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Does Austin music documentary Echotone accurately portray Austin’s current cultural clash?

2011 April 25

Austin has had some extreme growth over the last 5 to 10 years. We’ve got a brand new skyline. We’ve got the 3rd-worst traffic in the US. We’ve even got a music festival so big that it comes with its own riots.

But these are just physical examples of our growth. Harder to see are the cultural shifts that happen over time. Whether it’s the City shutting down the beloved Cathedral of Junk or the increasingly more restrictive noise ordinances, we are in the midst of a cultural crisis.

Nowhere is this cultural crisis more apparent than the attack on live music in the purported Live Music Capital of the World. Condos being built downtown in traditionally loud neighborhoods have forced places like the Mohawk to close their outdoor stages early. Snotty neighbors have had police shut down Austin institutions like Shady Grove’s Unplugged on the Green. And neighborhood associations, with the help of City Council member Laura Morrison, have fought to make sound illegal.

This cultural clash is elegantly captured in Echotone, a documentary by filmmaker Nathan Christ about Austin music. It’s playing this week at the Alamo Drafthouse. Check out the trailer and try not to get chills:

Following several young musicians as they navigate life in the Live Music Capital and beyond, Echotone gives an inside look at the creative class as they struggle to make money off their art work. Joe Lewis from Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, on the edge of blowing up, slings fish at his day job while he considers signing to a major label. Bill Baird from Sound Team reflects on getting effed by a major record label. And Cari Palazzolo from the band Belaire rejects the recording industry to do her own thing.

A film as rocking as the Austin herself, Echotone shows the city caught in the midst of growing pains. And by unraveling the cultural tapestry of Austin, it spotlights how the lives of musicians, venue owners and fans are all interwoven into and affected by the economic boom. Beautifully filmed, Echotone hooks you with its music and leaves you with a case of cultural tinnitus that will be ringing through your thoughts long after the film has stopped.

Seriously, it captures the heart and soul of our fair city, encapsulating what makes this moment in time so amazing. It’s a cultural zeitgeist. A movement. It’s a wave that sweeps over your body like an ocean of bass, giving you chills when you realize that Y-O-U are a participant in the story it tells.

WARNING: Watching Echotone may have you fighting to protect the musical heritage of this city.

EXPERIENCE: Echotone is playing at the Drafthouse until Wednesday. Go buy tickets. See the film. And then download the free Echotone soundtrack exploding with some kick-a Austin musicians.

Last Fall, we caught up with director Nathan Christ after the initial screening of Echotone at the Austin Film Festival. In the 5-minute video, Nathan explains what the film means for Austin. Check it:



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One Response leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011

    I saw the film last night. I found it interesting and beautifully shot, but largely ineffective and with a lack of focus. The director admitted they started it as a film about a few Austin bands of varying success and what they were doing to try to succeed in their own way and what success even meant to them. That part of the film worked. Conflict with apartment buildings didn’t do much for me. I toured the apartments on Red River across from Mohawk three days ago. They tell you right off the bat that it is loud. That was a selling point for me. Those apartments are me and my girlfriend’s dream. We’re saving up so we can live there in a year or so. Yes, there are annoying neighbors who complain, and yes, it made me want to go to city council meetings to stand on the side of letting clubs play later, but that point was not effectively made in the film. I wanted it to be.

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