Looking for previews and reviews of SXSW 2019? Right this way.

SXSW 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2018 | 2015 | 2013 | 2012

Don't forget to like There Goes the Fear on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

SXSW 2019: the return to Austin and David Byrne vs. Lance Bass – 13th March 2019 (Wednesday, part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Reflecting on my eighth SXSW in a row, there are some things about the Music portion of SXSW that are self-evident. One of those things is that there is no good or bad time to arrive for the music festival. Regardless when you choose to touch down in Austin, there are going to be things you have missed, but there will be plenty more amazing things to come. Covering the event alone for TGTF this year, my decision to arrive on Wednesday was primarily a financial one: I stayed in the thick of it, on a hotel on East 4th Street for 4 days, trading number of days for location.

Our pilot on our flight from Baltimore landed us admirably through choppy, bumpy turbulence (cue motion sickness, nearly) and before our scheduled arrival time. Despite this, it took longer to get my badge this year, longer than I could ever remember it taking in past years. The badge pickup area was noticeably much smaller and with less staff than in previous years, though everyone I interacted with was in good spirits and helpful. By the time all was said and done, it was 1 PM, halfway through the two SXSW Conference sessions I’d noted on my schedule: David Byrne and his Reasons for Being Cheerful keynote at the Hilton or Lance Bass in the convention center, both of which I previewed here. Knowing that Byrne’s keynote would likely be videotaped and available to everyone later – I was right, you can watch it in the embed below – I decided to go with the *NSYNC star instead.

A music journo choosing Lance Bass over David Byrne probably sounds like a major mistake. Bass was in town for the premiere of The Boy Band Con, a YouTube documentary he coproduced on Lou Pearlman, the boy band impresario who launched the careers of *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town and many others but who was ultimately brought down by the American legal system when his fraud and racketeering activities were brought to light. Check out the film trailer below. It’s interesting to learn than it was Bass who was able to get so many past professional singer associates of Pearlman’s to participate in the documentary, winning them over by explaining that the film would be about their stories as it would be about the man who ultimately swindled them.

I was a massive boyband fan back in the day. The other day, an *NSYNC song came on Sirius XM radio in my car (‘God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You’, if you wanted to know) and I was shocked I still knew all the words. For a good portion of my formative years, while I dealt with some family and health issues, music was the only world available to me that I could escape into. I still have all the hand gestures and dance moves to ‘Bye Bye Bye’ memorised. I’d watch the kids go crazy over their favourite bands on TRL on MTV here in America and for that hour the show was on, I could pretend I was like everybody else. It sounds cliched, but when you’re young and you feel like a total misfit, any sense of belonging is welcome. Thinking along those lines, it is incredibly sad that at the same time that while his band brought joy and inclusion to their fans, all the while Lance Bass had to hide who he was and for so many years.

I suppose it’s no surprise that his sexuality was a major point during his conversation with Homophilia podcast hosts Dave Holmes and Matt McConkey. Despite years of discomfort and “playing a character” who wasn’t who he was at all, Bass is now comfortable in his own skin and an advocate for the LGBT community. He spoke of the time he proposed to his now husband Michael Turchin in what he thought would be a beautiful place to make a romantic overture in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the mood was broken by an overzealous fan who apparently wouldn’t go away and completely missed the fact that they were in the middle of something.


photo of Lance Bass from his Facebook page

Although I was only in attendance for the second half of the session, I’d argue that I probably saw the better half. Audience members took turns at the mike on the floor. A young gay man from Mississippi thanked Bass for his visibility, saying that having him as a role model gave him the confidence to be himself. (Who brought the onions?) A female fan asked what Bass thought of social media and if he wished it had been around when *NSYNC hit it big. He described as a double-edged sword. He was glad that it hadn’t been around because anything stupid they did would have instantly spread like wildfire, and he insisted that it would have been something said or done by his bandmate (and resident big mouth) Joey Fatone who would have probably caused the most problems, which elicited huge laughs. On the flipside, Bass said that if social media had been around, he would probably have over a million followers on Twitter by now, which would make promoting any of his work that much easier.

Another thought-provoking question Bass was asked was about his stance on religion, specifically given the fact that he was raised Southern Baptist in rural Mississippi. He said he still considers himself a Christian and called out the mainstream Christian church for being “fake Christians”, which I took to mean their ultra-conservative beliefs that have excluded and shunned the LGBT community. While I think we all expected such a response from a worldwide-known celebrity whose family and fans support him, it drives home how poisonous the massive divide in American Christianity on the issue of sexual orientation, among many other close-minded beliefs and teachings, really is. When will we as a nation, and as part of the global community, rise above these differences and embrace them as part of what truly makes America great?

I feel sure that Bass’ faith is behind his ability to have forgiven Pearlman after all that he did to him and *NSYNC. Lance Bass has moved well past what might have led to a dark ending for him, instead living his authentic life and being a true role model of what it looks like after you overcome adversity.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2019: this year’s recommended keynotes and speakers

 
By on Wednesday, 6th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Every year without fail, you can count on the SXSW Conference to bring you an illuminating parade of industry visionaries and artists speaking next month in Austin. In a few weeks, there will be an awe-inspiring selection of sessions to sit in on and engage with as part of 2019’s Conference. Below is just a smattering of what music programming is on offer this year.

A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener (Monday, 11 March, 12:30 PM) – The announcement of A$AP Rocky as a SXSW 2019 showcasing artist has been huge. Quite possibly as huge is his session on the 11th of March to discuss his success with development and sales of his own athletic wear and accessories. (You can check out a recent interview he did with Los Angeles radio station Power 106 before a live appearance at the Forum.) Joining him in this session is Gorden Wagener of Daimler AG, responsible for directing everything related to the customer experience at Mercedes-Benz. The importance of creativity, branding and fans and followers will no doubt be discussed in this session.

T-Bone Burnett (Wednesday, 13 March, 11 AM) – He may not be a household name you recognise, but you definitely know his work. Musician, producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett has composed the soundtracks for countless films and produced many albums, including those that launched the careers of Counting Crows and Los Lobos while helping reinvent and relaunch those of Gregg Allman and Roy Orbison. Burnett will be releasing his 13th album ‘The Invisible Light’ in April, so he’ll be chomping at the bit to talk about his newest work.

David Byrne (pictured at top) (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – The former frontman of Talking Heads and multi-award winner will be speaking about Reasons to Be Cheerful, a platform to drive social change he launched last year. The purpose of the Web site is to give people the tools and information to make changes locally to social issues as diverse as climate and energy to transportation. For a taste of what Byrne might talk about, I’ve embedded below a talk Byrne gave in early January 2018 at the New School in New York City.

Lance Bass (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – You remember him, Lance was the blond bass singer in *NSYNC. In case you somehow missed this, since his former ‘90s boyband’s implosion, he has become an actor of stage and screen and a gay activist. He even had a turn on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps it’s surprising that his appearance at SXSW 2019 will be to talk about his current career as a film and tv producer. Like Madonna, Cher and many other legends in the music business, he’s proven resilient in successfully reinventing himself, his time as *NSYNC fading into the distance.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry (keynote; Thursday, 14 March, 11 AM) – These two female titans of Scottish music will be appearing at Thursday morning’s Music keynote. It’s being presented in association with PRS Foundation’s Keychange programme and will be centred on discussions about “creativity, the music industry and the female identifying narrative.” Both have been outspoken on feminism and and equality in the business; below, watch an interview with Mayberry at Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass.

Laura Jane Grace (Thursday, 14 March, 2 PM) – Formerly the founder and frontman of punk band Against Me!, Grace is a transgender musician who has become a role model for those struggling with gender identity and dysphoria. With her new band Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, Grace is headed in a decidedly more intimate direction with her first solo album. The changes in her life over the last 6 to 7 years have thrust her more into the public limelight, and I’m sure she’ll be using this platform at SXSW 2019 to revisit key events, as well as discuss the music she’s making while Against Me! is on hiatus.

Björn Ulvaeus and Niclas Molinder (Thursday, 14 March, 3:30 PM) – Ulvaeus is best known as a Swedish songwriter and producer of international giants ABBA and the co-composer of Mamma Mia! and other Broadway musicals. He will be making a stop at SXSW 2019 along with Niclas Molinder; both are cofounders, along with famed pop songwriter and producer Max Martin and manager Ash Pournouri, of Auddly. Auddly is described on the SXSW Web site as “rapidly setting the standard for how music creators, their collaborators and their representatives are identified along with accrediting their contributions in compositions and recordings.” A worthy enterprise, indeed. Ulvaeus seems like such a great interviewee, as evidenced from the BBC One Show clip from last year below.

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (keynote; Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – The surviving members of seminal NYC hip-hop trio Beastie Boys will be stopping by SXSW this year for the Friday morning keynote session during the Music part of the SXSW Conference. Late last year, Horovitz and Diamond released Beastie Boys Book, 6 years on from the untimely death of their bandmate Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Ross Golan (Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – Like T-Bone Burnett described above, Ross Golan isn’t exactly a name that will ring too many bells but I can guarantee you’ve heard and appreciate his work. Golan penned Ariana Grande’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and 5 Seconds of Summer’s ‘Mrs. All American’, among others. However, I don’t think Golan will be in Austin to rest on his songwriting laurels and will be speaking on something else near and dear to many artists and managers’ hearts. He’s a major champion of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into U.S. law last October and aims to move forward with better best practices in issues of copyright in the digital age. He’ll be discussing this, along with the future of songwriting.

As always, the schedule of events at SXSW 2019 is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on the SXSW Conference, visit SXSW’s official Web site.

 

SXSW 2018: Keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen – 14th March 2018

 
By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo by Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

My SXSW 2018 Wednesday afternoon technically began late in the morning at the Austin Convention Center, with an 11 AM keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen. I was a bit tardy in arriving to the Convention Center to queue for the popular talk, and I ended up sitting in the overflow room, where the speech was being simulcast on a big screen TV. This arrangement in no way detracted from Cohen’s message or the enthusiasm of the attendees, who nodded and occasionally even applauded as if Cohen himself were actually at the front of the room.

Lyor Cohen internal

Cohen began his keynote address by giving some background on the earlier days of his career in the music industry, as a way of explaining his lifelong passion for music and for promoting musicians. His career started in artist management for up-and-coming rap artists at Rush Productions in the 1980s, and his success eventually led him to high level executive roles at Def Jam and Warner Music Group. Cohen’s brief autobiographical sketch was accompanied by DJ/producer D-Nice, who supplied audio clips from a number of artists on Cohen’s historical rosters, including RUN-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Warren G, Sum 41, The Killers, and Fetty Wap. (Want to hear it for yourself? D-Nice’s playlist is available, of course, on YouTube. Click here to listen.)

D-Nice

In the context of his career highlights, Cohen made note of some of the biggest changes he’s seen in the industry, emphasising his own willingness to accept new ideas and his ability to adapt to an ever-changing landscape as the keys to his success. From that point, he moved on to discuss his current position at YouTube, including plans for some major changes that are already in the works. Cohen described his vision for music on YouTube in terms of three basic goals: (1) creating diversity of distribution through ads and subscriptions, (2) collaborating with label partners to promote and break artists and (3) giving artists, labels and managers the best direct consumer access across any other platform.

You read that right. YouTube will, in the near future, institute a paid-subscription service which will be layered on to YouTube’s current ad-based service. The new monthly-fee subscription model was supposed to launch in March, around SXSW, but has apparently been delayed until later this year. Nevertheless, Cohen was undeterred by the delay, saying, “There are plenty of leaned-in listeners willing to pay, so we will convert them to paid subscribers. We know we’re late to the music subscription party, so we are making an enormous investment to launch a music product that combines the best of Google Play Music’s context listening and YouTube’s breadth and depth of catalogue.”

As for breaking new artists, Cohen outlined his plans to continue in that arena as well. “Breaking artists is my drug and now, here at YouTube, I can do so on a massive, global scale. This past year we’ve partnered with Sony, Warner and independents to support artists like Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, and Ozuna. We got to flex our platform to help promote their music, tell their stories and grow their global fanbases.”

artist candid

While I’m not entirely convinced about the wisdom of Cohen’s first two ideas, his third, regarding direct consumer access via YouTube, was at least partially on point. “The most powerful aspect of YouTube is our ability to allow artists, managers, publishers, songwriters and labels to engage with their fans with no hoops to jump through,” he said. “Whether it’s promoting a new video, an album, a tour or a live stream, the only place the music industry can play in both commerce and direct to consumer is YouTube.” Let’s hope Cohen keeps it that way.

If you’re interested in hearing Cohen’s hour-long keynote speech in its entirety, SXSW has made the full video available online. You can watch and listen just below.

 

SXSW 2018: Thursday afternoon at the convention center – 15th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 2nd April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Thursday afternoon at SXSW 2018 had some intriguing, music-themed SXSW Conference sessions. Thursday’s keynote starred a musical great the ‘90s version of me would have been squeezing over. To us who were kids then, Linda Perry was famous for her big hat and goggles in the video for 4 Non Blondes’ hit ‘What’s Going On’. Since then, she’s been a heavy hitter in the songwriting department: yes, she wrote Pink’s ‘Get This Party Started’ and Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’, just to name two massive pop hits. She appeared in Austin with Kerry Brown, her co-founder in We Are Hear, a hybrid of a record label (they call themselves an “artist empowerment record label”) and publishing company.

Linda Perry Thursday at SXSW 2018

We Are Hear was just launched last year, but they’re already making huge strides in showing that the traditional record label model isn’t the best way forward. They might just prove someday soon it’s broken entirely. Willa Amai is a 13-year old working with their company, and her cover of Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ blew up when it was used in a Quickbooks advert. As organic as is possible in the internet age, Amai got plenty of attention through the online Quickbooks spot, and loads of people were clamouring to purchase the song in digital format. And the song wasn’t even available for sale yet!

Both Brown and Perry were emphatic about how important it is to nurture artists as people as well as the artists they want to become. Perry was explaining that in the case of Amai, the artist is so young, she wants to be protective of her and respectful of her schooling. It seems like a no-brainer that record labels will get better returns on their financial investment if they listen to those artists signed to them and take care of them. But as we all know, that doesn’t always happen. Hopefully with the success of companies like We Are Hear, the music industry’s evolution will be a fruitful one as we go forward.

In How Tech Can Save the Music Industry, four trailblazers in the tech space spoke about what they’ve done to help a specific niche of our industry. PledgeMusic founder Benji Rogers has now cofounded another company, the dotBlockchain Music Project. The technology of blockchain is on everyone’s lips these days, and Rogers’ latest project is another entry into making sure everyone who needs to share information in the business so that music creators are paid. We all can get behind that! Eron Bucciarelli­-Tieger is the CEO of Soundstr, which is focused on getting the royalties due to artists performing their own music that should, in an ideal world, be tracked by the performing rights organizations so many artists already belong to and pay dues to.

How Tech Can Save the Music Industry session Thursday at SXSW 2018

Dae Bogan is the founder and CEO of TuneRegistry, software to help artists who aren’t represented by a bigger entity navigate the complicated, confusing world of music publishing. Given that so many artists over the years have been conned out of profits that should have been theirs, a product like this couldn’t have appeared soon enough. Jason Robert is co-founder and CEO of HelloSugoi, an alternative ticketing platform built on blockchain that, in theory, should revolutionize how event tickets are sold. Robert made a compelling argument that his company could resell tickets but instead of using a reseller model like StubHub’s, the artists would be able to get more of the money from ticket sales than to be held by the reseller. After I got my fill from this session, I caught the last song by Philadelphia’s Mt. Joy at the Radio Day Stage. They were wowing an admirable crowd of spectators, people probably just barely awake at half past 1 in the afternoon.

Mt. Joy Thursday at SXSW 2018 2

By this point Thursday, I felt a lot of positivity and good will from the speakers I had the opportunity to hear from. Then I entered the Why Music Journalism Matters in the Streaming Era, starring editors from major print and online media outlets you’ve all heard of. I stopped taking notes after a while because I felt frustrated. Andy Cohn of FADER reveled in the fact that his outlet was still available in print, whereas SPIN is not. Sure, some friendly ribbing. Cohn also said that outlets like theirs are no longer chasing after being the first to break a new artist. Um, when did that go out of fashion? I’m pretty sure people still want to be the first. Maybe what he meant was that outlets like theirs cherry-pick who looks most promising from the coverage of smaller sites? Or perhaps click bait is more important? The up-and-coming artist is no longer up-and-coming by the time they reach outlets like theirs. Cohn also insisted, “there’s less of a purpose for music criticism than for music curation.” Okay, so not everyone is interested in reading reviews, but unless your gaze is fixed on the playlists on Spotify or Apple Music, what are the chances you are actively thinking about curation?

Music journalism session Thursday at SXSW 2018

The most troublesome statement during the session to me was Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber saying that nobody blogs anymore. He may not know anyone who still blogs, but we blog, and I know plenty of other people who do, too. TGTF will never be as big as a Pitchfork or a magazine with a national run. I made my peace with that a long time ago. But just because we’re not on his radar doesn’t mean we’re not valid or useful. For a lot of up-and-coming artists who don’t have a chance getting coverage in a major magazine or online outlet, blogs like ours are their first opportunity to get noticed. I just sat there in my chair, gritting my teeth, imagining my fist going through a wall.

A local, disabled African-American journalist asked for the microphone and said she wanted “brown and black” journalists to be better represented in the media, hitting out that three of five of the panelists in this session were white men. I understand and am sympathetic to her point, but I think her swearing detracted from her message. Also, technically, I’m yellow, so I wondered, where exactly do I fit in this journalist spectrum? I’m neither white, brown or black. Hrm… I’m glad SPIN Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel was there; she said that when the SPIN position opened up and was offered to her, she took it with both hands because “when else will a woman of color get this opportunity?” Sad but true.

Thankfully, there were some positive notes from the session. I’ve always respected Bandcamp for providing a platform that can level the playing field for any artist who wants to release and stream music with them. Senior Editor of Bandcamp Marcus Moore quipped, “We’re for the people who read the liner notes.” That seems to ring true to me: the only people I know in my circle of friends who know of artists’ Bandcamps are true music geeks who are eager to collect and discover new music. If you haven’t checked out Bandcamp Daily yet, I recommend you do: I discovered their blog when I was researching SXSW 2018 acts, and they support those that choose to use their site.

Aryeh Bourkoff and Daniel Glass Thursday at SXSW 2018

My final session at the convention center was a conversation between Glassnote Entertainment Group’s Daniel Glass and Aryeh Bourkoff of Liontree. Everyone’s heard of the acts Glass and his label have made famous: he launched the American, and then global careers of Mumford and Sons, Two Door Cinema Club, Phoenix and CHVRCHES. Like Linda Perry and Kerry Brown said in the morning, Glass said that the secret to Glassnote’s success was their staff’s passion in nurturing their artists and supporting them every step of the way. Bourkoff asked Glass what made the difference in his artists succeeding and other artists with other management teams not having the same kind of success. He gave an example of his family having shown up in London at a CHVRCHES show during Thanksgiving weekend to give their personal support and to have dinner with the band. Glass also said that his staff have incredible attention to detail on what their artists are doing and where they are playing, so much that they know exactly where their artists are pretty much every day. In attendance at the session were English girl duo IDER, recent signees to Glassnote who are likely to skyrocket to fame just like labelmates before them.

 

SXSW 2018: Tuesday morning brunch with Output Belfast and my first taste of this year’s music conference – 13th March 2018

 
By on Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo: emcee and organiser Mark Gordon with Touts

Following my frenzied Monday night at SXSW 2018, I started off Tuesday at a slightly more relaxed pace, with my third visit to the Output Belfast Boat Party. The party consists of brunch on a boat, floating down the Colorado River, with entertainment provided by the some of the finest musicians Northern Ireland has to offer. While the brunch and the scenery are always pleasant for this affair, it’s really the high quality of the music that draws me in every year, and Output Belfast didn’t disappoint in 2018.

Lost Brothers internal 2

Following brief speeches by organiser and emcee Mark Gordon of Score Draw Music and Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala MacAllister, the music began with folk duo The Lost Brothers, who had a hand in organising the inaugural Northern Irish boat party back in 2015. They were back in Austin this year with an excellent new record in tow, titled ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’. You can read editor Mary’s review of the album through here.The album was recorded in my adopted hometown of Tucson, and the distinct southwestern desert flavour of the new songs, along with The Lost Brothers’ yearning vocal harmonies, actually made me feel a bit homesick. Midway through their set, the Lost Brothers were joined by Austin musician Ragtime Willie, who had also appeared here back in 2015 and who added the bright tone color of resonator guitar to the muted sonic mix.

Joshua Burnside internal

After a brief stage break, 2017 Northern Irish Music Prize winner Joshua Burnside began his set. As our Adam McCourt reported in his review of the prize-winning album ‘Ephrata’, “the album seems to serve a pivotal point in Burnside’s career, transitioning him from indie folk to a strand of alt-folk that incorporates world music, found sounds, synths and subtle experimentations with techno.” Burnside’s eclectic sound was more rock oriented than I expected in this live performance, where he was accompanied by a brilliant band comprised of drums, bass, and trumpet alongside his own electric guitar.

Touts internal

Lest we in the audience be lulled to sleep as our boat ride drifted from morning into afternoon, the final act on the docket seemed deliberately designed to recharge and revitalise our senses. Derry punk-rock outfit Touts gave off a sullen demeanor that disguised their raw, frenetic energy, and they made more much more exuberant noise than might be expected on a polite brunch cruise. These lads are young and still relatively new on the scene, but in terms of unfiltered potential, I’d put them high on the list of acts to watch from SXSW 2018. Touts also appeared on the BBC Introducing showcase at Latitude 30 on Tuesday night; you can watch part of that performance just below.

After disembarking from the boat, Mary and I parted ways (you can read her Tuesday afternoon recap here), and I headed to the convention center to catch my first conference session of the week. In The Horseshoe: The Roots of Canadian Rock n’ Roll, author David McPherson shared his thoughts on celebrated Toronto music venue The Horseshoe, drawing from his recent book on the topic, titled ‘The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History’.

David McPherson

McPherson was joined by Horseshoe owner and concert promoter Jeff Cohen, who talked about the challenges of maintaining a high quality music venue in an age when so many mid-size venues, notably New York’s CBGB and The Bottom Line, have been forced to shut down. Cohen emphasised his focus on two main factors: his customers and the artists they come to see. Patrons are consistently drawn in by food, drink and the opportunity to interact with other music-loving patrons, while the artists are rewarded with a quality performance opportunity, including full crowds to play for each night. From the sounds of things, the Horseshoe is likely to be a mainstay in the Toronto live music scene for many years to come. If you find yourself in southeastern Canada for whatever reason, it might be worth your time to check the Horseshoe’s schedule of events–chances are one of your new favourite bands will be gracing its stage.

 

SXSW 2018: Wednesday afternoon at German Haus and a conference session on Music and the Brain – 14th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Monday, 26th March 2018 at 1:00 pm
 

There are two nice things about afternoon showcases. You get to see acts in less claustrophobic confines, and you can see them without really worrying about running off to your next showcase. Two excellent reasons, if you ask me! Following my time at the JW Marriott for The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants session, I returned to German Haus at Barracuda for two German acts I was excited to see and hear live. When I arrived, a bald Brit with a guitar was on the Barracuda indoor stage, playing to a small, but entirely appreciative crowd. I was confused. Hrm. He definitely didn’t have a German accent. What was he doing there? I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognise Midge Ure of Ultravox and Visage fame. Don’t hit me. I feel embarrassed enough!

Midge Ure at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

You have understand that during SXSW, most of us aren’t checking our emails, and I certainly did not see the German Haus missive that he would be part of the screening of Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise and its related panel that afternoon on which Ure would appear. I can see this was one of those times that it probably would have helped to have the event to all, or at least wristband holders in addition to badgeholders. But maybe Ure appreciated playing to a small crowd for once?

Blackberries at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

I ran out of time to write up my best bets of groups from the Continent showcasing at SXSW, but I have an Excel spreadsheet with many tabs to prove I did all the research if you want to see it. Blackberries were on my list because they’re exactly what you don’t expect from Germany. I think these days, German artists from outside Berlin are overshadowed by the electronic scene in the capital. Blackberries hail from Solingen, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, and have their unique perspective on what krautrock means in 2018. How often do you see psych rock being performed with maracas? I had an idea in my head even before I got to Austin that British artists would be less important to my experience at SXSW than in past years, and that prediction turned out to be right.

Munich experimental electronic duo Joasihno were set up back inside Barracuda. Synth heads, this was a wet your pants moment. If Cico Beck and Nico Sierig’s extended tabletop setup was filled with the usual keyboards, synths and sequencers, I might not have been as impressed. I might have even yawned. Instead, their unusual collection of equipment, which included a mechanically activated xylophone, rods that spun around and what looked like rocks connected to wires (???), plus loads of other things that looked like something out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. This kind of music couldn’t be further from Taylor Swift and other pop stars who top the charts.

Joasihno at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

And you know what? That’s okay. Some of us want to be entertained with new sounds and in new ways. Ryan Walsh said in his talk Wednesday afternoon that 1/3 of the world’s population makes music sometime in their lives. There’s plenty of artists out there now and will be in the future to satisfy all of our music listening needs. And that’s good news for everyone.

I returned to the convention center for one of the last conference sessions of the day, Music and the Brain: How Sounds Become Pleasurable. The first two talks were given by Dr. Alain Dagher, a neurologist and professor at McGill University, and Pablo Samuel Castro from Google. Dr. Dagher began with an explanation on how dopamine release mediating the desire for pleasure, whether it be in anticipation of listening to music or eating food we like. I guess this was a good starting point, as I would guess most attendees didn’t know how dopamine and reward-seeking behavior worked. (I took pharmacology in university and the classic example of dopamine activity is the abuse of cocaine and the feedback mechanism in the human body, so this was simply a refresher for me.) I guess, too, that it isn’t surprising that the reason why as children or young adults we remember music from those periods of our formative years. However, it appears that the reason for these memories is not because our brains were still developing at the time, but because the pleasure we associate with listening to those pieces of music when we were younger essentially burns into our memories. One step further, moderator and third speaker Indre Viskontas of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music showed evidence later in the session that our brains can anticipate specific moments in song that are associated with stronger feelings, such as that feeling of a pleasurable chill down one’s back.

Castro’s talk was about machine learning and artificial intelligence. He specifically had studied building requirements for a computer to learn how to write counterpoints, which J.S. Bach essentially cornered the market on. Read more about his mastery of counterpoint through here. I had a lot of trouble in my early piano-learning years trying to get through Bach, so I was amused to see someone had gone through the trouble to ape his music. Castro played a Bach original against what his computer had come up with and he insisted that the computer had done a pretty good job in approximating the intended counterpoint. My ears weren’t having it, though. As Gunter Loibl of REBEAT Digital said the day before at German Haus indicated, I have every confidence that human being-created and produced music will never be surpassed by AI-made music, at least not in my lifetime.

Music and the Brain Wednesday at SXSW 2018

Before the evening showcases, Carrie and I both checked in at the Townsend for the Focus Wales drink reception. The Townsend is a fancy-schmancy cocktail bar on Congress Avenue. I wondered if the reception would be well attended, as it was a bit off the beaten path when it came to the usual 6th Street-type haunts during SXSW. I don’t know why I was worried. We ran into plenty of friends there, friends who were no doubt tempted by the lure of free drinks and good company. Along with the actual musical performances themselves in Austin, having a drink with your friends is up there with the top experiences you’ll have during SXSW.

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it. If you want a track removed, email us and we'll sort it ASAP.

E-mail us  |  RSS Feed   RSS Feed  

Learn More About Us