You wanna get noticed at the annual music-industry hypefest-the South-by-Southwest Music Festival (SXSW). In fact, it's the whole reason you got the band back together, mortgaged the house and went to Austin. But how you gonna do it?
Well, you can pull a Wolfmother and have your record label (provided you have one) unleash a deluge of promotional hype-billboards, flyers, stickers, free CDs, TV specials-on unsuspecting, sunburned music geeks from Williamsburg. Or you can go the Black Angels route and busk your asses off.
The Black Angels route, by the way, is way better.
This year, the Austin band took it easy, playing a modest five shows in four days. But that's only because they wanted to keep a low profile after their big breakout years of '05 and '06.
'The first two years we played, we did it guerrilla-style and just set up anytime and anywhere we could in the city and starting playing,' says singer-bassist Alex Maas from a tour van rolling across the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line. 'We took the attitude that if we sounded good, people would notice us. But this year it was a bit different. We had a couple of showcases and had people actually promoting the shows.'
Distinguishing your band from the, literally, hundreds of other acts at SXSW is the whole goal of the fest. But it rarely happens. Maybe three or four bands emerge with a blog army behind them. Luckily, The Black Angels scream 'hip, undiscovered indie genius.'
Taking their name from The Velvet Underground's 'The Black Angel's Death Song,' the band makes no attempt to hide its Lou Reed and Nico fetish. But they also include sonic tributes from bands tastemakers love: a healthy smidge of My Bloody Valentine's feedback loops, a dash of The Warlocks' trippy space-rock and plenty of fellow Texans 13th Floor Elevators' garage grunts. Basically, every song the Angels do sounds like the soundtrack to the climax to a great Vietnam movie (note: they are currently touring with Vietnam, an equally excellent retro band).
After a few key showcases at SXSW 2006, the band began to garner good press and a small but captivated following. By 2007, they came away from the fest with blogs buzzing and a New York Times blurb heralding their live madness.
'It's amazing when you have people calling you and e-mailing you saying they read about you here or here,' says Maas.
But the Angels are glad this year's fest is in the past and aren't super-psyched to do it all over again.
'It's become a good thing and bad thing for the city,' says Maas. 'It's good because you have all these amazing bands together, but it's bad because it overtakes the town. The clubs aren't run by the same people you know, and everything just seems thrown off somehow. There's definitely a sense of hysteria to the event.'
While the hype they pulled from the fest doesn't necessarily translate to a sold-out national tour, the Angels have parlayed their press into solid ticket sales.
'We're still not to the point where people are going crazy over us or anything,' says Maas. '[When we played] in Columbus, Ohio, and it was only the second time we had ever played there, there were like 200-some people there and it was a total surprise. We're playing in towns we've never played before, and people are showing up.'
'But then you still have people who aren't into it or don't get it,' he added. 'But that's always going to happen.'
But The Black Angels aren't easy to get. Like The Velvet Underground, they don't put on a show for timid pop fans. And 15-minute drones fueled by tribal tom-toms don't excite a money-minded music-industry man like a Wolfmother riff can. But for a generation awaiting Nico's second coming, the Angels are good for a few dozen gushing blog posts.
The Black Angels play with Vietnam and Spindrift at The Casbah on June 2. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10-$12. 619-232-HELL.
Got something to say? E-mail us at email@example.com.