With the 30th annual South by Southwest well underway, the almost two weeks-long festival in Austin, Texas will soon take a different turn as SXSW Interactive ends and SXSW Music starts. The biggest changes would just be less tech industry people around downtown, more music folks, and a lot more sounds everywhere. I’ll leave it to the listeners as to whether these are pleasant sounds or not.
However, one thing definitely will not change: the stagnant smell of booze, smoke, sweat, and urine in the air.
Fuck You, Sue Me: Artist Rights, Corporate Theft
Copyright is an important topic for any creative industry, but copyright talks are usually dry and boring unless you’re deeply invested in artistic works and legal rights. Attorney Andrew Gerber, of KG Law, explained a few examples of corporate theft and the abuse of fair use arguments. The biggest takeaway from this talk was to, when in doubt, always copyright your work; the nominal fee is well worth the cost because it provides easy protections, especially when defending yourself from deep-pocketed corporate entities. Gerber was joined by three artists (Ahol Sniffs Glue, Jillian Mayer, and Lucas Leyva) who discussed their experiences with copyright and theft.
Can Originality Flourish Online?
Author Robert Levine discussed what has changed in the media world since he published his popular book Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back about the way creative industries can protect themselves from the free rider problem of popular media consumption. Unfortunately for these industries, consumers have marginalized physical media to the point where buying them, either as hard copy novels, CDs or DVDs, is somewhat considered a niche within themselves (move over vinyl).
Levine spent some time discussing Spotify in particular due to its business being supported by both free and paid tiers – the former helps it grow while significantly reducing musician compensation, and the latter really pays the bills but doesn’t have nearly as many subscribers.
And let the music begin.
Former backup dancer for Kanye West, Phoenix native Kacy Hill, made her SXSW debut as one of the festival’s buzz acts. With a prompt early afternoon start time at The Spotify House, the solo singer filled the slight breezy air with her soulful tunes, beginning with “Arm’s Length” and ending with “Foreign Fields.” In between, Hill sang a couple new tracks from a forthcoming full-length album that she’s currently working on – she didn’t announce their names – and also covered Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever” while sweating away in her velvet outfit. She made her touring mates also wear velvet which was probably a mistake given the 90 degree heat.
Being the first act of Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel showcase, New York duo Diet Cig had a lot cut out for them. And having officially released only one EP, Alex Luciano (vocals) and Noah Bowman (drums) had even more cut out for them in order to fill their set. Luciano took the task with gusto as she danced all over the stage – lots of leg kicks – singing “Harvard” and “Scene Sick,” tried to pump up the audience, and openly dreamed about winning a free car.
Having recently released its full-length debut album Human Ceremony last month, Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean is one of the big buzz acts this week as evidenced by its demanding performance schedule (11 shows not including this one). I caught a brief recording studio-like session at Hype Hotel where the three played inside a glass room to many drunken onlookers, performing two album songs (“Easier Said” and “Space Exploration Disaster”) and a cover of T. Rex’s “Life’s a Gas.”
Alice on the Roof
Sound problems plagued the performance by Belgian singer Alice on the Roof – real name is Alice Dutoit – at Trinity Hall, which resulted in a surprisingly refreshing acoustic set with Alice singing and playing the keyboards. The sound was still quite lush, and the melody was still catchy enough for people to visibly want to dance despite lacking more prominent beats on “Lucky You.” Low-tempo songs “Easy Come Easy Go” and “Let Me Down” were a little bit more appropriate as piano-only renditions – search for her unplugged versions on YouTube.
Still Corners, the musical project by producer/songwriter Greg Hughes and vocalist Tessa Murray, was able to convey its expansive dream pop sound in the very intimate setting of Cheer Up Charlies’ outdoor stage. Murray was pleased by the crowd turnout, declaring that she didn’t think anybody would show up. Fortunately for the two, a lot of people turned up to listen to them perform many of their songs such as “Fireflies” and “The Trip.”
Trinity Hall still had sound issues when I returned to see French singer-songwriter Marina Kaye, whose show had a predominantly male audience which I thought was very odd. Regardless, Kaye provided a strong show filled with mostly ballads, including “Homeless” and “Freeze You Out” before ending with “My Escape.” Although in hindsight the set didn’t necessarily fit with the night’s more jovial and frenetic atmosphere, it was still a pleasing set nonetheless.
I planned to walk or take the local bus everywhere I went downtown, but I decided to try a few of the other travel options made available for SXSW.
Car sharing is a big thing these days, and car2go, similar to Zipcar, offers a lower cost alternative to car ownership. Different than ride sharing, car2go allows you to drive wherever you want at a fixed price per minute and park anywhere legally (including designated exclusive car2go spots) with no strings attached. Using the associate smartphone app, I reserved the nearest available car and walked the approximate half-mile to it. Once I got to the car, it automatically unlocked after a couple tries, and I set to acclimating myself to driving it. I’m sad to say that I spent 10 minutes trying to figure the car out (which is no joke, as the app counted my non-driving time spent in it). Driving the car itself was challenging since the steering wheel and brake pedal were not very responsive. Once I arrived close to my destination, I left the car in the company’s designated parking spot and left. Verdict: simple process but has a moderate learning curve to start.
Mazda is a big festival sponsor, as it hosts a free lounge in the Austin Convention Center for attendees to relax and provides free shuttle service to anywhere within three miles. After wilting away yesterday during my seemingly endless treks across the city, I decided to give the shuttle a try instead of walking about two miles. This was mid-afternoon and there were three groups ahead of me but I was kindly invited to join a group of fellows on their trip. The wait time was about 20 minutes (a bit too long), and the drive time was about the same (understandably because the best route was a long detour around downtown because of all the street closures). The ride had air conditioning and put less strain on my body, so I couldn’t complain, but the time I spent waiting and riding resulted in a missed session. I’d recommend using the Mazda shuttle if you don’t want to spend any money and, more importantly, have no time constraints.
Note: All photos taken by Tan The Man.