Archive for the 'Hype machine' Category

SXSW wrap

To try to get a grasp on what SXSW was like this year, I asked a few attendees how they felt about the week.

Matt Solomon – drummer for the Brooklyn band Darlings

Over the past year, The Darlings have been written up in a number of eye-catching publications, including L Magazine and The New York Times.

There were more bands at SXSW this year than ever before. What did you think? Was it too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity?

SXSW is absolutely overwhelming–both as a musician playing multiple shows and as a show-goer. But in a good way, I think. It was my first
trip down to Austin and I had no real expectations. I was thinking, maybe sorta like CMJ but bigger, and in Texas. But they are nothing alike.

At SXSW there are literally thousands of bands playing everyday, mostly within walking distance from one another. It’s madness. If you’re trying to see a bunch of bands, you have to have realistic expectations. To see a really big show (like I dunno, the Hole reunion or the big blog showcases) you need to plan your whole day around it. Because you will wait in line for a long time. I didn’t want to do that (or see Hole) so I mostly stuck to smaller bands and venues. I also spent a lot of time just walking around, stopping into random bars if it sounded cool from the street. Most of the bands playing come to NYC often enough, if they’re not FROM here, but it’s still cool to see them play for free in a room much smaller than they’d normally play. That being said, I saw Broken Social Scene by accident. That definitely wouldn’t happen at CMJ or anywhere else. But to answer one of your questions simply: there were a million good bands and a million bad bands. That will always be the case. Because of the overwhelming scale, you just have to make a slightly greater effort to seek out the shows worth seeing.

How was your experience as a musician?

Playing SXSW was an interesting experience. My band played four shows, three of which were pretty demoralizing. We played at a bar, an auto-repair shop, a tattoo parlor and a thrift store. For some of the smaller shows there simply wasn’t a big enough crowd to fill the venues, and that’s to be expected. The buzz bands get the crowds, and the remaining 97% have to rely on free beer to entice the passersby. My band is not really riding a wave of indie-hype (our album got a good review from The New York Times and Spin, but nothing from Pitchfork–the real paper of record for the indie set), and most of our shows didn’t have free beer. So there you go.

What were your favorite shows/bands? Were they new to you or ones you already knew you liked?

Thee Oh Sees/Woods/The Fresh and Onlys/others @ the Impose Magazine showcase at the Longbranch Inn on Thursday
Thee Oh Sees/JEFF the Brotherhood/YellowFever/lots of others @ the Panache showcase at the Mohawk on Saturday


I’d already seen all of these bands except for the Fresh and Onlys

and of the shows we played: Darlings/JEFF the Brotherhood/Turbo Fruits/Grooms/Sisters/Tony Castles/The Beets @ the Famous Class/Impose showcase at the Longbranch Inn on Wednesday


Dominick Mastrangelo – photographer for Brooklyn Vegan and Stereogum

On Saturday alone, Dominick saw 18 artists perform. Here’s what he had to say about the festival:

What were some of your favorite shows/bands? (Feel free to list both new and ones you already knew).

The biggest surprise for me was Fitz & The Tantrums. I had heard their name once and stumbled upon them at the KCRW Showcase which was running way behind (I was actually there for Miike Snow.)

I saw The Antlers twice in less than 24 hours. Which makes it four times in less than six weeks. Their live show is something else.

Standard Fare from England were great and definitely one of my favorite bands right now.

The Middle East I was excited to see and I caught them twice in less than 24 hours, too. Their live show is phenomenal.

Sharon Van Etten was heartachingly beautiful. Best Coast were excellent. The Black Keys blew me away and Broken Bells were surprisingly tight for only being a full band for a couple of months.

Fanfarlo, Band Of Horses, Miss Li, You Say Party! We Say Die! were all highlights as well.

So many more I’m forgetting right now.

Given the sheer number of bands at SXSW this year (more than ever before), did you think it was too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity or is more always better?

It was definitely way too much to take in. That was the meme among my photog and writer friends down there. I kept saying that I wish I could clone myself. I did the next best thing and saw 18 bands on the last day.

Everyone I saw were excellent musicians. Sometimes the music didn’t grab me or the performances were unimpressive but I don’t think it was for lack of musicianship. There were a lot of talented people down there.

How were things for you as a photographer? Do you think it affected your perception of the week?

I was surprised at how easy it was to get in to shows and move around. People were accommodating if you squeezed in to try and get a shot (I always try and be as nice as possible when winding my way to the front.) It’s not like that at CMJ.

As a photographer you never enjoy it as much as you would if you were just hanging out watching the show, drink in hand. That said, I made sure I tried to take at least a couple songs to just watch the show and not make a picture. It’s hard though. It was my first SXSW but I knew from covering CMJ kind of how it would be. It was fun to be there and be a part of documenting it all. Or as much as my uncloned self could get to.

*Be sure to check out Brooklyn Vegan for photos and a taste of the madness.

Robin Hilton – NPR Music producer, host of Second Stage

Robin is actually paid to be an expert on music. Here’s his take on this year’s SXSW:

What were some of your favorite shows/bands?

The Bewitched Hands On The Top Of Our Heads, Sharon Van Etten, Malachai (duo from Bristol England), Villagers, mini mansions, Admiral Radley, Sleigh Bells, Smith Westerns, Broken Bells, Spoon, Local Natives.

Given the sheer number of bands at SXSW this year (more than ever before), did you think it was too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity or is more always better?

It’s always too much to take in. But SXSW isn’t about an evening’s worth or afternoon’s worth of entertainment; it’s about discovery. It’s amazing and wonderful to be able to bounce from venue to venue, all day and all night, and find something new at every stop.

How were things for you as a radio guy/producer (as opposed to say as a regular attendee)?

Well… being a producer got me a badge which got me into more shows more easily, so I suppose I could see more in a shorter period of time. Can’t really think of anything special about my job… just that I had to take notes and be ready to talk about everything at 3 in the morning. SXSW is for music lovers so I guess that’s all I had to be.

Thanks to all those who participated in the survey. I’ll be checking out the recommended bands in the next couple of days, and I suggest that you do, too!

SXSW winding down

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at my concert calendar and was surprised to see this entire week and weekend nearly blank – then I realized that everyone would be in Austin. Yep, SXSW has been happening the last few days, and once again, I find myself thousands of miles away from the action.

If you, like me find yourself a little bit out of the loop, here are some fun sources for everything SXSW:

NPR Music – For photos, short video clips of bands, streaming music, and increasingly loopy late-night podcasts from the music team to re-cap the action.

Paste Magazine – For lengthier articles and YouTube videos.

Brooklyn Vegan – For posts, pretty pictures, and interviews.

Coming soon… a look at some of the buzz-worthy bands and more.

Cozy up to Real Estate

Despite the difficulty posed by trying to google a band name as ambiguous as “Real Estate,” things have already started to pick up for this young group. In addition to being labeled “best new music” by Pitchfork in November, they were recently featured on both WNYC and NPR, and they’ve been playing at increasingly larger venues – including a packed Brooklyn Bowl on January 5th.

Front man Martin Courtney, bassist Alex Bleeker, and guitarist Matthew Mondanile have been playing music together since high school (drummer Etienne Pierre Duguay came later to round out the four-piece). Given the group’s shared history, their lovely nostaligia-laced sound makes a lot of sense.

Take a listen to “Beach Comber”

When writing album reviews or band blurbs, it is all too tempting to begin the piece with a cliche, joke, or pun, and things are no different with Real Estate. I’m very tempted to call attention to the group’s origins of the suburbs of New Jersey. After all,  their debut album has song titles like “Beach Comber,” “Suburban Dogs,” “Atlantic City,” “Suburban Beverage,” and “Lets Rock the Beach.”  But there is definitely more to this group than their not-so-hip origins.

Real Estate playing at the beach Photo: Colin O'Neill

What follows is a Q & A session with Real Estate singer Martin Courtney. I think it sheds some light on the band’s motivation and inspiration.

Sonic Smörgåsbord: You’ve been involved with a number of musical projects over the years. Now things are heating up. Do you think you’ve found the right mix with Real Estate?
Martin Courtney: Real Estate is in a lot of ways a collaborative project, that’s part of the nature of the band, but it’s also an outlet for the songs that I write.  Alex has another band that I play in called Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, where he writes all of the songs, Matt has a solo project called Ducktails, and Etienne is involved in a few bands in Brooklyn.  However, I think we are all focusing on Real Estate in terms of putting the most time into it because it seems to have caught on and we all feel like we can play a creative role in it.

SS: Why choose to focus on that locale so much for your album?

MC: It wasn’t really a choice to focus on NJ.  It’s just where I’m from, so it ends up coming out in the music and lyrics.

SS: Do you think you’ll stay in Jersey or jump on the bandwagon and move to Brooklyn?
MC: As of right now, Alex and Matt are living in the suburbs where we’re from, I’m living in Jersey City, and Etienne is living in Brooklyn at the market hotel.  Personally, I don’t think I’ll be moving to Brooklyn any time soon.  We have lots of friends there, but it’s just more expensive and I like where I am a lot.  It’s just as convenient to Manhattan, not very far to BK at all, cheaper, and I still get to rep NJ.  It’s not like we’re making a choice to not move to NYC though, I’d love to if I had the money, but I’m perfectly happy in NJ.  I think way more young people would be moving to Jersey City instead of Brooklyn if not for the stigma that Jersey carries for whatever reason.

SS: Do your lyrics come from personal experience? Did you spend a lot of time at the beach growing up?
MC: Most of the lyrics come from personal experience, but not all.  Definitely spent no more time at the beach than anyone else growing up.  The beach stuff was just an aesthetic choice that we made at the time those songs were being written (summer of 2008).

SS: Beach-inspired music seems to be big this year (Wavves, Beach Fossils, Beach House, The Drums, The Darlings, etc.). Why do you think that is?

MC: Not really sure.  Seems like maybe it was a coincidence.  We are definitely looking to separate ourselves from that pack.  I’d rather not have the band be associated with one specific season or locale.

SS: To me, your music seems to express both a sense of carefreeness and a sense of longing for something else. Would you say that is an accurate assessment? Is this a nostalgic album? Your EP was titled ‘Reality.’ How do you balance nostalgia and reality?

MC: Many of the songs on the record have a nostalgic feel to them because they were written at kind of a nostalgic time.  Summer after college, moving home, seeing old friends, seeing your old town in a new way, not knowing what to do next (that’s the reality part).
We actually called the EP reality because we thought it sounded funny (Real Estate – Reality) and because our van is named Reality.

SS: What has it been like to collaborate with people you’ve known so long?
MC: It’s great, we’re all really familiar with each other’s musical styles in a kind of subtle way.  It’s easy for us to jam together and come up with things that we wouldn’t be able to separately.  It’s fun to get to travel and create music with your oldest and best friends.

SS: Do you have any favorite stories from adolescence?
MC: Matt, Bleeker and I used to be in a band together called Hey There Sexy.  We sounded like shitty interpol, but we started playing together about a month before we heard interpol.  Then one day Matt bought the interpol EP at rocks in your head (RIP) and we listened to it and were bummed because we knew they were going to take our highly innovative sound and blow up with it.
They may be hard to Google (and typing in “Real Estate New Jersey” certainly doesn’t help matters), but this four-piece is definitely worth checking out.

Hype Machines and Taste Makers

A mere 15 years ago,  discovering new music was a much more labor-intensive process. You’d have to turn on the radio or the tv (back when they still played music videos on MTV) or actually go to a record store to see what was new on the music scene. Sure, the popularity of certain bands or artists came in waves and they could certainly swell up, but back then, it was a different beast.

With the advent of the internet and MP3’s, the dynamics have certainly changed… especially in the ‘indie’ rock world, which I gravitate towards. Long gone are the days of turning on the radio and discovering new music. (1) Today, the avid music consumer has at his or her fingertips a wide body of opinions and whims thanks to the Internet. Anyone can start a blog and start proselytizing. (2) Still though, there are taste makers. We may have graduated from the days of listening to local radio stations, but sites like Pitchfork have become a new force to reckon with. Whether you read it religiously or the very name causes your skin to crawl, you can’t deny the power that it wields. Little-known bands can suddenly gain widespread exposure when they make the cut for ‘best new music.’ Pitchfork has been credited as launching the careers of such bands as Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and more.

pitchfork photo

In an interview on the (great) site Tiny Mix Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah member Lee Sargent discussed the impact of Pitchfork’s influence on their album Funeral, saying:

Well, first of all we didn’t think Pitchfork would ever review our record because we’re not on a label. I don’t read Pitchfork much these days because I don’t have any money. So if there’s, like, a record I want to buy I’ll have to buy it and then I’ll be in debt again. Um, so I don’t really read it much. But I’m fully aware of how influential it is and I’m fully aware of what they do for a lot of bands […]

We always knew that this band was going to be successful eventually. We didn’t know how long it would take. You hear about really awesome bands like, “paying their dues” for three years and not getting noticed. So that was always a possibility. But, the thing about a publication like Pitchfork is that they can decide when that happens. You know what I mean? They can say, “We’re going to speed up the process and this is going to happen…now!” And it was a kick in the pants for us, because we lost control of everything.

But… all that said, how much credit should we really give Pitchfork? Are their articles peer edited? Do they get paid or bribed by promoters or labels? Are the whims of the music industry really dictated by one individual’s opinion? How do you become a Pitchfork God anyway? How thoroughly do the reviewers imbibe the albums before they write the review?

Though many of these questions have been floating around in my consciousness for a while now, it was my friend Jeff who really called into question the advent of the music blog and the arbitrariness of the taste makers. Jeff and his roommate Paul are starting a music blog of their own. In it, various people (myself included) will contribute reviews of albums, with the stipulation that we must listen to the entire album ten times before we write the review. There will be no casual listening there. Will this dedication and attention clear away the preconceived notions and expectations thrust upon the music by these hype machines? We’ll see…

Until then, I thought I’d start a little thing of my own. Periodically, I will take the track or album highlighted in the ‘best new music’ section and review it, myself – right here in this blog. So stay tuned for my thoughts on the likes of The Drums, Wild Beasts, The xx, and more.


(1) Unless you count NPR music-related content as radio… but I for one typically stream that online or download the podcast.
(2) Though I will say that it is getting harder and harder to come up with a catchy original name for a blog since they’re all getting snatched up.

*See also:
– “Could This Be the World’s Most Hated Website?” An article that depicts the pro’s and con’s of Pitchfork.
– “David Cross: Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews” A humorous article/spoof by comedian David Cross.
– The message boards on last.fm about “Pitchfork Oversights”
– “Music Critics: Irreplaceable or Irrelevant?” a segment from WNYC’s show Soundcheck that features Douglas Wolk, a blogger and contributor to Pitchfork.