Category Archives: SXSW

SXSW 2014 Recap – Julia’s Journal

Julia Cummings is Director of Music Services at PlayNetwork. She oversees the team of Music Supervisors who design in-store playlists (as well as on-line, video syncs, and beyond). With a background in radio production (KEXP) and Music Supervision herself, Julia has created the soundtracks for iconic fashion brands from Anthropologie to MAC Cosmetics.

SXSW is a sensory assault. A mad maze of music, music, people, music, lines, late-night food truck visits, sketchy bathrooms, drunk meanderers, and spontaneous jams in the middle of 6th street. Surprises. Navigating blocks and kids banging on buckets and the strangest strangers to catch as many shows as possible or just sitting on a dirty curb because your feet are so sore you JUST NEED TO SIT.  Then there is the dancing, the swaying, and the all-out full body listening to live performances- one after the next.

Day 1:

Check-in. Meet Susie Brown, from Lively formerly of PlayNetwork, for dinner.  Then journey off Rainey St. near the food cart court. Kind of a cool night. Cool enough to wish I brought a jacket, but not too cold for a Northwesterner. Very glad I catch moody set of Icelandic electronic (?) singer-songwriter Ásgeir at Blackheart, the understated one-man band, Chet Faker, and the ever, forever suave Aloe Blacc at Clive Bar.  Really felt like all Soul. All night.

Day 2:

I hit Mellow Johnny’s in the afternoon and see the beautiful KEXP people and stunning Dum Dum Girls set that started off sleepy and ended expectedly rollicking.

Panel: “You Got Music, You Got Tech, Now Build Me Products”

Hit the Hype Hotel party and to catch an amazing set by Painted Palms. If you like their record you must see this band live! Then headed down to the FedEx showcase with the amazing creative team of Angelica and Tamara managing the event with Filter.

Damon Albarn rooftop magic. Indescribably perfect really.  Enough said.

In the deepening hours of the morning Kelis shuts it down, literally, at Clive Bar. Back-up singers and horns in full effect. Party. “Milkshake” mid-set was also a surprise. The sound guy pulls the plug amid a song called “A Capella,” which seemed staged at first as the singers took out their monitors and just kept singing, the horns quieting down… But they really had shut it down because it was getting so late!

Day 3: Lady Gaga keynote. This is when things get weird. Waiting in the cavernous auditorium. Lady Gaga was ethereal, all flour-dreadlocked with garbage bags so sheer she didn’t come out in any of my pictures. I think she is genuine even all wrapped-up in cellophane. At least she is trying to do something: inspiring young people to be inspired. It’s not about selfies, but self-love. After hearing her speak, I think that is a genuine aspiration.

Then it was show time for a panel I was asked to participate in! In-Store Retail Radio:
The discussion centered around the impact of in-store radio on customer’s shopping experiences and how this exposure can lead to fans for emerging artists. Key point: we may be in the B2B world, but artists and labels are our clients as well.

Lucius transformed the sterile convention center into a blissful uprising. Caught the end of Jungle’s set. This song basically stuck in my head for the rest of the week, if not month…. Saw  and although her voice was waning, she was still a firecracker steaming up the stage at Clive Bar. British singer Sam Smith (who had a shot to fame as the guest vocalist on Disclosure’s 2012 UK hit “Latch”- noting he was bartending 2 years ago…) sang a heartfelt, short set at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary- always a lovely venue for a final transcendental moment and another opportunity to rest one’s feet and rehydrate after trekking the blocks. Ended the night with a perfectly raucous and insanely fun show by my friends on Bar/None Records The Front Bottoms. Fun to end up in a pit of kids bouncing around, sweating, and singing along.

Day 4:

I catch Belle & Sebastian front man Stuart Murdoch talking about his new film, “God Help The Girl”, a musical he wrote and directed

Catch ANTI- band Saintseneca’s lovely Flatstock set. Stopped by the British Embassy Showcase and caught The Crookes then headed back to our FedEx showcase to see the end of Gardens & Villa and check in on the ass-kicking Creative Strategy team of Angelica & Tamara again. After dinner (ahem, one of the best lobster rolls ever!) at Garbo’s food truck and a sunset bat siting, I go back to the British Embassy to catch San Fermin, Temples, and stick around for the surprise that is Fat White Family. All great performances, all around. Closed out the night catching our Director of Music Strategy Sean Horton spin records at the Lively closing night event.

See you next year, you wily town you.


SXSW Interactive 2014 | Infographic

SXSW Interactive 2014 | Infographic

SXSW Interactive 2014 | Wearables, privacy, security hawks

Making An Impact At SXSW

With SXSW happening but once a year, flocks of musicians and bands make their trek to Austin, Texas for the one-off chance of making an impact on the thousands in attendance.  Once such act; La Vida Boheme who hails from Caracas, Venezuela made that impact at this year’s SXSW music festival two weeks ago.  Being dubbed as the next big thing in the Rock En Espanol movement with influences ranging from 80’s punk to Electronic Dance music, La Vida Boheme tore through their set at The Parish dressed all in white with blue and green paint splattered all over them.  Their latest release “Nuestra” on Nacional Records, received two Latin Grammy nominations for best rock album as well as one for best rock song for “Radio Capital”. Led by singer Henry D’Anthenay, these guys are making people take notice not only for their eclectic shows but also as a staying powerhouse in Latin music.  NPR Music put out their “Possibly Life-Changing Music Discoveries from SXSW 2012” and La Vida Boheme made that list with flying colors, no pun intended.


Alex Espinosa – Associate Music Supervisor

SXSW in Perspective – First Time Around

2011 was my first SXSW experience. Based on the reports from friends and artists I know that had attended, I never thought of SXSW as a festival that catered too deeply to electronic music or hip hop. Though there was a very obvious focus of blues, rock, folk and guitars in general (they were everywhere) this year’s SXSW boasted in an impressive line-up of quality underground electronic music and hip hop, including the likes of Richie Hawtin, Boys Noize, Diplo, James Blake, DJ Premier, Trentemoller, Mount Kimbie, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Marco Carola, Talib Kweli, Switch, Moby, Housemeister, Daedelus, Big Boi, Afrojack, Addison Groove, Skrillex, De La Soul, Starkey, MSTRKRFT, Spank Rock, Jamie xx, EPMD, Baths, Shabazz Palaces, Pharoahe Monch, Beats Antique, Eskmo and Gold Panda to name some standouts. Though it was a pleasure to see so many familiar artists, the real joy for me came from new discoveries like soul singer Charles Bradley, folk-rock singer Sharon Van Etten and electronic crooner Jamie Woon, all of whom delivered stunning sets.

Part of the charm, and sometimes annoyance, of SXSW was the rapid fire pace and sheer magnitude of the performances (89 stages featuring over 2,000 acts with an average set length of 30 minutes). In total, I was able to catch over 30 performances at the 2011 SXSW Festival. Here are a few of the most memorable performances I caught and why.

1. James Blake – Live at the Central Presbyterian Church

The combination of fatigue, the venue and the brilliant programming (James closed out the night at a gorgeous Church) made this a magical performance. The British producer/singer performed with a trio, which included Ben Assiter on drums & Rob McAndrews on guitar. They played most of the 2011 self-titled album, which sounded even better live.  What James is doing is truly original, emotive and innovative, which I really can’t say about any other artist at the moment.

2. Charles Bradley – Live at the Cedar Street Pavilion

As a Motown native, classic soul is simply part of my DNA. When I heard that Charles Bradley’s album was mixed at Daptone Records’ internationally revered “House of Soul” Studios, I knew that the dude had chops. What I didn’t know is just how incredibly well it would translate live. The second Charles hit the stage, he had the entire audience in the palm of his hand and he never let go. What I enjoyed most about his performance was there was no doubt in my mind that he lived the life that he sang about. Charles Bradley is the real deal.

3. Trentemoller – Live at La Zona Rosa

It’s been interesting watching Trentemoller evolve over the past decade. From house to techno to electro pop to downtempo to shoegaze, in many ways Trentemoller represents the backlash to the often stagnant world of electronic dance music. Trading in turntables for guitars and drum machines for a live drummer, the current six-piece, live incarnation offers a wide spectrum of analog sound, all of which is balanced beautifully with Andreas Trentemoller’s gifted sound design and arrangements. Much like his own music, the groups’ performance was dynamic and at times dark (think Radiohead meets Twin Peaks).

4. Jamie Woon – Live at ND

Though I’d heard a few of Jamie’s songs before, I really didn’t know what to expect. Much like James Blake and Trentemoller, Jamie Woon is an electronic music producer that understands the importance of the performance, which included an incredibly tight quartet assembled for the stage. A talented vocalist, Woon deftly surfs the line between soul and pop, without losing the inherent subtly that makes him such a unique talent. Musically, he offers shades of Massive Attack, Jamie Lidell and Tracey Chapman, the combined effect of which is a dark, atmospheric take on soul.

5. Datarock – Live at The Parish

Probably the most entertaining performance I witnessed at SXSW, this Norwegian quartet hit the stage adorned in matching Datarock tracksuits and grandma shades. You could tell from the first chord that they were seasoned musicians and performers, who had their routine down pat. The solos, breakdowns, dance moves and the inevitable crowd participation all brought their music to vivid, sweaty life. I was pleased to find their lesser known material to be even more infectious than hits like “Fa-Fa-Fa” and “Give It Up”.

6. Sharon Van Etten – Live at the Central Presbyterian Church

I was not at all familiar with Sharon Van Etten and had it not been for a co-worker, I would have missed this memorable performance. Sharon’s voice, songwriting and lyrical sensibilities made her a standout among the hundreds of singer/songwriters performing at SXSW this year. What was remarkable about this particular performance was her voice was so strained from excessive use, that she could barely utter a word between songs. It was like the only way she could communicate was through her music, which I found enduring and in some ways profound.

7. DJ Jazzy Jeff – DJ set at Red Bull Thre3style Stage

As a long time fan and DJ of hip hop, I have to give it up for Jazzy Jeff’s set at the SXSW. Like any good party rockin’ DJ, Jazzy Jeff played the hits going back to the 70s. What was remarkable about his set was just how much he was able to cram in without losing the crowd for second. The end product was a 45 minute homage to hip hop’s most inspiring moments. I will admit, seeing thousands gathered together in unison in what was the largest and most elaborate stage configuration I saw at SXSW was exhilarating. During the event, the crowd outside of the fenced-in area grew so large that they had to close the street!

Sean Horton – Director, Creative / Producer, Branded Music / Tech Advisor – PlayNetwork

SXSW in the Rearview Mirror

Emotional withdrawal is an interesting feeling.

Putting volumes of effort, preparation, energy and soul into a project and the people surrounding it, blazing through five intense days of music, meetings and media, and somehow managing to document it all, when it is all over leaves me with two distinct feelings… relief and reward. As our PlayNetwork teams decompress and recover from the mad revelry of SXSW, I find myself reflecting on one thought.

We rocked it!

At multiple points during the week, I looked around our venue and within arms length were PlayNetwork crew, team, clients, board of directors, industry partners, artists, labels and fans… all unifying around a music and cultural experience that we created and delivered. It was a truly an awesome feeling.

Our clients are ecstatic. The venue was blown away. We moved the needle. We kept our word. We built new “trusted partnerships”. And we made our presence known at SXSW.

I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of such a kick $&:@ PlayNetwork team.

Next year…bigger and better.

Oh…And I really miss Audri & Aaron.

John Crooke, Sr. Director Creative Development – PlayNetwork


SXSW 2011 – Day Three

As I stare into my iPhone to collect my thoughts…and with 4 shots of espresso coursing through my veins…I am now aware that already almost 48 hours have passed since my last post. But considering the massive scale of this production, and total success yesterday of our maurices Small Town Sound showcase at Speakeasy and our Girls Rock Showcase at Cedar Street, it was worth the delay. The venue was packed. Audri & Aaron’s SXSWdebut, literally, brought more than a few folks on the floor to tears. Sick of Sarah and Vanity Theft absolutely blew the roof off. And the Bangles were amazing, rocked it, and brought it all home to a sold out house!

AND… We shot an interview and PlayLive live performance with Sir Bob Geldof at Austin City Limits. You have no idea how cool this was. Indescribable!

AND…We shot an interview with Moby from 28 floors high overlooking Austin at night…and then captured him DJ’ing to a packed house. Brilliant!

AND FINALLY…We had a private PlayNetwork and maurices industry party during the Girls Rock Showcase to celebrate this beautiful marriage that lasted into the wee hours. Guests included Jamie Lauren from Top Chef Season 5. Awesome person and knows how to “place an order” with the chef…and wait for it…Jon Hamm! Oh yeah: ‘Don Draper’ himself. We had a Gibson and toasted to another day of great music.

…and our PlayNetwork crews captured every moment and every note.

Day 4 is underway. Speakeasy showcase again with Fontana. More about that on Day 5.

Cue my heightened excitement and anticipation…Times 2.

John Crooke, Sr. Director Creative Development – PlayNetwork

SXSW 2011 – Day Two

Beautiful madness…

The Bangles arrive tonight. “Small Town Sound” winners Audri & Aaron got in this morning. The crowd is swelling. We just shot video of Jackson Harris, Letlive,  and are in the thick of shooting the Red Robin Austin TX  street band with more shoots on deck for tonight. Looks like we might be shooting and recording a private performance by BOB GELDOF at Austin City Limits tomorrow night. HUGE!!

The storm before the storm. More to come…

John Crooke
Sr. Director Creative Development / PlayNetwork