WOUB Music Blog

From Athens To Austin: 2014 SXSW Coverage

By
Josh Antonuccio

Dateline
Updated Sun, Mar 16, 2014 6:03 pm

This week, Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies Instructor Josh Antonuccio is leading a class of 24 OU students on a week-long trip to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

While there, Antonuccio is sharing his comments, photos and videos on woub.org and on Twitter.

March 15, 2014 - Day 5

The last day of SXSW and it’s grey, cloudy, and drizzling. Lots of big events today, starting with an interview with music sensation Cee-Lo Green. In the hour long sit-down interview, Green expounded on his lengthy career, the rise of Atlanta hip hop, and his creative projects both past and present.  

Cee-Lo Green interview

Starting from his roots in Atlanta with the likes of Outkast, Green described the philosophy of his work and how his success found its rise through his work with Danger Mouse in Gnarls Barkley. His described his newest album as "the best of his career" and also revealed that he has another release on the way, which will be his re-interpretation of classic '70s theme songs with his own vocals/lyrics. 

Lots of great panels to wrap up the final day, including discussions on the power of data analytics in assisting fan engagement. This particular panel was made up of music tech company data engineers, who described their relationships with labels and fans in how to read "breakthrough" moments for artists. One example they shared was Goyte’s "Somebody That I Used To Know," using collected social media data to chart how he broke from the U.K. to the U.S.

From there I attended an interview with Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, who discussed his newest film project, as well as the history of his band. Murdoch talked about what it was like to work on the film and shared news on the newest Belle and Sebastian album, which they just started recording this month in the U.S.  

Stuart Murdoch and Josh Antonuccio

The group will be in Atlanta for the next month recording and mixing and Murdoch seemed upbeat about the material, as well as the forthcoming tour. (Murdoch revealed that he had only one day off and he used it come and visit Austin.) 

I attended a few other panels on digital music services, hopping between a few that dealt with re-orienting the music industry to streaming (to that end, Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records hosted a panel earlier in the week titled "Building the $100 Billion music industry").  

There is a noticeable shift in outlook this year in comparison to previous years, in terms of the optimism of the new business opportunities in the emerging music industry. This year, many panels addressed challenges, but spent much more time on designing monetization mechanisms and capitalizing on all of the new resources for music. Truly, we are now fully in the era of digital access and the re-writing of the industry by entrepreneurs.

I spent the evening connecting with music friends and OU alumni downtown and caught one last set for the night, which turned out to be the Cactus Blossoms. With tightly wound harmonies reminiscent of The Everly Brothers and a hint of Hank Williams twang, the duo performed in a rodeo bar, mixing old country standards seamlessly with their originals. I came to the show on the recommendation of a friend, and it was a perfect way to the end the week. An early flight the next day had me turning in early for the night.

Cactus Blossoms

Across town, OU students attended the wildly anticipated Childish Gambino concert, held outside at Butler Park. Heralding one of the biggest releases of the year, Gambino’s PR campaign was evident across Austin and it was a huge draw to close the music conference.  

Another great SXSW and an incredible experience for OU’s Media Arts and Studies students, many of whom made invaluable professional connections with industry leaders in their field.  

Ohio University MDIA students

March 14, 2014 - Day 4

The weekend officially begins here in Austin, as Music Day 4 kicks off. The big event of the morning: The Music Keynote with Lady Gaga. Most of the headlines from her exclusive show at Stubb's last night included at least one mention of the word "vomit" due to the opening, which included her fellow stage performer drinking liquids of various colors, gagging herself and then...throwing up onto an aproned Gaga.

Adorned in a wild and flowing plastic dress and wearing a chrome-infused dreadlock wig, Lady Gaga sat down for an interview with John Norris of Fuse.

Billed as a keynote, the event was more like a promotional interview, with Norris essentially giving Lady Gaga opportunities to answer critics, discuss her relationships with her fans and sponsors, and talk about the upcoming tour/album. Lady Gaga encouraged participants to follow their passions and to not listen to critics, of whom she said "don't know fuck about the music industry." 

The event took place in the Austin Hilton Grand Ballroom, so from there I went down the block to catch a bit of Boston producer/engineer Sean McLaughlin's Boston Music Showcase.

From there, I headed to the Convention Center and sat in on two panels, the first of which was on copyright enforcement, featuring various policy experts and David Lowery of Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven fame.

 

From the start, Lowery, who now teaches at the University of Georgia, spoke passionately about going after U.S. companies that spend advertising dollars on illegal torrent/downloading sites. The panel quickly erupted into a near-shouting match about the effectiveness/scope of legislation, with audience members even shouting down the panelists. Needless to say, there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue.

Artists' digital rights have been another major topic at this year's South by Southwest, with many demanding that creative professionals stand up for compensation as tech companies define the music market. The next panel I attended covered streaming and how we now measure success, or rather, chart popularity, with so many outlets for music. Representatives from the likes of Billboard and Spotify discussed the interconnectedness of streaming on resources like YouTube and the overall exposure of the artist.

After that I went to a panel entitled "Women who Conquered the Music Industry," which included successful female music industry leaders talking about the issues that they and other women face in their careers.  

It was inspiring and encouraging for our female OU students to hear the panelists' stories about the choices and challenges they have faced in their journey to success in today's music industry.

After enjoying some delicious Stubb's BBQ, I headed out for three showcases. The first was at one of my favorite venues, Central Presbyterian Church, for the Secretly Canadian showcase. The act I came to see was the great Angel Olsen, whose 2014 release, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, has been one of my favorites of the year.  

Angel Olsen

With a set comprised of songs mostly from that album, Olsen was intimate and intense, captivating an at-capacity crowd with her songs of heartache and loss.

The next showcase was at a little bar called Swan Dive, which featured another breakthrough band called Quilt. Another of my favorite releases of the year, the four-piece specializes in concise '60s-era guitar pastiches and tight vocal harmonies. A truly great performance.

Quilt

The final showcase of the night was for Misra Records at Lambert's.  There was some fantastic Ohio representation there with The Motel Beds, Swearing at Motorists and R. Ring--Kelley Deal of The Breeders' new project--all on the roster.  

R. Ring

To close, the glorious Torres brought her melancholic and critically acclaimed songs to the crowd (her showcase landed on Time magazine's list of artists to see).

It was also an Athens, Ohio, reunion of sorts, with label owner and former Athenian Leo Deluca, Tim Peacock of Stuart's Opera House/Nelsonville Music Festival, former Athens musicians Adam and Caitlin Torres, and myself all getting together.

One more day left here at South by Southwest, with an interview with Cee-Lo Green to start the morning.

March 13, 2014 - Day 3

Started the morning off at a panel of producers and engineers discussing the road to getting a Grammy and the history of the award. Really fascinating insights on what goes on with the ceremony, the awards process, as well as actual Grammy winners (including Dave Alvin, who was on the panel) describing what it was like to actually win an award.

From there I headed over to a phenomenal songwriter's panel with Bob Mould, Britt Daniels of Spoon, Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf. Each of them exchanged stories and anecdotes about the writing process, addressing specific songs they had written throughout their careers. Each performed, including Bob Mould who premiered a new song from his forthcoming record.  

Mould even stepped up to do an impromptu performance of Husker Du's "Hardly Getting Over It" after discussing the inspiration for the song. It was a fascinating exploration of the songwriting craft by these bona fide experts.

Next I met up with a cult music icon, Jody Stephens, the drummer of the legendary band Big Star. We met up for a conversation about his work with Ardent Studios/Records, as well as the School of Media Arts and Studies program at Ohio University. Inevitably, we discussed some Big Star stories, especially the tale behind putting together their classic song "Ballad of El Goodo." One of the great things about South by Southwest is that badgeholders can sign up for these "mentoring sessions," essentially sharing one-on-one time with people from across every facet of the music industry. 

Jody Stephens and Josh Antonuccio

Later, I attended an incredible panel on YouTube and and the future of music royalties with Russell Simmons of Def Jam, DJ Skee and industry mogul Steve Rifkind. It has been fascinating to see the trends changing year after year, and this, along with other panels, has solidified the general sentiment at SXSW this year: that people are preparing for explosive growth in the music industry. (One session yesterday suggested as much with the title: "Preparing for the $100 Billion Music Industry.") 

Hip Hop, EDM (Electronic Dance Movement), and entrepreneurial thinking were the talking points from Mr. Simmons, and the panel discussed how they have been leveraging the power of YouTube and social media to build brands, outside of the need or help from major labels. 

From there, I headed down the hall to see the amazing band Dum Dum Girls, who were blowing away a large crowd on the Day Stage. Then it was the Flatstock show, where I connected with an old friend who is now designing Flatstock posters in Colorado for a number of major indie and metal artists.

Dum Dum Girls 

Up next was the Pitchfork Day Showcase where I caught sets from Mutual Benefit and the headliner, Fucked Up. I was really excited to see FU, as their last album David Comes To Life remains one of my favorites. They are currently preparing the release of a new album, and they debuted much of the material at this show.

Fucked Up

Lead singer Damian Abraham was raucous and uninhibited, screaming his way through a phenomenal set, even jumping down into the crowd multiple times, running around with audience members and dancing with people in a frenzy.

Afterwards I went to the SXSW Grammy party, sponsored by the Recording Academy. It was a great dinner and a collection of all of the Grammy members in Austin getting together to connect throughout the night.

After a bit of time there, I left to go catch a string of some of my most anticipated shows for the week. I started at the Paramount Theater, where I caught a set from South African duo The Parlotones and Alpha Rev, who delivered a stunning collection of songs.  

Alpha Rev

From there it was off to see Kurt Vile at Clive Bar, who, despite problems with the sound system, performed acoustically, showcasing songs from throughout his catalogue.  

Kurt Vile

The venue was filled to capacity with many fans who talked with Vile, getting him to perform a number of requests. This was one show where my Express pass enabled me to jump to the front of a 200+ person line.

I then made my way down the street to catch one of my favorite bands of last year, the Pavement-esque Parquet Courts, who gave the best show I've seen so far this week.