Echotone means ‘tension in ecologies’, when there’s an overlap. Specifically to this film, it means the development of downtown Austin and it’s longstanding position as the Live Music Capital of the World.
I lived in Austin for 7 years- from the day after I graduated high school (I hated my small town that much) to a week after I got my Master’s degree from the University of Texas. From the moment I first went there in my early teens, to when I used to visit in my later teens…I always knew it would be the only place in Texas for me. The music, the local, forward thinking, ‘Keep Austin Weird‘ mentality, the embracing of the creative class…Hamilton Pool (pretty much my favorite place on Earth), Barton Springs, Alamo Drafthouse, BBQ, Tex-Mex, Rollerderby, Austin City Limits, SXSW….it’s a cool place.
I was excited to see this film, one that seemed like it would catch me up on what I’ve missed since I moved away 4 years ago. I’ve been back several times since leaving, and had noticed the huge high rise condos that had started taking over the downtown area. I thought that was weird, considering the economy, and the fact that it’s Texas and most people want space and a yard. But considering how sad the partially built Intel building was- which served as a reminder of the dot com bubble burst; the newly constructed skyline seemed much more promising. The film aimed to explore the new constructions’ relationship with the music scene.
The film highlights the work of Austin musicians such as Ghostland Observatory, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Sound Team– more specifically, Bill Baird and his new project Sunset, The Black Angels, and Belaire. With the exception of GLO, the artists are portrayed as struggling with success, trying to come to terms with commercializing their art, and, of course, being eccentric creatives. While it was good to not hear about the legacy acts that often symbolize Austin- like Willie Nelson- it would have been nice to cover a greater variety of Austin bands. Trail of Dead, Spoon, The Sword, White Denim, and Explosions in the Sky come to mind.
The parts of the film that dealt more with new constructions’ effects on the music industry really hit home- well, my new home that is. San Francisco has dealt with the same problem- noise ordinances make shows at Slim’s extremely quiet, and DNA Lounge has been affected as well. While the tall high rise buildings in Austin are a bit away from the live music, a particular battle on Red River- my favorite area of downtown- was highlighted. Apparently a new condo has moved in across from Club DeVille (which was my favorite bar when I lived there), and there is a live music ban after midnight in the area. My first thought was, damn, I’d like to live right there. But then my second thought was- what were these people thinking!? The people who built it, the city officials who allowed it, and the people who moved in?
While the film does a good job of capturing the mentality of the city, the spirit of the artists it chose to represent it, and the challenges that are facing the city in terms of supporting the artists and the live music industry- it struggles to weave this all together into a strong narrative. At times, I felt like the film didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be.
This could be, in part, due to the answer the director gave during the Q&A after, regarding what he hoped the film achieves. The director stated that he wanted the film to ask all the questions, but not necessarily give all the answers. The lead singer from Belaire was also in attendance, along with Bill Baird, who handed his brown paper-sacked bottle to a friend as he walked up to the front of the room. Someone asked him what he’s doing now and how he feels about it, and he said he was doing the same thing, and that, like Sound Team, he’s sure it will end at some point. “I build stuff up, and I tear it down”. It was a rather poetic answer concerning the film’s content.
Austin, are you ready for me to return in a few weeks for SXSW?!