Playback: SXSW News and Sightings
Polaroids, print, and dance funk – can they survive SXSW?
By Kevin Curtin, Fri., March 20, 2015
"When I do design work, I sometimes ruin it by over-thinking," admits Chris Bilheimer. "With Polaroids, I was always able to shoot stuff and not think about it."
You're familiar with Bilheimer's work. The Austin-based visual artist has designed every one of R.E.M.'s album covers since Monster and each Green Day release since Nimrod. An exhibition of his Polaroid collection currently hangs at Bearded Lady Screen Printing (3504 E. Fourth). The 400 shots, culled from a collection of several thousand snapped between 1995 and 2008, when Polaroid's 600 instant film went off the market, includes candid portraiture of associates like Michael Stipe, Paul Rudd, and Patton Oswalt along with colorful captures of accidental street art and commonplace items at curious angles.
"There would be things that caught my eye while I traveled – like posters on the subway that were stacked together and torn so the images became juxtaposed, like an old man's face on a pretty girl's body," says Bilheimer, who took many of the photos while touring internationally with bands. "I saw that as unintentionally hilarious."
The exhibit's title, "This Is Starting to Fade," serves two realities.
"Some of the Polaroids are actually deteriorating and so is my memory," he shrugs. "One reason I wanted to do this show is to go through and try to remember where these pictures were taken. A lot of them I don't know. Just as the chemicals in the pictures are breaking down, so is my brain."
Bilheimer's photographic memory remains on display though April 11 at the Eastside art space, which currently also houses Civil Rights-influenced art by local punk guitarist extraordinaire Tim Kerr (Big Boys, Poison 13, Lord High Fixers). Bearded Lady is open Wed.-Fri., 11am-6pm; Sat., noon-4pm.
Fit for Print
Of all the topics deliberated at SXSW panels, none poses more of an existential threat to this ink-n-paper rag than one asking the dire question "Should Music Magazines Survive or Be Killed Off?" (Gulp.) Instigating the discussion is veteran SXSW panelist Jason Gross, whose Perfect Sound Forever website ranks as the longest-running online music mag – dating back to the days when readers logged on via free AOL CD-ROM mailers.
Joining the table, a gang of journalos with résumés reflecting print and online experience: Billboard Senior Editor Alex Gale, NPR music correspondent Ann Powers, Sound Opinions host Jim DeRogatis, and Relix Editor Jaan Uhelszki. While assembling his annual year-end Best Music Journalism list, which increasingly pulls insightful work from blogs, videos, even tweets rather than features clipped from the pages of traditional publications, Gross began to ponder the print domain.
"What's the future? Will it all go to apps? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he related by phone last week. "Nobody has those answers, so I thought it'd be interesting to gather people who are seasoned in this kind of thing and see what they had to say."
Ann Powers, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Village Voice, Spin, and Rolling Stone, foresees a day when flipping the paper pages of a music magazine will be an artisan reality for a small print fetish sect.
"That doesn't make me sad," she says. "That makes me excited. The quality of music writing, whether it's long-form, reporting, or reviews is as good as print, and there's more of it by far. On that level, we're in a renaissance.
"And young people think in multimedia forms, which online content serves."
Gross admits he has mixed feelings on print deserving to survive and expects the panel, held today at the Convention Center's Room 17B, 12:30pm, to be nothing less than a "bloodsport."
"I'm a contrarian, so I'll argue for both sides, but I'm going to put a stop to any nostalgic weepiness," he asserts. "That's counterproductive. Useless. It's pathetic because it's not based in realism."
Friends Through Funk
Tuxedo, the smooth funk odd couple of yacht-pop vocalist Mayer Hawthorne and G-Unit beatmaker Jake One, launch their live spectacle at SXSW. Tonight's Stones Throw Records showcase at Empire Garage represents the first road show for their live band recreating the dance floor boogie of the duo's debut LP.
"The whole reason Jake and I became friends in the first place was because we realized we were both super boogie funk nerds," explains Hawthorne. "We've been into these obscure, early-Eighties records long before we started this project – things like Jerry Knight, Bobby Broome, and the Ritchie Family."
Tuxedo's been gestating since 2008. In the interim, Hawthorne poached a couple tracks, "Henny & Gingerale" and "Designer Drug," for his solo albums. Jake One admits the popularity of Daft Punk's similar single "Get Lucky" was a kick in the ass to finish their album. While that megahit as well as 2015 chart-topper "Uptown Funk" drink from the same fountain as Tuxedo, Hawthorne and Jake tweak theirs with a Nineties West Coast hip-hop twist.
"I've never made anything in my career that I felt good about playing in a club setting, so this is a whole new experience for me," offers Jake One. "We put the couple dancing on the cover because that's the primary objective with the entire project."
Hawthorne agrees: "My solo records are definitely more introspective. This Tuxedo album is strictly about dancing and having a good time."
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck re-screens tonight, 6:45pm, at the Marchesa Theatre (6226 Middle Fiskville). The documentary, directed by Brett Morgen and executive produced by the late icon's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, offers an enlightening look at the late Nirvana frontman through exclusive home movie footage and interviews with his family and confidants. Meanwhile, local gallery Modern Rocks (916 Springdale), owned by former Modern English guitarist Steven Walker, currently displays and sells a collection of outtakes from a 1991 Nirvana photo shoot in which Austin photographer Kirk Weddle shot the band underwater with their instruments.
MTVU's Woodie Awards, SXSW's beacon for the spring break crowd, tapes tonight at 8pm at 305 S. Congress. Short-shorts fanatic Jack Antonoff, of Fun and Bleachers fame, multitasks by hosting and lending guitar skills to select performances. Expect live doses from electro pop Brits Years and Years and rappers Big Sean, Action Bronson, and Rae Sremmurd. Presenters include Wiz Khalifa, Zoë Kravitz, Tove Lo, Marina & the Diamonds, and Instragram celeb the Fat Jew. Fall Out Boy, honored with the inaugural induction into the "Hall of Wood," also performs.
SXSW's annual Music Gear Expo began yesterday. The epic trade show boosts this year with the new Synth Space, showcasing innovations for the knob-turning, key-pushing crowd. You also have the opportunity to be the most annoying person in the room by plugging into the StompBox Exhibit, hundreds of effects pedals available for your testing pleasure. The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus will also be on-site for tours and gear giveaways. Convention Center Exhibit Hall 5, 11am-6pm.
The Conference's final Demo Listening Session runs today at Room 10C of the Convention Center. At times excruciatingly awkward, at times insightful, these open meetings give artists an opportunity to press play for a panel of demo-weathered experts, including A&R reps from Island and Lava Records. Eager to get your tunes judged, send streaming links to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring a CD with you. Personally, I just go for laughs.