It was March 10, 2014. I was in Austin, TX for SXSW.
I’ve been to SXSW a few times. Once to play with my band Apparently Nothing. Another to attend the interactive portion of the festival while working for Adobe. The last time I visited was 2014. I’d just finished the first version of Hum, and felt like showing it off.
While I was down there I’d seen a flyer or two for a band called Diarrhea Planet. I chuckled to myself and filed their name away in the back of my mind. The name ended up following me around the entire trip. It was in my Twitter feed. I heard people mumbling about it while we waited to get into shows.
I found myself grabbing an unbelievable Monte Cristo sandwich in a small food trucks lot in east Austin as the sun went down. I was happy and full and figured I’d explore the neighborhood a bit to see what kind of signals I’d pick up along the way.
I hadn’t walked more than a block before I heard the faint sound of a band just absolutely slaying in the distance. From where I was walking, the wind would only bring me the broad strokes. I could hear a rhythm section that sounded vaguely like a punk band. If I was lucky, I could hear faint melodic notes floating in and out on top.
As I got closer to the source of the sound, I thought, “This sounds like Grohl if he were 25 today. Oh fuck, is that Grohl?” My pulse and pace quickened as I panicked at the thought of missing whoever this was. As I neared a bar called Hotel Vegas, I discovered the source was an outdoor stage behind their building. I followed a line from the front door that stretched all the way around the corner to just near where the band was playing. It was just a chain link fence between me and stage right.
The view was perfect. Looking down the stage I could see everyone.
This band was nuts. They had 4 guitars. 2 handling tasteful melodic leads and rhythm work and 2 handling higher tappy bits. It sounded like “The Who’s” Baba O’Reilly had started a band. Two guitars handled the synth loop, while the rest of the rhythm section handled the main windmilled chords.
I didn’t dare try to actually join the line to get in through the venue. Nearing the entrance would only mean inching further away from the band. I just stood right there the rest of the show, sometimes climbing a foot or two of the fence for a better view.
Their show felt like a celebration. This is what joy sounded like. I grinned and bounced with their perfect tempos. Their energy was contagious. These guys could go from full rock fervor to subtle, dreamier moments, with huge vocal hooks throughout. Their set was balanced with sobering moments of absolute beauty and clarity. Their song structure was non-traditional and would often include long codas that would cleverly change just a single chord in the progression while the overarching melodies gave the songs an incredible lift. It filled me with goosebumps and tears.
And like that, I was 15 again. I felt like I was hearing music for the first time. Some combination of the texan air and the perfect guitar tones. Some divine connection of the right place and the right time. I fell in love with my love of music again. To me, they sounded exactly like what I thought rock bands should sound like when I first picked up a guitar. They were the logical conclusion of everything my early bands did well, had we stuck together and kept any momentum we’d built.
They sounded like the first warm night in a midwest spring, hanging your head out the sunroof of your best friend’s car. Smelling the new growth. Finally feeling some warmth. It sounded like the first time I played a tube amp. They sounded like every destroyed drum stick and every broken string.
At one point during their set, they invited folks to dive from the stage to win a limited edition t-shirt with the words:
Oh, obviously! This was Diarrhea Planet.
And, from now on, I would have to explain that one of my favorite bands is called Diarrhea Planet. And that they made me weep. And that they made me fall even more in love with the thing I love most.
And that sometimes the truly beautiful things don’t need to be taken so seriously.
I’m a product designer and musician in Minneapolis, MN. I design and build Hum. I lead a band called The Usual Things. I work at Stack Overflow. I’ve also worked at GitHub and Adobe.