Molly Templeton is the arts and music editor for Eugene Weekly.
This is one in a series of posts about the panels at this year's South by Southwest — most panels were part of the Interactive track, but some were in Film or Music. All raised a lot of questions, some of which I've asked below; I hope you'll want to join in the conversation.
The journalism-related panels at SXSW were mostly extremely useful, inspiring and thought-provoking. If they occasionally got bogged down in a sort of woe-is-us rehash of the things that are wrong, and the perceived divides between new and old media, it’s to be expected; we all get bogged down in (and depressed by) those lines of thinking from time to time.
That problem is understandable. What’s less so is the way the broad journalism discussions — the dramatically named Media Armageddon panel, the equally sweepingly titled How to Save Journalism panel — never talked about arts journalism. There was a discussion about film criticism during the film track, and a couple of conversations about music journalism, online tastemakers and such. But arts writing wasn’t part of the broader conversation. I think this is a major oversight, the same way I think the laying off of film critics all over the country was a major mistake. Yes, there are a million bloggers posting about every kind of art you can imagine, especially film and pop music. But the number of voices in the conversation is no reason to step out of it entirely.
Speaking of critics, let’s start with the decade’s most defensive discussion of film criticism!
Erik Abel (aka Animal Farm's Gen.Erik) from Focused Noise sent over a link to this video, which is sort of a video scrapbook/goofy behind-the-scenes look at the experience Focused Noise artists Animal Farm, Serge Severe and Mic Crenshaw had at SXSW. Skinny men in green bodysuits, missing Thai food restaurants, free hugs in the middle of the street — it's all here.
(Holy shit, it's the Wild Things dude! That guy was everywhere!)
There’s a simple reason why it’s three weeks down the line and I’ve yet to write about SXSW Interactive, which is the part of SXSW with the most panels: Every time I sit down to do just that, I feel like the top of my head pops off and things just start pouring out — unsorted thoughts, ideas, information, complaints, exclamations, genuine glee. It’s just SO BIG. It’s a nerd and tech conference; it’s got too many tracks to keep track of, unless you’re really focused on the design aspect or the development stuff or the personal stuff or … whatever it is you want out of it. You make your own SXSWi out of the pieces you put together. And since this was my first time to the event, I tried to grab a lot of pieces.
(Lesson one: Get to Austin on Thursday. Get your bag o’ crap and your book o’ info and settle in somewhere and do your goddamn homework. Figure out what’s most important to you. Don’t lock yourself in, but prioritize. Remember that the big book has names and associations of panelists. These are important.)
I started, on Friday afternoon, with a workshop called The Revenge of Editorials. It started with the history of publishing. It meant well, but after a suprising fire alarm moment — hello, Twitter, proving your extra special SXSW worth from the word go — I opted to skip over to Pay TV vs. Internet: The Battle for Your TV, which, according to NYT writer David Carr’s Twitter, was getting feisty.
In retrospect, these two panels taught me two very important lessons about SXSW panels:
1. Look at where the people giving a panel/speech/workshop are from. Are you interested in their business? If not, don’t go. Several times, I ditched panels because I felt like people from specific businesses were just there to promote their offerings. That’s great if it’s what you’re looking for, and mildly agonizing if not. (This isn’t why I left the Editorials panel early, to be fair.)
2. Too much is built on dualities and either/or scenarios. This is true in the real world, but it was particularly frustratingly true at SXSWi, where I felt like we should have been looking for new ideas, new visions, not pitting old media against new, bloggers against magazine writers, one new gizmo against another. Watching Mark Cuban and Avner Ronen talk about whether the internet or your television would dominate in terms of eyes on TV programs, I grew more and more uncomfortable. Why is this an either/or question? Why does there have to be one victor, one way to do it? Why do we frame so many questions in this way? Can’t we watch TV on Hulu and on cable? Don’t we watch TV on Hulu and on cable? So one makes more money than the other. So what?
Friday was a slow day for panels, which got started later than they would the rest of the conference, but from then on, things got busy. So: SXSW Panels, Part One: Miscellany (Keep reading...)
The ’80s couldn’t possibly have been this cozy. Skateland, Anthony Burns’ 1983-set coming of age story, is warm, welcoming and seen through a high gloss of nostalgia. The gorgeous light and loving cinematography say more about how Burns and company feel about the decade than any number of goofy, throwaway lines about how hot the cars (and the high-waisted jeans) were.
Skateland wears its John-Hughes-loving heart firmly on its sleeve even before the words “in memory of John Hughes” pop up at the beginning of the credits. Burns uses the sentimental value of pop songs like a true Hughes devotee; his female characters are perceptive and loyal in a way that suggests the influence of Watts and Amanda Jones from the Hughes-penned Some Kind of Wonderful.
But Skateland is no John Hughes movie. (Keep reading...)
I would be wary of too highly praising the low-key and charming Cold Weather were it not for one thing: I went into the movie with what might've been, in another film, an unfairly high level of anticipation. A critic whose opinion I generally hold in high regard, L.A. Weekly’s Karina Longworth, called it the first unqualified hit of SXSW.
So I had expectations. And I’m glad I had time to sit with my thoughts about the film, to lets its damp windows and dingy motel drift through my mind as I walked around Austin, or sat on a plane on the way home, or stared out the window, dotted with rain just like the one in the film’s opening scene. Aaron Katz’s third film is confident — so much so that its ending feels like a shock. At first.
Cold Weather is a perfect depiction of a certain kind of aimlessness, the kind that comes not from lack of talent, or lack of skill, but lack of impetus. Its main character, Doug (Cris Lankenau), carries his lack of direction in his posture, slump-shouldered and stiff-armed. He’s ditched a degree in forensic science to move in with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), in a Portland apartment full of unopened boxes and half-built Ikea coffee tables. She works in an office; he gets a job in an ice factory, where he makes friends with Carlos (Raúl Castillo), who doesn’t believe that Doug loves Sherlock Holmes novels. Doug, in turn, doesn’t really believe Carlos is a DJ. Everyone’s expectations of everyone else are as fogged as rain-streaked glass.
When Doug’s ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), turns up, the film shifts, but it’s not a love triangle. It becomes, swiftly and delightfully, a mystery like the ones Doug so loves to read. And he becomes a detective, poring over books on cryptography and lifting penciled codes from a notepad. The library is his biggest toolbox, Gail his best assistant; she’s as reluctantly game for Doug’s detective efforts as she is, earlier in the film, to play hooky for a day and go to the overcast Oregon coast (I’m not sure it’s ever actually sunny in this film. Not raining, sure. But sunny? I can’t recall a bright scene). Their efforts are goofy, sweet, absurd and effective, and have the added effect of making TV detectives, with their fitted suits and terse dialogue, seem patently ridiculous.
Cold Weather is Katz’s third feature to premiere at SXSW. His earlier films — which I’ve yet to see — stir people to reference mumblecore, and I can see the connection in the natural, meandering conversations of his characters, in their ordinary jobs and perfectly individual, perfectly ordinary apartments, jackets, heavy wool sweaters. But Cold Weather is more formally lovely than any mumblecore film I’ve yet seen (and I do have a modest taste for the genre, if you can really call it that). Its cool Oregon light is perfect; its framing is precise; its dialogue is crisply convincing, dryly funny (Doug, fixated on his quest, decides he must have a pipe; his shopping experience does not go as expected) and perfectly balanced, revealing without ever leaving the characters to explain too much. So much is caught in the physical, in the stolen sip of coffee Longworth mentions in her review, or in the body language of Gail and Doug as they hunch over a bar or lean over the ledge of their apartment building’s roof, dropping grapes and watching them splatter. Theirs is a slightly contentious, ever impatient sibling revelry, smartly observed and elegantly depicted in Katz’s compact, playfully moody film. I hope you get to see it.
Warpaint @ Lustre Pearl [unofficial day show] Lustre Pearl, a converted house just blocks away from the Austin Convention Center (and right behind an IHOP), might’ve been my favorite venue of the week. The building, tucked behind a rusty fence (the pic above was taken while I stood in line), is small, just a few rooms, one taken over by a bar, but the backyard area is huge, and complete with taco truck. The delight of finding a Brooklyn Lager (a sentimental choice) went nicely with the delight of finding Warpaint absofuckinglutely amazing. They were good at Sam Bond’s last year. They were superb in the middle of the afternoon in Austin, creating a dense, precise wash of sound, winding vocals in and out with such ease that it seemed like the music just hung there, undulating, in the middle of the sprawling white tent. I can’t remember songs. I can’t remember how many there were, or which they played, or if they were the ones I wanted to hear. It wasn’t that kind of show. It was like a big aural vacuum: You’re sucked in, you live in it, and then it’s over and nothing that comes next is going to be quite as good.
I nommed a fantastic taco and split after four Rogue Wave songs. I love Rogue Wave as much as the next pop-harmony sucker, but my magical spell had been all busted up and I wanted to be somewhere else.
Frightened Rabbit @ Mess With Texas [non-SXSW awesome minifestival] Standing in line for the Mess With Texas fest, a delightful bit of counterprogramming that I would commit unpleasant acts to have happen in Eugene, I heard Billy Bragg, and I cursed whatever bit of timing had made me arrive when I did, and not half an hour earlier. Bragg broke into “A New England” and I got goosebumps; is there a more plaintive, honest love-longed-for song? Could it be sung in a better voice than Bragg’s haunting, slightly creaky British tones? The answer you’re looking for is “No.”
The FRabbits were lovely and the crowd was huge and the sound was imperfect. I stood in the back, too close to a tent in which the curious, mostly women, were perching on a Harley-Davidson and revving the shit out of it. You can see how that might affect the mood. But I'd watch Frightened Rabbit through just about anything.
Jenny Owen Youngs @ Live Create Lounge The Live Create Lounge was well-stocked with free nutrional bars, phone chargers and overpriced beer. I took appropriate advantage of each and watched Youngs, who looks like a poster girl from the ’60s and sings like it’s as easy as breathing. Her pop-folk songs tend to the catchy and disconcertingly sweet-sounding, with an underlying steeliness, and she deserved to play to a bigger, more attentive crowd.
Anya Marina @ Maggie Mae’s I was curious about two things: Marina with a band, and the venue in which she was playing, with its multiple levels and slightly confusing staircases. Marina with band was fine, but unexpectedly lackluster, despite her perky, “fuck”-dotted stange banter; I think she’s got more personality than is showing through in her songs. Maggie Mae’s offered a nice vantage point from which to look down on Sixth Street, where the crowds had yet to reach their full nighttime density.
Patrick Stump @ Dirty Dog Bar Stump practically snuck onto the stage; there was no fanfare, and if some people didn’t immediately recognize the Fall Out Boy singer, newly shorn and less more than a few pounds, it seemed likely he liked it that way. (“Hi. I’m Patrick,” was all he offered as introduction.) But there was an off-kilter feel to his five-song performance. He tore around the stage for the first song, getting loops going with each instrument, proving himself a capable musician, but when the song finally settled in, there just wasn’t much to it: a bit of funk, that soulful vocal delivery, and what else? It wasn’t just Stump’s feverish uncertainty — which suits him when it’s in the lyrics; one song trades “This is my confession” for “I’ve got nothing to confess” in a matter of seconds — it was the nagging feeling that maybe these tunes (unrecorded, he said) weren’t ready for their close-up just yet. Operative word there being "yet."
Les Savy Fav @ Galaxy Room Backyard At one in the morning, those that aren’t wearing out are getting wearing on those that are. You follow me? Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington was as cuckoo as ever — was that a Wild Things costume he was wearing at first? — tearing about the stage, fucking with the lights, ripping up glowsticks, all that jazz, but something was missing. Penultimate SXSW night blues? The general lack of movement in the crowd? Everyone woke up for “Patty Lee,” which mustered up a bit of a singalong. It went like this: “Back before Babylon,” Harrington roared, and fans joined in, “SHIT WAS COOL!” This was almost as awkward — and equally entertaining — as when crowds sing along with Cursive’s self-aware songs about being self-aware dudes in a self-aware band.
This email came from Brian Cutean this morning. I'm reposting it just as it is; hopefully someone out there can help.
Eugene musician and music teacher William "Chico" Schwall had a devastating break-in at his work space and a lot of equipment was stolen when he was out working. We're asking local media to please help publicize this list. Share the list. Pass it on to anyone who should see it. Some of these instruments are unique and would be easy to spot.
Many thanks. Any information should be sent to Chico's at 541.684.8216.
I’m not the world’s biggest Motörhead fan, but even I can’t even see the name “Lemmy” without seeing that creased brow and hearing “The ace of spades! The ace of spades!” in my head. Motörhead is universal; Motörhead is monumental. Motörhead’s Lemmy is as deserving of a documentary as any musician who’s been doing his thing for more than 30 loud years.
The list of musicians who appear in Lemmy to praise — and tell incredible stories about — the man born Ian Fraser Kilmister is in itself the story of the influence of Motörhead: The members of Metallica. Scott Ian from Anthrax. Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, whose band clearly didn’t think up umlaut abuse on their own. Joan Jett. Dave Grohl, who records a track with Lemmy and relates a highly amusing anecdote involving Lemmy’s supposed feud with the singer from The Darkness. Billy Bob Thornton. Ozzy Osbourne (Lemmy wrote the lyrics to “Mama I’m Comin’ Home”). Henry Rollins. Alice Cooper. Slash. Jarvis Cocker.
Lemmy is a fascinating, slightly overlong, almost-warts-and-all documentary about Motörhead’s bassist/lead singer and easily best-known member, he of the long hair, intense facial hair, Johnny-Cash-gone-punk all-black uniform and unforgettable, tattered voice. Lemmy is in his 60s and still plays with Motörhead. He sits at the Rainbow Room, on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, playing trivia on the Megatouch and drinking Jack & Cokes. Fans, unsuspecting, are in awe when they see him at the end of the bar. There is no mistaking Lemmy for anyone else. When Lemmy can’t find what he wants in L.A.’s Amoeba Music — the Beatles mono box set — the owner gives him her personal copy. People love this man, as Lemmy demonstrates, warmly and entertainingly, again and again.
JESUS H., Eugene, I hope you're over that nasty seasonal cold-thing that was going around, because you need to be ready to go out pretty much every night for the next week. Maybe twice. The pendulum is swinging back. It's time to de-hibernate, kids. We could only fit six previews in this week's music section, but there are at least three more places you'll find us in the next few days.
Yes, that's a band photo. For serious. It got my attention (and not just because it's not the dreaded Four Dudes Against a Wall). That's five-year-old Dahlia Crow and her pops, Abe Nobody (of Rye Wolves/Scrolls), who together are Tarahumara. I'm going to let Mr. Nobody tell you about his "conceptual psychedelic folk/drone project," as I've yet to have the pleasure of hearing the duo:
"I would like to point out being the proudest drone dad ever is great. I am quite certain that when Dahlia and I debuted Tarahumara last fall, Day 2 of the Eugene Noise Festival to a packed crowd @ the now dead Epicspace, we enjoyed one of the largest amounts of feedback that any of the 32 bands that played from all over received. She was fearless, played malleted, dare I say, avant-garde percussion over a woolly layer of psychedelic glacier melting bass drones and is eagerly awaiting her next all ages performance. I am pretty sure she is one of the youngest people ever to be in a psych/drone band and that in itself is pure and wondrous."
Tarahumara plays with al Queda (the band, not ... you know), Demian Johnston and Robin McDougall at 7 pm Saturday, March 27, at the Wandering Goat. All ages, a few bucks.
"We are Titus Andronicus from Glen Rock, New Jersey. Prepare to be amazed!"
I just saw critically adored Titus Andronicus in Austin, opening Pitchfork's showcase at the freezing cold, entirely outdoors Scoot Inn. The crowd was small but enthusiastic; a few less-hardy souls ducked out to hover around the firepit in the back of the venue while the rest of us tried hopelessly to warm our hands on tallboys of Lone Star and/or use taller members of the crowd as windbreaks. The band soldiered on in parkas and knee socks, tearing through a short set of tunes that a friend describes as "Conor Oberst fronting the Walkmen" and the music press calls wicked awesome. OK, I paraphrased that last bit, but TA's The Airing of Grievances was a 2008 buzz record, and the just-released The Monitor is garnering equally positive reviews.
The new record is a concept album; in press materials, bandleader Patrick Stickles says it "uses the American Civil War of 1861-1865 as an extended metaphor" as it addresses "topics of regional identity, emotional anesthetization, and the heavy yoke of trying to live decently in indecent times." Heavy shit, but played with fury and passion; TA's sound runs parallel to some other rough-hewn, regionally affected, American rock (think Hold Steady and Springsteen, who's referenced in The Monitor's first track), but then it flips its shit and spins out in an agonized and beautiful frenzy. "A More Perfect Union" is seven minutes long and deserves to be; full of ferocity and references and storming sing-alongs and unforgettable riffs, it's a mission statement, and one followed by "Titus Andronicus Forever," in which everyone chants "The enemy is everywhere!" and you feel like you're in a basement in New Jersey just fucking waiting for something to catch on fire or flood or otherwise turn into delirious, unforgettable mayhem.
Titus Andronicus and The Tunnel Kings play at 8:30 pm Monday, March 29, at 540 Van Buren. Free, all ages. The show is the first in a promising series of events presented by The Dropout.
Eliza Rickman does magical things with a toy piano. The plinking sound of the wee instrument is often used for an innocent, playful addition to a song, but under Rickman's hands, the eerier side of the toy piano comes out; just give "Black Rose," a mournful sigh of a song, a listen. "Lily Love" is a swoony pop song in miniature, but if you listen closely, you can imagine it transformed into a shiny, high-gloss radio hit. But why would you want it that way? Rickman's delicate songs have sturdier structures than you might expect. Her carefully controlled voice, clear and inclined to the bittersweet, makes most of her melodies sound like cousins to classic folk ballads; I wouldn't be surprised to find them in the big book of folk songs I used to try to play on the piano as a kid.
Eliza Rickman plays with Hannah at 9 pm Wednesday, March 31, at Cozmic Pizza. All ages, $5.
Let me make this as uncomplicated as possible: The Weekly could use a few more smart, sharp music writers who know their stuff, particularly if said stuff is outside the rock/pop mainstream. You're really up on Americana, jam bands, blues, noise, experimental, metal, hip hop, dance, filk, folk or another genre I shamefully haven't included in that list for absolutely no particular reason? I want to hear from you.
A few things to keep in mind:
• Please know your shit.
• By "your shit," I mean a whole variety of things, including but not limited to basic rules of spelling and grammar, how to format song and album titles, how to proof your own work and how to write thoughtfully, critically and enthusiastically about music without being a Snarkmaster 5000 or an overly praise-tastic press release.
• You do not have to have a journalism degree or previously published work for me to take your writing seriously. You do have to a) live in the area and b) have some writing samples. I would like to see two or three, and I would like at least one of said samples to be about a local band or performer.
• Familiarity with EW's music section helps. What do I mean by that? Basically, please keep in mind that brief concert previews make up at least 97 percent of our music coverage. Those previews can be in the form of interviews, retrospectives, CD reviews or anything else you can think up that works, but remember that we don't generally have room for pieces about acts that aren't coming to town.
• I'm looking to add to our roster of freelancers, but that doesn't mean this is a regular weekly gig; assignments depend on the shows coming through on a given week. It's very handy if you're the kind of person who already knows, four months ahead of time, that your favorite band is coming to town.
• Music previews are paid at a flat rate (for shorts) or by word (longer pieces). It's not a lot of money, but it is money (and there are a few additional perks). If you're interested in writing for EW! A Blog, I'd love to talk to you, but as of now blog posts are usually not paid pieces. Sorry.
If you're interested or want to know more, please email me (molly [at] eugeneweekly [dot] com), and be sure to send writing samples (if you send attachments, plain old Word docs are ideal; I'm also happy to read your stuff online). In the email, give me a quick bio and tell me what kind of stuff you're most interested in writing about. I don't need a full resume, but a bit of background is nice. Where are you from? What was your first concert? Who's your favorite local band?
If I get an overwhelming number of responses, I may not be able to respond to everyone — and please know that my inbox is a pretty monstrous thing sometimes, so it may take some time to respond. You can also leave questions in the comments.
EDIT: Yes, I made a typo in the post asking for pieces without typos. How very appropriate! It's fixed now.