Alisa Preisler is a booking agent at The Agency Group. After getting her start as assistant to The Agency Group’s vice president, Dave Kaplan (agent for The Black Keys, The Kills, Father John Misty and Foals), Preisler now books her own roster. She was responsible for 13 different acts at this year’s SXSW, including Allah-Las, Black Angels, Black Lips, Coathangers, Nobunny and Roky Erickson. We asked her to recount one of her days busy days in Austin, Texas.
I head to the convention center at 11am to catch Dave Grohl’s Keynote speech. The room is full, and there is only standing room left. Grohl basically goes through his musical history—from teaching himself to play drums on pillows, early punks bands, Nirvana, and the start of Foo Fighters. One highlight for me is when he goes off on the concept of rating music and how it’s bullshit. I couldn’t agree more.
Attempt to find a bloody mary and breakfast tacos. En route I run into Swim Deep and their manager. I had never met the band before, so running into them when I am hungover and in need of a bloody was a bit disconcerting. They had just been at the Austin Psych Fest showcase at Hotel Vegas and saw the Shivas who they said were awesome. Not the first time I have heard about the band. I say goodbye and promise to see them later at Fader Fort which is to be their first US performance ever.
Get to Hotel Vegas in time to talk to Wampire before they play. They tell me they met a random guy on the streets of Austin who offered to play jaw harp during their set. I don’t really believe them, but sure enough, there is a 60+ old man (RB Leslie is his name) standing side of the stage with a jaw harp in his mouth and all miced up. Despite having some sound issues, the set is great and chock full of songs from their debut full length release coming out on Polyvinyl in May. They also include their cover of Kraftwerk’s “Das Modell” which sounds just as good live as on the band’s The Hearse 7”.
After their set, I head to the back patio to the merch area to say hello to Rob Fitzpatrick—the talent buyer for Austin Psych Fest and the main man behind today’s extravaganza. It is a bit early in the day so things are fairly calm, but we both discuss how it will only get increasingly busy as the day progresses. I’m then supposed to meet up with Toy and their manager for the first time. Normally, it probably would be a bit easier to have spotted them—but the amount of long-haired musician looking types in the Hotel Vegas complex is a bit insane. I finally find the band and give them a handful of wristbands that are good for free Sailor Jerry drinks all week at Gypsy Lounge next door. Their manager later tells me those wristbands saved them for the entire week—thanks Sailor Jerry!
I head over to Fader Fort to catch Swim Deep’s 3:30 performance. Despite having tried going the previous day to pick up the necessary credentials (the place is a shit-show, and I knew it would be)—I’m still in need of an All Access pass so I can say hello to the band and manager before they go on. After waiting in line, I am finally told I need to enter through the Artist’s entrance at the back of the complex. When I arrive there—the person I speak to doesn’t have a list on her, but when I tell her who told me to come to that entrance, she believes me and gives me the necessary pass . Real tough security, huh? I finally get in and go to the Artist area where the band is getting ready to go on. This is their first US performance ever and I have never actually gotten to see them live before. It is pretty safe to say that I think everyone is a bit nervy, but the performance goes off without a hitch—and I only grow to love them more. It’s pretty amazing to finally see them perform songs that I have been listening to non-stop for months now. While the audience doesn’t seem familiar with their music—they seem to be enjoying it, and there are definitely pockets of fans singing along.
It is back to Hotel Vegas to check out Feathers—another band that I just started working with that I have yet to see live. Their sound is often compared to the likes of Depeche Mode—who they actually had the honor of opening for on the Friday of SXSW at Brazos Hall. Singer and founding member Anastasia Dimou enchants the crowd throughout their set, and by the time they are finished, the room is filled with an enraptured audience.
I hail a pedicab, and head down to Red Eyed Fly for the New Shapes party that Swim Deep are playing. The band seems a bit more at ease in the more intimate environment. The band’s manager introduces me to their A+R rep who originally discovered the band and I run into some other industry friends who are there to check them out as well. There’s a bit of commentary about the band’s wardrobe—headbands, dyed pink hair, Nirvana t-shirt, rainbow sweater. The band certainly does have a unique and colorful look that meshes well with their sunny and poppy tunes. It is hard to get their songs out of my head for the rest of the day.
Back on another pedicab, I head to the outdoor stage at Hotel Vegas to catch Allah-Las. The outdoor area is packed and everyone is grooving along to the band. The setting is perfect for the band’s 60s West Coast vibe: The sun is shining, and the place is filled with fans of psychedelic rock for Austin Psych Fest’s SXSW main event, Levitation. I catch most of their set and then head next door to Gypsy Lounge which is also a part of the full day bill for Levitation. Shannon and The Clams are just starting their set. In many ways similar to the Allah-Las—the band definitely draws from comparable influences, but goes even further back to doowop and Girl Groups with more modern hints of punk and garage rock. A group of fans start swing dancing in the front. The previous day, the band warned me that singer Shannon Shaw, was on the verge of losing her voice, so it was quite refreshing that not only had she not lost it, it sounded as strong and vibrant as it always.
After their set I head back to the outdoor stage at Hotel Vegas for Black Lips who are headlining the daytime portion of the Psych Fest event. At this point, there’s a line around the block to get into the venue and the patio is completely packed. The band has a saxophone player with them for their first couple of songs. As their set goes on, the audience gets more into it, and soon enough, kids start crowd surfing and pushing each other around—nothing out of the ordinary for a typical Black Lips show. I run into the Night Beats who are there to catch the Lips’ set. I ask if I can get a ride with them downtown since I know they have a show at Barbarella that night.
After the Lips’ set ends I say goodbye to the band and walk with Night Beats to their van. As soon as we get closer to I-35, traffic is a misery. There is absolutely nowhere to park the van, and the band is set to go on in less than 30 minutes. Thankfully the venue has backline so the band just needs to bring their guitars and pedals. They decide to pull over and load out their gear while their friend sits in the van and moves it. I knew SXSW was logistically a mess, but you don’t really realize how hard it is for bands until you’re in the van watching them try to maneuver through the city. Unfortunately I can’t go with the band, as I need to head to Cedar Street Courtyard for a showcase of a bunch of bands I work with.
I arrive at Cedar Street just in time to catch the beginning of Hunters set. Their set is full of energy, mixed with songs from their previously released EP and new songs as well. Lead singer Isabel Almeida thrashes around the stage while the rest of the band pummels through the songs. Yet again, another band that was faced with their singer losing her voice—it wasn’t even apparent to me until I heard her speak—but her singing, and occasional screaming doesn’t show any signs of anything being off. She apologies to the crowd about her voice sounding shitty and I yell out to her that she sounds amazing, which she replies to by saying she sounds like me (I have a pretty distinctive raspy voice).
The next band to go on is Toy. Now my third act of the day that I have never seen live—and also their first U.S. performance. I’m quite excited, as their debut record on Heavenly is one of my favorite records of 2012. The band takes the stage and dives full on into one of the most intensely driven sets I will see all week. The audience is completely captivated and I laugh to myself when I see an older man taking photos with his iPad. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite moments of SXSW 2013.
After this I become inundated with guest-list requests to deal with for the rest of the night. After trying to deal with the venue staff, it becomes apparent that they are not going to work with us on the requests, so we have to call one of the heads of SXSW music booking to sort. He happens to be nearby and comes over and basically tells the staff to let me write-up a list for whoever needs to be sorted. They agree, but then when the bands realize I have control of the guest list, everyone keeps asking me to add names throughout the night and it pretty much takes over most of my time. I do get to catch bits of Mona, Allah-Las, and Hanni El Khatib, but the list craziness doesn’t really stop until Black Lips finally get on stage and most of everyone who wants to get in is in. I do have to go to the back gate and let security know they need to let some folks in.
Black Lips set is rowdy but nothing unusual. The security is trying to keep everything contained – shoving fans off the stage and preventing anyone from stage diving. The band plays almost a full set and then starts to play their song “Bad Kids.” The crowd starts going ballistic—crowd surfing, fans pushing themselves on stage, etc. Security starts shoving fans off the stage and getting overly aggressive with the crowd. The band stops the song and basically calls security out. They launch back into the song, but the chaos quickly escalates and security goes completely mental on the crowd. The song ends, but now security takes their anger out on the band with one security guard going after Cole Alexander from the band and starts shoving him. Cole doesn’t back down, and neither does the security guard. Eventually Cole storms off the stage and makes his way through the audience to the front door and leaves. Everything gets shut down immediately and everyone is told to vacate the building ASAP. Unfortunately the aggression did not end there. Numerous folks in the bands’ entourage were shoved out of the back entrance of the venue into the back alley.
Everyone heads to the sidewalk to get away from the madness. Once everyone has calmed down a bit – a group of us decide to go to the Pedestrian Bridge for an annual SXSW tradition where a number of bands will play there starting at about 2:00. Both The Coathangers and Night Beats—who I work with—were at the Lips show and decide to come to the bridge show. I get in Night Beats’ van and we drop off their friend who was playing saxophone with Black Lips. We have trouble finding the bridge and finally decide to park and just follow the sound of the music. Eventually we walk up to the bridge and see a huge crowd of punk kids milling around with beers as Destruction Unit is setting up. Apparently we had already missed Merchandise and Parquet Courts—but we are all so happy to be in an environment where no one is going to getting shoved around by security for having fun. We run into Black Lips who have now had time to chill out and seem happy to just be amongst friends. The sound isn’t great, but at the end of the day, it’s the atmosphere and vibe that brings everyone together for the show.