The first and only show that I got my hopes up about (and crossed my fingers that I would be able to find a way in) was the Perez Hilton party. The friend who I was staying with had gotten invites through someone and told me about it my first day of SXSW. Little Boots, Yelle, Margaret Cho, Lady Sovereign–I was frothing at the mouth. When said friend’s invite hook up couldn’t get me in, I decided to turn it over to the universe.
I put out a plea on twitter.
Twitter was one of those totally geeky indulgences I let myself get involved with pre-SXSW (that’s how everyone stayed in touch down there! I thought excitedly). So, two days before the party, I put up a post on twitter, asking if anyone had an invite to the Perez Hilton party? I promised pancakes, to write their biography, and my undying love.
As I was steeling myself for a Saturday night sans Perez, I checked my e-mail that afternoon, and lo and behold, a nice guy from Austin had emailed me. He had seen my twitter and said he could take me as his plus one.
I called, chatted with him for a bit to assess non-psycho-killer status (he was checking me for the same), realized he was just a nice guy with a plus one, and I was in. He had been searching twitter to find clues as to who the special guest at the party would be, when he noticed some people looking for invites. He told me mine won out of over someone else’s because, when he saw my typewriter tattoo, he thought, “That girl must be like a writer gangsta. She means business.”
We met outside of the venue–an old Safeway lot that was serving as the secret party locale for most of SXSW’s exclusive parties (the Playboy party was also there). Inside the warehouse-like space, there were two bars (free booze is the calling card of these invite only SXSW parties,) including a Cognac sno-cone machine, a huge stage, a wall with mirrors (and bowls of pink lipstick for writing on them), and a swing set playground on a large patch of AstroTurf. Perez Hilton came out to introduce each band in an outfit of head to toe pink, including a glittery headpiece (think Barbie with a Viking theme).
Margaret Cho did a quick act of cock sucking jokes and a few imitations of her mother (who couldn’t laugh at that?). I had heard she had been writing songs, and she busted out a guitar to sing a few songs peppered with more cock jokes, cut ups of bad relationships, and references to STDs and being bad in bed (the other party, not Margaret, of course).
Looking around, I could see that Perez, naturally, had drawn in a lot of gay boys. Where, oh where, were the dykes? Here the synchronicity of SXSW continued: no sooner had I thought the thought than Perez came out to introduce his surprise guest by saying he had gone to every single Lilith Fair (I crossed my fingers that it would be Tori Amos, who had played a few gigs at SXSW). Two women who Perez loved unabashedly, he introduced his surprise guest…
The Indigo Girls!!!!
Now we all knew why the surprise guest was announced at 8pm and not, like, 3am!
I think I was one of maybe four people in the audience who were freaking out. (The clan of baby doll dressed fashionitas behind me sloshed their drinks about and talked through the entire set). They played–of course–songs from their new album, but ended with Closer To Fine (and here about 1/2 of the audience shamelessly sung along). Dyke prayer: heard and answered.
Wandering over to the bar between sets, I noticed a short girl in a tank top and a Brooklyn bike hat, beside a tall girl with curly hair and a messenger bag. Could it be? More answers to my dyke prayer? When in Austin, do as the super friendly Austin natives do: I leaned into the Brooklyn bike hat girl and said to her, “Please tell me I’m not the only dyke in here.”
She laughed, assured me I wasn’t, introduced me to her girlfriend (the tall one), and we all became fast friends. They were enjoying the cognac sno-cones. I told them the magical tale of how I had ended up at the party. When I told them all I wanted to do was dance and dance and dance, they assured me I had found the right people. When the next band came out, we all squished our way to the front and bopped out to what has been, hands down, my new favorite band.
Ladyhawke played songs like those of Til Tuesday, if Til Tuesday were cool as fuck and making music in the modern times of today. I recognized one song (Back of the Van), and danced to every single catchy 80s inspired song, loving Ladyhawke’s grunge girl front woman Pip Brown. Later, when obsessing over her website and uber cool & queer album artwork by Sarah Larnach, I’d read that Ladyhakwe, a musician since youth, wanted to write songs that had the same happy/sad quality that other 80s songs did (Depche Mode, The Cars, etc.). She not only pulls it off, she pulls it off brilliantly. I haven’t stopped listening to her album since I got it. One review I read asked why Ladyhawke hasn’t made it big like CSS or other electro-pop bands have. Good fucking question.
Just when the night could’ve begun to look like a girl-with-guitar fest, Perez Hilton introduced Thunderheist, a hot rapper from–of all places–Canada. She rhymed and rapped in a deep throated Missy Elliot-esque voice, with fierce beats behind her, a magnet of charm and cool as she sassed her way along, bounced around the stage, and made us all dance so hard that by the time it was over, I looked like I had just been in a wet t-shirt contest.
The only band who’s name had come up at SXSW about as frequently (and with as many syllables) as The Pains of Being Pure At Heart was Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head–a pop rock group from Seattle. They were kind of like Gravy Train (i.e. loud ridiculous lyrics, tons of energy, ironic we-know-we’re-silly style), if Gravy Train were white hipsters from the Pacific Northwest. While the girl dancing in front of us had seen them since their early Seattle days and loved them (“They just get better and better!” she gushed), I didn’t think them anything to write home about. Whenever your quirky band name is more interesting than your music, it’s a bad sign.
My plus one hero was mostly excited for this act–Solange, aka Beyonce’s little sister. (Who knew Beyonce had a little sister?) She took the stage like any old school diva would–backed by a big band, flanked by choreographed back up singers, and singing with large, demanding voice. I only made it through two or three songs, though, before my new friends and I grew bored and went to check out the AstroTurf swing set again. SXSWist put it best: “no one is going to be getting pregnant to this overproduced stuff.”
Buzz was big around Little Boots, and from what my Last.fm radio plays of her had suggested to me, she was going to be fun. A small British pop singer, known for playing her own music (imagine that!), with tracks like Meddle and New in Town, her music is smart, energetic and synth-rich pop–the kind of songs that, if the bar you’re at on a Saturday night are playing at the beginning of the night, you can count on it being a good time. She’s super charismatic (I’ve since been charmed by her twitter account of zipping around to photo shoots and gigs) and fun to watch. New friends and I had a ball dancing around to her. Perez wrapped up her act by bringing Kid Cudi (a talented newbie on the hip hop scene) out, asking them to do an impromptu duet of the cover Little Boots had done of Kid Cudi’s song Day N Night. The gift of being at an exclusive celebrity blogger’s party–impromptu duets. Pinch me.
So around this point in the night, Perez Hilton comes on stage to tell us that Lady Sovergien (who new friends and I saw come into the venue and go into the VIP room–I lost all my New York cool and shouted “Wooooooooo!” when she walked past. Note to self: work on that.) has said she’s too sick to perform. He calls her the c-word (my inner feminist bristles) and says he can talk trash on her because that’s what he does. Disappointing, sure, but it’s all good by the time the next act comes out–Rye Rye.
She’s 18, she’s the first act signed to M.I.A.’s label N.E.E.T., and she is sick as fuck. (Sick in the good way, not the Lady Sovereign way). Hard hip hop beats, fierce rhymes, dancers at her side busting out African moves at such a pace that the whole crowd goes wild. She mostly collaborates with DJ Blaqstarr, but tonight is backed by a female DJ, making me think this girl is channeling the best of Salt and Pepa with the energy of M.I.A. I’m dancing so much that I barely even see her perform–just the people around me shaking what their mamas gave them. Good lord, could this night get any better?
Perez Hilton comes on stage afterward to say that coming up next, it’s the moment we’ll all be twittering about to our friends tomorrow. Who needs Lady Sovereign? He’s got someone better.
This is about when the crowd collectively freaks the fuck out. Kanye West had performed at the Fader Fort earlier that night, and many had seen him come into the party and stand back stage during Little Boots’ set. Perez has someone better? “Oh, snap!” I shout at the top of my lungs while everyone is screaming.
Oh, snap, indeed. The entire crowd surges towards the front of the stage. (I’m sandwiched between friend of new friends and a girl and her boyfriend). iPhones are crowding the space above our heads. Flashes are going off like crazy. I have one Kanye album, from my days of an 8th grade Special Educator in the South Bronx (oh, if those kids could see me now). Do I like that Kanye has said things like that we should give Chris Brown a break? Hell no. Do I like the five or so new songs he performs, reaching into the crowd, pacing the stage, and eating the energy up? Yes, yes, yes.
Lots of people bounce after Kanye, which I think is crazy–we’re just one more act away from Yelle, my beloved French pop electronica singer. Second to last, though, is the Swedish Ida Maria. Her voice has the strength of Bjork, and her catchy songs finally help me make sense of the t-shirt I saw a Swedish friend wearing that says I LIKE YOU BETTER WHEN YOU’RE NAKED (one of Ida Maria’s chant-like choruses). Otherwise, I don’t see much of this act because I’m making out with friend of new friends under the swing set in the back.
I’ve clocked in about eight hours at this party by the time Yelle comes on. Us hardcores who have stuck around are riled up for it. Yelle plays infectious electropop with witty French lyrics (one of her songs, Je Veux Te Voir, makes fun of a misogynist French rapper). In a red and white Budweiser-logo flashing leotard and white sneakers, Yelle takes the stage, saying in her accented ways, “‘Ello Austin. Are you re-ady to dah-nce?”
Even if Austin isn’t, Yelle sure as hell is. The songs from her album, Pop Up, she’s extended into fun dance mixes for live performance, with the goddamn best choreographed little movements and dance moves I’ve ever seen. I wiggle my way around the front of the stage to find my own room to dance. Months of dancing by myself in my bedroom to these songs are paying off.
When her set is over, we all yell and clap, Perez thanks the sponsors, the lights go up, and we begin to walk through the sticky mess of water bottles and crushed cups out into the night. Finding a cab, I kiss friend of new friends goodbye, shut the cab door, and tell the cab driver where I’m going. After a few moments, he looks at me in the rear view mirror.
“Was it fun?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I laugh, still wiping sweat from my eyes. “It was.”