Open Your Hearts, Music Nerds: SXSW Advice From Ann Powers : The Record For music fans the festival can be the source of anxiety. We offer comfort to the overwhelmed.
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Open Your Hearts, Music Nerds: SXSW Advice From Ann Powers

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Open Your Hearts, Music Nerds: SXSW Advice From Ann Powers

Open Your Hearts, Music Nerds: SXSW Advice From Ann Powers

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This week, Austin, Texas, hosts the 25th South by Southwest Music Conference. Over the years, the five-day festival has been a way for bands to break out of Internet stardom and into the mainstream. It's also helped establish bands to capitalize on the music industry's captive audience in Austin, and revitalize their careers.

One of those bands is Duran Duran, which has a new album, called "All You Need Is Now."

DURAN DURAN (Band): (Singing) It's all up to you now. Find yourself in the moment...

WERTHEIMER: Duran Duran will be headlining the festival tonight.

Here to preview this festival is NPR music critic Ann Powers.


ANN POWERS: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So South by Southwest used to be about roots music, vintage rock and roll. Of course, vintage is a moving target. What's vintage these days?

POWERS: I know, it's funny, isn't it? To the kids, the '80s is ancient history, and I think we've seen that in recent years at South by Southwest. In the mid-'90s, you'd see artists like Johnny Cash or the late, great soul legend Arthur Alexander having great comeback moments. But now, it can be somebody like Duran Duran.

WERTHEIMER: Are the fans in Austin really interested in these old guys, these once-popular groups? Or is it really - I always think of it as being all about the new and the unknown and the first look.

POWERS: Well, discovery is still a huge part of South by Southwest. And this year, you have artists like the hip-hop collective Odd Future, and the New York duo Cult that there is a lot of excitement about. This is their big chance to make a national splash.

WERTHEIMER: Well, tell us about some of the acts that you are looking forward to.

POWERS: Well, there's a great, new, Brooklyn-based rapper-slash-funkster named Theophilus London, who's - apparently has kind of a Prince-like show although that's always, you know, quite an ambition to fulfill.

This track, which I think is pretty funky, is called "Why Even Try?"

(Soundbite of song, "Why Even Try?")

Mr. THEOPHILUS LONDON (Rapper): (Rapping) You stole my heart like a thief in the night. You stopped in your tracks in the middle of a fight to make it right let the brimstones burn. I'll let you live yours, now let me have my turn...

WERTHEIMER: I like that. That sounds good.

POWERS: It's got that little Prince-like feel, doesn't it? I mean, it's funny because it even has an almost Duran Duran-like feel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: And Theophilus London is someone - he's influenced by R&B and also by rock. So a lot of young artists are like that today. They are taking from all over the place. And that's one of the cool things about having older acts at South by Southwest - is that you can see the connection between the old artists in the newer ones.

WERTHEIMER: Now, as I understand it, you also picked something that is completely different for us.

POWERS: One of the really cool trends of recent years is that technology allows people to make music in their homes, in their bedrooms. And I think it's really been helpful for young female singers-songwriters who maybe couldn't catch a break in earlier eras. So this is an artist named Jenny O, who is making music out of L.A. And she's got kind of a rough but really sweet, girl-group sound.

This Jenny O song, I just can't get it out of my head. It's called "Well OK Honey."

(Soundbite of song, ("Well OK Honey")

Ms. JENNY O (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) You are my lover, and I do like you. But what's the limit? Tell me what to do. I'm not your kind. And you're not mine....

WERTHEIMER: I have to say, that kind of takes me back.

POWERS: Takes you back to the '60s, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yes. Well, now you've been going to this festival for how many years now?

POWERS: Oh, my goodness, since the mid-'90s. I started going back when it was just a big barbecue party for everybody in the music industry.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that now, it's become much more the fans who are running the show.

POWERS: Yeah, there's just a festival feeling. It's almost like a carnival. There'll be people in the street eating breakfast burritos, wandering around at all hours; people playing music on the street, sounds pouring out of the clubs. And it's really fun, if overwhelming.

WERTHEIMER: NPR music critic Ann Powers - she will be at the festival this week.

Thanks very much, Ann.

POWERS: Thanks for talking.

WERTHEIMER: Check out NPR's full coverage of South by Southwest at

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