At SXSW 2005, you cannot escape Bloc Party. Their image is plastered to every street light and taco stand in downtown Austin. They are staring you down and daring you to find a cooler band… or at least that’s what the Hype Machine would like you to believe.
You’ve been granted access to this hipper-than-thou British quartet from 1:20-1:40 pm at the Fader Trading Post — a music venue/clothing store, which has been assembled for SXSW and will disappear when the shows are over. You meet security guard #1 at the entrance and are escorted to the backyard, which is furnished with cushy chairs and loveseats. A DJ is spinning and dancing, and with all the 80s-inspired get-ups and hairdos, you feel like you’re back on Bedford Avenue. Security guard #2 sports strategic bed-head, distressed jeans, and thick corduroy wristbands. He instructs you to wait on a sunny staircase until further notice. It’s nearly 2:00pm by the time you meet #3, who guards a green room. You and the friendly crew of a New Zealand radio show are led past a couple of pizzas, a bowl of candy bars, and several racks of neatly folded band-wear.
Out on a noisy balcony, where the bustle of 6th Street competes with the hum of the elevated I-35, the subjects of those ever-present posters are waiting. They look terrified. A radio crew from New Zealand makes a beeline for Kele Okereke, the striking lead singer. His mop-top dreads look as cool as they do on the posters, but he’s shifting nervously from one foot to the other and battling a fierce stutter. You aren’t sure what to do and end up with bashful guitarist Russell Lissack. And like the last two sixth graders left unpaired at the call for couple skate, you’re just so relieved to see each other.
He hides behind a curtain of asymmetrical boy bangs, and as he leans beside you over the balcony rail, a rainbow rave kid bracelet peeks out from the cuff of his oversized hooded sweatshirt. He reads your notes as you write them:
The L Magazine: Have you been to Texas before?
Russell Lissack: No, we just got in last night. It seems cool so far, just walking around this morning. We’re never in the sun, so it’s nice for us.
The L: Did you have to quit your day job to go on this tour, or have you been full-time Bloc Party for a while?
RL: Yeah, I quit university a year ago this week.
The L: What did you study?
RL: Sociology. I only had, like, three months to go. We had to go on that first UK tour, and I had to decide. It wasn’t really a hard decision.
The L: Seems like it’s turning out to be a good career move, though, right? Have you started thinking about what you’re going to do if this takes off, and you start, like, having a lot of money?
RL: [Laughs.] I’ll just keep doing this! I just want to make music. If I started to make lots of money, it would be something — I don’t know — so I didn’t have to work when I was old. There’s nothing I want to buy, really. I don’t want a car or anything like that. Maybe I’d see my friends on holiday.
The L: Did you go out to any shows last night?
RL: No, we got in pretty late. It took us 20 hours to get here — very long flight. I was pretty tired from that. Matt [Tong, the drummer] went out. He can’t help himself. It’s weird here — you walk down the road and you keep running into people you know. It’s like a little rock ‘n’ roll village. Do you know who comes to this SXSW? Like, what will the audience be like?