AUSTIN—Following keynoter Bob Geldof’s rousing call to arms, much of the rest of day three at the South by Southwest Music Conference couldn’t help but seem anticlimactic, with one very notable exception.
Other stops on Thursday’s panel agenda included a session entitled “Serving Up Music News: Fresh, Reheated or All-You-Can-Eat?,” wherein some of the country’s biggest music news gatekeepers—Warren Cohen of VH1, Nathan Brackett of Rolling Stone, Benjamin Wagner of MTV News, and Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork Media—talked about how they approach the job of directing their platform’s news sections, with a special emphasis on the Net.
All agreed that the Internet is a voracious beast that demands to be fed constantly and instantaneously, whether it be for “news” of the new Britney Spears album or updates on the Dismemberment Plan reunion. There was much discussion of following metrics and whether or not to chase the subjects that get the most hits; of fleshing out Internet rumors with some shred of original content from primary sources, and of reporting the stories you can cover firsthand with your “limited” resources (which include a news staff of more than 40 for MTV) and just linking to the rest (hopefully acknowledging the reporter who did do some actual reporting on the other end).
And where does investigative reporting on any of the hugely important music stories of the moment—Net neutrality, the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, radio consolidation, the RIAA’s relentless battle against its own consumers—fall in the realm of things in this brave new digital world?
Um, it doesn’t, all of these editors said. The resources just aren’t there for that kind of thing.
Well, boys, let me tell you: There aren’t many resources required to cover the panel on Ticketmaster/Live Nation at 11 a.m. Friday. All it takes is the commitment to get out of bed on time or skip a free breakfast somewhere. Will any of you be there?
Just as disheartening, though vastly more entertaining, was a panel called “I’m Not Old, Your Music Does Suck,” which found some dedicated but grumpy elder statesmen of the rock journalism game bemoaning the dearth on the current scene of the sort of truly inspiring music that Geldof had talked about earlier in the day.
Legendary first-generation rock critic Ed Ward, who largely has stopped writing about new music but who continues to do great historical pieces for “Fresh Air,” maintained that nostalgia is the mortal enemy of all great art. But he also claimed, “We are leaving through a really long 1973”—that is, a period of stultifying cultural malaise.
“Everybody is writing about me, me, me, me, and there’s not enough about us,” Ward added.
Along with a lot of Pitchfork-bashing—one big gripe: the hugely influential blog takes itself too seriously and has no sense of humor while parsing the inscrutable line between a rating of 8.4 and 8.5—Daily Variety writer Chris Morris echoed the complaint that rather than unifying the culture, the Net is slicing and dicing it into ever smaller and more isolated segments. Here, he quoted rock-critic saint Lester Bangs from his famous obituary of Elvis Presley: “I guarantee you one thing: WE WILL NEVER AGAIN AGREE ON ANYTHING AS WE AGREED ON ELVIS. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.”
Despite what some comments on this blog contend, I have nowhere near the degree of pessimism shown by both of these respected colleagues. And I just wish I could have dragged Morris, Ward, Lester’s ghost, and anyone else with similar doubts to the best band I saw on Thursday night, which also was one of the best bands I’ve seen anywhere in a very long time.
Teri Gender Bender, a.k.a. Teresa Suaréz, formed Les Butcherettes as an all-girl garage-punk band in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2007 and released one EP the following year. Now completed by drummer Gabe Serbian and bassist Jonathan Hischke, the group is preparing to release its first full album, “Sin Sin Sin,” in May on the label started by Omar Rodríguez-López of the Mars Volta, who also produced the disc.
Gender Bender hardly needs that connection, though, as she has more than enough star power of her own. Dressing in ’50s housewife attire as desecrated by a riot grrl, she alternately hammers away on keyboard and guitar while wailing with a throaty, soulful roar that recalls Polly Jean Harvey at her most powerful. She spent as much time running through the crowd or surfing atop its upstretched arms as she spent onstage at the Flamingo Cantina amid the bluesy, chaotic swirl of the band’s arty punk sounds, and while her lyrics rarely directly addressed the topics, it was impossible to mistake her fury at the state of relations between Mexico and America, or between men and women anywhere.
“You take my dress off/Yes, you take my dress off/You take my pretty dress off,” the singer roared during “Dress Off,” a breathtakingly intense number that featured just drums and vocals, delivered in a manner that made it seem as if all the confused and confusing arguments of the post-feminist era had been dissected, dismissed, and rewritten in the span of those few simple words.
Nothing else I heard from any other band Thursday night came within 100 miles of the border of being that brilliant, and I can only hope to be so lucky as to get anywhere close through the rest of the festival.
Teri Gender Bender photo up top: myspace.com/Dan Wilton.
Gender Bender in action, shouting from the back bleachers to the stage across the room.