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Likewise, electro-pop two-piece Lookbook say that they choose to venture down to SXSW for a chance to make new contacts. "It's people from all over the country coming together for one purpose, and so I think it's kinda cool, solidarity-wise," says singer Maggie Morrison. "I hate to say it like this, but to see and be seen—it's a good networking opportunity, and you meet a lot of people, a lot of people you would never meet if you weren't down here."
Lookbook played three shows at this year's festival, including one official gig at the First Avenue South day party, but Morrison says she likes playing the unofficial gigs just as much, if not more, than the high-profile sponsored showcases. "There's a lot more hype around it," she says of the official party.
"Yeah, we're too cool for those official showcases," jokes bandmate Grant Cutler.
"We played at Maggie Mae's, which is right in the middle of everything, and it was cool, but it was also kind of like, well, I'd rather just play at a weird bar for random people," Morrison says. "We like to be off the grid."
HOVERING SOMEWHERE off the grid entirely are Gay Witch Abortion, whose mostly instrumental, technically complex, and trudging art rock puts them on an entirely different planet than the bulk of SXSW performers. At their official showcase Friday night, which took place in the cramped upper level of a downtown dive bar, the duo pounded through an ear-splittingly loud, dizzying set, leaving the small crowd of onlookers awestruck. The only time the band breaks concentration is at the end of their set, when they quickly and politely bow their heads to signal they have finished, and they otherwise remain locked into watching one another's limbs flail and fingers fly as they maneuver through seemingly impossible time and chord changes.
Once they have finished playing, however, the seriousness lifts and the band goes back into party mode. Guitarist Jesse Bottomly leaves the venue with his mother, who came out to see him play, while drummer Shawn Walker grabs his beer and works the room, graciously shaking hands with attendees.
Unlike most other bands, Gay Witch Abortion played only one of their gigs in a traditional concert venue; the other two included their art-gallery collaboration with Grant Hart and a show in the parking lot of a video store. Walker says he views SXSW as a chance to unwind, have fun, and collaborate with friends, and that his band takes a fairly lighthearted approach to playing the festival.
"I love Austin," Walker says. "I'd rather come down here when it's not SXSW, but it's a good excuse. I think the whole 'trying to come down here and get seen' thing is a little overrated, just because there's so many bands. I don't know. That part of it, I'm kinda like, eh. But it's still super fun to come down.
"It's really crowded, it's kind of a pain, but you come down and you party and there's conga lines going down the street." He looks out the window of the second-story space, down onto Sixth Street, where a conga line is snaking its way through a crowd of people. "It reminds me of when I used to live in New Orleans."