The Most Hated and Loved Man’s Birthday & The Vinatta Project Gossip

All the unusual suspects will gather for DJ-club god Michael T’s birthday. I have never loved or hated someone as much as Michael, and that’s in the first 10 minutes every time I meet him. He can be oh-so-sweet and oh-so-sour, but his heart is always in the right place. There was this one time — I’m going to stop there, as we all have stories. He remains my favorite DJ who isn’t named Paul Sevigny. How can someone so ageless have so many birthdays? He’s celebrating two on one day…tonight.

The first of Michael’s birthday parties, according to the invite, is from 8pm till 1am at La Bottega at Maritime Hotel, 363 W. 16th St. The second runs from 11pm till 4am at Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St. There seems to be an overlap, and I suspect that the wily Mr. T is employing one of those Tupac hologram thingys or something like that. I’m always confused if it"s Michael Tee or "T.” In either case I will show up at one of these soirees to celebrate my friend’s fabulousness – probably at Beauty Bar so I can dine at IHOP right after. Michael is so thoughtful like that.

Everybody I know (from some circles) is off to Sundance to overpopulate the tiny hamlet of Park City, Utah. I spent a year there one night. I am being inundated with invites, but everyone knows I gave up the snow years ago. I’ve actually never gone to Sundance, as ski slopes and roller coasters and jumping from airplanes are for my next incarnation. I do love a good film though, and I hear they’re showing some in between, before and after all those parties. Noah and his Strategic Group have taken over some underground garage facility, decorated it, and snazzed it up, and are ready to show all how it is done. I would love to check out Park City Live, the newly renovated hot spot that always books national acts. My pal Kathryn Burns is living her dreams there.

Monday (after BINGO) I will attend the Benefit Concert for Animals hosted by Wesly Wang, Geri Gongora, Dava She Wolf, and sponsored by Alacran Tequila and Forever Young wine at Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan St.  The Bashers – featuring musicians from Guns N’Roses, Soul Asylum, X-Pensive Winos, Uptown Horns – and others will lead the way. The Planets will also perform. Bands start at 9:30pm and they’re asking for a minimum of $10 at the door.

On Sunday the rockers will descend on Manitoba’s for the 14th annual anniversary extravaganza. It’s billed as the first great party of ’13 – and I’m a believer (unless someone actually plays that track). It’s running from 1pm to 4am, and is a "15-hour rock and roll party at 100MPH.” There will be munchies and drink specials, and the football games will be shown. Handsome Dick Manitoba and his lovely wife Zoe Hanson will host.

The other day, a reliable source whispered to my always open, rather large and sometimes naive ears that the building where The Vinatta Project thrives was bought by Matt Levine. It simply isn’t true. Matt reports: "I have no involvement at 69 Gansevoort at this time. Let me get The Rowhouse Inn open first before myself and Michael start opening up more spaces in the Meatpacking, haha."

Well, at least my boy got that Rowhouse part right. Rael Petit, a friend of mine and partner and manager over at Vinatta, 69 Gansevoort, asked me to clarify. He’s at Sundance doing diners for his Mulberry Project and Vinatta. I caught up with him before he jetted off. He told me Fridays and Saturdays are slammed at Vinatta with a great crowd listening to resident DJ Mok. He tells me the Tuesday-through-Thursday crowd are filled with the locals and are for my tastes. I’m summoned to check it next week when he’s back. The official line from them is :

“The Vinatta Project opened its doors in November 2011 in the bustling Meatpacking District. In the constantly evolving restaurant statosphere, The Vinatta Project embodies all of the components of a perfect night out–delicious food, complete beverage program, friendly service an a hip yet inviting atmosphere.  The menu features a selection of Contemporary American dishes including Paella Spring Rolls, made with Shrimp, Chorizo, Jalapeño and Smoked Paprika Aioli, Tuna Tartare with a Crispy Wonton and Wasabi Greens and NY Strip, served with Chimichurri, Polenta Croutons and Pickled Red Onion.

Vinatta also features a robust beverage program, complete with hand-crafted bespoke cocktails created by some of the best mixologists in NYC, and a selection of artisan spirits. Vinatta is open for weekend brunch, special events or even catered parties.”

Yesterday,  my very secret whisper-in-my-ear source, who obviously is right most of the time but not all (the price of being fast and first), says that The Shadow space on W. 28th St. has a new operator. Shadow was owned and operated by the old-school, wonderful Steven Juliano.  He, according to my source, has settled on a buyer which my source says is one of the premier operating  groups. I know who it is, but I’m going to double and triple check before I tell you.

Bringing the Change to Williamsburg

It was a wondrous day. The first day I really had the ability to walk the dog proper and smell the roses, which are stinking up the whole hood. As regular readers know, I got me some food poisoning at my regular Chinatown haunt last Monday and only came up for air Friday. With new vigor and without six pounds of me, Amanda and I strolled with Lulu towards the newish hotel King & Grove in Williamsburg. It surely is becoming the talk of the town, said I realizing that never before had I felt like I wasn’t living in New York anymore. Brooklyn/Manhattan really has become a tale of two cities, and the differences are becoming more and more profound as every nook and cranny of my hipster heaven is developed into stardust. Sure, there are Duane Reades and other chain store massacres popping up, but they are merely flea collars—annoying necessities to keep the dog moving. I still go into Manhattan every day but I am starting to rethink that.

I’m new to Brooklyn, having only been living and playing here for a couple of years. My crew are 10-years deep and they know others deeper. They pooh- pooh us "Johnny Come Latelys" and talk of the real art scene that’s becoming harder to find. Amanda points out all the strollers and kids rolling around. Her cutesie theory is they are a result of all those good parties and spring picnics in McCarren Park of yore. It’s only going to get worse now that the HBO hit Girls is screaming lust and lattes to the world. In the last few years, the invasion of frat boys and their sorority sisters has irked the deep hipsters, but they haven’t seen anything yet. With construction trying to keep up and rents still a bit better than Manhattan, Williamsburg is changing—lets say evolving—to meet its destiny. This isn’t anything profound or new, just a rant on a Monday morning from a sick old fool who can’t wait to see what happens next week on Girls (and don’t get me started on Game of Thrones).

This Saturday I went to see the Dirty Pearls at the Gramercy Theatre. It’s the second show I’ve caught there. I caught Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg a while back. It is that small rock theater some have been pining for. It has a big enough/small enough feel to it, great sightlines and sound, seating for those of us who need to do that, and a couple of adequate bars. With Hiro in the history books and Don Hill’s a nostalgic memory, this is the right spot for Nur Khan and his ilk to put on the right show for the right crowd. On the Dirty Pearls bill were Hussle Club, who are very much a part of the mayhem that I am part of Thursdays at Hotel Chantelle. "Hussle-ers" Carol Shark and Prince Terrence are two of the four DJs in the Basement along with Michael Cavadias and Miss Guy. Breedlove and Starkiller were also on the big bill. The Dirty Pearls are a buzz band poised to break out big in the metal rock universe. This show was completely sold-out, unlike most of the crowd.

I walked over Beauty Bar to say hey to Michael Tee who has been their Saturday night regular for three years. The place was pumping with a nice crowd, which had been pumping Tequilla and Mexican beer in themselves since…early, maybe years. I forgot it was Cinco de Mayo, which has potential to be as annoying as St. Patrick’s Day. I made for the curb and walked into the Hole Gallery’s pop up restaurant Hole Foods at 231 2nd Avenue at 14th Street.

"Artist Joe Grillo has completely transformed the restaurant into a multifaceted, experiential artwork. Executive chef Robert Rubba will be serving fancy comfort Italian in his customized Dearraindrop chef suit. For three months only!"

I arrived too late for dinner but in time to talk the talk with Paper mainstay Carlo McCormick and some familiar downtown players. The old meatball restaurant that existed just a minute ago was awash with color and colorful folk. Am I wrong, but knocking off the extremely successful Meatball Shop chain without understanding what made that work is…wrong and maybe plain dumb. Saturday was the first time I walked in to the place and I walk by  four times a week. I don’t really know the story of this location and this seemingly defunct or on its way to defuncting restaurant, but I do know the story with the Meatball Shop. Mike is my boy and he’s doing it right. I’m putting down pen…er closing the computer and hop, skip, and jumping over to Bedford Avenue for lunch.

WTF?! This Fall’s Nightlife Gossip

I remember my first date with Jeannie LoVullo like it was yesterday. She chewed a lot of gum and said "what the fuck" a lot. This weekend was like a date with Jeannie LoVullo; my movers, who were indeed shakers, were chewing gum and saying "what the fuck” a lot. They got me saying it. I didn’t have time to go out but did answer the phone and heard bits and pieces of what seems like a great game of musical chairs. I’ll get to the bottom of all this faster than you can say "wtf," but for now you will have to accept these moist and fuzzy tidbits. I hear that Nur may be leaving The Electric Room on his way to the newly remodeled TriBeCa Grand. My source who is usually unreliable swears it’s true, citing contract endings and stuff like that. I also hear that Travis Bass will also bring his special brand of whoopee yippee yay nightlife to TriBeCa. This may be a temporary thing, as he is slated to be a honcho over at the 199 Bowery space that EMM Group is developing for November. OK, OK,. I’m pausing for a WTF…

I heard that Jamie Mulholland was all set for that bank space on the corner of Houston and Essex which has, for years, been so many things to so many people. Now, this other group is there doing something irrelevant, and I’m not sure what’s going on with Jamie. He would be the perfect fit for what is an imperfect space. I’ll find out WTF is going on and tell you when the time is right.

 Also, I am told that Vala Durvett has taken over the job of putting asses in seats over at the almost new Bishops & Barons. They kicked Danny Kane and his crew out for lack of performance, according to another fairly unreliable source. Translation: they opened at a bad time, withered during the summer, and kicked their team out as the season began. Vala is a good fit for this joint as its 14th Street East location is a tough destination. Bishops is located right between the IHOP, and they just opened Bait & Hook, my pal Div Patel’s (formally of Nest) seafood joint. WTF, Vala has her work cutout for her, trying to hook people over to a hood where no man has gone before. Good thing she knows a lot of women. It can be done; Beauty Bar has been there since WTF – the last century. I’m sure I’ll get some calls to clarify, and so I will.

Moving has been one big WTF and I’m a bit frayed. I’ll be at BINGO as usual tonight to get my mojo back, and if I win I’m just gonna yel…you got it.. WTF!

An Exhaustive Review of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

The hipster gradation begins on the subway. You know you’re getting closer to the Pitchfork Music Festival as the crowd on the El, Chicago’s famed elevated subway system, begins to shade from downtown office workers and tourists coming in from O’Hare to twentysomethings in cut-offs, neon, and free-range beards. Unlike other music festivals in more remote locations – Coachella, Bonnaroo – the caravans to Pitchfork aren’t composed of Subaru Outbacks, but rather the Green Line, the Ashland bus, and bikes. Indeed, one of the best things about Pitchfork is the extent to which it identifies with the city of Chicago, home to the e-zine’s headquarters (there’s also an office in Brooklyn, of course).

"It feels good to have established Pitchfork here in Chicago. It really is, I guess, an institution at this point," says Ryan Schreiber, founder and CEO of Pitchfork Media (author’s note: no relation). Chicago pride is on display throughout the weekend–vintage Bulls jerseys abound, and more remarkably still, you can catch glimpses of naked arms displaying Chicago-flag tattoos.

The three-day fest, held in Chicago’s Union Park, provides that rare combination of big-name talent (Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio were this year’s headliners) with an intimate, community vibe. Compared to larger behemoths, Pitchfork only sells 18,000 tickets per day; to put that in perspective, the attendance at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza each hover between 70-80,000 fans. Rather than having every sensory organ pummeled – competing guitar chords, the musky scent of sweat not your own pervading your nostrils – Pitchfork allows its attendees a high-quality experience, where you can actually take in and be aware of your surroundings rather than be overwhelmed by them. Incidentally, it also makes finding your friends and bumping into people you know easier.

"We’ve done it in this park for seven years, and there are many other opportunities to move it to a bigger park or do something different with it, but I just like this. I feel like this is the perfect size. Get much larger and you have to walk for miles to get to where you’re going," says Schreiber.

Because it’s sponsored by the influential online music magazine rather than a big marketing firm, there can be, at times, a distinct ‘industry vibe’ (the ratio of industry-to-non industry folks is higher than at bigger fests, even if overall numbers are low). You can’t go more than two feet without seeing someone prance by in a "VIP" pass, "Artist" pass (which managers, agents, and publicists may wear in addition to the bands), or "Press" pass. All of this is a long way of saying that this festival has cred, both geeky and cool.

In addition to the previously-mentioned headliners, buzz-worthy acts like Das Racist, James Blake, Odd Future, Toro y Moi, Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, and Cut Copy were joined by veterans such as Guided By Voices, Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth), Off!, and DJ Shadow. The process of choosing the lineup is "about booking the artists we really love," according to Schreiber. "We [the Pitchfork staff] come up with sort of a dream list, collectively." image Twin Shadow image Das Racist

Battles was one of the first acts to kick off Friday, playing a high-energy set that included LED screens of Gary Numan and Matias Aguayo singing in the background. Perhaps it was the heat, but the crowd, though receptive to the show, seemed to be conserving its energy, failing to match the moxie onstage. Towards the end of the show, guitarist Dave Konopka shouted "Afterward, everyone’s invited to my house, 857 Marshfield. We’ll have a party there." (A quick and stalker-y perusal of Chicago’s White Pages was unable to verify if the Battles guitarist had actually just invited thousands of people to his house.)

Despite the fact that they didn’t humor the audience by playing "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," Das Racist provided some on-stage rowdiness, enhanced by their hype man, Dap, deliriously jumping and running around onstage. The crowd erupted and girls were hoisted onto dudes’ shoulders when the three rappers came onstage and played "Who’s That? Brooown!" The energy (both that of the group and of the crowd) dipped a little towards the middle of the set (at one point, a rapper named Danny Brown from Fool’s Gold hopped onstage, and although his performance promised a talented new MC, the crowd was just hankering for more Das Racist). Finally, towards the end of the show, hands were back in the air when Das Racist launched into "You Oughta Know" before ending the set with "Rainbow in the Dark."

James. Blake. James Blake is perhaps the most buzzed-about artist to play Pitchfork this year and, perhaps, one of the must buzzed about new artists anywhere. Let’s not mince words: Blake did not disappoint. Whereas, after listening to the slow and sparse songs on his debut self-titled album, it can sometimes be tricky to see how his music is affiliated with dubstep, his pitchfork performance was a new (and exciting) experience entirely. The powerful, heavy bassline that’s so characteristic of dubstep came across more clearly in his set than I’d ever heard it before, yet the enveloping beats still left space to enjoy Blake’s haunting vocals. Blake’s stage presence (much like his demeanor in person) was charming and mild-mannered, most clearly evidenced by the fact that he chose to sit off to the side of the stage rather than front-and-center. When he played "CMYK," the crowd turned wild, getting down to the lighter and dance-ier track. Before a rapt audience at dusk, he closed the set with a great rendition of one of his album’s signatures, "The Wilhelm Scream."

After Animal Collective’s Friday night closing set, the crowds dispersed, many en route to any number of "Official" and "Unofficial" after shows and parties. One of the most cleverly marketed parties proved to be a fête hosted by Patron XO Cafe, Spin Magazine, and Superfly marketing group. Invites had been emailed to guests a few days before, revealing only the date and time of the party and vague instructions about finding a food truck parked near the festival grounds, where more information and directions would be dispensed. By 10pm, a small crowd was gathered outside Mama Green’s Gourmet Goodie Truck eager to continue the party-meets-scavenger hunt. We were given cups of iced coffee with the secret address of the event written on the coffee sleeve, which turned out to be the site of Chicago’s Prairie Studios. We party-goers ended up being a funny mix of media folk a little grungy from hanging outside at the festival all day and some of Chicago’s most beautiful people decked out in cocktail dresses and heels. Once inside, you could pose for professional photographs with models dressed in 20s-inspired burlesque costumes, sip any number of Patron-inspired cocktails, and chomp down on classic Chicago-style hors d’oeuvres such as "mini deep dish pizzas" or mini Italian sausages. Walking around the beautiful inside-outside space, sipping Patron margaritas, we could also listen to a live band and watch a magic show. Even if some of it was a little gimmicky – and more than a few people wished the live band could have been replaced by a DJ (of which there are many in Chicago, like the Hood Internet and Flosstradamus) – the party was a success. image Fleet Foxes

Saturday’s uncomfortably hot temps didn’t stop people from getting down during Gang Gang Dance‘s set, which provided a raucous blend of their unique multi-instrumental, percussion-heavy dance music laced with electro. After feverishly jumping and jolting onstage during instrumental breaks, lead singer Lizzie Bougatsos took the mic and told the audience, "If you can’t act crazy onstage, there’s no reason to live. If you see me humping a monitor, you just know."

As it grew later and became just a touch cooler, crowds coalesced before the Green Stage to see Fleet Foxes, who played one of the best sets of the weekend. Given the usual amount of delays in between set changes, people were visibly impressed when the band hopped on stage to begin their show a mere seconds after DJ Shadow ended his at an adjacent stage. Playing mostly songs from their first album led a guy next to me to remark, "They’re just putting on a big show. That’s what they’re doing." Yes, sir. The sound quality was stellar, such that you could actually distinguish between the various instruments onstage. The hushed crowd broke out into cheers when the first chords of "White Winter Hymnal" reverberated out across the crowd–a song that can evoke feelings of wintry tranquility and Christmas tidings even during the peak of summer. In a smart move, they brought the crowd out of their trance with a rocking rendition of "Ragged Wood" before ending on a song from their new album, the titular "Helplessness Blues."

As Day 2 drew to a close, not everyone had the stamina to keep up with the afterparties, but for those of us who did, many chose to head over to Beauty Bar, which hosted one of the few "Official Pitchfork After Parties," featuring DJ sets by Twin Shadow, members of Deerhunter, and Tim Koh of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. The Pitchfork crew (including Ryan Schreiber) were in attendance, as well as members of the Windish Agency (disclosure: I do some on-and-off unpaid work for Windish), which represents both Twin Shadow and Deerhunter and DJ/local celeb Million $ Mano.

Sunday was the most anticipated day at the fest if for only one reason: Odd Future. Already one of the most hyped new acts, Odd Future’s show at Pitchfork received a particularly large amount of publicity due to the planned anti-violence protest during their set. For better or for worse, it appeared that by the end of the afternoon it was Odd Future: 1, Protesters: 0. Representatives from anti-violence groups were in attendance and handing out fans as first reported, but the ill-conceived gesture didn’t seem to have much impact. Sunday was an inferno and concert attendees were grateful to get a fan–any fan–but hardly anyone gave nary a glance to see what was emblazoned on its side (besides, there had been several different sponsors handing out fans throughout the weekend so any novelty was lost). If anything, the preceding controversy and the insane amount of PR that ensued only upped the ante for Odd Future, increasing what would already have been a huge crowd. image Odd Future

Though it was the first time I’d ever seen the collective, Odd Future’s set was basically exactly as I expected: brash, punky, and a pretty damn good time. As Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah reported in her feature on the group in this month’s BlackBook, the guys understand the role they (and the media) have created for themselves, and they work hard to live up to it. They seem to relish playing the part of the villainous rap group, donning freakish masks during set, strutting across the stage, and chest thumping with the bravado that only a twenty-year-old can possess. Occasionally, the heavy bass drowned out some of their lyrics, but when you could hear Tyler, the Creator or Hodgy Beats, their oft-reported crudeness and offensiveness was in full force ("You fucking bitch, you smell like dick").

One majorly weird thing I witnessed were hipster parents who’d brought their toddlers to Odd Future’s set, the dad bopping around to Tyler’s jams with the tot on his shoulders (there were actually a disconcerting amount of hipster parents who brought their kids–sometimes babies!–to the fest). Neither the baby sightings nor the fact that Tyler had been hobbled by a broken foot and monster cast (he spent much of the set seated but managed to get up and chant "Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School" at the end) killed the vibe. As the show ended, Left Brain did a half stage dive/ half body slam, throwing himself projectile-style into the crowd. It was a fitting description of the group itself and their Pitchfork show: aggressive and in your face but openly received by the mainstream.

After that intensity, it was nice to take a breather before heading over to absorb Toro y Moi’s blissed-out, disco-y electronica. Even though the crowd was subdued–maybe still recovering from the heat or Odd Future’s set, or both–their stillness could not be mistaken for disinterest: all eyes were fixed on Toro y Moi, lapping up his every beat.

Finally, as the sun set over the Chicago skyline, TV on the Radio came on and gave everyone a festival-wide second wind. With the ubiquity of electronica or experimental pop at the fest, the explosion of percussion heralding their rock show was a welcome sound. Throughout the set, intensity built up with a steady trajectory but, almost teasingly, would hold out, captured as if like steam pressure in some kind of boiler. That is, until they broke out full-force into "Dancing Choose" ("He’s a newspaper man") and "Wolf Like Me," their crescendos giving the crowd the relief they wanted. The audience ebbed and flowed in a massive wave of dancing and even the industry folk gathered on the VIP risers had their guards down and were seen grooving (one VIP was even maniacally jumping around). Finally, towards the end of the show, hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces joined TV on the Radio onstage, playing tambourine shakers as backup to "A Method."

And with that, another impressive performance ended along with another impressive effort by Pitchfork’s organizers. The festival proved that once again it lived up to much more than the hype of being an "indie fest" or "hipster fest," displaying a diverse line-up and three days of non-stop musical experiences. Combining the cool, industry-ness of SXSW with the grassy, park setting of a large-scale music festival and the intimacy and community vibe of your local fest, Pitchfork has managed to create a unique festival experience. It is sure to continue being a destination for those seeking to hear some of the best acts they know and to be exposed to new ones they don’t.

image James Blake

All Photography by Steve Scap

An Austin Native Considers the South by Southwest Juggernaut

On the last Saturday of the 25th year of the SXSW conference, the final day of musical acts and heavy drinking and involuntary crowd surfing at the nine-day event, Austin was exhausted and a not a little relieved that it was almost over. I know the feeling.

Over the course of February, in preparation for the festival, I created an indexed war plan: Researching what panels to see, screening specific festival films early, and listening to over 1,100 songs by SXSW showcasing artists from the bit torrents legally released online for free. I printed up a Google docs booklet with nearly 80 pages of parties—‘South-by’ and non-‘South-by’ events alike—and RSVP’d to every event I possibly could. Yet when the first day of the festival hit, I found myself overwhelmed, like a kid in a candy store, a pothead in Amsterdam, the foreigner on that first step into Times Square.

I grew up in Austin. My parents worked in the local film business and my first internship was at The Austin Chronicle, the alternative news weekly helmed by editor Louis Black, one of the founders of SXSW. Throughout my childhood I went to parts of the festival every March, when it was still an underdog event that catered primarily to locals and a growing number of entertainment industry execs who looked at it as an opportunity to do behind-the-scenes business. When I moved away in 2000, the locals were still proud of SXSW and all that it had to offer—it was our festival, our chance to make a national impact through Austin’s creativity and unique way of life. We wanted this Austin-made product to catch on and succeed because it represented us in a vicarious way, like Dell Computers, like the Longhorns, like Austin City Limits. Careful what you wish for.

A decade later, many of the locals I chat with before and during the festival are disgusted with the size and the inconvenience it inflicts on their lives over its week and a half run. From a local food editor to a banker to a grad student, most natives now avoid the festivities entirely or at least plan on heading out of town for the music portion of the festival. Which is a bit like living next to the ocean but never going swimming because the beach is crowded. “They’re fuckin’-up our town,” one middle-aged woman tells me at a late-night diner, not noticing the badge I have tucked into my shirt.

The “How big is too big?” question about SXSW is up for debate, as it has been for the last few years in many of Austin’s political circles. Yet with the amount of money wrung out of the festival each year, it doesn’t look like things will change anytime soon. According to the new documentary Echotone, about the changing Austin music industry, SXSW had injected a whopping 110 million dollars into Austin’s economy in 2010. The figure is estimated to be even higher for 2011 due to jumps in attendance, begging the real question: “At what cost?”

image I encounter this mentality first-hand when I try to catch a cab home one night. The dispatcher’s have an automated message set-up due to “high call volume” and many cabs won’t take you to where you want to go if it is not far enough away. I see one drunken girl sobbing on the curb, because no cab will take her home. When I finally flag a cab down, I climb inside before he can lock the back doors. “I’m trying to make as much money as possible tonight,” one cabbie tells me and won’t move until I get out. When I refuse, he screams at me, threatens me and calls the police, telling them I have threatened him and am “kidnapping” him. After what happened to fellow Blackbook writer Brian Van Nieuwenhoven earlier in the week, when he was beaten, arrested and wrongfully detained for the accusation of being “drunk” by a SXSW staffer, I get out and walk thirty-five blocks.

There is a shocking amount of violence, disaster and lawlessness over the course of festival, in a city that I have always known to be relatively laid-back, helpful and kind. To rattle off a few: at a music festival showcase at Stubb’s, a camera crane swooping over the crowd either broke or was improperly operated, crashing down onto spectator’s heads, sending four people to the hospital. At a “free” Strokes show at Auditorium shores, crowds tore down fences that had been set up for some reason, forcing the police to use pepper spray to disperse them. At a Death From Above 1979 concert at Beauty Bar, a crowd of spectators ripped down a back fence to get into the show, drawing mounted police wielding tazers. At the “secret” Kanye West show with Jay-Z and P. Diddy at the Seaholm Power Plant, hundreds of people who had RSVP’d were denied entry at the last minute due to space concerns, bringing hundreds to the brink of riot. Four relatively serious problems in five days illustrates real evidence of an event that has outgrown itself and a city that is ill-prepared to properly control it.

image And then there’s the music. Wasn’t that what SXSW was started for that quarter century ago? Despite the fact that few record contracts are signed at SXSW these days, and many bands should know better then to do so, there are still success stories that come out of the festival. I hear one when I chat with lead singers Michael Fitzsimmons and Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and the Tantrums in the basement of Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, where they are laying on the carpeted floor and using their shwag bags as pillows. They speak in hoarse voices about how they came to SXSW last year and were signed by a label, will be touring Europe and have been named the VH1 “You Oughta Know Artist” of April, for whatever that’s worth. “It’s a dream come true,” Fitzsimmons says. “These things can still happen at SXSW.”

However, on my final night, I witness the extremes of what SXSW has become. As the sun sets I catch the moody and dark electronic rock group Bali Yaaah at Malverde, an upstairs loft with ferns hanging in tin planters from the ceiling. They are the quintessential Austin musicians, guys who have played in numerous bands all over the city for the last decade and are still chasing that dream, but still play because that’s what you do if you’re a musician in Austin these days. On the balconies and street behind them crowds have gathered, but not for their relatively unpublicized show—rather, it’s for the 4th annual Perez Hilton party showcase, which I am reminded to say is sponsored by Carrera sunglasses, at the brand new, three story Moody theater. Inside, I feel like I am back in L.A. as I can smell the newness of everything. They give me free Carrera sunglasses, booze and V.I.P. access. I watch a variety of Pop-Rock bands strut their stuff across the stage from a number of different angles around the theater, without a bad sight line in the house. There are rumors that everyone from Eminem to Rhianna are going to show, but this whole party was built on money gleaned from rumors, and no big acts take the stage.

Outside, on the walk through the breezy, cool night back to my rental car, I see a street musician strumming his guitar for change at a pedestrian crossroads. I give him my Carrera sunglasses.

image

Model Diary: Ellen Von Unwerth Does It Better

There are still some days at this job where everything feels surreal, not yet normalized or rendered unremarkable by me doing it. Tuesday was one of those days, when I shot the Hysteric Glamour campaign with Ellen Von Unwerth. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t, my mom did), Hysteric Glamour is a Japanese streetwear line. My day began thusly: Jonathan, a camera and production assistant with a taste for experimental films, picked me and the other model, Sophie, up in the city to take us to the Clinton Diner in Queens, home of the famous diner scene in Goodfellas. We arrived to a big production. There was an RV in the parking lot, which housed a delicious breakfast, beverages, plus all the Hysteric Glamour clothes and everyone’s personal belongings. Inside the diner, three adorable children were getting their hair and makeup done, as they were shooting the campaign for the kids’ line. Since they were feigning a birthday party, the restaurant was replete with appropriate props: oversized ice-cream cones and burgers, a piñata, bags of candy, birthday cake–I should have been a child model! I mean, we do get some great catered meals, but these kids walked away with a candy loot comparable only to Halloween.

After the kids finished, and when Sophie and I had our hair and makeup just about done, the entire team moved to the second location: Beauty Bar in Bushwick, a bar that looks like a ’60s hair salon. The major source of inspiration for the shoot was the 1975 movie Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty as a heartthrob hairstylist (the movie was set in ’68). Our sexy shampooer was a model named Fray. Due to Ellen’s signature sexual innuendo (which she does so well), there was a lot of inappropriate use of phallic hairstyling objects, including a flesh-colored curling iron and a well-holstered hairdryer.

The shoot was a lot of fun. Ellen is such a great director that the posing and acting came so easily. As we were wrapping, she told Sophie and myself that she was having a party that night for her Crazy for Eva video launch, and that we had to come. I’ve never worked with such a great photographer who was also so nice and friendly and encouraging. I knew working with Ellen Von Unwerth was going to be a great honor, but the whole experience surpassed my expectations.

Adios, ACL: Look at Photos & Watch Black Lips Discuss a Very Special White Russian

Last weekend, we indulged in Austin’s indigenous Sweet Leaf Tea/Tito’s Vodka concoctions, scarfed Brisket sandwiches in 90 degree heat, fist pumped as Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig joined saucy Swedes Miike Snow on stage, sweet talked our way into the Sleigh Bells after-after-show in the intimate confines of Beauty Bar’s backyard, gawked at the exceedingly high ratio of children (many with mohawks) to real-sized people in attendance, raged our faces off in the endless Dedmau5 mosh pit, talked to the comical and sometimes crude Black Lips (video after the jump), and, after three days, miraculously held on to our stamina for The Eagles, along with every over 40-something in Texas. This was Austin City Limits. Check out the photo gallery for an up-close look at the festivities.

Photos and video by Austin Conroy.