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2013 SXSW Standouts


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. If you're having trouble reaching any of your friends who are musicians, filmmakers, bloggers or ardent fans, you might try the 512 area code because all of the above are converging in Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest Festival. The festival is a particularly good showcase for emerging talent. There are scores of bands playing and, if you're like me and are filled with rage and envy at the fact that you cannot go, then you can take it out on - I mean, share it with Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They're the co-hosts of NPR's ALT LATINO podcast and they are both in Austin right now.

Welcome back to you both. I'll try to contain my rage that you're there and I'm not, but thank you for joining us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. How are you?


MARTIN: Felix, remind us how the festival got to be such a big deal.

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, you've got to go back to the history. It started about 1987 and it was really a showcase for musicians and the music from this area, which is a really interesting mix of - the city itself is a mix of country music, as well as Mexican and even German roots. I mean, it's a very old city. It's always been a very musical city and it's always had a little tinge of biculturalism, believe it or not.

The festival then became more of an Indie rock scene. Within the last five years, there have been more and more Latin bands and more bands from around the world. And now, there are Spanish-speaking countries that have their own showcase nights. I mean, Spain, Chile, Uruguay this year. Last year, it was Brazil and Columbia and a lot of the bands come on their own hoping to catch a little bit of break here in the U.S. market. Now, that's the history.

Now, why it's important - as the music industry splinters and tries to regroup and redesign a business model, in a way, that has leveled the playing field for a lot of Indie artists and South by Southwest is principally an outlet for independent bands, Indie bands, bands that are not signed with major labels.

So Latin bands get an equal footing. They get to show off in front of promoters, managers, agents, small labels and fans, as well.

MARTIN: Interesting. Now, Jasmine, you know, I didn't know this until Felix just told us that bands come from all over the world to this festival and he was just telling us that, sometimes, they even get sponsorships from their governments to do so. That was kind of new news to me.

You wanted to talk about Uruguay, in particular, Jasmine. What bands have they sent to Austin and is there one that stands out from the rest?

GARSD: Yeah. Well, they have sent a really amazing lineup from Uruguay and artists that really represent different genres within Uruguay. You know, you have a milonga and rock and roll and candombe and one of the artists that I was most excited to catch is this guy named Martin Buscaglia and he really fuses all of those elements. He fuses candombe and rock and milonga and, Michel, I actually brought you a song by him. It's "El Candombe de Marte." It's not one of his newest songs, but it's one of my favorites.


GARSD: And it really showcases what he's doing with fusion.

MARTIN: All right. Let's hear it.


MARTIN: That sounds really fresh.

GARSD: Yeah. It's a beautiful sound and, you know, I got a chance to hang out with all these Uruguayan musicians and one of the questions I asked them is, how does it play out? How does it feel, you know, to be from such a musical country and you're sandwiched between two musical superpowers, like, you know, big recording industry countries like Brazil and Argentina? And they were like, well, it makes you stronger. And they definitely have such a strong repertoire. I mean just really amazing musicians Uruguay brought this year.


MARTIN: Also, I understand that you all are hosting a showcase of bands for ALT LATINO. Which bands are you featuring? Can we hear something from one of your favorites?

CONTRERAS: Yeah, we're very fortunate this year in that we're going to be able to present probably the biggest names in Latin alternative and Latin music. Here in this country and in Mexico and in Latin America we're going to be headlined by a band named Cafe Tacvba, which is rock and Espanol pioneer. Another band called Molotov, which is I guess you would call it like a Spanish-language Rage Against the Machine or maybe even The Clash or like the Beastie Boys, more or less. And then Bajofondo, which is a band co-lead by a guy named Juan Campodonico from Uruguay and then Gustav Santaolalla, who is the Oscar-winning composer, film composer, musician, rock and Espanol pioneer, and those bands are going to be headlining an outdoor facility, so we brought along a track from Cafe Tacvba.


MARTIN: And Felix, this was?

CONTRERAS: That was "Espuma" by Cafe Tacvba.

MARTIN: And how would you characterize this band? How would you characterize their work?

GARSD: Well, you know, recently "Rolling Stone" magazine published a list of the most important Latin rock bands and albums, and Cafe Tacvba was number one, and they were called The Beatles of Latin America, simply because they are just very eclectic. Everything they put out is really artful and thought out and well put together, and they're also just very spiritual and poetic and political. So I don't know. Felix, what do you think? The Beatles of Latin America?

CONTRERAS: I'm always careful about the so-and-so of this country, but one of the things that really made them stand out was the way they incorporated traditional Mexican music into a whole new attitude, a whole new approach to music, and this is coming from their earliest albums, from the early to mid-'90s, and they've always maintained that nice hybrid of modern and traditional Mexican music.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. I'm speaking with Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreas; they co-host NPR's ALT LATINO podcast.

So Felix, you've just gotten there and you've already heard lots and lots of bands so far. Can you just, I don't know, just tell us one more favorite.

CONTRERAS: I saw a band last night called Las Cafeteras and they're based in Los Angeles. And what - they're part of a movement of young Chicanos, young Mexican-American musicians in Southern California that are rediscovering a style called Son Jarocho from the Veracruz area of Mexico. And it's a very traditional, lot of traditional instruments, but their music is very politicized, very socially conscious. They've got a really wonderful track called "La Bamba Rebelde" from their latest album. It reflects exactly what they're about, a little bit of tradition with a little bit of today's attitude.

MARTIN: OK. Here it is.


MARTIN: That's great. Well, Felix, this is a live festival, a festival of live music, and I couldn't help but notice that you've brought us a lot of taped clips. Why is that? Is it - all right - is this a little secret that you're letting us in on, that the audio quality at the live performances is not as great as it could be?

CONTRERAS: Well, that is - well, you figure in one location within the span of like an hour and a half, maybe two hours if we're lucky, you'll have like seven, eight bands with different instrumentations. So the sound, the live sound quality in the room, you're going to be able to hear stuff, maybe the vocals are a little lower, maybe the drums are a little too loud. You know, these bands, they have a couple of minutes to make an impression, so sometimes they're playing a little loud. So, you know, the live quality isn't always there, but of course you catch the spirit of the band, which is the most important because that's what brings along fans.


GARSD: And there are, there's like a hierarchy. I mean there are some venues that have really excellent sound and, you know, then you have people playing in church basements.

MARTIN: OK. So finally, you've only seen half of the festival so far. What else are you looking forward to seeing? Jas, you want to tell us?

GARSD: Well, I caught the very beginning of a band last night that I want to see their full set because they just blew my mind. And they're called Pinata Protest. And Michel, I know how much you and your audience crave punk rockers who play the accordion.

MARTIN: Absolutely. You know I live for it.

GARSD: But yeah. I mean this band basically fuses Nortena and accordion and Ranchera music with punk rock. And it's, I've never seen anything quite like it. It's pretty brilliant.

MARTIN: OK. Here it is.


MARTIN: Once again, that was "Life on the Border" by Pinata Protest. I have that right?

GARSD: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. You're right. It is definitely, it's different. Everything is different. I understand exactly what you like about. It's kind of what to expect but not what you expect at the same time.

GARSD: Well, it's definitely, you know, you don't expect this young guy to be like just rocking out on stage head-banging while he plays an accordion.



MARTIN: Before I let you go, Felix, maybe you want to take this one because this is, you know, you've been to four or five of these - and I will try to contain my rage when I see you over the fact that you've gotten to go and I haven't.


But there have been complaints in the past that this festival is not as diverse as it could be - not reflective of the music scene even in the Southwest. Do you think that that's a fair criticism and is it still true?

CONTRERAS: I think initially it was, as it transitioned from the flavor of what this place is, which is - which can be very bicultural, and then became more of an indie rock scene. And now, you know, I've heard our colleague at NPR Music, Steven Thompson, refer to it as a festival within a festival within a festival. If you wanted to come here and hear metal bands or, you know, mopey singer-songwriters or whatever your genre of your choice, you could do it and really fill your dance card. But it had been primarily indie rock. But that has changed and like I said, I've been here a few times and there are more and more Latin bands to see and more and more bands from all over the world to see.

So - and you know, just walking the street, I was talking to another colleague, NPR's Doug Mitchell yesterday, and he's been coming here for a lot longer than I have, and he's noticed just on the street the crowds are different. It's a lot more diverse. And that's a reflection of them bringing in more bands, maybe some more hip-hop bands, some more soul bands, certainly more Latin bands. So it's changing little by little and there's still a handful of bands that are not, you know, the mainstream bands.

So it's a little bit of both. It's growing, it's changing, it's the nature of this festival principally, and then that's changing little by little, as the music business changes and challenges are coming up and how you deal with that. So, you know, the answer is it has been a problem but it's changing little by little.

MARTIN: Well, thank you both. At the very least, I hope you're bringing us a T-shirt or something.

GARSD: Yeah, I'll bring you a T-shirt from a mopey singer-songwriter, Latin metal accordion-playing punk band.


MARTIN: Exactly. Or something like my friends got to go to South by Southwest and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. Something, you know, original like that. So...

CONTRERAS: Yeah, we can do that.

MARTIN: Felix Contreas and Jasmine Garsd are the co-hosts of NPR podcast ALT LATINO. We caught up with them at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Thanks so much.

GARSD: Thanks for having us.

CONTRERAS: Thanks a lot, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.