Skip to main content

WILD FLAG, Karkwa And Polock Among SXSW Standouts




Bands like 'supergroup' WILD FLAG, Montréal's Karkwa and summery-sounding Polock were among the SXSW highlights for The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali, who recaps her personal adventures at the festival. 

I'm finally back home in NY and my head is still spinning from SXSW. There were so many great bands that played. I wish I could have seen them all. But since they haven't mastered cloning technology yet, that wasn't possible. Although this probably doesn't need to be said, I'll say it anyway: I saw many many great bands.  

WILD FLAG were so incredibly bad, ahhhhh shut yo mouth! The band is made up of: Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole, and Janet Weiss who have previously played in the bands Helium, The Minders, Croissant Cocktail, Feeble Knees, Quasi, Dogz, Sleater-Kinney, Asia, The Consortium, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I am a huge fan of Carrie Brownstein and she shredded on the guitar (I think a little too much because her hand was bleeding). She threw in some windmills and high kicks gave a great vocal performance. The show was intensely high energy and so rock and roll, especially the show I saw them play. I loved it. 

Karkwa is an indie band from Montréal. How did I not know about them? I love Canadian bands! Oh, and I found out that they won the 2010 Polaris Music Prize. I should be ashamed of myself for being so ignorant and I am. No longer since I just discovered them at SXSW. They put on an absolutely captivating show at the Canada Showcase which was held in a tent across from the convention center. They sing in French and even though I didn't understand a word of their lyrics, I was still enthralled.  One song can go from quietly melodic to loud and heavy rock. There are complicated arrangements but well-organized sound.


Polock is really fun band from Valencia, Spain named after the painter Jackson Pollock. Their sound is very warm and lighthearted, even though some of the lyrics are quite the opposite. They make you want to dance, they make you want to holla. Believe me, I did both. They sing in English but you can hear their Spanish accents, which I like. This was one of my favorite shows at SXSW. Although I saw them pretty late at night and was exhausted from running around the city, I forgot all about my fatigue and was transported to a very sunny place and was energized. Also, their music feels like summertime and that is a great thing to be reminded of on a cold day, here in New York.


As for SXSW, 6th Street is one of the main drags at the festival. It is the Bourbon Street of Austin. It's insanely packed at all times and I have a love/hate relationship with it.

The venues at the festival were really varied. Some were great, like Cedar St. Courtyard.  Others were really dank and smelled like toilets with very bad sound. It's funny that this is a place where you are supposed to assess whether a band is good or not and sometimes you can't really hear what's going on. I do love that the city makes use out of every available space, though, and really appreciated all the parking lot, street corner and church shows. It was weird seeing Twin Shadow in a church, but liberating to dance in the aisles. It felt very "Footloose."

It is pretty cool to be walking around town bumping into musicians all over the place. As soon as I got off the plane in Austin, the airport was packed with bands. My Morning Jacket's Jim James was one of the first people I saw there and just walking around you'd see tons of musicians.

I saw the Apex Manor guys on the street at 2:30 a.m. and Sharon Van Etten picking up her credentials outside of the Austin Convention Center. Bonjay were at the coffee shop.  I also ran into friends - radio people, label people, promoters, photographers, journalists and listeners -  that I don't normally get to see, so that was really great. An academic friend of mine, who came out to visit on the last day, said that this conference reminded her of the ones that she goes to, except everyone  dresses differently, wearing leather and tattoos instead of suits and briefcases.

I did three different interviews while I was there. One was with Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside which is a young band looking to really make the most of their time at SXSW. They were willing to performed a song for me on whim which was probably not what they wanted to do on a hot day after they'd already performed and were on their way to another engagement. Sallie Ford is an impressive performer and I really liked the unique cadence of her voice. The rest of the band were also skilled players and very friendly too. I appreciated that they weren't jaded by being at the conference and festival. They didn't see it as a chore, which believe it or not, many bands do.


Cave Singers are a bunch of jokers.  I met up with them behind a pizza shop on South Congress Avenue, which is a lovely area. I enjoyed hanging out with them even though they didn't really seem to want to discuss any hard hitting subjects. But that's cool with me. You want to go to crazy town with this interview? Well, all right,  I'm drivin'. After the interview was over, I wanted to tell Dave that I was a big fan of Pretty Girls Make Graves, but I figured I probably shouldn't go all fangirl on him. Also, he's in Cave Singers now. A great band. No need to bring up the past.

TV On The Radio are one of the more established bands at SXSW, but despite their massive popularity, they were very chill and down to earth guys. I met with them at their hotel room and was just one of many people interviewing them that day. I talked to Jaleel Bunton, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. They were a really friendly crew and I felt very comfortable talking to them. Afterward, I felt like we were friends. I probably won't be getting any invtitations from them to hang out at shows or parties or anything, but for the short time I spent with them, they made me feel very welcome. We joked around and talked music and  I'd say it was a success.


I also did some live radio broadcasts. This was perhaps the most stressful, but most fulfilling of my experiences. I got to introduce a couple of bands on stage: The Head and the Heart at the WFUV showcase and The Joy Formidable at the NPR day party. Both of these situations were absolutely terrifying for me. As a radio person, I'm much more comfortable being heard rather than being seen. But I did it and I didn't make a complete fool of myself, so that was good.

My station WFUV, in collaboration with NPR Music, did live broadcasts of several shows which were broadcast and streamed on 90.7 WFUV, The Alternate Side and NPR Music.  Live broadcasts are always scary, because you really have to fly by the seam of your pants. There were a several moments of, "And we now go live to the stage ... oh wait, they're not ready yet." So you have to fill time with commentary that is hopefully entertaining and informative. There's a lot of technical stuff that happens behind the scenes too, so you always need to be mindful of the cues that people are giving you while you're talking. None of the live broadcasts would happened at all without the behind-the-scenes crew. They are so much smarter and organized than I'll ever be. So a gigantic thanks to the WFUV and NPR Music production teams.