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South By Southwest Music Preview


Let's talk music now. Actually, it's a lot more than music. It's also a showcase for film and tech. We're talking about South by Southwest, a festival held every year in Austin, Texas, during the month of March. This year marks the 30th year for South by Southwest. Unfortunately, this year somehow our invitation got lost. So our colleague from NPR Music Stephen Thompson is here to tell us more about the music part of the festival and share some songs with us. Welcome Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, tell us a little bit about the history of the festival. How did it originally start, and how has it grown all these years?

THOMPSON: I mean, I think it originally began the way a lot of, like, local gatherings - you know, like towns will try to pull together a showcase of a everything that the city has to offer, whether it's like a restaurant week or whatever. And I think it basically started that way, as almost like a regional gathering. Austin has a big and robust and lively music scene. And it was a way of showing that off to the world. And over time, it became more and more of a spring break destination. And it eventually became what is now, which is just - you know, it's a music festival that takes over an entire city. And they kind of overlay Mardi Gras on top of that (laughter). And so it can be - like, it's very logistically overwhelming. And it's a lot of things to a lot of people.

MARTIN: So I know that you compiled your list of 100 songs and artists to look out for. So let's start with The Seratones.

THOMPSON: Yeah, Seratones are really, really fun, band from Shreveport, La., comes with this incredible amount of bluesy, kind of hard-rocking energy with this incredibly charismatic front-woman. Let's hear a little bit of this song. It's just this two- minute perfect rock song called "Necromancer."


THE SERATONES: (Singing) Hey me, I'm on the edge of a blade. I'm just a chicken, chicken, darling, you've got it made. Tell me, babe, are you a necromancer? I saw you dancing at the (unintelligible). I think oh, you'll be mine and tell me, what's your answer? Will you go or will you come instead?

THOMPSON: You can just hear and feel the swagger on stage. You can feel sweat being flung from that band. It's just a terrific, terrific song and a band that I can't wait to see, like, a full-blown live show.

MARTIN: Oh hey, that's awesome. So what about Adia Victoria?

THOMPSON: Adia Victoria I first heard - she had this song called "Stuck In The South." It was just this very swampy mysterious kind of slow-burning song. And I was really intrigued by her. Now she's got an album coming out I believe in May called "Beyond The Bloodhounds." It's a little bluesier and a little heavier but still retains that mystery to it. This song is called that "Dead Eyes."


ADIA VICTORIA: (Singing) Shouldn't be looking at me acting all surprised. Yeah, you asked me a question. I'll tell you a lie. And now he's looking at me right dead in the eyes. He said I'm dead in the eyes.

MARTIN: That's wild.


MARTIN: It's wild. And you know what's so funny is, like, the buoyancy, the tune kind of as a contrast to what she's saying.


MARTIN: It's kind of wild, yeah.

THOMPSON: And the way in which she's saying is kind of slurred out, so you're still trying to parse phrases here and there. So on the surface, it's just a cool bluesy rock song. But there's still more going on underneath.

MARTIN: And finally, I think you have Anderson .Paak?

THOMPSON: Yes. Anderson .Paak is about to be a gigantic star. He was on Dr. Dre's "Compton" collection and - on several tracks and was given a lot of kind of high-profile appearances on that, which is one way you can kind of tell that somebody's about to get a big, big push. He's got this record coming out called "Malibu." And it's a hip-hop record with enormous amounts of soul and depth and storytelling to it. This particular track, you know, in a short snip we're not going to be able to get through everything that's going on in this sprawling song. But it's a song called "The Season - Carry Me."


ANDERSON .PAAK: (Singing) Six years old I try my first pair of Jordans on. Mama, can you carry me? It was late in the fall. I caught a glimpse of my first love, my God. Mama, can you carry me? Knees hit the floor, screams to the Lord. Why'd they have to take my mom? Mama, carry me to the early morning.

MARTIN: Now, he interests me because he's actually been performing for a while as a professional musician. But he's had different identities, right?


MARTIN: Different identities in that time. Tell us a little about that.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And I think he's somebody who has been really working hard to find his voice and find his craft and work with - work enough different people. I mean, anytime you're collaborating, you're going to come out of that with new fresh ideas. And you can really feel when you listen to that record, that "Malibu" record, you hear somebody who' pretty close to where he's been trying to get to.

MARTIN: That's really interesting. So - this leads me to ask you how do you attack a festival like that, especially if you're going for the first time and you're just lucky enough to get to go? What would you do? How would you approach something like this, as massive as this is?

THOMPSON: I mean, one thing I would do is listen to the gatekeepers. I mean, take, for example, The Austin100 - that's a list of artists to check out. And as you're going through the calendars, that's one way to go about it. But if you're truly walking in there blind, make a friend. You run into a group of people and start to form a throng and then go where that throng takes you. I've discovered some of my favorite music that I've discovered at that amazing festival has come from oh, this new friend that I've known for two hours likes this or wants to check this out. And then all of a sudden, you're led into something that you didn't already know, which is part of the appeal of this thing. You want to come out of that festival with something you had never heard of going in no matter how much you prepared.

MARTIN: That's NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. He was visiting with us before heading off to the 30th annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Stephen Thompson, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)