BAD TIMES, GOOD TIME Industry weasels had no right to enjoythemselves at this year’s South by Southwest music conference,held in Austin March 13-17. Consider: The music biz is comingout of one of its worst years in recent memory. Downloadablemusic and file sharing continue to drain corporate and artistcoffers. The increasing fragmentation of music into multiplegenres, combined with the decreasing cultural significance ofmainstream acts, has everyone stymied, wondering what the nextbig trend will be. And in the midst of the confusion, thehigh-profile Recording Artists’ Coalition, spearheaded by DonHenley and Sheryl Crow, is kicking up a fuss, trying to reformthe whole business.

The changes wrought by large corporations absorbing major labelsand subsequent roster-reducing belt-tightening were alsohot-button topics at the confab. ”Right now, to keep a majorlabel even interested in you, you have to sell between 2 and 4million albums. That’s bad,” said one A&R exec. He added, ”Thelandscape is going to have to change. As majors keep droppingartists, more and more indies are going to step in to take up theslack.” (Marcy Playground and Neil Finn, who played the festival,are two former major-label acts now consigned to indieland.)

Some, like Courtney Love (see story, page 34), are even moreemphatic about how dire things are: ”The music industry isutterly failing, and within three years, it will have failed.”Still, such doomsaying didn’t stop any of the approximately 6,500musicians, flacks, journalists, execs, and others who descendedon the Lone Star State from trying to party like it was 1969.Perhaps reflecting the moribund state of the biz, there wereprecious few A-list (or even B- or C-list) acts at this year’sshindig. Indeed, the highest wattage was provided by RobbieRobertson (who gave the keynote address), Finn, Jerry Cantrell(ex-Alice in Chains), and much-hyped newcomer Norah Jones (whowas ill-advisedly booked into the Clay Pit, one of the town’ssmallest venues).

As might be expected, the festival served up roots rock (BottleRockets), alt-country (Kelly Willis), punk (the Mooney Suzuki),Britpop (Clinic; see review, page 71), metal (Mastodon), hip-hop(X-ecutioners), and other, uncategorizable styles. With more than1,000 acts vying for SXSWesters’ attention, some of the loudestbuzz was generated by a high-spirited group of Swedes called theSoundtrack of Our Lives, who specialize in neo-psychedelic garagepop and feature a burly, messianic frontman. The Von Bondies,proteges of the White Stripes’ Jack White (who produced theirfirst album, Lack of Communication), demonstrated that they havethe tunes and the ‘tude to become critics’ darlings parexcellence. Meanwhile, Jesse Malin (formerly of the glam-punk DGeneration) reemerged as a roots rocker, giving listeners a tasteof his as-yet-unreleased, Ryan Adams-produced solo album.

But it was arguably Love who best exemplified the chaotic rock &roll spirit — and she didn’t have to pick up an instrument orsing a note to do it. Her 95-minute public interview with LosAngeles Times writer Chuck Philips was putatively a forum forher to clarify her stand as an artists’ rights advocate, but itquickly became apparent that it was simply anotherentertainingly surreal example of her life-as-performance-artshtick. ”We stayed out late last night, drank a little tequila,”said Love, looking flamboyantly frazzled as she settled into herseat and lit a Dunhill. Alas, a bemused-looking Philips, slumpedfar back in his chair as if he were literally being buffeted byHurricane Courtney, proved unable to keep La Love on track. Hervirtual monologue touched on everything from record execs’ (andher own) drug habits to her lawsuit against the Universal MusicGroup to her boyfriend, former Geffen A&R exec Jim Barber, whostood at stage left, observing the proceedings with puppylikeintensity. At one point, Love clued us in on Barber’s courtshipstrategy: ”He made me a compilation tape, beginning with, ofcourse, [the Flamin’ Groovies’] ‘Shake Some Action.”’ Well, atleast he has good taste in music.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?We have no idea if these bands — which all played SXSW thisyear — are good or not. Their monikers, however, are truly awful. — RB


WHAT’S IN A NAME?We have no idea if these bands — which all played SXSW thisyear — are good or not. Their monikers, however, are truly awful. — RB

Bowling for SoupSisterhood of ConvolutedThinkersDracula SucksRobots, Please!SlitherynPsychedelic BreakfastLost GoatDead Kennedys (the DKs without Jello Biafra? Appalling!)