The Beatdown

Get out of Denver, baby, go!

This week, twenty or so local artists will invade Austin for the 2005 incarnation of South by Southwest. For those keeping score, that's roughly quadruple the number of Denver-area acts that showcased there in 2004. Good for us -- and about time.

As cool as Mootown's showing sounds, though, earning a slot at SXSW doesn't mean what it used to. In the early days, labels would send acts straight from the fest into Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous territory, where they'd bang Hollywood starlets before taking dirt naps face down in piles of booger sugar, Tony Montanastyle. Or so the stories go. But take it from me, folks: I've been to SXSW five years straight, and it's not all it's cracked up to be -- at least for musicians.

For fans, SXSW is an overwhelming, undeniably orgiastic affair: Last year I saw TV on the Radio, Dillinger Escape Plan, American Music Club, the Hives and the Killers, among others. But from an artist's -- and particularly a neophyte's -- perspective, getting a slot at SXSW has all the makings of one giant letdown. Imagine spending twenty-plus hours sleeping on top of other bandmembers in a smelly van, subsisting on Little Juan burritos and taking hobo showers in roadside truck stops, just for the chance to perform an abbreviated set for a roomful of jaded, overworked, underpaid industry minions (who are essentially on spring break) in the vain hope that you'll somehow stand out from the nine zillion other minstrels performing at the same time.

But, hey, at least you get to relive the glory days of seven-digit dialing and drink ice-cold Lone Star for a few days.

If I were still playing, I'd take a cue from the funkmojones in the Deep Pocket Three and head east instead. Far east. Zac Lee and his bandmates -- bassist Captain Payne and drummer Keith Richard (their real names, no shit) -- will cross the Pacific later this week and commence to rocking the troops. Japan. Guam. Singapore. Diego Garcia. Fourteen dates in three weeks, to be exact, and all on Uncle Sam's dime. Nice work if you can get it. So how did DP3 land the gig?

"We just applied," Lee says. "Actually, I applied in '97 with a different band and kind of went through the process, and they didn't pick us up. So I decided to apply again with Deep Pocket Three. I went through a review that took about a year of sending different press kits in and stuff. Finally they had a tour, and our band fit what they were looking for."

While DP3 won't make the type of connects that their Austin-bound counterparts will -- there's no denying that SXSW is a great place to network -- you can't hate on a free jaunt to the Orient. "You get to take this amazing trip to places you would never, or could ever, get to," Lee enthuses. "It's just something that I've heard of other bands doing, and they've come back with this amazing experience. I've always wanted to do it -- you know, get out and tour and not lose money."

Let's see if I've got this straight: Free airfare and hotel accommodations to play in front of packed houses filled with earnest people starved for entertainment of any kind, and a handsome paycheck to boot? God bless America, boys and girls.

Seal a deal: If our town's showing at SXSW isn't enough to convince you that the local scene is exploding, here's more evidence.

A big ol' slap on the ass goes out to Gared O'Donnell and Planes Mistaken for Stars, which is now hashing out a deal with Relapse Records. According to singer/guitarist O'Donnell, barring any unforeseen monkey wrenches, Planes and Cephalic Carnage should soon be labelmates. In the meantime, Planes is recording this week at Flatline Audio with Dave Otero,reworking an older song for an upcoming Relapse compilation, and will appear live this Sunday, March 20, at the 15th Street Tavern.

Matson Jonesis in talks with Sympathy for the Record Industry, the label that broke the White Stripes (and subsequently got shafted when Jack and Meg White jumped ship to V2, taking their back catalogue with them -- but that's a whole 'nother Oprah). And George & Caplin has inked a deal with Portland-based Beta-Lactam Ring Records.

Finally, Orbit Service's Randall Frazier has secured a distribution deal with Chicago-based independent wholesaler Carrot Top Limited for his Helmet R00m Recordings imprint, home of Drop the Fear, Orbit Service and Sons of Armageddon. On the word of Roir Records owner Lucas Cooper, who vouched for the fledgling Denver label, the deal was pretty much done even before Carrot Top listened to any of the material. Reports Frazier, "When I talked to them, their response was, ŒWell, anyone who was recommended by Lucas at Roir, I can almost guarantee that we're going to take your stuff.'"

The alliance with Carrot Top, which distributes such estimable indie labels as Camera Obscura and Teenbeat, will ensure that Helmet R00m's catalogue is available throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Japan and parts of Europe. But don't expect to find Drop the Fear or Orbit Service -- whose latest efforts have garnered substantial airplay at stations across the country -- at any of the big-box retailers. "It doesn't mean we're going to be in Tower Records or anything," Frazier explains, "but venues sort of like Twist & Shout on a worldwide scale."

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