We need to talk about Michelle Obama’s biceps, and that moment she held Missy Elliott’s hand.
After a full-body pat down by the Secret Service to begin the morning, we were breathing the same air as Michelle O. The first lady came all the way to Austin to speak about the Let Girls Learn initiative, which promotes and provides education for girls all around the world, bridging the gap between socially-marginalized young women, and the resources needed for healthy and prosperous futures. Obama was joined by the likes of Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Diane Warren, and Sophia Bush. The talk wrapped up with questions from the audience. When asked how she felt about her time in the white house coming to an end, Michelle concluded that she was very excited for the future, and will be “blazing” into her fifties and sixties.
Continuing on to the conference, Nikhil and Shay attended “Feeling Ourselves? Black Girl Power in Music” with Whitney Gayle Benta, Janeé Bolden, Shanti Das and Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis. The panel spoke to the lack of black female representation in mainstream media, and white girls as the “standard”: the show Girls does not need “white” in the title, because it is already assumed. All of the panelists recognized a need for diverse imaging and representation of women of color, in contrast to the typecasting that often takes place. Simultaneously, Shanti Das brought up the importance of feminism, supporting fellow women in media and in the workplace, and that sometimes, celebrating women is more important than focusing on racial difference. It was multi faceted, yet concentrated view of sexism and music industry cultural appropriation, as well as a call to nurture sisterhood.
After seeing the stellar “Feeling Ourselves” panel, Nikhil continued on to another insightful session discussing the new film “The Art of Organized Noize”, which followed the rise to acclaim of influential production team, Organized Noize. Their impact on the music and culture of not just their native home of Atlanta, but all of hip-hop, is unquestionable. The panelists, consisting of director Josh Krause, members Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray, Ms.Shanti Das once more, and moderator Nick Huff, were humble and knowledgeable, sharing unique production tidbits amidst the Dungeon Family’s remarkable story.
After the First Lady’s Keynote, Chelsea attended a panel called “Sell Those Tickets! Marketing Your Tour and More,” which focused on the key aspects of how to successfully promote a show. Some key notes mentioned were how to leverage artist’s content and music to foster popularity on the road. Whether it be releasing a music video or a special version of a song, having fresh content pushed out with tour dates engages fans on multiple levels.
Chelsea then attended “Music & Activism: Amplifying Your Voice for Social Good,” which included Chadwick Stokes, frontman of Dispatch and State Radio, as well as a human rights activist; Marika Anthony-Shaw, violinist of Arcade Fire; Marta Riggins of Pandora Radio. They spoke about how artists should be allowed to wear their value systems on their sleeves. Some organizations mentioned as examples include Pandora’s Little Kids Rock, which funds music education in public schools. Plus One was created by the band Arcade Fire in support of Haiti, encouraging $1 donations from each concert ticket sold. Ultimately, the speakers told everyone that making a difference is simple— it’s all about bridging a gap between like-minded people, or finding musicians or causes that have the same values as your organization. It is better collaborate with others, rather than trying to reinvent too much, as there is strength in numbers.
Shay and I then attended “Is Rock & Roll on Life Support?” which turned out to be the let down of the SXSW Music Conference. LA Lloyd, Chuck Loesch, Jason McMaster and David Rath essentially complained about the lack of good white male artists in the rock industry. After crying over the lack of a modern Van Halen, their sexist rant ended when a member of the audience said aloud: maybe women would be more interested in working with you if you stopped calling them “chicks.” Snaps to that guy, and cue our exit.
Meanwhile, Chelsea was in a much better discussion called “Representation of Women in Media,” led by founder of She Shreds Magazine, Fabi Reyna. The panel also included Kiran Ghandi, Michell Fleischli, Sadie Dupuis, and Tom Barnes. The discussion started with, “until we see that there are as many women as there are men in the industry, with positions of power, there will be no change” They then started off discussing a question about how they feel about feminism beginning to seep into the mainstream. Giving diverse depictions like “ Beyonce feminism, Taylor Swift feminism, Queer feminism, and Riot Grrl feminism,” makes one understand feminism in their own way without having a narrow view of feminism. Reyna believes that having one single view of feminism won’t work. They then spoke about the frustrations when constantly being asked “what it’s like to be a woman in music and how gender is only indicated if the person identifies as female?”. They emphasized that gender should never be a topic of discussion in an interview, unless the subject would like to go that direction. Women should be able to talk about what matters to them, and writers should be mindful of their own transparency. Later they discussed how being a woman in music, it is often difficult to be yourself for fear of not being taken seriously, resorting to dressing a little more masculine to fit into a “dude’s world.” Gandhi talked about how she believes in a “3D femininity” where some days she can dress more masculine and some days she can dress more feminine, it doesn’t matter, she can do whatever she wants.
Late in the afternoon, Shay and I checked out “How 3D Printing Can Transform the Music Business.” This seminar with Isaac Budmen and Errol Kolosine laid out 3D printing for those of us who are more or less clueless about what that actually entails. After laying out some of the materials that can be used in 3D printing—everything from chocolate to plastic—the duo gave examples of instruments that have been created using digital 3D design and printing: Ernie Ball’s new signature St. Vincent guitar, as well as custom sculptures that are also programmable midi controllers.
NikhiI’s last session on Wednesday was “Rewriting Hip Hop History.” He had the chance to hear from some of hip-hop’s leading historians and journalists as they spoke on the importance of comprehensive and accurate documentation of not only the origins of hip-hop culture, but it’s entire journey into the present. A major aspect of the panel was citing the many contributions of women to the genre, as well as acknowledging the contributions of regions, other than the generalization of the West and East coast. The panel consisted of Ben Ortiz, curator of Cornell’s Hip-Hop Collection, and is currently working on the digitizing of Africa Bambaataa’s discography and record collection. Also in attendance was Maco Faniel, author of Hip-Hop in Houston, and longtime respected journalists Johnathan Shecter and Dan Charnas.
The final panel Shay attended was a band website critique, which offered many suggestions for streamlining your website on both computers and mobile devices. While KZSC looks into the future of our online design, what do you want to see on our website? What would make it easier for you to learn, listen and support KZSC? If you have an idea please send an email to [email protected]!!!
Wednesday’s evening showcases were epic, including but not limited to: Mitski, who wore a knee length tweed skirt and played bass and it was the most punk rock thing that ever happened; The Parrots, who carried the intensity of a bull fight across the atlantic, from Madrid, Spain, to my earholes in Texas; Alex G; Froth; Gwenno; Moving Panoramas; Frankie Cosmos; and Erykah Badu, who played an excellent show to a venue well over capacity.
Here are some lo fi cell phone pictures. Stay tuned for more from Austin City!
Article written as collaboration of KZSC staff: Shay Stoklos, Nikhil Viswanathan, Chelsea Valenzuela, and Lennon Stankavich.