Music

Sounds of the City: Austin

Ange Suprowicz explains why theres more to Texas than oil and guns.

Traditionally, Texas is perceived as a republican state filled with cowboys and even more guns, but with Austin it’s a different story. Austin is one of the most vibrant and creative cities in America. The locals aren’t Texans; they’re Austinites and in their own words: “Austin is like bizarro Texas. We like driving trucks, eating bbq, and making electronic music.” Texas’ capital city certainly provides an earful of brand new sounds. Some of the most progressive artists, venues, and songwriters emerge from Austin. The influence the city has on the music scene has reached mythic proportions as it continues to foster a healthy creative hotbed that lacks pretence: ‘Keeping Austin Weird’ is Austinites’ motto and they take their role seriously.

The city’s nickname is ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and with hundreds of clubs hosting live music weekly it definitely upholds its reputation. The slogan became official in 1991, after it was discovered that Austin had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the nation. Austin takes pride in the fact that you’ll find music in unexpected places so expect live music at airports, restaurants, grocery stores and parks and even at the annual Austin marathon. Waterloo Records was voted the best independent record store in the country, and sure enough you’ll find live music there too.

Generally speaking, the alternative music scene in Austin takes two directions: Indie pop and electronic/experimental. Formed in 1999, Explosions in the Sky may be one of Austin’s oldest post-rock and instrumental bands, but Experimental Aircraft, Shearwater and Balmorhea are strong contenders in Austin’s shoegaze and psychedelic scene. Explosions in the Sky’s newest album Take Care Take Care Take Care is released in April and the afore-mentioned bands are all showcasing at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW). Balmorhea may sound like a disease, but rest assured that the only infectious thing about this band is their experimental sound. They get their name from the Balmorhea State Park in Texas and are a minimalist instrumental ensemble. ‘Bowspirit’ off their latest album Constellations is the perfect way to become acquainted with them.  For a healthy dose of Indie Rock: Sound Team, Voxtrot, The Octopus Garden and Spoon have all sprung out of Austin. Samuel Beam aka Iron & Wine may pull Austin in another direction musically, but this singer-songwriter certainly knows what folk and acoustic music are about. His third album The Shepherd’s Dog is quite simply beautiful.

To preview some real homegrown talent, it’s well worth checking out Exponential Records and their 4th annual compilation. This year includes an all Texas based line-up of up and coming producers with a very diverse sound ranging from cinematic beats to tropical and jungle pop. Bands featured on this album have created a monthly event in Austin for electronic music composers, sound collectors, and beat makers to perform their work: Exploding Drawing. Local artists such as Focus Group, Ernest Gonzales, soundfounder, and The Empireal Formula have all recently preformed.

In terms of orientation: Austin’s music scene has gone beyond 6th Street and now includes other areas such as Red River, the Warehouse District and South Austin where bars and clubs of every kind can be found. Every night over one hundred venues stage live music. The Continental Club and Stubb’s are Austin’s larger venues, whilst Emo’s, 311 Club, The Parish and The Vibe are known to host up and coming bands.

Austin hosts a multitude of festivals and events; SXSW may well be what defines Austin: it is undeniably one of the biggest and most well known festivals in America. SXSW is a set of film, interactive and music festivals and conferences that take place every spring. It is the mecca of music festivals and nearly 10,000 musicians and fans converge on Austin over the five days. All City Limits Festival is as integral to Austin’s live music scene as the musicians that call Austin home. Held every September, the ACL Music Festival welcomes more than 130 bands from around the world and brings thousands of visitors to Austin’s Zilker Park. Hey, y’all ‘Don’t just see the sites, hear them’.

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