Monday, March 31, 2008

Couldn’t get the visa to take Manhattan, Attempt to take Berlin…

I don’t know why it is that I have the same taste in music as Germany, but I do. While favourite bands of mine like The Auteurs and Carter USM are ignored by the pudgily welsh indie historians of Grim Britain and neglected by the kids they serve – in Germany everyone seems to know who they were and seems to hold them in the proper esteem. While, in Germany, Art Brut (and we should pause to note here that we’re mates because we think they’re amazing – we don’t think they’re amazing because we’re mates) are rightly heralded as the best thing to come out of Britain in a decade – here their press remains grudging and unable to see past the novelty band they simply aren’t. And, to an extent, they like us – which proves nothing and undermines my point but is, all the same, why I bring it up.

We’re just back from launching the album in Berlin (It was decided to release it over there three weeks prior to its coming out in the UK so as to give bittorrent uploaders a bit of a decent run-up) and, as usual, it was a pleasing excursion into the realm of minor indie celebrity. They give you things there, you see: bounteous dressing room tables overflowing with rolls and sweets and cakes and ale, dinner, beds, taxis and an audience. We’ve a track on the covermount of their premier music magazine. Their principle mainstream online entertainment portal picked our cover art over REMs for it’s weekly album review link. The kids want things signed, the crowds want an hour and a half and the interviews! Ah, sweet luxury of interviewers who don’t care why Julia left some band and why I want to kill Pete Doherty…

But still, self-indlugence aside, we’d love Berlin anyway. It is nothing like other european cities. Its most pertinent apsect is not it’s past. London, Paris, Rome and their lesser cousins are monuments, tombs – preserved relics of dead things. Paris is romantic because it was once so; London similarly cool. Their sights are distinguished by no one living (and Buckingham palace is an exeption on only the most technical of grounds). All that stuff about a vibrant, multicultural, polyglot society is nonsense and made moreso by its shoehorning into the ugly narratives of the idiot academy. The vibrant are living in museums and, wherever their history lives, it is not London, nor Paris, nor Rome.

Berlin is different. You can’t say what Berlin is like because it doesn’t know yet, it is still happening. While it is full of History, it is not full of hindsight – you can guess what will happen to it but you can’t be sure. There is graffiti everywhere and it can’t be washed off because some of it is graffiti that will come to have mattered. There is no order to the architecture, just a competing jumble of attempts to impose order. There are patches of wasteland everywhere - grassed over and strewn with old railway sleepers – even right in the centre where a Yo Sushi and two Starbucks could happily have been inserted. In the east, the DDR’s apartments – built purposefully large and luxurious so as to ease the discomforts of limited resources and compromised freedom – can be bought or rented for a London pittance and filled with a thousand fliers for parties, gigs, art shows, cabarets, anything that can be tried before the calcification sets in.

People you talk to had Nazi grandparents, were communists until they were ten, are anarcho-syndicalists now but still buy strawberries at Easter with the unabashed glee of those who do the impossible. You can mention the war – as befits a work in progress you can mention anything that helps – but you won’t be speaking the same language. The end of our history was the beginning of Berlin’s and, while it can’t last forever, it will be ongoing for a generation at least. I think. Maybe.

Maybe there’s a link between all this and the difference in musical tastes? Maybe germany was less poisoned by the comfortable self-satisfaction of the victor’s children in the sixties? Maybe fun and dancing don’t cut it as motivating factors for music when they are not enshrined in the canon of a generation’s birthrights?

I don’t know. We played a gig, sold some merch, went to an amaaaaazing bar…

Saturday, March 22, 2008

British Music That’s Better Than Anything We Sent To SXSW In 2008

By far the worst hour I had at SXSW was at the Latitude bar, the venue repainted as the home of the British Music Embassy. We saw the end of one band, the whole of another and the beginning of a third before escaping. They may as well have all been the same one: identi-haired, A-level concentration on their incurious faces, grinding out the new British rock sound for an audience of UK journalists. Any of them could have been the next big thing and none of them should be. Horrid horrid horrid.

I’ve often toyed with the idea of an mp3 blog. I like some of the ones I’ve discovered through narcissistic blog searches and I can’t see anything I like without wanting to appropriate it – I have a lot in common with Madonna that way. The fact is, though, I really don’t like music very much and, when I do fancy hearing some, I mainly listen to country and western. Instead of an ongoing project then, here are five musical production units that I do like and that you might not know already:

1. The Flesh Happening
You know how glam flirted with gayness but got coy before it got too dirty, the forces of straight acceptability moving in and turning it into a minor facet of the bloke-ish personality? Well The Flesh Happening take it back for the queers, drag it into an alley behind a really scary bar and rape it back to life. They are the answer to the big men at Morrissey gigs who fancy a quick weep before their next fight. Angry, squealy, arresting and the only band that has made me uncomfortable in the twenty-first century. Come and see them play at our album launch – they are one of very few Brighton bands more interesting than having a cigarette outside.

2. Lily Rae
First seen at Nambucca elevating an already above average teenage new wave band called Bottle Rocket with sneery banter (“there’s more people in than for that last band – I wonder why that is?”) and good singing. Lily Rae has resurrected herself as a solo artist with a Blondie-esque catchiness and a lyrical audacity that sticks her firmly in the category where Lily Allen isn’t. For some reason, the use of the word ‘nob’ in a chorus rings with the clarion note of truth where the word ‘dickhead’ sounds fake and stageschool. She’s tiny and she drips with attitude and she plays shows in shit pubs as though they were arenas. And her dad is in her band and she stares you down and dares you to make something of it. She’s ace.

3. Red Zebra
One of the weirder gigs we’ve played was a flood relief benefit in Worcester, headlining an alldayer at a school. The rest of the bill was made up of local kids – all of whom were impressive – and we ended up playing to a half-empty hall because, by the time we got on, everyone was outside throwing up litre bottles of cheap cider and shouting ‘leave it’ at each other. Earlier in the day, Red Zebra had been gobsmackingly fab. There are loads of them, they have a brass section, they’re shambolic, loud and joyous and, during their set, pretty much everyone in the audience was onstage daring the parents-cum-bouncers to try and get them off. It was like watching the Happy Mondays must have felt like. We keep trying to get people in London to book them, but they don’t believe us. They should.

4. Philip Jeays
I really shouldn’t need to talk about Phil Jeays. In the world I wish I lived in, he is beloved of his nation and sells out yearly 5-day runs of gigs at the Royal Albert Hall where he is assaulted with bouquets and is able to score crescendos of rapturous applause into his live instrumentation. Sadly, this is not the case – though he does sell out yearly christmas gigs on the battersea barge – and I am all too often forced to watch him in pubs with a fat drunk businessman heckling. Still though, his Bowie-d up Jaques Brel-ian ballads are bitter, cruel, genuinely funny and genuinely, achingly heartbreaking. Buy all his albums – you can’t fit him into myspace.

5. Jim Bob
The only other contender for a British Jaques Brel. You probably have half-baked, poorly thought out opinions about Carter USM – the number one album, glastonbury headlining, NME cover fronting band that the idiots forgot – and you should reassess them. A good place to start would be with Jim Bob’s last two Solo albums (‘school’ and ‘a humpty dumpty day’) which are just fantastically good. Lyrically dazzling, musically focussed, conceptually coherent – no one does this stuff better, as you should have known ever since he rhymed ‘Balkans’, ‘Falklands’ and ‘Waltons’ and got away with it in the late nineties. You should listen to Abdoujaparov (fruitbat’s band) too, especially ‘Hit Her With The Pig’: it is about exactly what it says it is.

Friday, March 21, 2008

SXSW Blog Part Five (reposted from Noize Makes Enemies)

Apparently, the man from Pinnacle distribution thinks that we are going to get our heads kicked in one day. I can’t imagine why. In the musical culture I thought I lived in, introducing We Hate The Kids with ‘We’d like to thank South By Southwest for this marketing opportunity, so stick that in your fucking blackberry – this is a song about how we hate you’ would be at the lower end of normal for rock’n’roll attitude. Not so. These days it’s all about being pleased with the living you scrape out, mugging gratefully for the people whose job it is to follow you about and swiftly londoning up the hertfordshire accents whenever you’re on the radio. I’m frequently shocked at how nice everybody is.

For example, we’ve got a song called ‘New Art For The People’ that, in its first line, uses the word ‘come’ as a noun. I’ve seen young, alternative minded people on the internet complaining that this is ‘designed to shock’. Really? Are you that prudish? It’s seedy, yes – as is the thing being described – but shocking? Have you actually listened to a Pulp album, or is it just cuddly uncle Jarvis and his cheeky working-class synthesiser that you remember these days? Have you listened to Suede? Elastica? even Sleeper? Frankie Goes To Hollywood shocked Mike Reid a bit in the 80s, maybe, but the young? Fuck no. This generation is the reason David Cameron looks electable – and that IS shocking.

We played two shows on Saturday. The first, we had been told, was in a 2,000 capacity central venue called Pangaea with some other bands who have achieved what passes for fame. As it turned out, it was in the garden of a shop three miles out of town called the Pangaea Patio and the other ‘famous’ band had taken one look and buggered off. The temptation toward prima donnaism hastily throttled (Don’t you people know who we are…? Oh, right, yeah, you don’t. Fair enough). It was a pretty good time all the same. It was another opportunity to hang out in lovely Austin, eat Pizza at a joint owned by Texas U. alumni who had decided to turn hanging out eating Pizza into a career, and generally enjoy the sun. Playing solos whilst leaning against a Texas live oak as a petrol scented breeze blew my daft fringe over my eyes felt good: the feeling slash must crave just before he steps out of weddings to rock on cliff tops.Back in downtown, we pulled up to our official Showcase at the Rio Grande – usually a Mexican restaurant that puts you in mind of Casa Bonita from that episode of South Park. It has a big neon Texan over the door and an indoor pond with a canoe in. The event manager pulls us over to one side as soon as we arrive and asks if we are the kind of band likely to want to jump into the indoor pool. Apparently, the lead singers of 6 bands have already seen fit to jump into it over the week and – while he doesn’t mind them jumping in – he won’t let them back on stage with wet clothes on account of all the electricity and significant risk of death. We assure him that we aren’t that kind of band. We’re all for rebelling against industry smugness, musical arrogance, indie self-satisfaction and conservatives, but we leave rebelling against perfectly sensible advice for the less syllabic of our countrymen. He seems mildly relieved.The venue fills up, pleasingly, and we are properly nervous. This translates into a show that we are all very happy with. The kind of show where you walk on feeling awful and off feeling amazing – where the crowd laughs in the right places, is quiet when you are and loud when you stop. We introduce ‘Waiting For Pete Doherty To Die’ with ‘this is about British Music, because it’s just so amaaaazing’ and people cheer like they get it.
We’re happy.

The rest of the night is all crowded rooms and chatter. We talk to journalists and weirdos and cousins who have a band with no name who are really into Cold-play and want to know if they’re big in England. We watch a Detroit beat combo called The Singles who play a likeably unaffected version of happy sixties pop that is alright for making no claim to credibility. We walk sixth street again as it works itself into its nightly frenzy. We are fliered and gurned at, ID’d and hobbled by the Texas distances.We end up at bar with a outside stage where, we are assured, there is good music to be heard all year long – an Austin place among the bars the locals leave for kids and Tourists. We want to see Matt and Kim – a Brooklyn duo on drums and cheap synth whom Keith TOTP has hosted in his Camden fortress. They are preceded by an indie electro-preacher in a gold Jacket rapping the crowd into a frenzy with a rant about the ‘assholes on sixth street’ – he’s ace. As are Matt and Kim who have the best grins in Indie and some of the better tunes.

SXSW has a downside. It really does. Its buzzes and PDAs and hype-generation-meetings are everything you hate about the music industry made flesh. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.". Much of SXSW is for small minds – names are on lips where notions should be. But there is something there that it can’t clean and that the british invasion can’t ruin. It is the spirit of Texas and America where nothing is as simple as the rest of the world imagines. It is in the backyard bar where a happy man in a hoodie tells a crowd of stagedivers that he loves them. It is the next day, walking down sixth - miraculously tidied and spotless bearing no hint of the bedlam the night before – when a bedraggled, presumably homeless, teenager wanders over asking if we’ll pay her to read a poem to us and then, when we give embarrassed English coughs and say sorry but no, asks if we’ll listen to it anyway because she’s trying to expand her vocabulary. It’s the mexican waiter who, bored of serving, sits down at our table and tells us how the previous night he was bummed out because he lost $100 on a boxing match but then some rich assholes started hassling him in the street about his ponytail – one of them said he could have $100 right there if he’d cut it off, so he did it, cause whatever, right? – and now he was back even.

There is a palpable sense of life returning to normal on Sunday. We all meet up in town, deciding whether to stay in Austin or drive down to San Antonio – we’ve got a reasonable economy and we wanna see some history.

The odd convention pass flutters in the breeze from the coming storms and immaculately haired guitarists sit in caf├ęs nursing three day hangovers and forests of wristbands. There are probably last minute meetings to be found, blackberries to be courted and industry to be charming at – but it’s hot and it’s dusty, and we have a car with Del Reeves on the radio, and it’s eighty miles down the highway to the Alamo. The Texas sky is big and the sunset impossibly distant - but hell y’all if we ain’t gonna do our darnedest to ride off into it.XX.
Simon Indelicate, Austin 2008

Just listened to Huw Stevens SXSW Radio 1 show – he was going on about some british hope [Florence & The Machine] who’d been amaaaazing. Apparently she jumped into the indoor pond at the end of her set. Just remember, kids: One of six. In four days. And I know for a fact that the event manager didn’t let her back onto the stage...S

Thursday, March 20, 2008

SXSW Blog Part Four (reposted from Noize Makes Enemies)

So we’re sitting in the lakeside bar of the five star four seasons hotel drinking Ice tea that is so classy that they make the ice out of tea so that it doesn’t dilute the drink when it melts. Julia and I are with Keith (who we’ve been travelling with and who is the person we are most likely to say we owe it all to, should we ever suffer an attack of gushing sentimentality at a low-rent corporate awards show) and Becki who we’ve only met this week, who is here working and who is lovely.

She’s reeling off the Old testament length litany of bands she’s seen in the past few days and asking if we like the ones she mentions. And as we keep bowing our heads sheepishly and mumbling, er… no, we hate them, actually… we have no wonder what we’re doing in this business at all.Keith points out that he’s seen other bands’ blogs about SXSW and that they usually consist of excited tracts about all the shows they’ve been to and how they were all very good. Ours isn’t really like that, is it?

Take today: we did see a great band, as it happens and we played what I thought was a good gig but the main thing we did – and the thing I’ll look back on fondly when I’m buying food next week at home – is go to the Bob Bullock museum near the state capitol and see a high-tech educational attraction about the history of Texas. I love high-tech educational attractions. They are probably my favourite thing in the world. This one was among the better ones. They showed slides and little dramatisations on screens that faded away to reveal static scenes behind of Hardship struck Oil prospectors and the dead of the Alamo. And when there was a storm on screen the seats shook and the room filled with smoke and wind. When there was a reading from a pioneers diary about rattlesnakes a hydraulic spring poked you from within your seat making you jump and the class of fourth-graders on a school trip behind you scream and say ‘oh my god’ to each other. It was ace. And well worth commemorating with the purchase of a Texas flag design formal shirt. (If you’re not in a band, you’d be amazed what you can justify to yourself with the simple words: ‘for stage’).You see, aside from the unresolved rejection issues and our deep sense of personal inadequacy, we got into this for the travel. We don’t understand bands who see nothing of the places they visit.

In Berlin once, we had been flown out for twenty-four hours to play at British Music week, we didn’t have time to do much, but by God if we didn’t go to the Brandenburg gate at four in the morning and have a damn good look at the fucker. The band we played with had been there for several days but had only seen the inside of a bar. A really cool bar, yeah? But a bar just the same. It is beyond us.

No one in the museum has an SXSW badge on except us. The guitar playing fools - they don’t know what they’re missing. I’d build a high-tech educational attraction to explain it to them, but they’d never come.

So on to our show, which is in a hard-to-find scout hut of a bar called the palm door. Apparently it was a well-known dive called the Red Rum until recently and this is why no one knows where it is, but it’s nice inside and has an enjoyably rickety outer terrace that lurches out over a trickle of water at the bottom of a mini, semi-concrete canyon. The guys putting it on are likeable New Yorkers and the atmosphere is great.Relaxed, receptive and Fringe-y. We are preceded on the bill by O’ Death who are a sensational blend of bluegrass instruments, wild biker looks, entrancing drumstick trickery and screaming/shouty vocals. They suit the 90 degree heat and swamp-shack surroundings perfectly and are easily the best thing I’ve seen so far without a high-tech educational attraction in it.

Our show is pretty good too. Everything clicks and there is enough space on the stage for Al to wave his guitar about and pull aggressive faces without knocking Julia off her stool. Perhaps predictably, Americans are intrigued by our new single ‘America’ (which is about the European left’s willingness to find accommodation with religio-fascists as a consequence of their dogmatic anti-American position) as, being live music, you can’t hear most of the words.

The subtleties of such a dialectic tend to be harder to discern when it is being shouted ovcr a rock band. Still, explaining ourselves gets conversations going and we are soon making five minute friendships and swearing blind that we’ll register for the kind of Web 2.0 start-ups that Duncan Bannatyne sneers at on Dragon’s Den.

So we finally end up in the four seasons (and my, that’s a very nice hotel indeed) wondering why we got into this business when we don’t really like music very much. But, of course, we’re not really wondering any such thing. We know why. It’s because we like the edges and the backrooms and the terraces and the smoking cabins. We like naked men in beards playing ukuleles. We like the bars of hotels we have no real business being in. It’s not us, it’s everyone else, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

SXSW Blog Part Three (reposted from Noize Makes Enemies)

British music is the new French food. Walking the streets of downtown Austin we are surrounded by the British in droves – they have the same hair and clothes, they play guitars and bang drums and they sing to each other. They congregate at a bar called Latitude which they have painted with the Union Jack and adorned with Arts council funded posters advertising the moderate rock of the regions. Journalists stand and watch them, nodding unsmiling heads while pound signs flash across their pupils.They take the same pictures over and over and tell each other that they did great shows. Like French food - everybody knows that British music is the best in the world, so they buy out second-rate brasseries and microwave pre-seared Steak Frites for the tourists and the drunks sure in the knowledge that the Rubes don’t know what they’re eating.

I had begun to worry that Austin was like Brighton. Brighton was a great town once. My friends were poets (good poets too – not the failed stand up comedians and self-help addicts who populate most readings), anarchists and pegs so beaten up and twisted that they’d fit no hole, square, round or otherwise. They went to Brighton as a last resort and made a place that wouldn’t stare at them – it was a grimy flyposted utopia. Then money heard about it. Money moved in. There was funding, design, self-confidence –all the things that kill a place like that. Slowly it died. Those who couldn’t afford the new prices left. Those who could afford them bred and their dullard, giftless offspring grew up to believe they were entitled to all the world’s generosity and formed dullard giftless microwave steak bands.

Austin has a similar history. If you’ve seen Slacker, you’ll likely know what the place was like in the early nineties and, if you are the kind of person who has gotten round to watching slacker, you’ll likely have wanted to visit. All the ingredients for a Brighton-style meltdown were in place. The difference though – and what we have learned today – is that Austin fought back.

You can see it if you look. There is a window selling Pizzas on sixth street (SXSW’s hub) that has a sign scrawled on a paper plate reading: “Cheers mate! Is not an acceptable tip in Texas”. In the South Congress area (a free bus ride out of downtown) a bass player and guitarist stand in a doorway with a sign announcing that they are “doing it for Johnny Cash” and belt out furious rebel country – the gist of the lyrics being that ‘this town ain’t what it used to be’ and that everyone should ‘get the fuck out’. In Allens boots (a cowboy boot and western wear emporium that is possibly the best shop in the world and that is also now in possession of all our money) the woman selling boots to Julia explains with supreme contempt that the 6th street zip code is really ‘just full of college students…’

Austin, in fact, is fuckin’ cooool. It really is full of gen X obsessives who are relaxed and interested and weird in a good way. Looking for a can of Mountain Dew, Julia and I wander into an emporium selling, principally, bongs and dildos. The desk clerk is drawn at once to Julia’s new boots (they really are very good boots) and he starts discussing the merits of various tobaccos. By the time I get back from looking at illuminati themed joss sticks they are laying Julia’s change all over the counter to see how many state logos she has inadvertently collected. I think this kind of thing is the Austin norm. When the credentialed ponytails have gone back to whichever media village they call home, Austin will keep on with the weird. The guy in the bong and dildo emporium will be talking conspiracy theories with the rebel country busker from SoCo and life will be sweet.

But anyway: music. We see Billy Bragg in a stale room inside the convention centre doing some tracks from his new record. He’s great by default, but he looks a bit annoyed at the setting – and it’s hard to blame him. The rest of our band all go and watch Hanson (yes, that Hanson) and despite my shudders of indie-cred embarrassment they repeatedly insist that it was good. The evening is mainly snatches of drums and occasional diversions of guitar. The atmosphere on sixth is not, as I’ve heard it insisted, wild or crazy. It is full of purpose – everyone going somewhere, queuing for something, relaying meta-praise about someone – but it looks like chaos. There is a lengthy parade of Asian youths in colourful uniforms which – according to the fliers they were passing out – is an advert for the showcase of a band described as the ‘first Korean band to tour Europe’. Surely that can’t be right? There must be another successful band from South Korea… unless… Is this parade from the other Korea? Is Kim Jong-Il here somewhere? Scanning crowds and tapping notes into a blackberry? It is entirely possible.

In the bar of the Hilton late at night, a bearded, roll-necked vision of a liverpudlian mid-life crisis lurches up to our table roaring the lyrics to a song about chicks and that.

‘Come On!’, he yells, ‘Come on, yeah? Yeah? YEAH!
Rock’n’roll, right?’

‘Yeah man’, we smile, ‘rock’n’roll!’

‘Sorry about him’, leans over a smirking shirt in male cosmetics and square glasses, ‘he’s got a number 5 album.’

And that, it would seem, explains that.

SXSW Blog Part Two (reposted from Noize Makes Enemies)

We’ve now been awake for 45-55 hours. I would be more specific, but what with time zones, daylight saving time and so on – being more specific would involve maths and we’ve been awake for 45-55 hours. Numeracy was among the first things to go.

We’ve just played our first show at the festival for a private party promoted by a man from Arizona who dresses like a pilot. At least that may have been the promoter – it may have just been an actual pilot - or a hallucination of one. At some point a guy in a day-glo green T-shirt was giving away ‘hiphop energy drinks’. At another a similar looking guy was eating twenty-three hotdogs. At least one of them was on television – but it’s hard to say which. Things are blurry.

Having finally gotten the necessary paperwork to travel, our revised plan was to fly to New York spend six hours doing whatever we could think of then get back on a plane, fly to Houston, hire a car and then drive the last 180 miles to Austin for the show. This was a good plan. Admittedly,
on a pie chart, the slice marked ‘sleep’ was reserved for the anorexic at the travel dinner party – not existing as it didn’t – but hey, rock’n’roll, right?

New York is a shock. It’s too big to capture in words or pictures – that must be why people are always trying to. It’s not like London, a small city that has eaten some rather dull villages, it is real city all the way through. It towers and it yawns, shouts and drawls, sticks its chin in your face then steps back and just basks in itself. Our six hours are fast, they have an international standard hamburger in them, and Time Square and mournful Jazzy cab rides and those manhole covers that really do billow steam. It feels like – and may well actually have been – a dream.

The plane chases the night across America and is caught by day as it lands. We hire a very very big car and just about fit ourselves, guitars and cases into it. It’s a weird thing about a country that England so often attacks for homogeneity and corporate standardisation that it is
so much less so than England. States and towns bellow their identity. You can’t look down without seeing a ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ bumper sticker stuck to something and people don’t just fly their state flag but wear it and paint it on plates. Towns decide what they’re going to be famous for and stick to it. There are no terraces. People buy bits of street and build their own idea of what a house should look like on them.

There is nothing at all homogenous about, for example, Tony’s Family Restaurant in Sealy, between Houston and Austin. There are pictures of the local high school football team (National Champions 1939!) on the wall next to the longhorns and chalked up specials and roll of honor, which seems to contain the names of people who were so happy working at Tony’s that they did it until they died.

It makes you mournful, stuff like that, when you’ve been a wake forever and are on your way to a music festival that is really a conference for the industry. Every blog or interview I’ve seen from attending bands has used the word ‘excited’. It worries me this, that all the new bands in the world greet the prospect of playing for some men from A&R departments and establishment magazines with excitement. It is about sales not songs; marketing not music. And it is the bands themselves who do it –as excited as a boyband before the pollwinners party and saying so because that is what you say.

I wouldn’t say we’re excited. We’re thrilled to be here, in America. We’re looking forward to the week – but we don’t lose sight of what SXSW is. Primarily it is something that you can’t afford or spare the time to go to. It is where the NME and the PR departments and the managers meet up to hang around in bars and discuss what they’re going to say happened when they get home. It is the Bildeberg meeting for the lies that drive the music industry.

We check in to places, pick up badges and hire keyboards and wristbands. Everyone in town has a badge around their necks. It is like when they hold the conservative party conference in British seaside towns only with everyone in beanie hats and three-day stubble. I bump into James from our record label.

‘Look’, he says, pointing at a man in a woolly hat being interviewed by a TV camera, ‘it’s Div from Lightspeed Champion’. I have no idea who Lightspeed Champion are. I do know that lightspeed is a constant and that any lightspeed race would therefore be pointless – rendering the concept of a lightspeed champion nonsensical. Perhaps this is what they are getting at. Capturing the ennui of a role in life marked by the language of achievement yet constantly undermined by the knowledge within that there is no factual basis for the plaudits you receive. Probably not though. At any rate, he’s blocking the pavement.

The show is OK. It takes a few songs to find the right sound balance and we have to construct an elaborate three mic stand sculpture to get Julia’s microphone to rest near her face but by the end we’re rocking out properly and being as inadvisably sarcastic as usual. We’ve got three more to do over the coming days and will be better when fully conscious. There is talk of Australians giving away free lager and REM at midnight and a band with three guitarists and steakhouses and margheritas and crazy times – but it’s been 45 hours, maybe 55, maybe more. It is time for bed.

SXSW Blog Part One (reposted from Noize Makes Enemies)

Emma Lazarus’ oft-quoted poem – inscribed at the base of the statue of liberty – has long been an inspirational literary beacon to those trying to get into the United States. "Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.", it says. What it neglects to mention; and what we have discovered over the past four months, is that the sorry condition that the wretched refuse of teeming shores like us are in when we turn up in New York is largely down to the visa application process. If we weren’t tired and poor when we started – we sure as hell are now.

Everything about it costs money – and not petrol to Worcester, a sausage roll and two kit kats money either – serious money. The kind of money that you really ought to be putting into an ISA. You have to pay to file a petition in the US and prove that you have been an international artist for a ‘sustained and substantial’ period of time. This means that you have to frantically email every bulgarian fanzine editor who’s ever printed an appreciative word about you and beg them to send you scans of their publication so as to convince an immigration official (and what kind of person chooses to be an immigration official? Surely it’ll be some NRA meet-attending good ol’ boy motivated by his hatred of mexicans who thinks all music that isn’t by Merle Haggard is essentially treason) that you are worth admitting. Then, you have to pay an additional THOUSAND dollars just to get them to promise to think about it during the next three months, maybe.

You wait and you worry. You buy plane tickets and motel rooms. You try and persuade your record company to give you a bit more money. You experiment with giving up heating. You consider larseny. And then, finally, when it must be too late, they approve you. The democratic institutions of Washington and Lincoln have judged you and found you worthy. It feels good. For a minute or two you strut about thinking ‘Hah, people from school who wouldn’t let me join their Nirvana covers band, who’s the sustained and substantial international artist now, eh?’. Then you phone up the American embassy to make an appointment to apply for the actual visa. It costs £1.20 a minute.

That would be fine, of course, if the appointment service wasn’t entirely staffed by incomprehensible glaswegians who want large amounts of information, the imparting of which requires a mutual compatibility of vowel sounds. They want passport numbers, exact spellings of names and – naturally - credit card details. Credit card details so as to charge you an additional application fee.

They send you a confirmation and instructions. You are required to attend at the given time. You should be early, so as to get through the queue in time. You should not be too early otherwise you’ll make the queue too long. You can’t bring phones or ipods. You must bring all your documents. A list of these documents is on a website. It is up to you to find out where. You must fill in a form. You must not omit any information. You must answer the questions honestly….

If you’ve ever been to America, even on the tourist visa waiver programme, you’ll be familiar with the comedy security questions they ask everybody. Have you ever had AIDS, taken drugs, been in prison; and, of course the one about whether you’ve ever participated in genocide during the thirties. I’m sure that particular question remains on the form solely to weed out the unamericanly sarcastic. It is very very hard not to say yes to it, but you manage. You need a photo. It can’t, however be a normal passport photo, it has to be an extra four millimetres wider. Consequently, it can’t be from a photo booth but has to be done specially – it costs a tenner.

So you finally make it to the embassy. You get there an hour early. You clear security and get a number and hand your application to a woman and have your fingerprints scanned and just when you think its over you are told to sit down and wait for your interview. What? That wasn’t the interview? No. The interview will take place at some point in the next day. Please take a seat. Do we need to pay a seat hire fee, by any chance? No, but if you’d like to avail yourself of a hershey bar they’re for sale for a pound over there…

We’re quite highly strung as bands go. By this point Julia and I are in a state of near critical tension. We are still, but if you look closely at us, we are vibrating like magnets pushed together. We get mild whiplash from snapping our heads up to look at the board that displays the appointment numbers every time one is mumbled over the tannoy. I spot AA Gill (the food critic and perhaps closest real-world equivalent of Ratatouille’s Anton Ego) waiting across the room. It is little comfort to note that even he is looking a little bit apprehensive.

Finally you’re called and you go to the window where Uncle Sam waits to decide your fate. You expect a grilling. A polygraph. Maybe he’ll test you for TB and change your surname to the name of sicilian village you were born in. Maybe he’ll just take one look and laugh: YOU in America? Fuck No.

‘Hi, guys, where you playin’?’
‘er… New York and then driving down to Austin for South-By-Southwest.’
‘Cool, what do you play?’
‘Um… guitar.’
‘OK, that’s all approved.’
‘So, what now?’
‘Go see the courier and arrange to have your passport sent back to you.’

It costs twenty-five quid.

But, at least, it feels like a done deal at this point. You’ve done everything right – all you need to do is sit back, pack, and wait for the passports to show up. What is it with these fly by night bands who you always read about cancelling US dates because of Visa issues? Amateurs! It’s all fine. Uncle Sam said so.

So it gets to the weekend. You’re due to fly on Thursday. It’s fine. Still no passports on Monday. Fine. You phone the courier. Is it fine? Yep. It’s fine. Tuesday. You phone again. They don’t have them yet, but they can arrange a next day delivery when they get them. It’s fine.

Wednesday. You phone the courier. You phone the embassy. They say to email. You email. They send an email back that says they don’t respond to emails. You phone the courier, the embassy, they say to phone the passport office. You phone the passport office. The passport office takes your date of birth, name, address, eye colour, sexual history and medical records – then they ask what you want. They don’t have anything to do with visas, sorry. You phone the courier, the embassy, they say to email again but this time to put some specific text in the subject line. You email, putting a some specific text in the subject line. They email back: Your visa is awaiting petition verification in Washington and will not be issued today.

It is not fine.

You have no passports or visas and you can’t get on your flight. This really, really, really, really sucks.

The company who sponsored your petition say that they don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on, but that you’ve probably been flagged by a CIA computer as having been involved in running guns to Nicaragua during the sixties and that there’s nothing anyone can do.

Did I mention we were highly strung? The last four days have been medievally cruel. We’ve paced rooms, shot innocent pixel-people in Grand Theft Auto, been on 3am ASDA safaris and sat helplessly by the door for hours staring at the reception bars on horribly silent telephones and sobbing into our cursory, untasted meals. Finally, today – Friday – we heard that the passports were on their way. This means that we can go to SXSW – though not New York, and not embark on the Kerouac and Cassady Roadtrip through the Deep South that we’d been planning – but we are going. As god is our witness, we are getting on that plane.

Tired, Poor, huddled and wretched… that big green french bitch had better be pleased to see us.