AUSTIN, Texas — There are two sides to South By Southwest. There is the South By “sideshow” element, which this year consisted of Lady Gaga delivering her version of performance art with one of her minions vomiting on her. (Over recent years a number of high-profile recording artists – Green Day, Soundgarden and even Prince – have played the uber Austin music conference looking for a shot of credibility.)
And there’s the other side of South By: smaller bands hoping to be discovered, chugging along and rising in the ranks. Place the under-heralded Dum Dum Girls in the latter pile.
The New York-based gothic pop-rock band delivered its passionate, moody songs to an adoring capacity crowd at the Cedar Street Courtyard during the festival’s second week.
“South By Southwest is not band-friendly,” said Dee Dee Penny, the group’s lead singer and songwriter. “But we always do our best to perform 100 percent. A great show is as much due to the audience as it is the sound or technical side of things. It’s ideally a palpable exchange of energy.”
There was plenty of exchange in Austin, as fans devoured the cuts from the group’s latest impressive album, “Too True” The new work is lighter in tone than the painful cuts from the last DDG album, “Only In Dreams,” penned after Penny’s mother passed away. This time out, the melancholy tracks are at a minimum and the production pushes Penny’s vocals to the forefront.
Producers Richard Gottehrer and Sune Rose Wagner were back for “Too True,” and they amped up the sheen. The gifted Wagner, who fronts the Raveonettes, also plays some guitar and bass.
“He fully understands my intentions,” Penny said of Wagner. “He’s able to articulate things I’m not able to and he comes up with some really special ideas that would never occur to me.”
The Dum Dum Girls, who perform Friday at King’s Barcade in Raleigh, knocked out the album quickly. “I sat down with the intention of writing the record all at once,” Penny said. “It’s a feeling like you’re channeling something. It’s semi-subconscious.
“We, meaning my producers and engineers, were intentional with the production style on ‘Too True,’” Penny said. “The goal was to serve the songs, which were generally bigger, darker, more urgent, plus place the pretty crystalline vocals on top.”
Penny is thankful to still have her crystalline voice; after recording the instrumental parts of “Too True” over a year ago, she lost it. Penny then realized that she had taken her voice for granted, and that some singers (most notably Julie Andrews) lose their voices and never recover.
“It’s easy to abuse your voice when you tour heavily,” Penny said “It took a year off to get it back to 75 percent.”
At South By Southwest, Penny sounded like she was back at full strength. She and her bandmates – guitarist Jules, bassist Malia and drummer Sandy – will tour for the rest of the year and then think about a new album. Penny said she’d like to up the ante when she enters the studio for the Dum Dum Girls follow-up.
“It would be cool to work with someone like Giorgio Moroder next time,” Penny said. “Who knows, though?”