SXSW 2005: Like A Record, Baby (Friday)
Day Three: How You Shake That Thing
Austin, TX, March 18, 2005 - To hear the naysayers tell it, Shawn Fanning just about killed the recording industry when his dorm-room project, Napster, turned out to be exactly what everyone wanted for all the gloriously wrong reasons. Others believe that the funk in the air that year was attar from a bright peer-to-peer future smelling all resurgent cultural roses. Temperance dictates a rule of middle. In any case, Shawn Fanning is here today and he's looking forward, not back, toward a digital marketplace where some future Napster might thrive and pay all the necessary pipers as well.
It's a measure of how completely the public has been alienated from the downloading and p2p debate that Fanning's new project, a rights-clearing company called SNOCAP, is utterly incomprehensible to most of the assembled. Using acoustic fingerprinting technology, SNOCAP will track a vast registry of music and allow the rightsholders for each song to permit or prohibit downloads, and to specify general sales and license terms. It's a business-to-business back-end concept, and a solid one.
Shawn of the Head: Apparently expecting another earthquake, however, or at least some hacky-sack, the crowd is nonplussed at hearing Shawn the Conqueror describe something that is, in the end, just software. The irony might as well be laid on with a trowel. Deferent under his signature baseball cap (Sox), Fanning shrugs and notes that he never intended to be the devil incarnate - he just writes the code. (Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a software engineer.)
Tegan and Sara: This is the good-natured, loveable one
Keen listeners might gather that Fanning isn't quite as tame as he sounds. There's an agenda here, one that would let the marketplace do the roaring rather than heeling meekly behind the usual industry trend-surfing. It hasn't been widely understood yet, but p2p systems are two-way communication, and if there's anything major labels hate it's actual feedback and true freedom of choice. Let the people listen for themselves, and who knows what they might do?
For one thing, they might head over to the estimable Ginger Man for a day party courtesy of Split Rock Records, a micro-label out of Nashville with a set of priorities that runs to good beer, regional fooding, and other tasty under-the-radar fun. Since our little label works out of New York on similar principles, we drop by to share our obscurities.
On the sunny backyard stage, Arizona's Andy Hersey is closing his early set with a warm and expansive taste of purebred Americana. Hersey is gifted with a frank, infectious smile, and unlike just about everyone else in town this week he's earned his Stetson - he actually is a cowboy, he doesn't just dress like one for romantic, rebellious, and soulful reasons. His music is artless and full of natural character. As sappy as it may be to say it out loud, you can hear America in it. Ericson Holt is up next, plus a full-on twang outfit but minus an essential piece of SXSW costumery: joking about the up-North wannabes dressing to work the conference, he apologizes for his lack of proper headgear. "All I need is an ironic cowboy hat," he says, "then I'll be ready to rock."
Halestorm: That's Lzzy, like Izzy but with an L.
Jane Says: Last night we trooped down Sixth Street for a final 1:00 a.m. set by Calgary pop twins Tegan & Sara Quin but:
(a) it was too smoky in there
(b) it was too crowded in there
(c) feet: ow ow ow ow ow
(d) it was way late and the sound guy was still fixing stuff
(e) all of the above.
There's another chance this afternoon courtesy of a Jane Magazine pool party at the Elks club. Fellow Canadians Boy finish just as we arrive, and we break to scrutinize the BBQ spread and dip soft hot feet in the cool pool while Tegan & Sara set up in the least attractive rec room ever contemplated by builders: never has cinderblock yearned so piteously for a dab of color. Apart from the taxidermy elk head, that is, which somehow isn't helping.
Tegan is impossibly stubborn, while Sara is good-natured and loveable. I didn't make that up; that's what it says in the official band bio. It's actually not a bad abstract for their music, which delightfully resists easy description, due in part to the support of Neil Young's Vapor Records. Vapor seems to have encouraged the sisters to take root in the Petri dish of their fan base, by and large, before transplanting them to the wider vessel of mainstream commerce. The result is bright poppy stuff, canny and anecdotal and unusually voiced, and the twining sensibilities behind it are fresh and open. But don't take my word for it. Read the sisters' hilarious bio comments on their web site (each wrote the other's), and imagine the music that would spring from such fertile hearts. Reviewers openly compare Tegan & Sara to nothing in particular, because there isn't anything quite like them. You'll get ghosts of The Cars now and then, which does the young Quins no justice at all, but does glimpse the way they stretch melody over the taut frame of a rhythm.
The Rhythm of the Night: Back in town Trish Murphy is an habitual SXSW stop, and it's a pleasure to hear her clever, light-hearted songs again. I like to think of her as Buffy: slim trim beauty on the outside, Slayer within. Down the road Boston's Eileen Rose is a powerhouse, tearing through the kind of joyful pure-heart rock that bursts out of a self-described singer-songwriter when she just can't sit still during the good parts.
The Lascivious Biddies: That's Saskia Biddy hiding behind the big woody musicky thing
Halestorm is loading in at B-Side when I stumble over thataway, about to unleash gorgeous furies on an unsuspecting room. Halestorm is the cusp-of-being-signed project of siblings Lzzy and Arejay Hale, plus co-conspirators Joe and Josh, and they've been brewing up a, well, a storm in Pennsylvania and beyond these past several years. Try as they will to stand united as a gang of four, Halestorm is matrix for Lzzy's extraordinary voice and star presence, and as the band grows into its natural loping ground, which starts with Heart's soaring vocal arcs and falls a few tasteful strutting steps shy of outright metal, each leap forward is a revelation - tonight is no different. For a closer, Lzzy rips through a cover of "Black Dog" that leaves the floor a little damp and sticky underfoot.
Last stop is underground at the basement Elephant Room, where The Lascivious Biddies are playing their multivious ditties for a full and appreciative house. Things are just cranking up as we shoulder out some space down front. I end up one table over from photographer Sung Park, who is on assignment from the Austin Statesman and has the longest Nikon lenses known to man. Two of them. I look at his, I look at mine, and hope no one notices. The Biddies are pocket favorites in Austin, where their four-square girl-group jazz shows are building an appreciative audience. Poised somewhere between Rockapella and the cast of 42nd Street, plus keys and strings, Leigh-Ann and Amanda and Deidre and Saskia mix urban grit, urbane wit and girl's-gotta-do cocktail dress style into a show that leaves us grinning wide with incendiary sophisticated glee.
Back at the hotel there are no more apples in the basket in the lobby. I hate when that happens.
SXSW - http://2005.sxsw.com/music/
Andy Hersey - http://www.andyhersey.com/
Halestorm - http://www.halestormrocks.com/
Ericson Holt - http://www.ericsonholt.com/
The Lascivious Biddies - http://www.biddies4ever.com/
Trish Murphy - http://www.trishmurphy.com/
Eileen Rose - http://eileenrose.co.uk/
Split Rock Records - http://www.srrecords.com/
Tegan and Sara - http://www.teganandsara.com/
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