SXSW (Friday): Hungarian Indie Rock/Islamic Metal and Rap
Club 115; Austin TX

[03-20-2009]

If you really work it at SXSW, you can walk five square blocks and see the same handful artists about 10 times a day. Despite the fact that I had declared Friday night as the most consistently good night of this festival week, I figured I would go see something that I will never see again in my life: a showcase featuring two popular Hungarian "indie" bands, an Iranian speed metal act, and a Palestinian rap crew.

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- {Supersonic}

I strolled into Club 115 and first checked out Supersonic's gig. If the name weren't enough to give it away, Supersonic were a tad trad-rock in their approach. At least the Budapest quartet think big: Oasis and U2 can be heard in their stadium-sounding rock. And it is done well, in spite of its somewhat derivative nature. After a long and confusing soundcheck, the band revved into gear and singer Balazs worked the front of the stage and his tambourine with the sass of a less ambivalent Liam Gallagher (he was noticeably happy to be playing here), and despite hitting the stage early, they made a few fast friends who could barely contain their excitement with meeting the band.

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- {The Moog}

Budapest may be close to 6,000 miles from Austin, but to think it is a cultural wasteland would be a mistake. While The Moog went to great lengths in making themselves presentable in an English dandy sort of way, their music plays around the same park as popular "alternative" U.S. acts like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Green Day, but more melodic and less pretend-dark-and-disturbed (I won't include Green Day in that last statement; they know a good melody when they steal one). With Buzzcocks-sounding intros and fuzzy pop bodies, the band displayed confidence with each song they performed, and although they write a decent but generic brand of pop-rock, it would sell millions if marketed properly. More important than anything important like their music, they have a Fucking star with a capital F in lead singer Tonyo, who struts, preens, and confronts with the best of them. If The Moog were based in L.A., Tonyo would be sharing face time on mag covers with Mssrs. Wentz and Jonas. That's not speculation; that's fact.

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- {TarantisT}

While the Hungarian bands did not exactly break my realm of expectation, neither did TarantisT, but that is only because I saw precisely what I expected to see: a loud, fast, great thrash trio. You think you've had travel hiccups? TarantisT's story is one of struggle and ultimate triumph, with the bonding power of music. The Tehranian speed metal godz were booked to play Austin two years ago but were denied travel visas. Last year, they got their travel visas but were told they had to apply for a special travel permits from Dubai. They did, and they arrived, one day AFTER their scheduled show at SXSW. So, they did what any desperate band would do: they came over anyway and stayed in the U.S. playing some shows until the Iranian army threatened imprisonment if they did not return to their homeland. Throw in a few more visa problems along the way and, long story longer, TarantisT made it back to Austin to finally play a show at SXSW. Having only enough time to rehearse a small handful of songs with a quickly-assembled lineup (again, army, visa, and availability problems), the band nonetheless snapped the eardrums of every patron in the small club with rapid shots of thrash. The crowd treated the band like heroes, and bassist and singer Arash Rahbary had a grin on his face most of the night, except when he was screaming out evil in a deathly serious fashion. The smile returned often though, even when brokenly belting out the universal call-to-arms, "Is the pit ready?"

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- {Palestinian Rapperz}

There is no real sense of mystery to a band called Palestinian Rapperz, is there? Well, yes and no. For starters, there wasn't the plural Rapperz on stage tonight, only the quick-tongued frontman Mohammed Al-Farra. Rapping in front of a makeshift band of local musicians who provided suitable funk backing, Al-Farra delivered socially relevant and intensely personal rhymes. Punching a keffiyeh-covered fist in the air for a good chunk of the set, the Rapperz' leader held court on political hotpoints and goaded the audience into joining in the celebration. A keffiyeh-clad female guest jumped up on stage to trade off with Al-Farra during a track that the two of them, plus band, wrote and rehearsed in a few hours earlier in the day. Musically, the band played up catchy backdrops for Al-Farra's lines using a standard setup of guitar, bass, drums, and organ -- and while effective, it was rather run-of-the-mill. Lyrically, though, very few true gangsters can compare their thug lives to writing abut Israeli occupation, war-torn home neighborhoods, daily survival, questions concerning the state of human rights and racial stereotyping. Judging by the crowd of Americans completely losing their shit and chanting back pro-Palestine slogans, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more people wearing the keffiyeh. If they do choose to take a side on this slippery social and political statement fence, hopefully it will be after lengthy conscious deliberation instead of wearing something as a meaningless, empty-headed fashion accessory.

On Friday, there wasn't a lot of things I haven't heard before, but that is the case with most bands from anyplace you could name. At least tonight, the song may have remained the same, but the story was always different.

  

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