way to go. So you can blame them for that. Sound checks did not seem to be on the menu so I took the band over to the Averse Sefira practice space so they could have a proper rehearsal with their relatively new session drummer Madz. It was low-key but a good time. I joked about how we could now brag that we had a Norwegian black metal act in our room, and Archaeon commented on how he felt that the fixation on their nationality with US fans was really strange and awkward to him. I found this interesting and wondered if this perception was widely held among the Scandi bands. We closed out the session with an impromptu version of Celtic Frost's “The Usurper” with Ravn on drums and myself doing vocals; it was fun and I wish we had recorded it but such is the double-edged sword of spontaneity.

Afterwards, we went back to the walk-in kiln that was the Vice venue along with Sanguine and The Carcass. When we arrived it was still about 4pm (1349 was slated to play at 7) and a repulsive and noisy ensemble band was on stage. There were at least fifteen idiots up there with random instruments, all of whom were wearing hippie face paint, ridiculous outfits, and porno mustaches (except for the girls who were just sallow and asexually ugly). It looked like “Up With People” except with hepatitus C. It did not bode well that the crowd was eating it up. The audience was mostly comprised of random losers who look like they stole their clothes out of Goodwill dumpsters, so my expectations for Enslaved and 1349's sets were low. I hoped a regiment of black-shirted hessians would roll in like a thunderhead but the chances seemed remote as the second show of the night was downtown at a dedicated metal venue. There was not much impetus for a self-respecting metalhead to come to the shit side of town and bake his brain while standing amongst pop culture run-off. 

Herein is the great danger that black metal faces circa 2008- hipsters have discovered us. They think what we do is novel and “crazy” and being able to tell people that they listen to “church-burning Norwegian Black Metal” is another way for them to show off just how different and radical they are from the mainstream. They do not care about our message or motives, but rather how evil we are and how many people we might have killed. These people are the worst thing to happen to the underground in years, even moreso than Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir. They want to co-opt black metal and make it just another brand of alternative music. They want to wear our scary looking t-shirts with their horn-rimmed glasses and skateboarding shoes. They want to use us as a conversation piece and a fashion statement. We cannot allow this. I want to encourage all who read this to take action against these useless sacks of shit. Do not let them in. If they try to talk to you about metal, ignore them, spit on them, or tell them to fuck themselves. If you see them at a show, especially in the pit, then hit them as hard as you can. Hurt them. Let them know they are hated and unwelcome. Make it clear that we are not here to be a punchline or a fucking cartoon. We need to get hard on the outside world again, and these fools are an easy target. They cannot fight back and they don't have money for lawsuits, so harm them with impunity. We are evil indeed, and we should show them what it truly means.

Diatribes aside, Ravn was anxious and disarmed because his stage bag had been lost in the midst of the band's multiple airline reroutes. His spikes, paint, and boots were all in his luggage so he only had the clothes he wore on the plane. We remedied this with my lending him all of my gear, and fortunately we are the same relative size so everything fit pretty well. I was planning on watching Enslaved's set, but Ravn bade me to come into the dressing room with the band to assist him so I proceeded inside. The backstage was a small alcove off an indoor stage and it was steamy and unventilated. There was another extremely obnoxious hipster band performing just on the other side of the curtain; it seems the current big thing in indie music is to have a band made up of a keyboardist, a very gay and nasal vocalist, and a remedial drummer. Seidemann made repeated chair-throwing gestures at the stage, and the band was collectively imbued with a contentious air for the coming set. The heat of the room required several reapplications of corpse paint as it was melting off like cake frosting in an oven, but finally the band was ready for battle. It was humorous because Ravn paints his arms and hands as well so by the time I had finished assisting him, everything I owned had smears of white and black on them. It was not unlike dealing with the tar baby of southern mythology. They took the stage at dusk to a handful of stalwarts and then a scattered yard of the aforementioned hated. 

I stayed behind the barricade as I was planning to assist Archaeon with his torch for firebreathing, but I watched as the moron contingent ran around the audience like monkeys and continually threw half empty cans of beer into the air and a couple at the stage. I wanted very much to run out and start hitting people but security for this show was supplied by the Austin police department, and assault charges do not appeal to me. Aside from the relatively dismal crowd the stage sound was once again a nightmare despite Chris' best efforts and the band was hard-pressed to wring anything good out of it. Ravn demonstrated command presence as always, though it was obvious that he was not pleased with the circumstances. A further insult came when they played through the 8pm neighborhood curfew and then suddenly the stage volume was cut in half by the police. Ultimately the whole thing was a fiasco and I was furious to think that our friends had half-killed themselves to come here for this lunacy. Archaeon also passed on the fire-breathing, and I was glad because it would have been to an undeserving audience.

We went into the backstage and everyone sat quietly for some time. The next show at Red 7 was in two hours and only about five blocks away so there was no reason to hurry. Also, the band decided to not remove their paint since the other venue had no backstage at all. Ravn drank his usual bottle of Jagermeister which not only helps his voice but seems to add to the darkness in his eyes, but he was noticeably sagging from jet-lag and perhaps some frustration over the show. After a time we shuttled everyone down to the next gig, and Erika's car ended up with Ravn's paint all over the armrests, dashboard, and passenger door (she has since decided she is going to leave it there). I went in ahead of the band along with Sanguine and Chris and was relieved to see that the club was full and a majority of those in attendance were actual metal fans. I went back out to the car and rousted a now-sleeping Ravn and led the band through the back door and onto the stage. I am pleased to say that this performance obliterated any memory of the previous show, as 1349 reacted to the receptive crowd with fury and conviction. Ravn in particular delivered one of his most feral performances to date as he wheeled around the stage and all but attacked the audience. He also reached into the crowd to grab various hands and ended up thrashing one kid around like a piñata. He did the same thing to me and nearly dislocated my arm with a devil's strength. 

It was a caustic combination of barbarism and Morrisonian (as in Jim) dramatism that set the room ablaze and scored many points for the case of black metal. I more or less missed Enslaved for a third time when I left to let 1349 into the car, but I caught the last of their set and it paled in comparison to the onslaught that preceded it. Once it was over and the troupe had all but entombed our car in makeup wipes (Ravn tried to wipe a smear of his paint from my forehead and ended up adding another couple of layers to it) we then stood in back of the club while they talked to fans and industry people. A few individuals also approached Sanguine and myself with praise for our new album, which was of course appreciated.

Four hours of sleep later we rendezvoused with the band again and took them out for breakfast at a good local Mexican place called Polvo's. We talked and joked, and I was glad to see that the guys were satisfied with how things turned out. It was a shame that they had to leave so quickly though, as they were only in country for a day and a half. Ravn graciously bought everyone's breakfast, and then we fruitlessly helped them shop for boots at a few local western outlets. They required the extremely pointy style of cowboy boot and it seems that those are not in demand these days. They had better luck at Guitar Center since European money is so painfully strong against the US dollar. We then took everyone to the airport and said our reluctant farewells with the consolation that we will inevitably meet again in the months to come since being labelmates helps insure such things.

Once again there was triumph in the face of adversity, and once again I find myself restless and excited about performing. It is a good thing that we have a show with Watain this weekend to scratch that itch. With every show and the surrounding experiences I feel that I come away with a better understanding of what it is I am doing in metal. This time I was reminded that this music is a force unto itself that cannot be stymied by bad luck or bad people. We all share this fire and it would take the world's end to extinguish it. Also I still like being a fan and a confidante of other bands as much as I enjoy having my own band, so I was grateful for the opportunity to assist 1349 in their quixotic journey to play one of the most ghastly festivals I have ever witnessed. I am glad it happened but I also hope they and other friends of ours come to Austin under other circumstances in the future, because I really do not want to do SXSW again.