SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference sessions starring Nile Rodgers and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels

By on Thursday, 23rd March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

SXSW is never the same from one year to another, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges. That said, this year, we SXSW Conference attendees avoided the craziness of last year’s sessions, marked by a zoo-like atmosphere due to the increased security designed to protect then President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I do wonder if people who had been inconvenienced by the scheduling issues caused by the Obamas in 2016 stayed away this year, because the queues definitely seemed shorter than in any past time I’ve been in Austin for the event. I had no trouble getting into two of the three massive sessions I had earmarked to attend, which was great as a music journalist eager to soak up as many anecdotes and as much advice as possible. However, I did wonder, where is everybody?

I was truly excited for Nile Rodgers’ keynote talk on Wednesday morning. As a longtime Duran Duran fan, I’ve always assumed that their ‘Notorious’ album would have never happened without him. Of course, he worked with artists as varied as David Bowie, Madonna, Daft Punk, Disclosure and Lady Gaga. The man has tons of experience and so many stories he could tell, he could probably have his own documentary running continuously for weeks. (At the start of the talk, a fast-paced, hard to follow who’s who of people he’s worked with and all the work he’s done over the years helped make this a humourous point.) It was, then, disappointing to find out from the first few minutes that the focus of his talk would be music discovery and to some extent, how to write a pop song and promote it. I mean, music discovery is what music editors do with their lives and what makes them tick, right? While Rodgers was as much an engaging speaker as I’ve seen in past documentaries starring him that I’ve watched, I personally didn’t get out of his talk what I had hoped. To make up your own mind, I do invite you to watch the entire keynote speech below. An interview with Rodgers by NPR is also available here.

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels is best known for being in trailblazing hip-hop group Run D.M.C., but his conversation with journalist Nick Huff Barili had many different directions taking off from the music he’s famous for. He was very candid – and very funny! – telling how he unable to play basketball with the public school kids because he felt ‘marked’ by his Catholic school uniform. Until this talk, I had no idea he and his brother were obsessed with comic books as children, and he used them as an escape. The waterworks nearly opened up when he revealed they sold their comics because unlike their peers, they didn’t sell drugs, and how else would they have the money to buy their first turntables and a mixer? It was even more sob-inducing to learn that he had suffered from depression, going through a painful suicidal period in the ‘90s. I had to fight back the tears.

Darryl McDaniels at SXSW 2017

Sometimes, though, the darkest days lead to the brightest, as McDaniels came back with a new outlook and was tapped by friends and acquaintances to help others through similar struggles. Music was important to getting McDaniels the stage from where he can speak about things that have far further reach than music alone can give. In that respect, I found his SXSW Conference talk much more uplifting and relatable than Nile Rodgers’ own: instead of a rock star talking to us from the stage, McDaniels, sat in an armchair, spoke to us as if we were in his living room and among friends. I haven’t seen the video of his talk surface yet, but I hope it does soon, so we can share it with you. Oh, and you know those comic books that he sold off years ago? Well, now he has his own comic book publishing imprint, Darryl Makes Comics. Everything does come full circle.

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