Tuesday, March 21, 2006

You'll never know which Chicago Public Radio on-air host you'll run into at SXSW

Lisa Labuz, ladies and gentleman....

When it comes to music, I’m the person who gloms onto a handful of CDs and plays them over and over and over and over. And over.

In the past year and a half, I have subjected my husband Chris to more than his fair share of Gary Jules’ “Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets,” The Doves’ “Some Cities” and “Supergrass Is 10: The Best Of 94-04.” And entering an unprecedented 7th year: The Charlatans UK’s “Tellin’ Stories.” Chris shakes his head, rolls his eyes and hands me something different to try.

As comfortable as I am falling into the familiar, I was really excited to head back to Austin for my second year at SXSW. Hundreds and hundreds of bands at dozens of bars and music halls. I don’t know a whole lot about most of the bands performing, but so what. As much as I love The Charlatans UK, I’m ready for something new.

Chris and I spent 3 overwhelming and exhausting days waiting in lines with the ultra-hip, indie, “messy, just so” crowd to watch bands play a few songs at a time. I could sleep for a week. But when I wake up, I’m fired and ready to start running these new-to-me CDs into the ground.

Best CD for the gym: The Shys’ “Villian.” This won’t be released until May (Get me, so ahead of the curve!), but they are loud and fast and I never had so much fun watching so many guys dressed in black. The keyboard player, especially, has this great way of standing precariously on his chair and bending over to play.

Best CD for getting your ire up (political or otherwise) and learn a little French at the same time: Metric’s “Live It Out.” Metric was easily one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. I love seeing strong women on stage and Singer Emily Haines is possibly one of the strongest women I’ve seen since Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders (who were also playing SXSW this year). And leave it to a Canadian rock band to throw a handful of French lyrics into a song.

Best Rock Cabaret CD: Persephone’s Bees’ “The Notes From The Underworld.” This will be out in June. Persephone’s Bees also wins the award for building a great set. Their songs started out slow, and at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I kept checking the time on my mobile phone. But Russian-born Angelina Moysov and her amazing band had me hooked by song #3 and the set kept building from there. I got a kick out of how guitarist Tom Ayres could effortlessly weave a spiffy Fleetwood Mac riff into one of the songs.

Lisa’s Fun Find Of The Week! The Lovely Feathers. Five early-20’s guys (I’m told one dropped out of med school to join the band) from Montreal who’s music is some pop, some punk and on a grand-ish scale. They never skipped a note playing what seemed to me to be “mini rock-operas” with complicated tempo and dynamic changes. And they’ve been playing together for just about a year and a half! When one of your singers can strut into the crowd with a tambourine and pull it off as serious and hilarious at the same time then you’ve won me over. Their CD “Hind Hind Legs” comes out soon. I’m hoping it’s as great as their live show.

I saw a pile of other great bands and artists: Burning Brides, Kelley Stoltz, Magnet, Cavalier King, Controller. Controller, The Cinematics, Goldrush, The Charlatans UK (twice! Because, The CHARLATANS, people!) and I did get to hear The Pretenders sing “Chain Gang” as I stood on the sidewalk behind their venue. I love The Rock. I think I can put my copy of Tellin’ Stories to the side. For a few months.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Manchester by way of Texas

During a Saturday showcase of Manchester, UK bands at Elysium, the night's MC, a DJ from Britain's XFM, told the crowd, "It's bloody crazy that these Manchester bands need to travel thousands of miles to Texas, of all places, to get airplay." This really helped me see how huge this festival means to bands. There seems to be a large UK presence here at the festival, bands like this year's "it" the Arctic Monkeys, Snow Patrol is here to push their new album, Billy Bragg, The Magic Numbers, The Rakes, most of the bands from Domino records, even the now elder statesmen - The Charlatans UK - have established a presence. They were the final band in last night's Manchester showcase. Ironically, these UK bands might need SXSW to get exposure to their native audience as well. I've bumped into several fans who are from the UK who traveled all the way to Texas for the music and seem to support their home country acts. I met one young Manchester couple who were seeing the Charlatans for their first time. They laughed much like the XFM DJ on how they had to come all this way to see a band who is from their backyard.

Dress (nappy) to impress

If you ask anyone here at SXSW what is one of the best things their getting out of the festival, odds are they'll tell you it's the networking they've done. Not different from most conventions/conferences in the world. Since they're meeting new people/possible clients you naturally think these conference goers would dress up a bit to make a good first impression. Well, they do it that here but in reverse. There is a lot of unkempt hair here - very pale and gaunt looking faces too. Not the healthiest looking lot. I guess that's what you get for thriving in the night time as musicians and rock 'n' roll fans. The advantage to this is that one can easily roll out of bed and start their morning - err, early afternoon - right away and fit in. I neither confirm nor deny that this is what I did, but it is an option and a very easy one at that!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

SXSW through the eyes of Sound Ops super producer Matt Spiegel

Ah, the joys of SXSW. They are many, but they take work to get to them. First is the emotional work: you must fight the feeling of being overwhelmed, and fight it hard. Is there always potentially something cooler going on than what you’re doing? Absolutely, in fact, inevitably. But if you spend your time trying too hard to plan, or fretting over lost ops, you’re done. It took me a full day before I could comfortably embrace the now.
But the nows were tasty. Auktyon! at Caribbean Lights on Thursday night was a Russian world music band: their native melodies and bombast, over often-Latin rhythms, with a New Orleans-esque tuba led brass band, and a front man who seemed a bit like Bryan Ferry on speed. I never knew stage banter in Russian could be so gripping. Earlier, T-Bachmann and I had hit Club De Ville, where Film School, from San Francisco, delivered a guitar drone onslaught with definite melodic control. Only the average vocals kept it from being truly impressive space-rock.
That was just a random hour on Thursday night. Then your feet start to hurt. Okay, maybe not your feet, but mine did. Must….keep…walking…and standing in line, and waiting. It’s always worth it.
Friday brought a pair of afternoon parties. Spin spent a lot of money on a mixed bag of bands at Stubbs’, where the barbecue was pretty lame; watery baked beans and fatty beef. But it was free, so 5 stars it is. But Daddy likes the Go! Team. Ebullient, sexy, energetic front chick-a in a cheerleader skirt can really dance, and her rapping and singing are solid enough. Mainly though, she emanated pure fun; a great vibe. The Subpop/Merge party was far better: outskirts of town, sedate, didn’t notice any food, but who cares. Britt Daniel of Spoon solo acoustic, a quick taste of stand-up from Patton Oswalt, and then a set from GBV ex Bob Pollard. My friend Jason Narducy was the full-on rock star playing bass, I must admit, but Pollard is a freak to watch -- slugging Tequila, smoking butt after butt, and fronting hard with abandon. The set was a bit like a Pollard record, though, too many songs that were too short, and his hit % was somewhere around 70.
Had a great Friday night, and thanks for asking. After Subpop, went to dinner with a mixed bag of Chicago friends, and nouveau Austinites. Definitely not a tourist meal at a great place called Café Josie. Then to Red’s Scoot Inn and luckily got to hear John Vanderslice. San Francisco again, with a great, groovy alt-pop thing happening, but what was most impressive was the amount of sound from a 2-piece. Vanderslice on guitar and vox, and his drummer did everything else. Triggered basic beats on a sampler, played snare with his left hand, played bass using midi foot pedals, and played keyboards with his right hand. Skills. Friends of Dean Martinez bored us out of there, and it was back to Stubbs for The Subways. 3-piece British buzz band; Kot played them on our Buried treasures show this week. They were great live, mature and excitable, great dynamics, intense.
The ridiculously long line for Dungen has helped drive me to the bed for some sleep, as I’m airport-bound at 6 AM. Almost pulled the all-nighter, but at the last minute I remembered I wasn’t in college. I must, though, give mad props to SXSW for making me think I was for a while.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sound Opinions...Top of the Pops

It's only 7pm, and my eyes are already blurry, so bear with me on this entry. But, I had to share some great bands I saw today. First we went to a lackluster Spin party (by lackluster I mean that the music was so-so, the bbq fair, and most importantly, the the number of B and C-list celebrities and "industry" types I was able to point out was minimal. I expected WAY more people from Best Week Ever). Anyways, the day redeemed itself at the Pitchfork/Windish party down the street. There Jason, Greg and I stood and saw Spank Rock and RJD2 followed by Love is All, a band from Sweden who I loved (the songs were packed with cowbell). The final act was Art Brut, who was amazing. Greg scribbled on his notepad - "New Kings of Rock," complete with a drawing of a crown and everything.

Now I'm taking a few moments to sit and possibly close my eyes. Later I hope to see Dungen and Rogue Wave. Root for me to make it!

Day two for me, Day three for the rest of the staff

How can I sum up SXSW in a nutshell? It's like muscial tapas. There are so many bands to sample. And the plates are small - each band only "showcases" for 45 minutes to an hour. You sample it and then move onto the next dish. The only problem is the menu is the size of the bible. Here is just a sample of who played through the streets of Austin yesterday - Thursday the 16th - around 11pm.

AM,Jonathan Kane's February, Carbonas,Chris Pierce, Flaming Lips, The Royal Highnes, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, The Exit, Peter Mulvey, Ross Hogg, The Graves Brothers Deluxe, Pony Up, Duane Andrews, Scott H. Biram Translator, The Tyde, Lovemaker, The Refugee All Stars, Xiu Xiu, Dr. Dog, Chatam County Line, Ruthie Foster, We Are Wolves, Particle, Crystal Skulls, Twighlight Singers, The Living End, Hudson Bell, The Dresden Dolls, Chris Stamey, Man Man, Helios Creed, Rocky Votolato, Mittens on Strings, Pterodactyl...

This is only 3/5's through the list. There is also a ton of marquee acts each night. Here's who else played throughout yesterday:

Morrisey, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, Brazilian Girls, Kris Kristofferson, Lady Soverign, Gogol Bordello, Echo and the Bunny Men, Spoon, Minues the Bear, Goldfrapp.

I, of course, missed them all. I even missed the Flaming Lips, much to the potential chagrin of my Sound Opinions comrades. I did not miss them by choice. It's just the this SXSW first timer was overwhelmed. Jim Derogatis told me before we left for SXSW that the festical can be so overwhelming you sometimes just want to crawl into a ball and cry. I now know what he means after last night. (Yes, poor me). I still got to catch some really great things though. As Jason Saldanha mentioned in his last blog entry we went to the Hideout Showcase in Zilcher park. Later that night, Sound Opinions producer Matt Spiegel and I made a point to audio document the festival for our upcoming Saturday April 2nd broadcast (Saturday nights at 7pm). It was great to walk up and down 6th street. It's what Rush street in Chicago would be if it were cool. Granted, I think the Austin 6th street area is a lot like Rush street during most of the year. But not during SXSW; It is a tolerable type of street scene. The vibe is all about the music. And it eminates from everywhere. And the best part of it is that most of the music good. Not bar band drek.

The cap of the night was a great way to end the evening. Watching a rock concert in a church. I beg to differ with Jason about Rhys Chatham. Sure it was a little on the avant garde pop side but it was still great to see and hear - people approaching guitar pop/rock as if it were classical music. Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth played with him on a song but he just blended in with the other 6 guitarists. The band that performed before Rhys, Jonthan Kane's February was amazing. It was 5 guitarists and drummer - Jonathan Kane - and a bassist playing the hardest blues/pop guitar music I've heard in a while. All of the band members were dressed in suits and played some fierce melodic guitar. The best part of the church concerts was watching Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot react to the shows. They aren't afraid to let the music move them. As they sat in the pews of the church both their hands bobbed up and down to the beat. Even rock critics rock out.

We formed a band...

Sound Ops producer Jason Saldanha here, live (and almost awake) in Austin, Tx. The entire crew has taken SXSW by storm. In the two days we have been here, I have experienced the best and worst of SXSW music.

Wednesday was the highlight of my musical year, in that I saw and met the Flaming Lips. While I am underwhelmed with their upcoming record, At War With the Mystics, I have to admit that the songs sounded much better live than they do on record. Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, is simply a genius, who makes everyone in the audience smile the entire time.

Another highlight of SXSW was seeing UK rockers, Art Brut, at 1am. Put this band on your must see list. The lead singer is this witty, charismatic, funny and in your face guy, who puts all he has into the show. Singer is a misnomer...he really just talks over the grooves, but boy is he ever funny.

Yesterday, we conducted an interview with hip-hop heroes, The Beastie Boys, who's new frenetic, seizure inducing movie is coming to a theater near you. While I cannot say I enjoyed the movie, I can say I like the idea, and the music was great.

After the interview, Todd, Matt, Robin and I had some authentic Texas BBQ. I still have random moist towelettes on my person because of it. Matt bid us adieu for the afternoon, and the rest of us made our way to the Hideout Chicago party (we were late, because Austin has the WORST system of highways ever), with headliner, Neko Case. Neko performed songs from her upcoming album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. The songs sounded amazing in such a small intimate venue. Katie and Tim Tuten (who own the Hideout in Chicago), picked an amazing venue overlooking the Austin skyline. It made for an exhilarating and idyllic experience.

Following Neko, we say Rhys Chatham at the First Presbyterian Church, in downtown Austin. What a wanker. A thoroughly pretentious show, that showcased numerous guitarists looking as if they were strumming the single most important note in the history of music. They would do the String Cheese Incident proud. Jim and Greg loved the guy, but even the best can be wrong.

Following the show, I got some much needed sleep. There is so much to do, it gets to be a bit overwhelming, but it is exhilarating to be enveloped by music at every turn.

Ok, that is all for now, more to come from the rest of the crew....


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Looks like we made it

So the entire Sound Opinions team is finally down in Austin. We came by train/plane/car combos, but we're here, and so far, so good.

Last night, fellow producer Jason Saldanha and I went with host Jim DeRogatis to see the Flaming Lips play one of their first gigs since finishing their new album, At War With the Mystics. The venue is apparently the central meeting place for the UT fraternity brothers, but last night the Lips pretty much took over (balloons, green stink bombs, etc.) It was a really, fun energetic show, and made me more enthusiastic about the new record. It was also a nice opportunity for Jim to talk to his most recent book subjects and a nice opportunity for me to shake the hand of Mr. Wayne Coyne. Tomorrow, we're going to a book signing for Jim's Lips biography, Staring at Sound (check out his website staringatsound.com, beautifully designed by Jason and his pardner (see how Texan I am) Matt Wettergreen.)

I was a total party pooper, and went back to my "hotel" early (I'm shacking up with a friend--in fact, she's the first friend I made in kindergarten). Jason is a rock star, however, and stayed out until...what time is it now? He saw Elijah "Frodo" Wood necking with his girlfriend, and then went with our other host, Greg Kot, to see UK band Art Brut play. I'll let him tell you about that.

On the agenda today was an interview with the Beastie Boys (most likely to air in April) and some good bbq. Check out Jason's blog entry tomorrow for pics of the Beasties (and no doubt a comprehensive description of the bbq).

That's all for now.
Oh wait, I'm in Texas--Adios folks.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Now I'd like to pass the mic...

I have a couple more posts to make, one of which is going to be my 20 blog challenge tally. I know you're excited! But, right now I have to catch a plane back to Chicago. It's been fun. Thanks for following along.

Today the superstar crew of Sound Opinions arrives for the SXSW music festival. Todd Bachmann and Morrissey will be together in the same city, so it's sure to be magic.

UPDATE 03/21/06: It has just come to my attention that Todd is not the rabid Morrissey fan I was lead to believe. Repeat: Todd Bachmann enjoyed Morrissey as a youth, but he was by no means his favorite musical artist. Todd simply named his hard drive 'Moz.' It means nothing. Really.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Future of Radio

I finally had my panel today. From what I hear all went well. It's kind of hard for me to tell how it came off, so instead of me trying to stumble through what little I remember of the experience, here's Justin Grotelueschen of Podcast.com (ed. note: he's also a WZBC radio producer) to offer his assesment of the proceedings.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Oh yeah, I'm in Texas!

So, I'm with a group of bloggers and we are jumping from bar to bar. BTW, these people can congregate! I haven't been to a meal with fewer than 20 people. It's unbelievable. The inertia from groups of this size make social planning near impossible, but they are such an inclusive bunch they hate to see anyone left behind. It's quite admirable really. ANYWAY, a few of the folks want food, so we decide to go to an all night diner that's a bit of a haul from downtown. So the legion begin to figure out the driving arrangements and I somehow end up riding in the back of a pickup truck. First off, I was certain this was illegal. I mean, come on, it has to be. But, I later learned that as long as you have more than liability insurance and the trip isn't work related, then it's perfectly fine. I'm telling you, Texas is friggin' crazy! So the bloggers were loving it and I was not at all pleased. I took a photo.

Intrepid public radio producer Roman Mars in the back of a pickup truck prays he will be "thrown clear."


I felt like I was making bad choices by just going to the celebrity panels (see Henry Rollins, James Surowiecki, Jason Kottke-- OK, celebrity is a strong word), but I also knew that "AJAX: What do I need to know?" and other extremely technical niche programming wasn't for me. So I asked some geeks, what I should go to and the consensus was Adam Greenfield's "Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing." I have to give the geeks their due because Greenfield's was the sort of tech talk that was big picture and dense, but that everyone could and should understand and have an opinion about.

Adam has given a great deal of thought to the implications of a world where computers stop being the clunky desktop (or even laptop) utility devices, and are instead integrated into every manufactured object on the planet. The new IP convention is going to create enough IP addresses (that's the unique number your computer is on the internet) so that every grain of sand on earth could have one. Think about that. Every can of soda (OK, pop, I'm still learning to be a Chicagoan) can have an IP address. It can communicate all kinds of information back to the manufacturer about when it was purchased, how fast it was consumed, etc. Imagine water glasses that signal the waiter when it's empty. Imagine toilets that analyze and report the contents of your stool to your medical professional. These are answers to a questions that were never asked, but will likely come about because the lucrative information market will drive them into existence.

Greenfield thinks this could be a recipe for misery, but ubiqitous computing is marching forward anyway. So, he decided to introduce some principles of ubiquitous computing, just to start the discussion so manufacturers and the public could begin a discourse about how this will impact our lives. If these principles remind you of Aasimov's I, Robot you aren't the only one.

Principle 1: Default to harmlessness. e.g. ABS brakes. When ABS fails the automobile defaults to old fashioned braking mechanisms. The brakes don't go engage and disengage at 1000 times a second, but at least the car stops.

Principle 2: Be Self Disclosing. "Seamlessness" is a common word in design, but ubiquitous computing must be optional, so seams are necessary.

Principle 3: Be Conservative of Face. Don't unnecessary embarras, shame or humiliate the users.

Principle 4: Be Conservative of Time. Don't make unnecessary complications. I don't want to reporgram my shower every morning.

Principle 5: Be Deniable. Users can opt out always and at any point and alternatives must be available.

It's pretty common sense, isn't it? But, these sorts of standards are very difficult for engineers to agree upon. The engineering world simply isn't driven by top down thinking and regulations across companies and countries is near impossible. Anyway, Greenfield didn't really present them as "regulations" he just wanted to get people thinking so we didn't boldy go forward without considering all the implications. Think about this when you use your Chicago Plus card. It's already hooked up to your Visa. Do you want the RFID chip in the card to allow you to buy a hamburger at McDonald's? This is what's happening in Hong Kong. It's called the Octopus card. I wish ours had a cool name.

OK, that's enough thinking for today.

The "subscription" model and Jason Kottke

Here's something:

One year ago a very popular blogger named Jason Kottke (who is an OG in the blogging set and his site is quite entertaining--check it) decided to go pro. He put out a call for "micropatrons" who would collectively provide the financial support so he could blog full time and not resort to putting ugly, third party adds on his website. This may be beginning to sound familiar to you. The tech community calls it a "subscription" model, but that's not accurate. Non-subscribers still get to enjoy the service. What it is, is a pledge model. He did a three week drive and raised $39900 from about 1450 people.

Today as a keynote interviewee, Kottke declared this experiment in online fund raising a failure. He felt like he hadn't grown his readership enough to make the pledge model sustainable. This could be true. But more interestingly, he said he couldn't take the pressure of having 1500 bosses. He felt deeply beholden and more heavily scrutinized, as evidenced by the interviewer Heather Armstrong who complained "I saw you take my $60 pledge on a trip to Asia!" Kottke is now considering taking ads.

I have been through quite a few pledge drives in public radio and I tend to pitch a lot on the air. One of the points I always make is that I'd rather be beholden to the folks out there in listenerland than any underwriter, or (God forbid) advertiser. The pledge drive may not be everyone's favorite thing to listen to, but if there ever comes a day when you don't hear the pledge drive anymore, that is the day I will be fearful for the future of public radio.

The 20 blog challenge update.

I've gotten five more promises that I'd be mentioned in someone's blog, but I've had no follow through as of yet. I'm beginning to suspect that the bloggers are just humoring me.

One of these things is not like the other.

Without a laptop at SXSWi, intrepid radio producer Roman Mars, wades into a sea of snickering bloggers and bravely pulls out a book to read.