Playback: Gone Unsane

Unsane bassist just left Austin for Italy, while SXSW eschews Sonicbids to bring their submissions process in-house


Unsanity: (l-r) Spencer, Curran, and Signorelli at Grizzly Hall in 2016 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

"I came to Austin straight from New York," details Unsane bassist Dave Curran. "I moved down there because, over the last 25 years, it has been a special place for all of us in the band. We've made good friends there, including the old Emo's crew."

So notes the Texas state capital's latest expat, low-end on nearly three decades of surging noise, metal, and hardcore punk. After two years here, where he often ran sound at live music venues, Curran's gone Mediterranean. He now plugs into Milanese culture, recently relocating to the Euro boot with his Italian girlfriend. Austin's never far from his thoughts, however.

For instance, the aforementioned alternative lounging venue hosted Curran's first local gig with Unsane in 1994. He remembers that Biohazard singer/bassist/inevitable porn actor Evan Seinfeld jumped up and sang a Led Zeppelin song with the NYC trio at the end of the set. Only that year had the native New Yorker begun touring as the group's soundman. After a fill-in bassist was sent packin' following a violent meltdown over his missing toothpaste cap, Curran took over on the instrument, a job he's held ever since alongside bandleader Chris Spencer and drummer Vinnie Signorelli.

"We've had our pitfalls like any other group and split up two or three times," he admits. "At the end of the day, though, you love each other, you hate each other, but you're brothers and you stick to it."

Loudness has proved a singular bond in the three musicians' legacy, pressed on touchstone labels Matador, Amphetamine Reptile, Relapse, Ipecac, and Alternative Tentacles. The argument could be made they're the definitive noise rock act, a thesis largely supported by the fact they've never put out a bad album. Like fellow volume fiends Motörhead before them, Unsane doesn't fuck with their formula – apart from Spencer's on-again/off-again harmonica howling.

When Unsane swings its aural wrecking ball into Sidewinder on Friday, don't be surprised to hear some caustic new grooves, either. Their eighth murder scene – er, album – Sterilize, arrives Sept. 29 on Southern Lord. Curran recorded the platter, which prompts questions about someone of his ilk maintaining enough hearing for the task after 23 years playing in Unsane.

"I rely on my natural wax buildup," chuckles Curran, who only recently started wearing earplugs at band practice. "Your ears are self-cleaning and self-protecting organs. A doctor told me that once."

SXSW Drops Sonicbids

Badges for South by Southwest 2018 hit the market Tuesday, but showcasing artist applications have been ongoing since June 26. Returning musicians have likely noticed a major change in the submission process this year: SXSW has stopped using Sonicbids, the conference's exclusive application platform since 2008.

"We decided to just take applications through our own system," says SXSW Music GM James Minor, referring to an internal web page allowing users to simply enter links for their Bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, etc. "We looked at our options this year in terms of a submission platform and the most appealing out of them – for this season – was actually just doing it ourselves."

Neither Minor nor SXSW head honcho Roland Swenson spoke ill of Sonicbids or specified a reason for the split other than it just made sense. Still, "Playback" bets that musicians will breathe a sigh of relief to not be updating their dormant Sonicbids pages this year. The subscription site, promoted as a means to connect bands with gigs through creating and sharing electronic press kits (EPKs), has become largely derided amongst musicians in recent years. If you Google "Sonicbids review," all but one entry on the first page of results are people debating whether it's a complete scam or simply an ineffective product preying on cash-strapped musicians. The 35 Denton festival came under fire of "pay-to-play" accusations last year when it began utilizing Sonicbids as a booking platform.

By far, Sonicbids' most prominent clients were the CMJ Music Marathon – which appears to have gone extinct – and SXSW. Minor says EPKs were a convenient way to review the voluminous artist submissions they receive (more than 7,000 applicants for SXSW 2017, each evaluated by at least two staffers), but notes that, compared to this time last year, applications are "way up."

Applying for SXSW costs $35 until Sept. 8, then goes up to $55 until Oct. 20.

Music Is on the Menu

Food, music, conversation: That's the recipe behind Music Is on the Menu, a new monthly series blending hip-hop and foodie cultures. The brainchild of promoter B. Jabbar Sheffield and C.K. Chin of Sichuan/dim sum favorite Wu Chow and Congress Avenue hot spot Swift's Attic comes to fruition this week with four courses of events.

Sunday, MIotM brings rap rabble-rousers Dead Prez to the Little Darlin' for a free daytime show. That night, Midas touch beatmaker/producer Dan the Automator turns up for a family-style DJ set/dinner/cocktail hour at Swift's Attic. De La Soul DJ Maseo hits Swift's on Wednesday for a "meet, greet, and eat," featuring dishes playing on his unique tastes including banana pudding, corned beef and cabbage, and ketchup before heading to Cheer Up Charlies for a DJ set.

Sheffield says the ongoing series will involve diverse artists and figures from Austin's culinary world. Meanwhile, he'll be rolling tape for video content capturing the merger of music, cuisine, and conversation.

Upstairs at Caroline

It won't be hard to miss the new rooftop hangout at the bustling corner of Seventh & Congress. The christening for Upstairs at Caroline begins with three nights this weekend in a rock-solid concert series assembled by SXSW booker Jes Elliott.

Thursday opens with alt-pop songman Walker Lukens and DJ Jes Carpenter, Friday gets meaty with Colombian beach funk tribe Superfónicos and all-female DJ crew Chulita Vinyl Club, and Saturday peaks with Leslie Sisson's stealthy Moving Panoramas with Veronica Ortuno spinning records. Next Friday hosts an indie R&B solo outing of Rob Lowe from instrumental favorites Balmorhea, with Orthy on the decks, before blues/R&B uplifter Jai Malano closes it down the following night with DJ Waikiki Leaks. All shows 7-11pm.

Caroline's GM William Hong says he plans to make music a permanent fixture at the second-story backyard business, which is connected to the Aloft/Element hotels.

Half Notes

Charlize Theron wore a Uranium Savages T-shirt on the Bravo network's Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen on Sunday, complete with their enduring and mysterious numerological fixation, "709." The bizarre musical comedy troupe, known for lampooning songs – if not entire genres – has been an Austin institution since 1974.

Louis Messina, the locally based concert promotions power player who represents Taylor Swift, was thrown a 70th birthday party at Arlyn Studios last Thursday. Guests included his Messina Group superstars George Strait, Ed Sheeran, and Shawn Mendes; Taylor's parents Andrea and Scott Swift; and local luminaries Shakey Graves and Bobbie Nelson. Beau Bedford's Dallas conglomerate, the Texas Gentlemen, served as the house band, at times backing Sheeran, Strait, and Mendes.

Shirley's Temple has quietly reopened in a large warehouse behind a shuttered sofa store at 6500 Burnet Rd. The DIY venue launched off North Lamar last July and hosted frequent shows until late May, when the landlord issued an eviction notice – coincidently during a major PC kerfuffle on social media, in which one collective member accused another of "gaslighting" and "micro-aggression." The nondescript Shirley's 2.0 hosted a darkwave show last Thursday and 23-act event called "Solidarity" the following night.

Tish Hinojosa is fundraising to purchase the San Antonio home she grew up in, also the subject of her 1989 ballad "West Side of Town." The Austin-based bilingual folk singer plans to turn the large, 107-year-old house into an acoustic listening room and community event space called Home for the Arts. Hinojosa hopes to raise $190,000 at www.gofundme.com/tishhomeforthearts.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
SXSW List No. 4
SXSW List No. 4
Dan Auerbach’s father and 118 other acts

Raoul Hernandez, Jan. 18, 2018

WagakkiBand Hits the Des Moines Embassy Like a Rain of Shuriken
SXSW Music: WagakkiBand
Japanese fusion superstars to rock Downtown ATX this Friday night

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 17, 2016

More Playback
Playback: And the Armadillos Went Wild
Playback: And the Armadillos Went Wild
Threadgill’s World Headquarters goes the way of its predecessor, the Armadillo World Headquarters, plus Black Fret offers more than just money

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 7, 2018

Playback: Compose Like a Pro
Playback: Compose Like a Pro
Graham Reynolds teaches musicians how to score ... film

Kevin Curtin, Nov. 30, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Unsane, Dave Curran, SXSW Music, Sonicbids, Music Is on the Menu, Upstairs at Caroline, Charlize Theron, Uranium Savages, Louis Messina, Tish Hinojosa, Shirley's Temple

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle