Austin’s Music Scene
“Echotone” is an impressionistic, regional-cultural look at the music scene in Austin, Texas. The documentary is sewn together from many clips of live performances, interviews, and plaintive cityscape. We meet a small collection of shoulda-been’s and hopefuls who are waiting for their big break and we see what has happened to the Austin art community as a result of gentrification and a sheer glut of talent. Among those we here from are Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears’ funky frontman, who as a “working musician” also delivers fish to finance his bass-heavy playtime; the stoically mystic Bill Baird of Sound Team, who provides the film’s obligatory cautionary tale about being seduced by a big label seduction and Cari Palazzolo of Belaire, who’s not sure if she ever wants to move away from the plucky and bee-bopping demo-like tracks that she and her band record.
It seems that director Nathan Christ decided to make his film “a glossing study of metropolitan personality and a virtual advertisement for the groups included.” He captures many examples of the bands’ lively stage presences, but he had a tendency to stop filming before they can entirely convince us of their listenability. Later, a talking head mentions the thousands of Austin-based bands attempting to achieve celebrity and we cannot help but wonder who was left out. We also become aware that there is barely a mention of the Internet’s positive effects on the music industry. One local record producer, who essentially sells his favorite bands’ CDs out of his garage mentions the “teeming mass of creative culture” in Austin and the city’s lack of infrastructure—but when the conversation shifts to the potential of ecommerce and viral marketing for the many “great” groups, we hear about piracy.
Christ has attempted to document, over a period of two years, how Austin’s independent music culture has changed as a result of the recent growth of downtown development. He does so by focusing on a handful of musicians. In capturing the individual stories of these artists — and stressing how none of these musicians are able to make enough money at their craft to survive — Christ is on to something big or at least it seems so. However Christ does not appear to adequately illustrate the purported relationship between the downtown development and the financial hardships of the musicians. He uses clips from Austin City Council meetings concerning hearings on sound ordinances to make his point. He turns to Troy Dillinger (a local musician and founder of Save Austin Music), booking agents and promoters to help explain the relationship — but they cannot bring it all the way back to the musicians themselves.
We never hear the musicians of this documentary discuss the sound ordinances and this film is supposed to be about them. Nonetheless, “Echotone” does in both sound and vision. The soundtrack contains some of Austin’s best and we get a really interesting perspective of the and their financial struggles. I just wish the documentary stuck with that story and I had trouble trying to understand the connection that Christ was attempting to make between the musicians’ financial burdens and the downtown development.