The main strip in South by Southwest (SXSW), the musical festival held in Austin, Texas, teems with small, dingy dive bars hosting the most important musical acts of 2011. On any corner you could run into Bob Geldof – the festival’s keynote speaker this year – Simon Le Bon, Jack White or Odd Future, the most exciting act in the world at the moment.
Guitar rock rules here. After many pale imitations, the talking point was the Strokes, who played in a riverside park outside the main area. The band, who are releasing their fourth album, Angles, today, performed at twilight before a backdrop of sci-fi skyscrapers and flitting bats. They sounded fresher and crisper than any of the indie bands playing at the festival. Julian Casablancas’s molasses-slicked voice and rock-star presence showed up many of the pretender bands and even the poorer songs from the new album were enjoyable. Most of the crowd stopped tearing into their enormous turkey legs as soon as they started. The fireworks at the end of the set provided an apt finale.
Legends of synthpop Duran Duran headlined on the first evening and, again, showed their progeny how it’s done. A synth (and a tattoo) in Austin is a standard accessory and the carbon new wave copies can get tiresome. But the lengthy queues for the Brummie band were deserved. They proved why they’ve been so popular for decades.
The highlight, the show that was talked about for the entire weekend, was Odd Future. They’re a macabre, lyrically knifesharp hip-hop collective in their late teens. They played in a skate park in the blazing sun and climbed on top of the speakers and the roof, rapping over the crowd before launching themselves like flying squirrels into the pit and continuing their songs, held up by their loyal fans.