Category: SXSW

SXSW 2012: Easing into the music fest with Dustin Wong

Dustin Wong at SXSW
If only every day of the annual South by Southwest music festival were like Tuesday, the first of the six-day marathon: easy lines, little drunkenness, a joyous sense of anticitipation that you can feel walking down 6th Street, where music pours out of every club but the crowds are way less insane than later in the week.

For a critic, it's more comfortable on these opening days, because the SXSW sensation overload can be overwhelming. Many of us are used to living in our musical cocoons, where we pick all the important details of the experience, including the music we're hearing, the volume and whether what's coming out of the speakers is worthy of a hard listen or a scan. And we do a lot of that stuff alone, in our heads and ears -- not standing next to a bunch of chatterboxes chasing the next Pitchfork flavor of the month. 

Too, concerts and club shows fall in predictable patterns, and we have time to prepare, time to better contextualize what's going to happen when the band starts. Not so here, where melodies tease from every door, where competing drum patterns mingle on the street to create a rhythmic confusion that sounds like shoes in a clothes dryer. 

But then, as happened Tuesday night -- as I headed, yes, to the Pitchfork showcase at Mohawk -- a sound will rise above the others and will trigger a curiosity. In this case, while walking down Red River, a pretty solo guitar melody played by one Dustin Wong floated out of the door of the Swan Dive.

Wong, from Brooklyn, who was sitting in a chair with his Fender guitar, was shoeless but wearing white socks, triggering effects pedals and random boxes to build big sonic structures. He'd start with a simple rhythmic idea that he'd tap out on his strings, which he'd then loop to build a percussive track, and on top of that he continued to build, layer and layer of sonic nuance -- a low-end line to serve as driving bass, some upper-range counter-melodies to add depth. Within minutes, he'd crafted something as dynamic as a symphony, all with two feet, two hands and a voice. He did this over and over again, each a wonderful variation.

Wong records on the Chicago label Thrill Jockey, has two albums (and a cassette-only release on Watercolor in 2010), and his name had passed through my ears as someone to see. But I'd buried the tip somewhere, so probably wouldn't have seen him if not for the breeze that carried his soundwaves to my ears. Had it blown in a different direction on Tuesday, I'd maybe have made it down to Pitchfork to see Mr. MF eXquire, a hot Brooklyn rapper. No biggie. We've got five days left, plenty of time to chase the buzz. And if you're reading this in Austin, Texas, Wong plays at least five more times.


SXSW 2012: Music stories to watch

SXSW 2012: 10 Los Angeles artists you should see

SXSW 2012: Bear in Heaven, Light Asylum among early standouts 

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Dustin Wong at the Swan Dive in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday. Credit: Randall Roberts / Los Angeles Times 


SXSW 2012: Bear in Heaven, Light Asylum among early standouts

Bear in Heaven

In about two weeks, a historic Austin, Texas, house built in 1887 that sits just off of U.S. 290 will become an upscale coffee shop. But for the remaining week of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference, it has been given a party crib makeover. Its walls are painted green and white, and it's safe to say that the drink of choice is not drip coffee. 

The house is where Sweden's music subscription service Spotify has set up shop. Old-school singer/songwriter M. Ward has already stopped by for an acoustic set, and surprise guests will be unveiled daily. Welcome to SXSW 2012, where artist discovery is all well and good, but a little brand cache is where the investment lies. After all, this is a year in which the red carpet will be rolled out to welcome the addition of a 56-foot tall Doritos-branded vending machine.

It's early yet at SXSW. The music component of the festival and conference truly gets underway Wednesday and lasts in earnest through Saturday evening. Industry panels and nonstop parties will cloud the afternoon, and a full roster of artist showcases spread amongst 92 venues will begin Wednesday night.

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Lennon Tour Bus streaming live from South by Southwest

John Lennon Educational Tour Bus
More than a dozen musicians who are in Austin, Texas, this week for the South by Southwest Music Conference will collaborate with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which is hosting a series of live-streamed interview and performance sessions from the festival each afternoon through Friday.

Highlights still to come include streams on Wednesday from Ian Moore and Kasabian, on Thursday with Lissy Trullie and Friday with Birds of Chicago. Fans can submit questions for consideration during the interview segments by tweeting them to #lennonbus. Music and talk will be streamed at, and there’s also a free Lennon Bus App available for iPhone and Android phones at

The Lennon bus has been in operation for 15 years now, a nonprofit project created to introduce students to musical instruments and recording equipment to which they might otherwise never have had access. The bus is ensconced in Austin this week to acquaint more musicians and fans with its state-of-the-art audio and video facilities, where budding rock stars can make demo recordings and YouTube and Facebook-ready videos at no charge.

Here is a quick video tour of the bus and its facilities. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, gave her blessing to the idea because she believes it to be something her husband would have supported.


SXSW 2012: The music stories to watch

SXSW 2012: 10 Los Angeles bands you should see

John Lennon bus gives would-be artists a chance to imagine

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Credit:

SXSW 2012: Rdio gets new look, needs more subscribers

One of the big questions facing the industry at this year's annual South by Southwest festival and conference is when and how music subscription services will become financially viable. Malthe Sigurdsson of Rdio simply wants to know how to get more users. 

The San Francisco-based all-you-can-listen-to subscriber service Tuesday unveiled a revamped look. The service's new iTunes-meets-Facebook makeover gives Rdio an interface that encourages more interactivity; for instance, users can simply hover over an album and instantly see who among their friends or followers has listened to it, or follow all their friends' activity in a Facebook-style wall.

What's more, the service has graduated from a point-and-click infrastructure to a drag-and-drop approach, allowing listeners more functionality in terms of moving songs and full albums to playlists, as well as offering more direct posting to Facebook. For those not in Austin, Texas, Rdio live-streamed details on its new features. 

Rdio users have been clamoring for some of these changes, such as adding a full album to a user's playlist, for a while. "It’s a simple feature and we could have done it a long time ago," the company's vice president of product Sigurdsson said. "But we wanted to make sure that every music object on the site could be dragged and dropped. The dragging is in the easy part. There was no good place to drop the stuff in the current Rdio. We needed to split the content up, and we needed to make sharing easier."

Last March, the question of when Sweden's Spotify would launch in the U.S. became a hot topic at SXSW. By that time, Rdio, which was introduced in 2010, had long been on the market. Spotify, however, entered with a free, ad-supported listening model, and with Rdio then offering only a seven-day free trial period, Spotify was seen as having the advantage for new users. To answer, Rdio last fall introduced a free platform based on an unpublished monthly quota. Like others in the streaming space, Rdio hopes to up-sell users to a subscription, offering multiple tiers and an unlimited listening plan for $9.99 per month. 

Today's redesign points to the growing competitiveness in the still-nascent market, and Sigurdsson spoke to Pop & Hiss about the changes, as well as his thoughts on the budding subscription universe.

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SXSW 2012: The music stories to watch

Kendrick Lamar
Rock 'n' roll brings the headliners, but the tech sector brings the registrants. The annual industry gathering, spring break party and brand bonanza that is South by Southwest is already underway in Austin, Texas, but it isn't until Tuesday that the one-time music business-oriented event will turn its attention toward the music community proper.

More than 2,000 bands will descend upon the Texas capital to perform on more than 90 stages, and that's just counting the official SXSW events. The full tally of partyers and hangers-on is more of a guessing game, but there's no doubt where the growth is among paying customers.

In 2011, SXSW counted 16,353 registrants for its music portion, and 19,364 registrants for its interactive programming. Superstar rapper Jay-Z knows where the action is, and he'll be performing Monday night in Austin at a party for those registered for SXSW Interactive. 

This year, SXSW organizers are making an even greater effort to integrate those attending SXSW Music versus SXSW Interactive, the latter of which ends Tuesday. Last year was the first time SXSW began showcasing artists on Tuesday evening, so both audiences could partake, and programming has ramped up for this year's festival, with taste-making site Pitchfork beginning its SXSW events Tuesday and name acts, such as the multicultural, genre-hopping pop of Santigold, among the first out of the gate. 

In terms of sheer presence, however, SXSW Music isn't going to lose its dominance anytime soon. Just shy of 11,000 bands applied for showcase slots at SXSW 2011, and almost 3,000 members of the media were there to document those that made the trek. The struggles of the mainstream music business have been well-documented, but when independent acts such as Arcade Fire and Bon Iver are winning Grammy Awards, this is increasingly a time when it feels like anything is possible.

Stay tuned to Pop & Hiss for updates from SXSW. What follows is a look at some plot lines to watch.

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SXSW 2012: 10 Los Angeles artists to see

On Tuesday in Austin, the annual South by Southwest music festival begins, and a flock of Southern California bands has made the journey to Texas. This year, as always, dozens of area artists are on the official roster, and a whole host of day-party invader bands has caravaned over from Southern California without "official" status to get its music into industry/fans' ears. (A lot of these invader bands are on the Burger Records throwdown, which any smart A&R person looking for young upstart punks should hit -- see below). Below are 10 acts to see in Austin, some signed to indies, others looking for bigger action.

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Bruce Springsteen signs on as keynote speaker for South by Southwest

Those traveling to Austin for the South by Southwest music and media conference next year can expect a visit from the Boss. Bruce Springsteen and SXSW organizers announced Thursday that the rock legend will be the keynote speaker at the 2012 festival. He’s slated to appear on March 15 at the Austin Convention Center.

The announcement comes on the heels of the recent announcement of Springsteen's world tour with the E Street Band next year — their first without late saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died from a stroke in June. The tour reportedly is to begin in March and will be in support of the band's new, still-untitled album. So far, no further details on dates are confirmed.

With his trip to Austin, Springsteen will join a list of previous iconic keynote speakers at SXSW, including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Pete Townsend, Smokey Robinson, Neil Young, Robert Plant and Lucinda Williams. It’s about time Jersey gets a chance to represent.


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to tour again in 2012

Grammy Hall of Fame announces 2012 recordings inductees

Springsteen, Van Zandt salute E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons

Photo: Bruce Springsteen  Credit: Jeff Siner/Associated Press

The Dollyrots' Kelly Ogden tackles the Screeching Weasel fiasco: 'It should not erase his whole career because he lost his mind one night'

As the female lead-singer of a punk rock band, the Dollyrots' Kelly Ogden knows the gig comes with certain advantages, even if such benefits have resulted in one of Ogden's biggest regrets. 

"One OK thing about being a front girl in a rock band is I can punch anyone I want," Ogden said. She was joking, of course, attempting to make light of one of her most embarrassing punk rock moments. At a gig about seven years ago, Ogden didn't take too kindly to a male heckler near the foot of the stage. "When I kicked a dude in his face with my boot, everyone cheered. I am not proud of that, but sometimes you lose your cool."

Shock and dismay, however, were what greeted the lead singer of Screeching Weasel when he lunged into the audience at an unruly female fan, bringing an instant end to the band's March 18 South by Southwest performance in Austin, Texas. After a 50-minute set in which Ben Weasel (lead singer: Ben Foster) mocked the venue, SXSW, the media and the audience, he was hit with a cup full of beer or water, pelted near the eye with ice and spat on by a female fan near the front of the stage. Weasel lunged into the crowd, and when one of the club's female owners attempted to break it up, he turned on her as well and was quickly led away by security, which ended the performance. 

The fallout from the sudden end to Screeching Weasel's Austin performance was nearly immediate. Within hours of the concert, clips of Weasel's actions went viral, and days later his bandmates quit, at least for the time being. Yet as Weasel's friends and peers have taken efforts to distance themselves from the artist, one kind of voice from the punk rock community has been noticeably absent from the discussion: a woman's

There aren't many tougher than Ogden, who as lead singer of local pop-punk act the Dollyrots has long been scraping by outside the mainstream. Having released just three albums in 10 years, the Dollyrots are warhorses when it comes to touring, and in 2010 opened for the likes of the Buzzcocks and -- you guessed it -- Screeching Weasel. Additionally, the band's first album, 2004's "Eat My Heart Out," carried the Panic Button stamp, a label that had been co-founded by Weasel (Panic Button had been sold to Lookout Records by the time the Dollyrots signed).  

"He made a really huge mistake, and he’s really stupid for doing that," Ogden said. "I was pretty mad at him for a few days. Then I looked on Twitter and I was like, ‘Wow, this is out of control.’ Violence is never OK, especially male-on-female violence, but that said, Ben has always supported females in the scene.

"Our first album did come out on Panic Button," Ogden said. "We’ve played shows with him. His public persona is pretty jerky, but I do not truly think that he is a lady-beating misogynist; otherwise, I would be a lot harder on him." 

Not that Ogden is being exactly easy on Weasel. She was in Austin for SXSW, but as her band played at another venue at the same time as Screeching Weasel, she did not witness the scene. Yet she said most of her friends opted to see Screeching Weasel, a band that rarely tours and just released its first album in 11 years, "First World Manifesto." 

"It stinks," Ogden said. "I feel really bad for the girl. I feel really bad for everyone involved. I feel bad for my friends who were at that show who were dying to see Screeching Weasel play, and then saw [the altercation]. That’s not very fun. I’d be angry if I were there. But this should not erase his whole career because he lost his mind one night. I will still listen to his records and if I see him I will not punch him." 

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Screeching Weasel cans tour, members walk out after SXSW debacle


Repercussions continue from the melee that occurred during the final minutes of Screeching Weasel's South by Southwest showcase in Austin, Texas, last Friday. On Tuesday, the four backing members of the current incarnation of the band announced they were taking a leave of absence from the act, leaving the door open for a possible reconciliation. Perhaps not unexpectedly, Screeching Weasel's remaining three East Coast dates have been canceled. 

The band also had a July 21 gig scheduled at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom, for which tickets had not yet gone on sale. Though the Ticketmaster website currently notes that the show will go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m., a longtime associate of Weasel’s team, who was hesitant to speak to the press because of the notoriety surrounding the incident and asked not to be identified, said that the Bay Area date has been canceled. The concert is not listed on the venue's website. 

Official word, however, has not been released on the band's three-day Chicago celebration, dubbed Weaselfest, which is at this point scheduled for May 27-29. The long sold-out extravaganza is to celebrate Screeching Weasel's first new album in 11 years, "First World Manifesto," as well as the band's 25 years, on and off, of making music. Multiple bands have dropped off Weaselfest, including Teenage Bottlerocket, Chinese Telephones and the Soviettes, although at the time of writing it is still tentatively scheduled to go on, said the source. 

Wednesday, Ben Weasel's backing band -- including longtime Weasel Dan Schafer, known as Dan Vapid, as well as recent additions Adam Cargin, Justin Perkins and Drew Fredrichsen -- issued a statement via Punknews that stated they could no longer perform as Screeching Weasel after the events that occurred at Austin's Scoot Inn. As previously reported, near the end of the band's 50-minute set Ben Weasel (real name: Ben Foster) lunged into the audience toward an unruly female fan who had earlier thrown liquid at the singer, pelted him with ice, and spat in his face.

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SXSW 2011: Screeching Weasel singer apologizes for Friday altercation


Screeching Weasel
frontman Ben Weasel (real name: Ben Foster) has issued a statement apologizing for a Friday evening altercation with a fan in Austin, Texas. "I wish to say that I am sorry to the fan and any others who were involved," Weasel said in a statement posted on his official website. "As a husband, father, and a musician on the public stage, I understand that it is my duty to always take responsibility for my actions in a socially acceptable way, and most especially in the face of confrontation."

As previously reported, Screeching Weasel's performance as part of the South by Southwest conference and festival came to an abrupt end. Weasel had spent much of the night railing against the media, SXSW and even those in attendance. During a particularly long rant, Weasel was hit with either a cup of water or beer by a female fan, and moments later the same fan was believed to have been the one who threw an ice cube that hit Weasel near the eye.

In the days since the concert, numerous YouTube videos document what happened next, with Weasel lunging off the stage and throwing a punch at the offending female audience member. Police were called to the venue, Austin's Scoot Inn, but no action was taken Friday night as all parties involved in the fracas had left the scene.  

Related: SXSW 2011: The artists, quotes and fights that made an impression

"Whatever my feelings are about fans crossing the line like that, I wish I could have that moment back and deal with it in the same spirit as I did the preceding 60 minutes," Weasel said in the statement. "Since I can’t, an apology is all I’ve got, and I sincerely hope those people will accept it."

Earlier, this blog noted it had called Weasel and did not hear back. While an attempt to speak to Weasel was made by myself and WBEZ blogger/Sound Opinions co-host Jim DeRogatis, who also documented Friday's events, information was later relayed to the two of us that the cellphone number dialed to reach Weasel was one the artist was no longer using.

The band was to perform Saturday night in San Antonio, but the concert was canceled. In addition, DeRogatis noticed that "at least one band" has removed itself from Screeching Weasel's two-night event, dubbed Weaselfest, at the end of May in Chicago. The act, the Chinese Telepones, said in a statement on their site that "recent events in Austin" persuaded them to drop off the Weaselfest bill. 

What follows is the full statement from Weasel:

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