The Todd P of Todd P Goes to Austin is Todd Patrick, a promoter of “Do-It-Yourself” concerts in Brooklyn. A “DIY” concert seems to be where the promoter lines up a counter culture band or two, finds them a grungy kind of space to set up in, gets the word out to fans of all ages, collects donations from the audience, and lets the band and the audience loose on each other in a kind of controlled anarchy.
For several years Todd has been infiltrating the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, a commercial venture he considers the great Satan of the music business, with a covey of independent underground bands for guerilla performances around the fringe of the official festival. At one time this might have been called “putting it to the man,” but, since in the course of the invasion filmed in Jay Buim’s 2009 documentary, Patrick is invited to put on an officially sanctioned show, the rebel, the outlaws—call them what you will—may well be finding themselves co-opted by the money grubbing enemy.
After all if the film is in any way a true picture of the lives of these bands and the people around them, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine them taking the ticket out if by any chance it was offered to them. They perform in run down clubs to herds of jumping dancers who are as likely to smash into the drum kit or slam the keyboard as each other. They travel in beat up vans and sleep on floors or car seats. They have all the amenities of a plastic bag or a service station rest room.
Not that they seem to mind. They are rebels. They want no part of the conventional life where they are bound by rules and codes of behavior. They are the ultimate libertarians. They want the freedom to express themselves. On the other hand, one has to wonder what would happen if the “man” showed up with a contract or even the possibility of a contract. You have to excuse my cynicism.
More often than not Todd winds up speaking for them, and like a good many revolutionaries ends up speaking platitudes and coming off just a tad pretentious. The first duty of the artist is not to be boring. Have fun, don’t be money hungry. Use whatever you need to express yourself. Real feeling is central to art. Even unpleasant feelings are still feelings. Pleasant or unpleasant is irrelevant; it is only the reality of the feeling that is important.
And pleasant is probably the last adjective you’d want to apply to the music Todd promotes: raucous, certainly, deafening, for sure, but pleasant, no way. Still, powerful, vital, subversive, forceful—these are descriptors that may well apply. These are musicians who don’t aim for pretty; theirs is the art of the grotesque. They aim to shock, not their audience necessarily, but those mired in convention.
Director Buim fills the film with performances in clubs in Brooklyn, on route to the festival and in Austin itself. Patrick says his aim was to produce five days of free shows with one hundred bands. Whether he actually got his hundred, I don’t know. If not, he must have come close. The film features performances by Matt and Kim, The Death Set, Team Robespierre, and Mika Miko, along with extensive footage of their trips to Austin and interviews. There are also over the top performances by Dan Deacon, Juice Boxxx, Ninjasonik, Ponytail, and some quirky dance moves by Best Fwends. Actual songs performed are listed in the credits, but unless you’re a fan, you probably won’t recognize any of them. The one song title that stuck with me, probably because I’m a sucker for a pun, good or bad, was Japanther’s (talk about word games) “Dump the Body in Rikki Lake.”
The DVD, which runs just short of 80 minutes, includes commentary by Matt and Kim and Buim, a trailer, promotional video, and a photo gallery.
In the end, if you don’t like the music, if you can’t approve of the life style, if you find the people offensive, there is one thing you can be sure of. They are doing what they want to do, the way they want to do it, and they couldn’t give a damn what you like, what you approve of, and what offends you. And if they do get that offer, and if they do sell out to the establishment, well they most likely wouldn’t give a damn what you think about that either.