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SXSW 09: The Mighty Stef, Starfucker, Those Darlins


By Abbie Kopf

Arriving at SXSW was a lot like my first day in high school. I was walking around with a map in my hand, hoping that the cool kids wouldn't notice that I didn't know what the hell I was doing or where I was supposed to go. It was in this uncomfortable and self-conscious state that I decided to head into the first bar I saw, the Parish, to find my sea legs over a Corona. As I sat there, trying to decipher these Dead Sea scrolls called the SXSW lineup, my ear was drawn unexpectedly to the Irish band that was owning the stage and giving me lady-wood in the process. I didn't set out to see this band, but this, I would soon learn, is the magical thing about SXSWâ??you never know who you're going to find.

The Mighty Stef is named after shaggy-haired lead singer Stefan Murphy, whose mumbly and gentle speaking voice would lead you to believe that his vocals would be equally as murky. When he started singing, however, he had an authoritative and thick, deep voice that sounded like an intersection between T-Bone Burnett and Johnny Cash. He carries that same sort of dark predilection and almost hymnal sound of his music. Murphy's morbid descent in the performance of “Death Threats,” just drove me crazy. Whether Murphy is delivering punchy bar anthems in the vain of his fellow Irishmen, Flogging Molly, or exploring grungy country, he can draw in the crowd with the persuasion of a Svengali. And thanks to them, SXSW is starting off with a bang. Head on over to their MySpace page to get a listen for yourself.

After drying off my panties I headed over to the Soho Lounge to catch New Zealander act the Enright House. Perhaps it was because I was caught up in the sweaty masculine sound of the Mighty Stef, but something about the lead singer of the House struck me as kind'veâ?¦douchey. The music itself sounds like it's from The Hills Soundtrack, when Lauren Conrad is at a super-chic club, looking around pensively and forlornly for reasons that we're all unsure of. I think that's what this guy is going for. He described his music as perfect for “falling in and out of love and philosophizing about life, or simply for rolling around in your feelings like an Irish Wolf dog in the leaves of a forest park.” Gag me.

Actually, if you leave him out of the equation, the show was enjoyable. I appreciated the contrast of emphatic and weighty beats that punctuate the long drones of synthesizers and manufactured melodies. It produced a feeling of magic and ethereality that dense arrangements of loops, recordings, and other AI can effectively communicate. Unfortunately, there was this jerk whispering over it the whole time, and it cheapened what could have been a great experience. However, it would be worth your time to check out the song “Darkwave=MC Squared.”

I needed to shake off the sad that the Enright House had sprayed all over me, and I couldn't have found a better cure than Starfucker, who I caught at Radio Room. These lighthearted weirdos immediately endeared themselves to me because they had their keyboard set up on a suitcase, which sat atop what looked like a TV tray. I like a resourceful band.

The Portland, Oregon, foursome made the stage their laboratory, with every music-making instrument short of an accordion part of their act. I particularly loved DJ Ryan Biornstad, who worked the turntables like a lonely woman before bedtime. He danced with controlled enthusiasm and really became the focal point for the band. Throughout this display of Starfucker's lo-fi, hearty pop genius, the band stole joyous looks from one another, like four siblings who were slipping something past mom and dad. The entire crowd was head-bobbing to maintain the super-cool hipster vibe, but it was clear that the invitation to dance was becoming too irresistible; some found their way to the front of the stage to throw up their hands and dance like only white people can.

Though their live concert was a treat, I imagine that Starfucker is best enjoyed in the car or in your room alone, when you can turn those pop tunes up and not care who hears you. The band is releasing and promoting a mini-LP called Jupiter that will hit on May 9 of this year. I suggest you pick up a copy.

After a few more hours of boozing, I was ready to see Those Darlins, a trio of Southern girls that specializes in rockabilly but throws in a nice amount of sassy to get the crowd going. The twangy lead singer's infectious hoots could be compared to Tanya Tucker or a country queen legend like Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette, which is sublime company. I couldn't help but shake the feeling, however, that the Western spin of this band seemed more like mockery than earnest love for country music. Indeed, one of the girls was wearing an Indian Headress while another wore an outfit from the Grand Ole Opry circa 1976. Were they really dressing up like cowboys and Indians?

On their SXSW description page, it's stated that they have a genius for making “a good joke out of rural isolation and provincial idiocy.” I get that they have an ironic sense of humor, which I can dig, but it came across to this first timer that if their content is a joke, then the band is a joke. And that just shouldn't be the case because these are three bad-ass chicks with a lot of talent. Whatever the case, the show was a fun 15 minutes until the novelty of the headdress wore off, and I was ready to get home.

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