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SXSW regional preview: Texas

Peter Mongillo

The inside of the South Austin house where the Dikes of Holland live looks like the aftermath of a party, with empty cans of Lone Star occupying a decent amount of available real estate in the kitchen. It's late, after 10 on a Saturday night, and they're in the middle of making food. They haven't eaten in a while — it hasn't been a priority, as they've been trying to get some recording in before the city sound ordinance curfew (and in consideration of their neighbors). They give off the impression that the band would play all night if they could.

Singer Liz Herrera apologizes, explaining that the house isn't usually so messy. At the moment, recording, or playing, music seems like just about the only thing to do in the house. The largest room is occupied by the band's homemade studio, the awesomely named Neckbeard Ranch. Thick blankets hang on the windows, a drum set sits in the middle of the room along with microphones, amps, a keyboard and other gear. And posters, some really handmade stuff, including one from their first SXSW-week house party four years ago, are everywhere.

The rest of the living space is pretty cluttered, with a couch, a few chairs, a television, a turntable and a ton of vinyl taking up most of the room. The minor level of chaos feels appropriate for a band that cranks out a fast, hard-to-resist mash of rock 'n' roll.

Herrera and bandmates John Paul Bohon, Christopher Stephenson, Phillip Dunne and Trey Reimer have been working on their second full-length release, the follow-up to their 2010 self-titled debut. Although they've also released a handful of 7-inch singles and had a track on the Casual Victim Pile compilation along the way, the Dikes of Holland have made their reputation as a live act, offering up heaps of loud, explosive musical goodness for the past few years in Red River Street clubs.

At the end of last year, they hit the road for a string of West Coast dates with Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, which wasn't exactly the type of tour the band is used to. Vice versa for some of Black Joe Lewis' audience. "It was strange," Bohon says, "We just weren't playing for people that were there to see us."

They got through to at least one person, as witnessed by this comment under one of the Dikes of Holland's videos on YouTube: "I saw these fools open for black joe lewis. (expletive), (expletive). their live set is (expletive) amazing."

Maybe that's because these guys have been playing together for the better part of 10 years, a few of them even longer. The band came from several different places (none of which is Denton, which seems to be producing a good chunk of Austin's talent these days): Bohon and Reimer from Norman, Okla.; Dunne from Austin; Herrera from El Paso; and Stephenson from Kansas City.

One detail from their background that says, yes, this band was meant to happen: Bohon lived in Kansas City, Mo., for a time, a couple of neighborhoods away from Stephenson, though they didn't know each other.

They arrived in the beginning of the 2000s (Bohon by way of Dallas, where he was studying to be a sound engineer). Stephenson, Reimer and Bohon, along with Aaron Schroeder, formed noisy indie rock band Fire vs. Extinguisher in 2004. That band lasted for about four years before Schroeder left. The rest of them regrouped immediately for a scheduled Fire vs. Extinguisher show they didn't want to abandon; the resulting improvised band wasn't anything like today's Dikes of Holland.

"When we started out there was an acoustic guitar involved, and a cello and a banjo," Bohon says. "We were trying to rediscover ourselves."

The band's name came from a friend of a friend, Stephenson says, who said something like, "I've got a band name for you — the Dikes of Holland!"

It didn't take long before they lost the cello and evolved into what they are today, a rock band where all of the band members contribute songs ("We usually credit the song to the person that writes the first riff and brings it to practice, but usually we all write all of the songs," Bohon says.) The songwriting-by-committee element is obvious — their sound goes from speedy punk to slower, more psychedelic fare and elsewhere from song to song, something that makes it difficult to pin any type of label on the group.

"Toilet rock, or something," Herrera says, laughing. "That's what someone wrote once,"

Sitting in the living room, they rattle off bands they were into at one point or another, which might or might not have had an impact on what the group sounds like:

"I like Harry Nilsson, and David Bowie, of course," Herrera says. "Swell Maps, Birthday Party, Wire, Buzzcocks, Cramps" are some of the names that get thrown out there. "Gun Club," Stephenson, says about the rockabilly sound on the debut. He's playing DJ, pulling out LPs from Austin band the Flesh Lights as well as a pressing of a Thurston Moore/Lydia Lunch album that looks like one of them taped the cover together by hand.

When the Dikes of Holland first formed, Herrera wasn't yet in the band. She and Stephenson knew each other from the Alamo Drafthouse, where they both work. The band asked her to provide some vocals, and they liked the mix.

"Chris said, ‘I think you should sing on some of these songs,' and I did that for some songs, and one day, Trey was like, ‘Don't get off the stage.'" She didn't, which is good for the band. Herrera doubles down on the insane energy the group brings to the stage.

They don't play as much as some bands in town, but there are several chances to see them this week during South by Southwest, including two official showcases, a party on Saturday at the Spiderhouse Ballroom and another on Sunday at Beerland.

They'll also throw their own party at their house, something they've been doing for four years now. This year's lineup is a strong one, including the Zoltars, the Dikes of Holland, Palit, ELVIS, some touring bands and Ice Pick, Black Joe Lewis' garage band alter ego.

The group seems open-minded about SXSW in general. "This year looks better than any year bill-wise," Stephenson says. "You can't even picture how it's going to go, or what's going to happen."

As far as the new material is concerned, the band hopes to have it out sometime in the spring, followed by a tour, but they don't have specific plans about how or on what label it will be released. How does it compare to the first? More post-punk, less garage rock, but still avoiding too much stylistic consistency.

"We don't write the same song over and over again," Stephenson says. "That's what's similar to the first album, but I don't think we'll be putting the same album out again either."

The level of success they have with the record is a secondary concern for the band. "I'd say if we had a goal it was to live in the same house, where we can record and write songs," Bohon says. "We've been working on that since we got here, and we're finally there."

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Five more Texas bands playing at SXSW

Mind Spiders

From: Fort Worth/Denton


About: This garage rock band began as a side project of Mark Ryan from the Marked Men. Ryan recorded last year's self-titled debut alone; a full band took to the studio for their latest, "Meltdown."

Could share a bill with: Bass Drum of Death, Wavves

Official showcase: 1 a.m. Saturday at Valhalla

Sarah Jaffe

From: Denton


About: Denton-based singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe more or less came out of nowhere with her 2010 debut "Suburban Nature," which includes the endlessly listenable "Clementine." Her latest, "The Body Wins," is out April 24.

Could share a bill with: Centro-matic, Old 97's

Official showcase: 8 p.m. Thursday at Club de Ville.

Gary Clark Jr.

From: Austin


Above: The Austin-based blues guitar phenom, who is being compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, is showing up everywhere (and playing everywhere during SXSW it seems), including the White House and the lineup for Metallica's Orion festival.

Could share a bill with: the Black Keys, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Official showcases: 12:45 a.m. Wednesday at La Zona Rosa and noon Friday at the Austin Convention Center.


From: Dallas


Above: Dallas duo of Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy, together with DJ Sober, make up A.Dd+ (pronounced A-D-D). Stylistically, the duo is all over the place, rapping over everything from mellow soul samples to much harder, sparse beats. Their debut, "When Pigs Fly," was produced by Picnictyme of Erykah Badu's Cannabinoids crew.

Could share a bill with: Cannabinoids, Big K.R.I.T.

Official showcases: 10 p.m. today at 1100 Warehouse and 10:25 p.m. Thursday at Kiss & Fly.

Fat Tony

From: Houston


Above: Nigerian American rapper Fat Tony, whose debut was 2010's "RABDARGAB," merges tight, sometimes-funny vocals with twisted synth beats.

Could share a bill with: Kid Cudi, Chingo Bling

Official showcase: Midnight Saturday at Barbarella Patio.

Dikes of Holland at SXSW