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SXSW ’08: Perez Hilton’s “One Night In Austin”

Lyndsey Parker
Maximum Performance

"This is the hottest party at South By Southwest!" declared fuchsia-fauxhawked cewebrity Perez Hilton, serving as emcee at his hot-ticket private afterparty on SXSW's final night. And you know what? He was right.

Yes, with 9,000-plus RSVPs on the guestlist but only a few hundred people actually lucky enough to make it to the other side of the velvet rope, Perez's "One Night In Austin" wee-hours blowout was THE place to be Saturday night (or Sunday morning, to be more accurate, since the festivities raged on until 7am). It certainly had all the makings of a guaranteed good time: scrumptious Cuban coffee cocktails courtesy of Cafe De Bustelo (addictive stuff, with or without cognac in it); free got2b product-stocked hairstyling stations; cigarette girls in Martian makeup passing out packs from party sponsor 5Gum (to ensure good post-party makeout breath, natch); a seen-and-be-scene crowd of beautiful people who resembled extras from The Hills; and of course, swag-bags aplenty.

But it was a real night to remember because of the musical acts handpicked by the Queen Of All Media himself. (Perez has excellent musical taste and a passion for pop that, sadly, most SXSW industry wannabes either never had or lost long ago.) Chester French, Dragonette, Eric Hutchinson, Meiko, Katy Perry, Robyn, and Shwayze (featuring Mischa Barton's ex, Cisco Adler) all played--some of them were bona fide SXSW buzz bands, others were just relative unknowns that had found a famous fan in Perez. But all of them had received precious past pixel space in Perez's blog.

"I'm nervous and I don't know why," Perez said as he greeted the revelers streaming through the door. "It's because tonight is about the music. All of the bands playing here tonight are my favorite bands."

Kicking off the long night was '90s Swedish pop star-turned-electro diva Robyn, aka the fiercest lady in show business--or, as Perez put it, "the most relevant woman in music today." Straddling the stage in an asymmetrical shaved-sided platinum bob, batwinged micro-minidress, and teetering platform wedges, Robyn certainly rocked it, whether it was on a radically revamped minimalist techno version of "Show Me Love" (her Max Martin-produced '90s hit) or a mashup medley of Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance"/Salt 'N' Pepa's "Push It"/Snoop Dogg's "Sensual Seduction." And all the while, Perez stood in stage wings bopping, bobbing, and belting along, as he did for all the musical acts this evening.

Another Hilton highlight was the equally fierce and even more fabulous Katy Perry, whom Perez introduced as "the anti-Avril" and said symbolized "everything that pop music needs." The raven-haired rock goddess behind the viral anti-emo-boy anthem "Ur So Gay" was indeed a true superstar, getting the entire audience to sing along to the hilarious song dedicated to her effeminate ex-boyfriend who stole her skinny jeans. Ironically, even the many skinny-jeaned, flat-iron-coiffed, guylinered girly-boys at the party sang along too, seemingly missing the irony. But watching Perez sing along was the greatest spectacle of all.

Chester French, a new Harvard-educated, quirky pop band discovered by Kanye West and eventually signed to the Neptunes' Star-Trak imprint label, were next, and anticipation was running high for these guys. "Everyone says they're the next big thing. Well, I heard them first!" Perez declared. Incredibly, this was only the baby-faced baby band's second show EVER, but they worked the scenester crowd like old pros, tossing daisies and condom-shaped promotional CDs to the audience while their label boss/mentor Pharrell stood sidestage, beaming like a proud parent.

"Last night we played our first show and the blogs said it seemed like we were 'trying too hard,'" quipped red-haired, red-trousered frontman D.A. Wallach. "Well, you know what that makes me want to do? TRY HARDER!" And the extra effort definitely aid off. Whatever Chester French are doing, it's working. Too bad all bands don't try so hard.

Up next was the band billed only as the "Superstar Surprise," Pharrell's group N.E.R.D. However, it seemed like everyone at the party--and possibly everyone in Austin--already knew that N.E.R.D. was the main attraction this evening. It just goes to show that Perez isn't very good at keeping a secret: He even posted the cyberflyer for his supposedly clandestine party, complete with the address, on his website!

N.E.R.D. actually had a tough act to follow, since their boy wonders Chester French were such crowd-pleasers. But Pharrell has never been one to be upstaged, so N.E.R.D. proved to be the ultimate party band, keeping the audience revved up and raring to go despite the somewhat ungodly hour of 3am.

Novelty R&B act Riskay finally hit the stage around 4am--she's the MySpace phenom behind the infamous infidelity anthem with the unprintable title. (Well, the new PG title for its commercial release is "Smell Dat Chick," so think of a four-letter word that rhymes with "chick" and you'll probably figure it out.) The amateur diva performed only song, an extremely awkward and technical-difficulties-laden duet of "Smell Your You-Know-What" with Perez himself. It was a major letdown after such fiery performances by the aforementioned acts, but she was clearly happy to be there. (Really, only in America would a guy like Perez become a self-made superstar, and then have the power to turn Riskay into a star herself.) Anyway, the many party guests whipping out their cameraphones to capture the highly YouTubeable Riskay/Perez collabo seemed happy to be there, too.

But the happiest person at the party was undoubtedly the man of the hour himself. "My 30th birthday is next weekend, and this is the best 30th birthday ever!" Perez told the crowd.

Well, happy birthday, Perez. Here's to 30 more years of South By Southwest soirees.

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