Reviewing South By Southwest

Mar 17, 2013
Originally published on March 17, 2013 7:48 pm
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This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.


KAREN O: Yeah, Austin!


LYDEN: Not just any music. You're listening to part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' performance at the South by Southwest Music Festival this past week. And they were just one of the many bands on our stage, curated by NPR Music. And of course, the wizard of NPR Music, Bob Boilen, has recovered just enough to join us and take it all in.


LYDEN: Hey, Bob, the party's over. It's time to come home.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Oh, my. And my voice is an octave deeper than when I got here.

LYDEN: Well, it sounds like it's been an absolutely great time. Tell us about the music on the NPR stage. You had some fantastic acts.

BOILEN: Well, the opening act was Nick Cave, an artist who is probably 55-ish years old, been doing it for 30 more years, an artist who many of these people have never seen before, probably not even conceived at the beginning of his career. It's amazing to see him and Karen O - of Yeah Yeah Yeahs - and the singer for Cafe Tacvba having such a command of the stage. You are drawn into the music because these people are true performers. The music's amazing. And there's a lot of amazing music here, but not everybody understands how to take command of an audience. And that's what was so beautiful about that evening.


NICK CAVE: (Singing) Well, now whispering his name to this disappearing land. But hidden in his coat, red right hand...

LYDEN: So Bob - you know, one of the things that I think all of us who have to remain behind love about this, is listening to you discover acts that are new to you and getting blown away. And I know that happened to you a couple of times. There was a band from Helsinki, Finland, that you've been talking about.

BOILEN: Unbelievable. This group called K-X-P - I walked into this club I've never walked into before; and this driving, pulsing rhythm - repetitive, trance-inducing - was just happening on the floor.


LYDEN: Everybody here is dancing, by the way.


BOILEN: And you can't help but do that. They have a - first of all, a lot of electronic music is often pulsating, but it often has a drum machine, something that doesn't move me in the way that a real drummer does. And this drummer was fabulous. And so the pulse has a lot of variety to it. Even though it is repetitive in the rhythm itself, he's playing things sometimes against that pulsating rhythm, and it makes it more interesting, more depth to it.

They played that little bit that we're hearing. They played that for about 20 minutes - slowing it down, breaking it apart, bringing it back up. That's just an adventure, when you hear stuff like this.


LYDEN: Well, that's some Nordic cool. That's the band K-X-P, and that song is called "Melody." Bob, there's another band that you loved, called Savages.

BOILEN: Yeah. This is a band of four women. This is music that is nothing but bare bones. There is nothing that happens in this music that is frill. There are no splashes of cymbals, no drum rolls. Everything in this music is just the skeleton. There is nothing else. Give a listen.


SAVAGES: (Singing) Whoa, I woke up and I saw the face of a guy. I don't know who he was, he had no eyes. His presence made me feel elated. His presence made me feel all elated...

BOILEN: I heard music like this - Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang of Four - back in '78, but I didn't think that music would last and that we would be, 30 years on, not only talking about this music but making music like it still. There is something so beautiful about music when it only has its essentials. And Savages is all about that.


SAVAGES: (Singing) My house, my bed, my husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands...

LYDEN: You know, I can't help but think that they're channeling the soul of Chrissie Hynde, Bob. That's Savages, with the song "Husbands." And I'm speaking with NPR Music's Bob Boilen about the South by Southwest Conference, which has finally had to come to an end. Bob, you already knew about this next band before you went down because one of the great pleasures here are the Tiny Desk concerts that NPR Music performs for all of us. This band is called Lucius.


LUCIUS: (Singing) Ah, she felt comatose waiting for this thing to grow. Ah, she's impatient 'cause she wants it now and so it shows...

BOILEN: Lucius makes a sweet and dark music at the same time. And what's so cool - it's two women. They met at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, and they almost sound like sibling harmonies; that sort of thing where two voices become one. I love that about this band. And then behind them, they have a very tasty three-piece - bass, drums and guitar. It all blends so well together.


LUCIUS: (Singing) She's looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Turn it around, turn it around. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

LYDEN: So that's a band called Lucius. All right, Bob, we have time for one more before you have to have one last coffee - to recover from the brew - and come on back to Washington, D.C. And you're going to leave us with a band that came to Austin all the way from West Africa.

BOILEN: Isn't it amazing? I think that's the thing about this festival - you can take in the wide scope and variety, and that's what's so beautiful. People come to see Terakaft. It was at a psych music festival - psychedelic music festival - and listen to them. I've said the word trance-inducing before. Another way at it is with this guitar.


BOILEN: You can hear in that guitar, it doesn't have the sort of core changes you would think of in a normal rock song. It stays straight and flat, in a way. It's hypnotic. And the connection between listening to this, and listening to blues music - but this is from Mali, Saharan desert. It's amazing to hear musically how cultures find the same voice.

When these kinds of bands play in rock clubs, they completely connect with the audience, even though it comes from another world and another time. I love seeing the looks on people's faces when they hear something like this. And you're seeing these people playing fender guitars while they're in these long robes and headdress but yet, it's so familiar - and it's so foreign at the same time. And that's what happens when you walk into any club here at South by Southwest; the sense of discovery, what is next? It keeps me going or otherwise, I'd collapse. I'd fall asleep.


BOILEN: But the moment I wake up every morning - and I've only had three hours of sleep - I know that I'm going to see that first group. And once I see it, I'm off and running. And it's been that way all week; and it's been a fabulous, fabulous week.

LYDEN: Well, Bob, it was really a kick to listen to this Malian band, Terakaft, and you gave us a really nice picture there. And that song is called "Tirera." I wish you didn't have to come home, but I think you need to recover. And then next year, I think I need to carry your suitcase.

BOILEN: (LAUGHTER) I'll pack you.

LYDEN: Yeah, do that. Bob Boilen - he hosts ALL SONGS CONSIDERED for NPR Music. And you can find the full concerts, photos, and so much more from this year's South by Southwest Festival, at for all of us who couldn't go. Bob Boilen, thank you so much.

BOILEN: My pleasure. Take care, Jacki.


LYDEN: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. Click on programs and scroll down; or look @nprjackilyden on Twitter. We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening. Have a great St. Patrick's Day and a great week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERAKAFT SONG, "TIRERA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.