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Shake

Geography of Sound

The flights from Houston to Austin are delayed by bad weather, and the concourse is packed with weary musicians. Against one wall, four leather-clad Japanese with identical shag haircuts stand amid a pile of guitars. "We are C-o-c-o-o-n P-i-t," spells out Xiro, the lead singer. Communicating mainly in sign language, I ask what kind of music they play. "We like punk. Noise. Velvet Underground," replies Xiro. The guitarist Musasi interrupts in Japanese. "And Broken English," she adds, laughing. When I ask what brings Cocoon Pit all this way to the annual music industry conference South by Southwest (SXSW), we play a game of charades. "Movies," Xiro gestures, her hands held before her face like a movie screen. "Texas," she says, opening her arms wide. Raising her eyebrows, she concludes: "Coooool."

While shampooing my hair three days later, Will, a blond-dreadlocked stylist born and raised in Texas, lays out what makes the state capital so cool. "When you go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, people say, “This isn't New Orleans; it's only like this at Mardi Gras,'" he explains, then pauses to listen to the twang of guitars leaking into the salon. Up and down the street, clothing stores full of homemade designs, galleries bright with outsider art, and honky-tonks untouched by time since the birth of rock and roll, are all plugged in to the annual South by South Congress, an unofficial companion event to SXSW. "SXSW is Austin," he insists, speaking not of the 7000 visiting musicians, journalists, label reps, and publicists who have descended for the week on the "Live Music Capital of the World," but of the spirit of the music that plays there whether or not anyone else cares. "Austin is always like this."

Is the Winter Music Conference(WMC) Miami? Four days after SXSW shuts down, the dance music hordes descend upon the Magic City (despite the fact it has not been declared the Electronic Music Capital of the World). The crowd at the Radisson Deauville Resort on Miami Beach may be younger, wear louder clothes, and more likely to tote mixing boards than guitars, but otherwise everyone is on the same mission as in Austin: to create a buzz and -- as they say in the biz -- "solidify relationships." There are the same sotto voce invitations to exclusive showcases; the same panels on how to negotiate deals, get the word out on your artists, or break into radio play; the same incessant exchange of business cards. Beyond the hustle and bustle of the Deauville lobby, is there a spirit to the music of Miami?


The taxi driver scours the Austin streets looking for Maria's Taco Express, the rambling Mexican joint where every year local hero Alejandro Escovedo hosts an unofficial barbecue and concert. A supersize statue of the proprietress with outstreched arms bound at the wrists rides atop the restaurant, a sharp contrast to the naked beams of an unfinished structure abandoned by Intel that looms over downtown Austin -- an architectural testament to the dot-com crash and burn.

"I'm glad they're going under," the taxi driver gripes of the unnamed corporate marauders who so recently threatened to turn Austin from a quirky little music hub into a silicon hive. As in San Francisco's Mission District and our own formerly funky Miami Beach, high-rent Internet outfits priced underground artists, dancers, and musicians out of studios and rehearsal space. The music dot-coms that dominated the social landscape at last year's SXSW have all but disappeared. Above all SXSW is a celebration of music before the digital age.

The dot-com demise is felt at WMC as well, but it is more consolidation than defeat. "These are glory days for the Internet but bad times for the Internet economy," observes Charly Alberti, the drummer from Argentine supergroup Soda Stereo who now runs the music Website yeyeye.com (see New Times, "Silicon Bitchin'," May 4, 2000). As he waits for his WMC badges, an awed Alberti comments on what once was a wide field of Spanish-language competition: "We're the only ones who survived." For dance music, digital technology is both the medium and the message.


There is no sexy statue on the roof of Churchill's in Little Haiti. On Saturday night's opening party for Infiltrate 3.0, the anti-winter music conference, the capacity crowd of largely South Florida locals is not done up in the skimpy clothes for which the clubs across the causeway are famous. On the mainstage the electrified hip-hop outfit embraces technology as destiny with its name, Algorithm. On the back patio, covered for the occasion with beat-trapping tarps, a succession of sound architects and demolition men bend their fingers over black boxes. In the central courtyard, roof open to the stars, Io switches on his sequencer and then takes up a shekere. The bright timbre of the shaking gourd scratches out a rhythm that is filled in by sustained electronic tones. The black, white, and Latino crowd shifts from space to space as easily as the grooves morph from digital to organic. If this is not how Miami is all the time, it should be.

 
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