Honing to my trusty method of adapting Brian Eno's theory of "happy accidents" in the recording studio to a tired rock critic stumbling from club to club in search of chance musical discoveries, my third night in Austin yielded some great results, as well as a fair share of duds. But I'll mostly stick with recounting the peaks.
Intrigued by the name of a band from Minneapolis called Gay Witch Abortion, I started my night at a club called Soho (pretty much the diametric opposite of the Soho one would find in New York, but that's beside the point).
Gay Witch Abortion
A duo comprised of Shawn Walker on drums and Jesse Bottomley on guitar and (minimal) vocals, the band played a punishing brand of stoner-rock that incorporated just enough of a modern post-rock edge to justify the musicians' short haircuts. (No Sasquatch, these boys.) Touchingly, they also seemed to have their parents selling their merch at the back of the club. (Feel the raw power here.)
From there it was back to Mohawk Patio for a packed showcase of cutting-edge hip-hop and electronic acts promoted by Chicago's Biz 3 publicity firm.
How hip was the room? I spotted an incognito Perez Hilton--he was wearing a hat over his silly hairdo, and he stuck his conference registration badge inside a pocket as soon as he entered the club--frantically rushing to elbow his way in.
I had come for the much-buzzed female rapper Uffie, but things were running so late, I caught two other acts first.
Salem: Heather Marlatt, John Holland and Jack Donoghue
Salem is a trio from Traverse City, Michigan, though they also spent some time in Chicago, which creates a dense, difficult, sludgy but sexy sound that is simultaneously alienating and seductive, with elements of trip-hop, gothic darkwave, Southern hip-hop and electronic pop music. Part of me loved it, and part of me hated, but I certainly am intrigued enough to eagerly seek out their recordings as soon as I get home.
It was much easier to make up my mind about Maluca, a New York rapper of Dominican descent who affected fashion-model cool while wearing a SWAT helmet (don't ask me why) and moving in tandem with two dancers who flanked her. The artist's self-described "electro meringue" was not without its appeal, but her performance was flat and uninspired, and she seemed to be doubling her vocals over canned backing tracks. (Check it out here.)
Meanwhile, in the smaller side room at Mohawk--many Austin clubs have two stages, one inside and one outside--a quintet from Melbourne, Australia, called Summer Cats jangled through a delightful set that mixed equal parts vintage Go Betweens' pop sophistication and Beat Happening garage naivete. (Bop along while listening here.)
Finally, Uffie took the stage back outside. Born Anna-Catherine Hartley in Florida but raised in Hong Kong and now based in Paris, the globe-trotting rapper mixes synth-pop, electronica and hip-hop on her forthcoming debut album "Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans," a title that hints at the often very salty language and in-your-face sexuality of her lyrics. The word in the dance underground is that Ke$ha! pretty much ripped off her act from Uffie, but so far, I'd say Lady Gaga has it all over both of them.
From there, I headed back to Elysium, which was now hosting SXSW's "Japan Nite," for an artist called Omodaka.
A solo project by electronic composer Soicchi Terada, Omodaka mixed entrancing electronic sounds, strange video projections and a reworked space-age take on Kabuki theater, making for a set that was otherworldly both musically and visually. (Sample the music here.)
Night three ended for me back at Stubb's again (ugh) with a fascinating Bay Area act called Beats Antique.
Musically, producers David Satori and Sidecar Tommy create an unlikely mix of electronic burbles, live trance drumming and Middle Eastern drones, but just as important is the non-musical third partner in the core trio, bellydancer Zoe Jakes, who helps turn the already entrancing sounds into a full-fledged tribal fusion bacchanal. Recently signed with managers C3 Presents, it's a pretty fair bet they'll win a sweet slot at Lollapalooza. (Sample the music here.)