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Difficult Fun

Difficult Fun: March 2023 Best Punk and South By Something or Other…

One woman’s attempt at scouring SXSW for some part-time punk. Don’t worry, there are some real recommendations in here, too
Austin baby, Austin (Credit: Maria Sherman)

Welcome to Difficult Fun! Each month, SPIN will spotlight the best punk on the planet and discuss it here, with the ambition of challenging preconceived notions of what the four-letter word actually means and, ideally, entertaining readers in the process. Purists, piss off! Everyone else, enjoy.

This column promises the best in “punk” every month, which makes a SXSW the incorrect avenue for coverage. But there are advantages to being poorly behaved.

SXSW, the music, tech, film, tv, and blah blah “conference” (what business people frame binge drinking in a different city with far away colleagues) might feel like the wrong fit, but here at Difficult Fun HQ (the most disturbing corners of my noggin, which SPIN graciously allows me to puke out on this here website) I’ve decided what the hell, why not turn off this column’s few loyal readers by making it about the single worst thing to happen to Austin since Elon Musk brought his cult there?

Time for the **DISCLAIMER!**: Please take this with a grain of salt. I happen to enjoy this festival, despite its obvious failures, and isn’t that what being a human is all about? Embracing hypocrisy, working for a better future, learning to get up another day? Plus, seeing a shit ton of bands in a series of small (ideally independently owned) venues across a city for a week is fun, too.

So, without further ado, here are the most “punk” things—not just bands, but…things—I witnessed at SXSW. Because nothing is cooler than being precious about labeling things “punk.”

Pleasure Venom
Pleasure Venom (Credit: Maria Sherman)


Contrary to popular belief, there are few opportunities to discover new music at SXSW if you are a person who already engages in regular music discovery and/or, more realistically, you’re an industry professional spending your week following around the artists you’ve already worked with for ages. But Austin’s Pleasure Venom was a new one for me—hardened guitar solos that didn’t slow the intensity of their noise punk, frontperson Audrey Campbell’s raspy scream giving way to “Yes Daddy!” shrieks while rocking a hand fan and a wig that gives new license to the expression, “the higher the hair, the closer to God.” That’s amore.


Y’all know about Chulita Vinyl Club? The vinyl DJ collective made up of women, gender non-conforming, non-binary, LGBTQ+ and self-identifying people of color who, according to their mission statement, use their records as a form of protest against cultural erasure? Whose vinyl selection and curation is cooler than anyone you know? Well, I saw them play at an avocado activation (?) and it was sick. They also spun between sets (especially great after a Blondshell set) at Wednesday’s SPIN party.


With the advent of Uber and Lyft, and as a NYC-based anorak, it’s been years since I’ve heard of someone acting as DD. And then there I was, sitting on the sidewalk shoveling an overpriced veggie burger into my mouth at three in the morning, when I heard someone’s sober friend say it was time to go. Getting home safe is sick.

Poison Ruin
Poison Ruin (Credit: Maria Sherman)


At one point during the week, I said aloud to my friend Tricia “It is just like a New Yorker to fly thousands of miles just to see a Philly band,” as someone turned around to say, “I fucking feel that.” Anyway, Poison Ruin’s Medieval-inspired massacring slaps; I can’t wait for their Relapse Record release to take over this column in April. The only thing that could’ve made their 2 p.m. Side Bar set better is if it was, like, at a recycling center, or on a bridge, and also it was Chaos in Tejas. The free hot dogs were clutch. SXSW!


Those little bicycle dealies with the cart in the back have a motor in it, but it’s not punk to treat humans like cattle.


You know the band this column was totally losing its mind over last month? Well, they were at the music industry clown show, and I missed them three times: once, because there was another showcase I was prioritizing, twice because of a flash flood where the bouncer at Hotel Vegas yelled at us to “seek shelter” at the organic wine bar next door, and a third time when I saw them load into a goofy burlesque-themed club downtown on St. Patrick’s Day, followed them in only to find them unloading—someone tried to add them to a last minute showcase the following night, not Friday. If anyone has seen this band, please send a note to [email protected].


It would be a tragedy to go all the way to Texas and not talk about a few killer ATX acts, so here it goes: FUCK MONEY, (featuring members of BLXPLTN and Future Death), are a self-described space-punk act that hits like one of those HEB delivery carts controlled by a mad man with the need for speed. They played [redacted] warehouse and a house show and probably a bunch of other ATX joints like they were setting fire to banks in the center of hell. If you’ve heard the hype, believe it.


And now, for what you really want: SXSW was a fun and ultimately irrelevant ride for DF, but March produced a million great “punk” releases I’d be completely remiss to, well, miss including here. So, without further ado, five bands who knew better than to ever consider trekking down to play for Doritos, or whatever, rapid-fire style:

GEL, Only Constant


The best hardcore band on the planet returns, bigger and more brutal than ever. What did you expect?

MSPAINT, Post-American


Synth punk ornamented with dial-up and fax machine fuzz—it’s only time before U.S. society becomes similarly outmoded.

Home Front, Games of Power


The first time I cranked up “Faded State,” the joyful primitive punk opener from Home Front’s Games of Power, I thought their synth line was ripped from The White Lotus theme song. But that’s only because I was South by So-sleep deprived. This LP is perhaps the most accessible of everything listed here, but don’t let that fool you: it’s still tough as nails, just at the intersection of hardcore, post-punk, and real-ass rock ‘n’ roll.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples, The Town That Cursed Your Name


Dreamy, self-aware post-indiepop—so obviously and deliciously a Slumberland Records release.

MYSTIC 100’s, On a Micro Diet


The Olympia band formerly known as Milk Music returns to their psychedelic rock. RIYL: Slamming drinks on the curved wood bar at a rural dive.