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SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference session Bella Union at 20

 
By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 11:00 am
 

In the course of its 20-year history, British independent record label Bella Union has become what you might call a “household name”, if your household were made up of musicians, music journalists, promoters, or other industry types. Headed by former Cocteau Twins member Simon Raymonde, Bella Union was originally founded as a vehicle for releasing Cocteau Twins’ own work, but it expanded to new ventures when the band broke up in 1997. Bella Union’s most acclaimed signees include artists like Fleet Foxes, The Flaming Lips, and Father John Misty, as well as TGTF alums The Trouble With Templeton, Midlake, Emmy the Great, and exmagician.

Bella Union internal 2

In celebration of Bella Union’s 20th anniversary, Raymonde was featured as a session panelist at SXSW 2017, along with Midlake frontman Eric Pulido (who also showcased in Austin with supergroup BNQT) and actor Jason Lee. Pulido’s appearance on the panel wasn’t surprising, but Lee was a bit of a question mark in my mind going into the Friday afternoon session. As it turned out, we had to wait a bit to find out what Lee’s role would be in the discussion, because he was delayed trying to find a parking space. Even featured speakers aren’t immune to busy downtown Austin SXSW traffic!

In Lee’s absence, Pulido took on the role of session faciliator, and he led a spontaneous conversation with Raymonde about the guiding philosophy behind Bella Union. As an experienced and successful musician himself, Raymonde emphasised the “gut instinct” aspect of his label’s work, saying that he strives to release music that genuinely strikes a chord with him on first listen. Pulido remarked that Raymonde’s diplomatic criticism often begins with the phrase “I don’t love it”, but doesn’t necessarily shut the door to future endeavours from promising artists. In fact, much of Raymonde’s success with Bella Union hinges on his openness to his artists’ perseverance. Midlake’s 2006 album ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ garnered critical accolades, despite Raymonde’s initial reticence about its unwieldy title.

Bella Union internal 1

When Lee arrived to take part in the discussion, he revealed that it was Raymonde who turned him onto Midlake back in 2004, around the band’s also oddly-titled debut LP ‘Bamnan and Silvercork’. Lee was immediately hooked and eventually directed a video for a single from that album called ‘Balloon Maker.’ The video, and Lee’s continuing enthusiasm for promoting the band, led to a more expansive collaboration, the documentary film ‘Midlake: Live in Denton TX.’

Raymonde highlighted the role of artist interaction and fortuitous timing in his discussion of Bella Union’s continued success. He named Midlake’s collaboration with American singer/songwriter John Grant as a prime example. Grant, who was a longtime fan of the Cocteau Twins, had initially contacted Raymonde during his time with The Czars, and though it took some convincing, Raymonde was eventually persuaded to take the production helm on the band’s second album ‘Before…But Longer.’ Raymonde’s dedication kept The Czars afloat until they broke up in 2004, but his relationship with Grant didn’t end there. Midlake’s artistic collaboration on Grant’s debut solo album, 2010’s ‘Queen of Denmark’ brought Grant back to Raymonde’s attention, and Grant’s fruitful partnership with Bella Union was renewed, continuing through 2013 album ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ and 2015 release ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’.

One of Bella Union’s more recent protégés, singer/songwriter Holly Macve, also started with stroke of luck on Raymonde’s part. Macve had taken a job in a café in Brighton where Raymonde had set up a basement studio, and he happened to hear her sing at an open mic night. His ear for talent and the aforementioned “gut instinct” immediately drew him to sign her to the label. Macve made her American debut last year at SXSW 2016, garnering accolades from NPR among others, and she returned this year with a stunning debut album, ‘Golden Eagle’, under her belt.

Bella Union co-hosted a 20th Anniversary showcase with TuneIn Studios on the Wednesday night of SXSW, featuring current artists BNQT, Holly Macve, Mammut, Pavo Pavo, Will Stratton and Horse Thief. High-calibre artists like these represent the future of Bella Union as the label moves into its third decade of excellence among independent record labels. Stay tuned to TGTF for our coverage of Holly Macve at the British Music Embassy in our roundup of Thursday night at SXSW 2017.

 

SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference keynote by Zane Lowe

 
By on Friday, 31st March 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo courtesy of SXSW

Former BBC Radio 1 presenter Zane Lowe made radio history back in 2015 when he became Creative Director and Los Angeles anchor for Beats 1, Apple Music’s first free global radio station. His keynote speech on the Thursday morning of SXSW 2017 split its focus between Lowe’s own career in radio and his vision for the future of radio as a relevant medium for artists trying to share their music.

Lowe might well have been pre-destined to make radio history, as he explained near the beginning of his speech. His father, a journalist in Lowe’s native New Zealand, had set a fine example for him in that regard, as one of the founders of New Zealand’s first private commercial radio station. The pirate station Radio Hauraki, as it is still known, began its operation in 1966, broadcasting from a boat in international waters off the coast of New Zealand. In 1970, the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority broke its monopoly and allowed Radio Hauraki to operate on land, opening the door for privately owned radio in New Zealand.

Lowe’s mention of Radio Hauraki grabbed my interest straightaway, as I already knew the pirate radio station had been an early champion of New Zealand art-rock band Split Enz. I’m a card-carrying member of the Frenz of the Enz fan club, which covers associated New Zealand acts Split Enz and Crowded House, as well as solo efforts by bandmates and brothers Tim and Neil Finn. Without diverging too much from the point Lowe was trying to make, the idea of radio presenters having the freedom to play music they genuinely love on air was the grand idea behind Radio Hauraki, and it has been, quite naturally, a foundational tenet of Lowe’s career as well.

Zane Lowe internal

Lowe discussed his early career in New Zealand, inspired largely by brick-and-mortar record stores and his love of bands like the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, and his eventual move to the UK, where he worked for XFM and the BBC, as a way of putting the the volatile current state of radio into context. Despite the rapidly changing landscape of radio as a medium for sharing music, which we as music fans are all too aware of, Lowe made the salient point that the ultimate job of radio presenters and music journalists—providing an avenue for musicians to connect with their fans—has remained, and will remain, fundamentally constant.

He emphasised that as artists begin experimenting with new avenues of music promotion, radio will have to continue to adapt in order to stay relevant, and radio personalities will have to be prepared to take on new ventures, such as the one he himself has taken with Beats 1. “Fans [are becoming] followers, and followers [are becoming] data”, as Lowe observed, but he still stands by the innately human element of the music experience: the importance of collective listening, whether via live performances, online streams, or the ever-enduring radio broadcast.

If you’re interested in hearing Zane Lowe’s keynote speech from SXSW 2017 in its entirety, you can watch the livestream video just below, courtesy of SXSW.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n56ZZkKlLEo[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference conversation with Mick Fleetwood

 
By on Thursday, 30th March 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

For me, the name Fleetwood Mac immediately conjures up mental images of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. This is a function of my age—as a child born in the late 1970s, I’ve always associated Fleetwood Mac with songs like ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Gypsy’, ‘Landslide’ and ‘Rhiannon’. I think it was my father who told me, on some late night cross-country drive as we listened together to 1980s FM radio, that Fleetwood Mac had once been a blues band, that their history went back to London in the 1960s, that the Buckingham-Nicks years were a sort of re-invention of the original band and its sound.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/0GN2kpBoFs4[/youtube]

Lineup changes have been a consistent part of Fleetwood Mac’s history, going back to the band’s origins in 1967 under founding member Peter Green. Through it all, the one constant has been drummer and co-founder Mick Fleetwood. Fleetwood has recently penned a memoir of the band for Genesis Publications, titled ‘Love that Burns – A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac’. Volume One of the memoir specifically covers the years 1967-1974, the period of time that most modern listeners would be least familiar with, which naturally prompts a look back at the band’s remarkable evolution over the past 50 years.

Fleetwood joined the SXSW Music Conference for a well-attended panel session on the Wednesday afternoon, called simply a ‘Conversation with Mick Fleetwood’. The informal discussion was facilitated by Rolling Stone contributor and well-known music critic David Fricke, who is also a knowledgeable longtime fan of Fleetwood Mac. Fricke had clearly done his homework on this assignment, and he deftly led the discussion from the band’s early years in England, through their relocation to America and their later pop-rock orientation. While Fricke directed the trajectory of the conversation with a number of astute questions, he also wisely allowed Fleetwood ample space to relate interesting first-person accounts and expand on the multitude of characters who crossed paths with Fleetwood Mac’s storied history.

"Mick

For lifelong music fans like myself, the conference session with Fleetwood and Fricke was a chance to experience music history as a living and present entity, rather than as a discrete set of far-removed past events. I was interested to learn about Fleetwood Mac’s part in the British blues revival of the mid-1960s, when blues and rock began to come together, creating a foundation for the current proliferation of blues rock artists like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. But Fleetwood Mac has proved its own staying power over the course of 50 years, and their work has already begun to find its way into the accepted canon of “serious” music discography and literature, especially as the defining line between “pop” music and “art” music becomes ever more indistinct.

Mick Fleetwood currently spends most of his time running a restaurant and bar in Hawaii, where he makes his home. But he insists that Fleetwood Mac is alive and well, though they now work intermittently around the individual schedules of their members’ other projects, notably Stevie Nicks’ solo career. Our readers across the pond might remember the iconic band’s 2015 UK/Irish Tour, and American audiences will have a chance to see Fleetwood Mac this summer as part of The Classic Concerts in New York and Los Angeles.

 

SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference sessions starring Nile Rodgers and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels

 
By on Thursday, 23rd March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

SXSW is never the same from one year to another, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges. That said, this year, we SXSW Conference attendees avoided the craziness of last year’s sessions, marked by a zoo-like atmosphere due to the increased security designed to protect then President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I do wonder if people who had been inconvenienced by the scheduling issues caused by the Obamas in 2016 stayed away this year, because the queues definitely seemed shorter than in any past time I’ve been in Austin for the event. I had no trouble getting into two of the three massive sessions I had earmarked to attend, which was great as a music journalist eager to soak up as many anecdotes and as much advice as possible. However, I did wonder, where is everybody?

I was truly excited for Nile Rodgers’ keynote talk on Wednesday morning. As a longtime Duran Duran fan, I’ve always assumed that their ‘Notorious’ album would have never happened without him. Of course, he worked with artists as varied as David Bowie, Madonna, Daft Punk, Disclosure and Lady Gaga. The man has tons of experience and so many stories he could tell, he could probably have his own documentary running continuously for weeks. (At the start of the talk, a fast-paced, hard to follow who’s who of people he’s worked with and all the work he’s done over the years helped make this a humourous point.) It was, then, disappointing to find out from the first few minutes that the focus of his talk would be music discovery and to some extent, how to write a pop song and promote it. I mean, music discovery is what music editors do with their lives and what makes them tick, right? While Rodgers was as much an engaging speaker as I’ve seen in past documentaries starring him that I’ve watched, I personally didn’t get out of his talk what I had hoped. To make up your own mind, I do invite you to watch the entire keynote speech below. An interview with Rodgers by NPR is also available here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4HZz5_IQN0[/youtube]

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels is best known for being in trailblazing hip-hop group Run D.M.C., but his conversation with journalist Nick Huff Barili had many different directions taking off from the music he’s famous for. He was very candid – and very funny! – telling how he unable to play basketball with the public school kids because he felt ‘marked’ by his Catholic school uniform. Until this talk, I had no idea he and his brother were obsessed with comic books as children, and he used them as an escape. The waterworks nearly opened up when he revealed they sold their comics because unlike their peers, they didn’t sell drugs, and how else would they have the money to buy their first turntables and a mixer? It was even more sob-inducing to learn that he had suffered from depression, going through a painful suicidal period in the ‘90s. I had to fight back the tears.

Darryl McDaniels at SXSW 2017

Sometimes, though, the darkest days lead to the brightest, as McDaniels came back with a new outlook and was tapped by friends and acquaintances to help others through similar struggles. Music was important to getting McDaniels the stage from where he can speak about things that have far further reach than music alone can give. In that respect, I found his SXSW Conference talk much more uplifting and relatable than Nile Rodgers’ own: instead of a rock star talking to us from the stage, McDaniels, sat in an armchair, spoke to us as if we were in his living room and among friends. I haven’t seen the video of his talk surface yet, but I hope it does soon, so we can share it with you. Oh, and you know those comic books that he sold off years ago? Well, now he has his own comic book publishing imprint, Darryl Makes Comics. Everything does come full circle.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2017: this year’s conference programming on Activism and the Arts

 
By on Friday, 10th March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

If you follow any of your favourite musicians on Twitter or Facebook, you might have seen them post to social media about causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Many artists, like recent SXSW alumnae Natalie Prass and Lissie, go a step further and elect to donate proceeds from their work to charitable causes, contributing to both fundraising and awareness. Conference programming at SXSW 2017 has taken notice of this kind of artist activism, recruiting an eclectic variety of speakers and panelists to highlight the trend.

For a bit of background, the SXSW 2017 Music Conference and Festival officially begins on Monday the 13th of March but the Interactive and Film portions of SXSW start ahead of the weekend on Friday the 10th. The intersection among the three conferences, where participants from all three disciplines come together, is known as Convergence. One of the seven Convergence tracks at this year’s SXSW is titled Social Impact, and its conference sessions are intended to “highlight innovative ideas from the creative industries that are contributing to a better, more equitable world.”

Cecile Richards press photo

On Friday the 10th of March, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards and Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp will start the Social Impact proceedings what will likely be a heavily attended conference session called ‘Activism, Allyship and Where We Go from Here’. Another popular choice will likely be ‘The Celebrity (Activist) Industrial Complex’ on the 13th of March, in which panelists Anne Helen Peterson of BuzzFeed, Elisa Kreisinger of Refinery 29 and Glen Weldon of NPR will tackle the question: “Do celebrities have a responsibility to use their power and privilege for good?”

Two sessions more specific to music activism will happen on Wednesday the 15th of March. ‘Creating For a Cause: Music for Action & Awareness’ will “discuss currencies and methods of giving to communities, organisations and nonprofits”, as well as building philanthropic partnerships and creating cause awareness. In a session on the ‘Healing Power of Music’, Chris Funk of The Decemberists will join a panel which focuses on delivering music therapy alongside medical services to hospitals and vulnerable patient populations.

Chris Funk press photo

Under the auspices of the Music Conference proper, sessions in both the Music Industry and Music Influencers tracks take aim at artist activism. In the aptly-titled Talk 20 session ‘Artivism’ on the 17th of March, artist, educator and activist Malcolm London will engage audiences by sharing original poetry and discussing his work with community arts organisations and social movements. Management teams for Usher and Panic! At the Disco will appear on the panel ‘Cause Marketing for Musicians in 2017’, scheduled for the 16th of March, where they “will share how entertainers are building measurable support for amazing charities while growing their brand affinity.” Extravagant Records founder Weldon Angelos, joined by rapper Snoop Dogg and attorneys Vikrant Reddy and Mark Holden, will comprise a panel titled ‘Artist to Advocate: Fighting for Criminal Justice’ on the 18th of March. Angelos will talk with members of the music community gathered in Austin about his unjust prison sentence for a minor drug crime and will also discuss “how artists can work together to achieve lasting reform.”

Weldon Angelos press photo

Activism and the arts have evolved from a fringe concept to one of the key components of conference programming at SXSW 2017. Given the current political climate here in America, we expect to see a variety of in-person examples of social activism during the music conference and festival in Austin next week. Keep an eye on TGTF for our ongoing coverage; as always, any information we bring to you about SXSW 2017 is subject to change. You can stay up-to-date on the official SXSW schedule by clicking here.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2017: this year’s conference programming on Music Cities

 
By on Thursday, 9th March 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

The idea of developing so-called “music cities” became popular in the music industry following Sound Diplomacy Music Cities Conventions in Brighton and Washington, DC in 2015. Our own editor Mary attended the Music Cities Convention in DC that year and was impressed by the breadth of expertise among the convention attendees, as well as their universal dedication to keeping music alive and well at the community level.

Though Austin certainly already fits the definition of a music city, the SXSW Music Conference picked up on the idea in 2016 with a pair of conference sessions, ‘How To Build A Music City’ and ‘Why Every Music City Should Have A Night Mayor’ specifically geared toward further development of music cities in America. The sessions examined the roles and interactions between “musicians, entrepreneurs, and innovators” and city government representatives in encouraging curation and maintenance of vibrant local music scenes.

PARTYBABY at SXSW 2016

This year’s SXSW Music Conference takes the music cities concept a step or two farther, expanding its offerings on the subject to build upon the foundation laid in last year’s sessions. Two main sessions in the Music Industry track focus directly on building music cities, while a number of other sessions deal with peripherally related topics relevant to supporting music within a city’s infrastructure.

On Thursday the 16th of March, leaders from established music cities will present ‘How To Build A Music City – The Launch’. Their aim is to follow last year’s discussions regarding advocacy and resource management with advice on specific planning processes for building successful music programs and fostering thriving local music communities.

The next day, Friday the 17th of March, expands the music cities concept to a broader global vision, taking on the idea of a vast, worldwide ‘Music Cities Network’. According to the official Conference schedule, “This session will talk necessities, goals, agenda and benefits of a global music cities network. It will focus on knowledge exchange and policy, city development and city marketing.”

JoJo Abot at SXSW 2016

Also in the Music Industry Track are a handful of sessions focused on more specific aspects of local music culture. On the 15th of March, ‘New Nashville: The Evolution of Music Publishing’ will look to Nashville as an established music city to “give examples of current and past ideas that have shaped the industry; what’s working, what’s not working, and what does the future hold?” A condensed Talk 20 session on that same day titled ‘Music Industry Development for Diverse Communities’ will tackle questions such as “How well do we do at supporting and representing the full spectrum of diversity in our communities?” and “How do we balance championing the artists best positioned to have success in the market with the full diversity of the region we represent?” An even more specialised session on the 17th of March called ‘I Remember That Band: Preserving Local Music’ talks about how local music archives get started, how they impact the music scene, and what kinds of information they can provide about their local communities.

More peripherally, the Touring & Live Experience Track features several panel sessions relevant to music culture in smaller cities. ‘How to Sell Your Event to a City’, on the 15th of March, encourages formation of “positive, mutually beneficial, and long lasting relationships with the host cities and their respective tourism boards and local government, by concentrating on increased local economic growth”. Music festivals, specifically, are addressed under topics such as ‘Rethinking the Future of Music Festivals’ (17th March), ‘Families at Music Festivals’ (16th March), and ‘The Definitive Profile of the Festival Superfan’ (16th March), while community-level events in smaller spaces are discussed in ‘Intimate Spaces: Programming Small Venues’ (16th March) and ‘Saving Small Venues & The Independent Music Scene’ (18th March).

The Spook School at SXSW 2016

With their 2017 programming, the SXSW Music Conference is getting behind Sound Diplomacy and the Music Cities Convention’s overarching goals of “improving urban planning, quality of life, city policy and development strategies through music” and exploring “the role and impact of music across education, employment, community building, placemaking, licensing and regulation.” And after 30 years of playing host to SXSW, what better city is there to illustrate the challenges and successes of cultivating a local music scene than Austin itself?

As always, the SXSW Music conference schedule is subject to change; for complete, updated information on Music Conference tracks at SXSW 2017, consult the official SXSW schedule here.

 
 
 

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

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