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Monday, March 13, 2006

I Become Small and Go

With South By Southwest kicking off this week, some articles popped up in local publications like the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend. Two articles in particular, one by Thor Christensen and one by Cary Darling, cover bands/artists from SxSW's past that came in with a lot of hype but later received a cold shoulder by a mainstream audience and the same people that championed them before. As the music history buff that I am, I was really happy to see these get mentioned. Don't get me wrong: I'm not somebody who likes to dance around failure. However, I appreciate it when convoluted claims get struck down with the passage of time. Reminders are always worth mentioning in order to understand the present and the near-future.

While a lot of SxSW is about the wide variety of acts that play and the networking possibilities that come with it, there's always a lot of talk of who's going to be a breakout act that year. The shows that are packed with industry insiders and curious fans almost always guarantee a strong buzz for months to come. Sure, speculations and predictions pass the time, but anything is fair game when an act gets past the initial buzz stage.

Last year, Bloc Party was a hotly-tipped band to see and they actually lived up to their hype. Their debut album, Silent Alarm, is stunning and it sold very well in the US and England. Yet for every act that rises above initial speculation, there is a long trail of never-weres. Darling's article mentions Kasabian, Louis XIV and Kaiser Chiefs while Christensen's mentions Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Propellerheads and Cast. There are quite a few more to add to this list. Hell, there are enough acts to fill a whole book or two. Here are some from my recent memory:

Radish
Here was a Greenville, TX-based trio featuring a young vocalist/guitarist named Ben Kweller that signed with Mercury Records for millions of dollars. Though Kweller would go on to have a legitimate solo career, Radish was another grungy guitar rock that seemed perfect for the insanely broad audience aged between 14 and 15 years of age. Their Mercury debut, Restraining Bolt, sold poorly and their follow-up, Sha-Sha, was never released.

Girls Against Boys
Here was a band that already had a number of challenging, but still really good, releases on Touch & Go. When their popularity reached a point where major labels were having a bidding war over them, a lot of eyes were on what they did next. By the time their major label debut, Freak*on*ica, was released in '98, the record barely received any recognition. Luckily, the band kept going and put out another album, You Can't Fight What You Can't See, on Jade Tree in 2002.

Creeper Lagoon
Off the heals of a really fine debut album, I Become Small and Go, Creeper Lagoon signed with DreamWorks in 2000. Their '01 album, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday, was an all-out rock record that didn't fare too well with older fans and did not find an audience at all. The band continues today but with a revamped lineup.

The Mooney Suzuki
Here was a band that came with a lot of promise with the modern garage rock wave of 2001. Their album, Electric Sweat, got a lot of good national attention and college radio play. Their major label debut, Alive & Amplified, was universally ignored in 2004 and they vanished. Reportedly, they're currently working on a new album for V2.

This list gets longer every year, yet despite all of this, I wonder what all the hype is about in the first place. Certain aspects of the recording industry are built around gambling, so that makes sense for others, but not to me, a non-gambler. Maybe there is a prestige about knowing about an act months before they were cool to like. In my mind, that leads to never-ending searches with a lot of misses. Yesterday's hype almost always gets down-played in the present. Knowing that, I wonder how stable is it to stake claims in something that isn't concrete in the first place. Maybe fortune tellers should be at SxSW instead of industry insiders.

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