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East By Southeast: Neon Tommy's Uncredentialed SXSW Coverage

Graham Clark |
March 13, 2013 | 8:38 p.m. PDT


The drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas is much like you'd expect. Long. (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
The drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas is much like you'd expect. Long. (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
Driving from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas in one shot is a no-joke haul.

“We’ve been going for about eight hours,” said my traveling companion Alex Gomez at a quarter past four in the morning. “We’re not even halfway there.”

Without extensive, non-ironic freestyling over Drake beats, we may never have made it. But we did. We started from the bottom of the L.A. metro area, and now we're here.

Let me make my motivation for producing this piece clear: one of Neon Tommy’s fearless advisory staff members, Marc Cooper, told me I had to post as much timely content over the course of this trip or suffer stern consequences. His argument was convincing.

I promised him I’d abide by the adage: “Do what I do best and link to the rest,” a line he ate up like the hopeful-and-inspired-yet-begrudgingly-crippled-by-pragmatically-realistic-expectations higher educator he earned the right to be. But in all earnest, self-interested actuality, my goal over the next few days is to connect an audience to what’s going on at this weird cultural locus by absorbing and purely regurgitating as much of the experience as possible.

Since Neon Tommy assigned their officially-sanctioned SXSW press credentials to another, ostensibly far more reliable stringer, I’m on the unofficial South By beat. That means lots of scrounging for free shows and grub, and likely lots of misguided expeditions based on red herring social media rumors [Daft Punk will not be playing a free secret show… maybe (Dancing Astronaut)]. My companion and I will serve as test subjects for the collective consciousness — as a newbie, I’m hardly qualified to tell you the best way to enjoy SXSW. But I can share what we’ve done, and where it gets us.

Hopefully, this unnecessarily subjective introductory copy will serve to expunge any detrimentally self-interested tendencies that might mar further, otherwise useful concert coverage. That is to say, taking a shot at separating personal rumination from raw, firsthand description in the next few days sounds just crazy enough to work. I'm going to count on my camera to do a lot of that observation for me.

So before I dive in the balmy Texan night for the week’s knotted mass of musical performances and associated hubbub/brouhaha, I want to say more about the drive. Because the understanding I’ve gleaned from secondhand accounts is SXSW’s geographic isolation is a big part of how the festival works, and when participants discuss their thoughts openly, that’s when it works well. (Vice)

Driving late at night dark flats astride the highway look windless. Light from those weirdly identical little rural outposts, the ones that don’t even have a combination Shell Station/Subway franchise to entice passerby, buoy up in odd clumps. Memories of my mother, teaching me to drive straight by gazing at a fixed point on the horizon, surface in my consciousness. There are also those monstrous industrial steel compounds, geometric behemoths belching up smoke, dust and argon-wavelength light even when vacant. I bumped the wheel lazily, cruise control throttling the 2002 Honda Odyssey on as it will for nearly the entirety of trek, God willing.

My charge as a reporter may be to transmute unique moments. But constructing a simulacrum of the ubiquitous and banal must be of value as well, and is perhaps a more reasonable goal to be matched up front. That is to say, stuff that’s already known will , such as the fact cruise control is a critical tool for travelling America, matters. As of now, what I can report accurately is that the sparsely populated stretch of turf between Los Angeles and Austin, as viewed from the I-10, is pretty much exactly as you’d imagine.

Destinations of note between L.A. and Austin include:

-Blythe, California. I asked Gomez about this residential burg’s homonym while rolling through on the 10.

“Doesn’t blithe mean…” I began.

“Indifferent,” he said.

“That town would be like an hour and a half out of L.A.!” I said with legitimately sardonic excitement. I’m not sure what that joke was supposed to mean exactly, but consider it marginally funny immediately after it leaves my lips. It’s the kind of regional jibe I wouldn’t have made a year and two months ago, fresh from having schlepped my heap of accumulated lifestuff across the country and declaring myself a full-time L.A. resident. Three hundred miles down the road, it strikes me that thousands if not millions of travelers on that same stretch of asphalt doubtlessly dropped the same ambiguously disparaging quip, which inspires in me some mild flicker of cognitive despondence.

-Picacho, Arizona. This town’s name looks so much like “Pikachu,” it took me some five tries to get it copied down correctly using the slide-out keyboard on my Pantech Maruader. The fact that driving under the influence of cellphone manipulation is not legally discouraged in Arizona (at least to my knowledge) is one good thing about this state. I’m sure there are other plusses. There’s the landscape, and lots of people used to support John McCain. If there are other good things, I’d like to find out about them before I die.

Based on what I hear from, again, secondhand sources, this thing can suggest some real interesting lessons to everyone involved. If shit gets cray in the next few days, it behooves me to share that information. But when people act normally, that’s important to talk about too.

Since arriving at SXSW less than an hour ago, I’ve seen an inordinate number of men wearing grey jeans and purple shorts. There are lots of folks here that look highly cool — I’ll attempt to provide photographs to back that up before hitting the hay tonight.

Read more of NT's show coverage here.

Reach Staff Cartoonist Graham Clark here. Follow him on Twitter here.




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