Remember When Austin Was Cool? The Commodification of a Town in Echotone


The live music scene that draws artists of all stripes to Austin, Texas, and the corporate and residential interests capitalizing on the city’s perceived vitality are the subject of Echotone, Nathan Christ’s loose but lucid survey of a delicate cultural ecosystem. Embedded in the film’s showcasing of local acts such as Belaire and Black Joe Lewis is the downsizing of their ambitions in the wake of the implosion of not just label heavyweights but also the larger cultural marketplace. The ghostly ambassador of that paradigm shift is Bill Baird, the magnetically awkward experimental rocker who emerged from a label deal gone wrong with a new band and a few rungs under his eyes. A touchstone for Christ’s roving, discursive approach to the story of an artistic community reckoning with an influx of both competitors who vie for limited venue space and buzz kills who lobby for noise ordinances, Baird’s worn ambivalence is a poignant contrast to Lewis’s hustle. Too vital for elegy, Echotone tells an old story whose beginning—the inception of a vibrant creative hub—remains mysterious, although the end is easy to predict. Exhibit X in the case of success eating itself: This spring, the interactive arm of Austin’s now-trisected South by Southwest festival attracted more attendees than the music conference, and advertising presence was up tenfold.

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