Sundance and SXSW Considering "Echotone": A "Cultural Portrait" of Austin Music and Downtown Development

[vimeo ]

Don’t look now, but Austin may be on the verge of becoming the center of America’s next cultural moment. If Nathan Christ’s documentary “Echotone,” a low-budget film about the combustion of Austin’s booming inner-city development and its rocking music scene breaks through the final selection at the Sundance Film Festival, prepare for the nation’s eyes to fix again on the “Music Capital of the World.” As Christ’s film suggests, Austin may be the place where America’s economic recovery and its cultural renaissance intersect.

Or where they collide.

The rapid development of Austin’s central neighborhoods means larger audiences, bigger venues and more national attention.  It’s also brought higher housing costs and the proliferation of new sound ordinances.  The film asks us to weigh the effect of such changes on the city’s cultural bedrock and offers us a chance to take a larger view.

The films striking trailer touches off with the words, “Austin, TX: Present Day” as it soars over the cities burgeoning developments in a construction crane. In an interview with the Daily Texan, Christ eluded to the contemporary focus of the film: “There’re a lot of music films that are about looking back at a bygone era,” Christ said. “This is what history is. You should’ve been there. But, I realized in the past few years that a documentary can be in the present. You can make a powerful story about your age and about your peers.”

Right now SXSW is considering Echotone for a premier in March. If the film is selected, people in downtown Austin will be presented with a uniquely self-referential experience. On the films blog, Christ writes about  “the greater emotional vision of what a SXSW premiere could provide for the viewer,” At the climax, “the credits roll, and the audience walks out into the precisely the world they’ve just experienced for 90 minutes.”

Juxtaposing scenes of Austin’s quirky musical underground with the sights and sound of industrial construction, the film presents a town on the verge of awakening from a long slumber only to discover that it has become a city with an international reputation.

Featuring bands Belaire, “poised for commercial success, but conflicted over the thought of her music turning into a commodity” the “experimental troubadour” Bill Baird, and Black Joe Lewis’ man who fills music halls by night and delivers fish for a living by day, the film tells the story of the cities young artists while promising to deliver “a cultural portrait of the modern American city examined through the lyrics and lens of its creative class.”

Longtime residents of Austin will be surprised to find through Christ’s lens, that their city has suddenly acquired the magic appeal of San Francisco in the 1960s. For the outsider, the film may well crystallize everything they’ve been told about the little gem in the south.

What do you think about sound ordinances? Where should we draw the line between the needs of the Austin music scene and Downtown Austin’s growing residential community? Are these communities at odds or are they mutually beneficial?

Why can’t we be friends?



  1. Hey Karen,

    From what I understand, the movie is still being considered by the Sundance panel. I’m planning an interview with the director next week, so hopefully I can get an update on that.

  2. karen weir says:

    i don’t see this on the Sundance website anywhere! is it being shown at Sundance this year? The director’s notes on the Echotone website imply that they are targeting a premiere at SXSW, not Sundance.

    I’ll be in Park City for Sundance and would love to go see this movie (and tell everyone there to go see it), so any clarification would be AWESOME!

  3. I’m thankful for the condos’ arrival since they create a denser urban core and focus the attention of the new gentry off of my neighborhood, thereby keeping my affordable rent relatively stable despite my proximity to downtown.

    Anyone who moves into a neighborhood known for its strong live music scene should not be surprised to hear music after they move in. Similarly, the average drunken jackass stumbling around downtown should keep their voices in check to minimize overall noise impact.

    Also, part of the property taxes collected from downtown residential spaces could be intelligently routed toward sound insulation for the venues which would solve the majority of issues.

    But, really, if developers just built buildings with decent walls and window insulation, there wouldn’t be any issues with noise inside buildings at all.

    Lastly, as a small record label owner and lover of independent music, I’m certainly concerned about the impact on our venues, however, I also am convinced that music will never leave Austin.

    It will just find other neighborhoods to inhabit and impact for the better with its creativity, just as it did with downtown. My hope is that developers, citizens, and musicians all mutually respect each others’ value in strengthening our urban fabric and that our government takes all considerations into account fairly and comes up with innovative and efficient solutions.

    We should not only coexist and tolerate each other, but actively support each other so we all thrive in the decades to come and still be able to refer to Austin as a unique place known for its vibrancy rather than the place that we wish hadn’t faded.

    • “It will just find other neighborhoods to inhabit and impact for the better with its creativity, just as it did with downtown.”

      Not if Austin Neighborhood Council has a say. This is the irony. Most people living in downtown embrace the music and the energy. Zilker Park or Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, not so much.

      Also, downtown developers DO build to accommodate. Perfect example is the Red River Flats apartments directly across the street from the Mohawk AND Stubbs! They worked with the venues and constructed a better building.

      • If all buildings block noise properly, there should be no noise issues for anyone living in them.

        And I certainly don’t point the finger at downtown residents. At noise ordinance hearings, it seems common to hear complaints from a wide range of neighborhood “representatives”, most of whom have a loose grasp of logic and rarely offer any ideas of substantial value.

        What I’m worried about is having a constant state of opposition rather than a natural balance of mutual interest. It seems silly to have music move to an “abandoned” neighborhood where rent is cheap and neighbors don’t complain as much, then the venues, and creative industries that go along with it, make the neighborhood cool which then raises the perceived value of the neighborhood and brings in a second stage of residents, squeezing the original residents some, but not drastically. Then, the neighborhood becomes trendy and the prices skyrocket, original residents get squeezed out for the most part, second stage residents have trouble staying, and third stage residents complain about the very things that made the neighborhood desirable. It’s just a dumb circle when, alternatively, we could just come up with common sense solutions that would mean better neighborhoods for all residents, including transitional, secondary, and tertiary.

        This whole city would be better if we had balanced neighborhoods with mixed use and intelligent planning. The solution is never to remove residents or clubs — the solution is to naturally mix all elements while effectively containing their negative impact during transitional phases and for us all to have patience and tolerance while we iron out the kinks.

  4. Good point. Interesting, in and of itself, that people actually living “downtown” generally would have a different attitude. Seems like a good sign.

  5. Recall Austin Neighborhood Council’s position earlier this year.

    Downtown Austin might be an easy target, but it’s misguided. It’s not the condo dwellers who are bitching.

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