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I don’t know maybe it’s the sunscorch or the week of sleep deprivation, or the extra Shiner or the brisket mellow speaking, but I’m walking out of SXSW feeling pretty damn good about music, and even the music business.

JEFF LEVEN'S SXSW WRAP UP:
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE

A Final Austin Dispatch, With Music Docs, Thrash-Rocking Teens, Amanda Palmer, Beer
Over my years of attending SXSW I've tried to keep my radar geared for the subtle shifts in climate that might mean something. And if this year’s micro-hints at trends are to be believed, it’s fair to say it was a healthy and encouraging year.  While the obvious goal of layering a film conference, an interactive conference and a music conference on each other is to create moments of convergence and cross-pollination (aside from just more completely draining the Lone Star state), it feels like we’re approaching a moment where the experiential quotient of how music is presented may well make a quantum leap. 

For starters, I think it’s fair to say that we’re experiencing a renaissance in music-oriented documentaries.  While the works of D.A. Pennebaker, Julien Temple and others still stand out in the canon, on a day-to-day level, seemingly more documentaries are being made independently by and/or about artists, and good ones, too. 

While the Sound City project was the week’s most visible multi-format experience, there were numerous others. Green Day was performing in support of not one, but two documentaries (one about the band’s recent albums and the other, Broadway Idiot, about the making of the musical), while artists such as Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion) and Stevie Nicks also had docs running about their new projects. Thirty Seconds to Mars' Jared Leto hosted a showing of his documentary about the band, Artifact, winner of an Audience Award at the recent Gotham Independent Film Festival and a People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. While “bonus content” has been part of the music marketing toolkit since early in the CD era, I think we’re approaching a place where documentary video footage, writings, expanded and enhanced visual art, hypertext links and other forms of multi-format integration won’t just be bonus content or ancillary content but a primary form of content in their own right. 

As artists like the M/O/D collective and Amanda Palmer demonstrated this week, there are ways to make the show experience expansive and inclusive as well.  While the production limitations of SXSW stages sometimes get in the way of more robust presentations (unless you’re Prince!!!!), artist curation in showcase form continues to be on the rise.  This year, it felt like a lot of the lineups held together well aesthetically, whether it was the Roxy’s slink-pop takeover of Empire Automotive or Burger Records’ trash-pop extravaganza at Hotel Vegas (which was absolutely brimming with a very young crowd partying very, authentically hard). 

Some bands also stuck out by keeping it simple. At the more exhausting latter reaches of Friday night, I joined BMG’s Jon Granat to see Clutch (who, along with the newly signed Metz, make up a deliciously noisy wing of his roster).  In a sea of carefully deconstructed hipster-scene-wear, there was something utterly refreshing about seeing the big, round guy-next-door dudes in Clutch just crank out heavy riffs with poise and intent.  Or, on a related but different part of the spectrum, seeing the wiry, early-teen brothers in Radkey shred through Bad Brains-inspired tears that made their part of Kansas seem a lot like a San Pedro half-pipe.  Meanwhile, actual California denizens the Lovely Bad Things played a slashing afternoon set on Saturday, followed by the horribly named but actually pretty amazing Diarrhea Planet, proving that great music can still come in cracked packages. 

While this year was peppered with celebrities, somehow it didn’t seem to overwhelm the larger picture.  As cool as it is to see Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan or Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic pass you on the street, the kids were alright too a great deal of street chatter was about entirely new artists like Chance the Rapper, Peace, Bear Mountain and the year’s seeming consensus standout the 1975 (and, judging by the set I saw, which was their 12th and final no less, the buzz was absolutely merited).  The fact that Usher can join the Afghan Whigs and there’s still a packed-out house to see Savages shows how the huge size of the thing has started to just let everything find a lane. 

And moreover, there are still true fans. Standing next to BaronessJohn Baizley after a truly heartwarming return set at the North Door, it was deeply moving to see people come up to wish him well, talk about their prayers for the band upon hearing about the crash and thank him sincerely for the naked and powerful set of songs he had just played.  There’s room to play Townes Van Zandt covers solo for metal fans and still have the human experience of it all get across it might take tremendous talent, but we’ve still somehow created a platform where that can happen, in ways big and small, across a week and a thousand shows. 

So, I don’t know maybe it’s the sunscorch or the week of sleep deprivation, or the extra Shiner or the brisket mellow speaking, but I’m walking out of SXSW feeling pretty damn good about music, and even the music business.  There’s so much firing on so many cylinders in Austin, and sometimes it truly does rise to the level of giving you reasons to believe.   

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