South by SouthRest aims to bring to your attention things that you may have missed during SXSW 2014. Our remote correspondent is committed to keeping you in the loop.
South by Southwest is not a sprint. It sometimes feels like and endurance race, but that isn't right either, because there isn't really a winner. Sure, bands blow up because of the annual music conference, but the price of doing so is often questionable because of the sacrifices it takes to get there. And from the fan to the industry professional, every upside comes with an equally undesirable drawback. Essentially, the free Doritos tacos are probably the symbol for the event.
So, on Tuesday the official first day of SXSW Music, taking it easy and not ruining your whole trip were of the highest importance, with the kickoff reminding of a soft opening for a new restaurant. And on this practice run, the early big story of the day wasn't even involving a musician. It was Spin's Rob Harvilla announcing his abrupt departure from Spin to Deadspin, one of many such moves in recent months. An announcement of this magnitude coupled with the fact that nearly every music professional on earth is in the same city for a week, and it was bound to break the internet. And it did, or maybe Twitter really was undergoing maintenance.
Oh, and I meant every music professional except me is in Texas. I'm at home in California for the week, and instead, bringing you South by Southrest.
Rob Harvilla: Who Is He and How Can Knowing Him Help Me?
Music professionals seem to change jobs much in the way that John Mayer switches dating partners, but it is always interesting to see who chooses to acknowledge these announcements and who chooses to go even farther that is appropriate. As SXSW is about networking, it was appropriate that such a networking tool would drop on the music world on Tuesday morning. Common sense, at least in my opinion, would see fans or attendees or any casual norm to simply pushing the "favorite" button or ""like."
The 98 "favorites" included me, who wasn’t sure he had actually ever spoke with Harvilla, but figured it was the right reaction, close to not saying anything as possible. But the 13 retweeters and the remarkably large amount of responders surely have one for more getting creative with networking, using this job change to say “hey Rob Harvilla and anyone that follows us both, I’m a good person and would love work. Any work.” They may even more specifically imply “hey Harvilla, we spoke on a failed pitch a while back, maybe now that you have a new job you can work with me?”
But, with music journalists about to spend a week competing for attention, the Harvilla job change really prepped us for the silliness that comes with #sxsw. We only have our dignity. And when we try to climb social ladders on the internet, hopefully our friends are smart enough to keep us honest, or kick the shit out of us.
Sure, SXSW is heavy on the drinking. And SXSR is run by a rare drinker, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of chasing a buzz should end. Daily we’ll investigate the groups being talked about and see if they are just live intrigues or worth buying in.
Mean Creek Boston, MA
The reaction: Critics flipped, like David Greenwald, Mark Lore, and Maura Johnson
Investigative findings: The band is actually about to release their fourth album, and some of the newer songs do rock, seeming to marry their cities garage scene with something more timeless, more transcendent. The result is probably their best sound yet, but still sounds like they are trying to sound like something. The farther back you go, the worse it gets for the band, which seemed to have some serious taste issues.
Ages and Ages Portland, Or
The reaction: Some bands build buzz by performing, Ages and Ages built buzz by not playing. A little wrong information spread and they were scheduled for a show they didn’t intend to play. But, they will be here at the end of the week, so until then the live word-of-mouth remains to be heard.
Investigative findings: Spiritualized meets stomp-hey folk. But it works and will make them a fortune if they license it.
SOHN London, UK
The reaction: Check out Constant Gardner’s interview here.
Investigative findings: Shades of James Blake, but he’s also praised Deptford Goth, and it’s not hard to place him amongst that sort of new singer/songwriter breed that spans Majical Cloudz to Banks to How to Dress Well and beyond. With a 4AD LP due in April, about as safe as bets can be.
Schoolboy Q as the new Kurt Cobain?
Part of #SXSR is getting to have friendly dialogue with other writers about the current music news and issues. A Tuesday highlight was Craig Jenkins' passionate comparison of Kurt Cobain and Schoolboy Q. I was initially offended by the insinuation, but I’ll be damned if Craig isn't on point here. Check out some highlights.
Look at the stars, how they shine for you.
Yeah, SXSW is about the up and coming artists, but good luck trying to find live streams of them, so SXSR is about the big guns, the people who shouldn’t be here but we can’t really stop. And surprisingly, many of these acts are just as foreign to me as the brand new bands. In brief, here is what we saw.
London Grammar iTunes Fest Yes, London Grammar has a voice that can sink to the bottom of the ocean and easily aswim back up for air. But, at the same time doesn't there need to be more than a voice? Maybe television loses something, but yet to be impressed by LG.
Imagine Dragons iTunes Festival Not as frightening as I thought they could have been. Still, sounds like Christian rock with a huge budget. The first minute is pretty epic. A moon sets, the lights blink, and then you are forced to remember something. I didn't
Charli XCX Fader Fort Charli XCX put her money where her mouth is, and actually changed her sound to the more punk, less overtly pop sound of before. Her cover of "I Want Candy"
Coldplay iTunes Festival Best set of the day. Mixing new songs with hits. I still don't listen to Coldplay, but it was enough to sell me on seeing the tour.
Real Estate In person Well, SXSR doesn't mean we're lazy, and so we went to the Real Estate concert and were magically transported back to indies glory years, circa 2005. Only, there were bros everywhere dressed like indie fans and everyone seemed really, really drunk. The band sounded great, and tried to ensure a good time for all, but I'm not sold on Real Estate fans in 2014. The band is making what they do seem easy, though.