DJ Showcase: Spiros, Thursday, Mar 16
Spiros, Thursday, Mar 16 When it's all said and done, it comes down to two silly words: "What Happened?" After last South by Southwest's blazing, eclectic, electronica/DJ showcases-cum-extravaganza, this year's alleged festival blowout showstopper just plain fizzled, like a soggy firecracker that sat out in the rain too long. The proverbial downpour, in this case, may have signified a year in which Miami's Winter Music Festival finally took hold of the the DJ/electronica world and wouldn't let go. For the past few years, the synthesized and genre-specific areas of the Austin fest have attracted some of the best and brightest of the E/DJ crewzone. Locals, like longtime house heroes Herb Agapetus of Alien Records and 626 Soul's Chris Specht and Coy West, not to mention stalwart spinners like DJ Jacqueline and Merrick Brown, had turned SXSW 99 into a funky, freaky, free-for-all. This year, a trip inside Spiros dance club found precious few party people not gathered around the bar, even while hardhouse manic DJ Damon layed out a fusillade of gut-busting, punchy, "how much bass can you take?" beats in the cloistered booth overlooking the dance floor. Granted, it was half past 9pm in a venue known for its late-night action, but you had to ask: where was everybody? The club, no doubt, slowly filled, crowds forming as Hamburg's Plexiq soundchecked their way to freedom: a drone here, a beat there. Upstairs, of course, it was a different matter, with preprogrammed, thud-heavy techno 'n' bass assaulting the Green Galactic Records gang as they fueled a private party via some kickin' hors d'oeuvres and an open bar. Still, that was unknown and off-limits to most of the attendees substairs. And when, around 10:15pm or so, Plexiq finally took the stage, it was still a cool, heavy, pure funk-meets-beats blowout. Comparisons to the old SF band the Beatnigs weren't out of order with the group, which featured a megaphone-shouting vox man and a tsunami of lightshow-and-scratch-heavy compositions. They rocked up a storm, but again, where was the crowd? Over at Twist, SXSW's other home of the beat, things were much their sad, same, stagnant self. Superstar junglista DJ Kathy Russell, late of Rollers Redefined and Austin's highly literate answer to DJ Ra, offered up her first self-taught-'n'-caught dubplate, a track called "Whirlwind," to little response. The party people were in the house (some of them), but that opening salvo went by without even the deserved, shouted "hurrah!" or any other display of local affection. Even fire-spinning co-conspirator Ilse Rachut's flamey whirlwind proved unable to incite the usual Friday night riot. Was it weird? Sure. Wrong, too. The question, as above, is "why?" and what do the reps of America's underground electronica scene -- those that were here in the trenches and not off in industry-heavy Miami -- think of Austin now? A scene is what you make of it, and this night, at least, Austin proved the national score right on target when they wonder what, if anything, is going on here in Capitol City.