Tooled up with an arsenal of drums, guitar, synth bass and loop pedals, Cairo Knife Fight brought the noise to SXSW for a week of shows and Texas barbecue, and survived to tell the tale. Here’s their blow-by-blow account of one week in Austin.
FRIDAY 9 MARCH - CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
Aaron Tokona: Tonight was the last gig of a tour supporting I Am Giant - we fly out at 4am tomorrow morning to San Francisco on route to Austin.
I can start to feel our little band connecting as there are more and more people showing up to our gigs with our T-shirts on, and there are lots more girls up the front on Nick's side and even more sexually-confused people on my side. The band is red-hot for this whole Austin buzz. One Maori and one Pakeha fulla, ready to go.
SATURDAY 10 MARCH - SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
AT: There are a few signs you're on the way to rock'n'roll stardom, and flying on American Airlines is not one of them. Having been dropped at Christchurch Airport at 4am by my amazing wife, I leave her again with the hope that one day I'll make some coin outta this whole buzz. San Francisco customs was a breeze - the guy at the counter asked us if we knew Katchafire, stamped our shit and let us through!
San Fran is a choice town. We went out to some bars around the corner, drank beers, whiskey and shots. That sorted out the jet lag buzz. My highlight - I brought my 10-year-old an iPad. Awesome, she will love it - she already blazes me on computers.
MONDAY 12 MARCH - AUSTIN, TEXAS
Nick Gaffaney: I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that airports engender a special kind of anxiety. Especially American ones. Every musician knows the rage of the excess baggage lottery, but it only cost $160 to get all this ridiculous amount of shit we take with us onto the plane. Two-person band, twice the gear.
Into Austin and straight out to meet our mates Gary Fortune and Alan Holt (from the New Zealand Music Commission) and Hugh Sundae and Sam Wicks (local tabloid phone hackers). We're out in South Austin, a few miles from downtown. Gary and Alan are at the Hilton downtown. Government types!
Gary and Alan are old hands at this SXSW thing so they show us the buzz. Barbecue is the name of the game here so we hit this True Blood-looking place and I order this whole cow in rib form. Next level. All Aaron can get out between mouthfuls of pork ribs is how his cuzzies would LOVE this place.
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH
AT: Gig day. Our US manager Kirk Harding flies in today. The last time he saw us play was in New York - he saw one gig, we had one Chinese meal, and that was the deal done.
On route to our first gig, we walk our gear through 1000s of people in what feels like 1000-degree heat. We get into the venue and the band on stage sounds horrid, which immediately makes me feel better! Next minute we're playing to five people and sounding unbelievably awful! I take a momentary glance at Kirk and can't help but think he's thinking, 'Oh no, what have I done?' Well, we lost our SXSW virginity and it was a lame lay, but we blew the PA up - true story.
Our second gig is our one official SXSW show so there's lots of SXSW crew on hand to help. They couldn't believe the gear we had and kept asking me, 'You're a two-piece, right?' We sounded good and I think we nailed the gig.
THURSDAY 15 MARCH
NG: Up early. Kirk picks us up and we head in to meet Sam and Hugh for a photo shoot.
Getting your photo taken on a street when it's obvious that no one knows who you are can make you feel like a bit of a cock, but that kinda thing is going on all over this city this week. Poor Hugh had been up all night sitting in the lobby of the Hilton (which isn't even his hotel) editing footage for the Herald online so he's absolutely shattered. Whatever you pay him, it's not enough!
We picked up a last minute gig at this place called ND's. Killer space and great PA. The set is genuinely enjoyable and as quick as it starts it's over! There's virtually no time to get into the show so you have to hit the ground running.
The New Zealand showcase is the other main focus here for us along with our B.D. Riley's gig so we get there early to sort it out. It's in a great spot, the weather has held out and there are loads of people. Electric Wire Hustle is setting the pace when we arrive. These guys have some great things going on over here and in Europe and it's easy to see why.
Aaron's busting out his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar so this gig is pretty raucous. I love shows like this where it seems that the walls are caving in and an aircraft is going to land on stage. The highlight of the week occurred too when the daughter of a friend from New Zealand got onstage to dance with us. It kinda felt like home for a minute.
SATURDAY 17 MARCH
AT: I think we are both starting to feel the tiredness now. Everything about this buzz is hectic and relentless.
We have one show to get through today -The Australian Barbecue showcase. In the spirit of the ANZACs we lock and load and head to the venue.
Next minute we're back at the barbecue joint eating ribs again. They are so good at the start of the meal, but by the end of it you actually feel sick. I thought about turning into a vegetarian after that one, and I'm a Maori!
SUNDAY 18 MARCH
NG: There is NO way in hell Aaron will ever become a vegetarian. That needs to be addressed before we go any further.
The festival is basically over now so we get a cab straight to the last venue we'll play - that's been unheard of this week. We drop the gear and head to dinner with the last of the New Zealand crew. The margaritas are flowing and it's a great way to see out the week.
This last gig was really a celebration of the week and all the incredible people who made it happen. And just like that, it's over!
This festival is one that defines you as a band; it requires teamwork and strategy combined with a hefty output of sweat. I think we came through it fantastically well. What I've come away from SXSW with is a renewed awareness that there are some incredibly talented people from New Zealand working at the very top of the international music industry. We met some on this trip and it's extraordinarily inspiring to spend time with them and listen to the stories and take on the advice.
Play SXSW again? Never! Unless we're being paid to. Once was perfect and the most I could handle. Visit SXSW? Definitely, best experience possible for a punter.
Special thanks to our mate Justyn Pilbrow who travelled from NYC to tech for us. It would've been a fucking nightmare without him! Thanks bro!
See you soon!
Check out the video for Cairo Knife Fight's The Violence of Action:
By Nick Gaffaney, Aaron Takona