Blogs mnartists.blog Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus is founder and owner of Modern Radio Record Label, creative / music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career advisor. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling and his two cats he adopted from Pizza Farm.

MN Migration to Pitchfork 2013: How to Put on a Music Festival

If you follow music at all, you’re likely familiar with Pitchfork Media. Founded in 1995 by high school grad and Minnesota native Ryan Schreiber, the website has grown over the years, evolving from its beginnings as a niche outlet for indie rock culture to something much more far-reaching, eventually surpassing Spin and Rolling Stone as the […]

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The Green Stage prior to Belle and Sebastian’s set. Photo courtesy of the author.

If you follow music at all, you’re likely familiar with Pitchfork Media. Founded in 1995 by high school grad and Minnesota native Ryan Schreiber, the website has grown over the years, evolving from its beginnings as a niche outlet for indie rock culture to something much more far-reaching, eventually surpassing Spin and Rolling Stone as the preeminent music culture media source. The diverse selection and content-driven model Pitchfork brings to this crowded media landscape has served to expose a deeper and wider variety of artists to the general public. It’s not an overstatement to say they’ve helped to change the very notion of what constitutes “mainstream” music today. The music media behemoth is equally loved and derided by music fans, but it’s impossible to ignore. In 2006, Pitchfork took their curatorial chops to the realm of live music, establishing a yearly midsummer weekend-long music festival in their home base of Chicago, highlighting up-and-coming acts from around the world. Much like John Cusack’s character in the movie version of High Fidelity (fun fact: also filmed in Chicago), Pitchfork’s longtime critics and professional appreciators have now become creators. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny they put their money where their mouth is.

Since 2008, I’ve made the drive from Minneapolis to Chicago to take in Pitchfork Music Festival‘s three full days of live music. Part of my reason for attending the festival is admittedly to sell the records on my label and other Twin Cities labels at the CHIRP Record Fair. But the truth is, I go because I’m a music obsessive unable to resist the prospect of overloading on their buffet of live offerings.

I know, I know: When I wrote a few short weeks ago about Rock the Garden, I started my piece off with the many reasons why outdoor music festivals are generally insufferable. And those complaints all ring equally true if you’re talking about Pitchfork. Large groups of people crowded together, trying to traverse a small area of land to see lots of different sets, everybody outdoors — it combines to create myriad opportunities for unpleasantness.

But given the right lineup, I’m willing to roll the dice.

As with SXSW, I’m compelled to attend the big music festivals, despite the inconvenience and all the gross commercial trappings inherent in such heavily sponsored and marketed gatherings. Past Pitchfork Music Festivals have given me opportunities to see a mix of artists I wouldn’t have otherwise seen or heard of, alongside performers I’d always be eager to see again. I got to watch David Yow of Jesus Lizard yowl as he swam through seas of fans from around the world. I’ve joined crowds, ten thousand festival-goers strong, as we all bounced in unison to LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and Cut Copy. I got to be there when TV on the Radio  finished off a set of showstoppers with a brilliant surprise cover of Fugazi’s classic “Waiting Room“. After seeing them at Pitchfork, I can attest to the fact that the hype-bands Grimes , How to Dress Well and Dirty Projectors really are incredible heard live.

These are the reasons I come back. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of sub-par performances and music there too (and will, no doubt, see more). But I treat the festival much the same way I handle the Pitchfork’s website: I home in on the stuff that’s appealing, fighting past my own knee-jerk, OCD inclination to take it all in. You have to pick and choose: Pitchfork, in all its incarnations, is sprawling enough to overwhelm even avid music fans.

When Belle & Sebastian and Bjork were announced as two of the headliners of  the festival this February, I nearly passed out. I’m a completist when comes to these two iconic artists. (I discovered I have over 300 tracks by each as I was prepping to write this piece.) Previous live shows by both over the years have eclipsed even my fanboy-level expectations. Suffice it to say I was plenty excited by the prospect of their consecutive-day appearances at Pitchfork this year. And after trudging through the crowded field shared by the festival’s two mainstages, I founds spots each night, with a good sight-line stage right, well in advance of the artists’ headlining sets. I braced myself to deal with lots of pushing and jockeying for crowd position, but it wasn’t that bad — just the lowgrade hubbub of a few too high/too drunk couples trying to keep their shit together long enough to see each evening’s capper.

From the moment Bjork appeared in front of us in her sea urchin-esque mask, she had the audience in the palm of her hands. She maintained  absolute command of both the stage and the crowd. Joined by a large choir of women in shimmering blue cloaks, with two instrumentalists to accompany her, Bjork took the audience on a fairy ride. Time slowed down; each word, each note she sang held us fast.  A massive tesla coil encased by a cage hung from the stage directly above her, visibly responding to the pulse of the music. Bjork pulled together bombastic songs like “Army of Me” with subtler tunes, like “Hidden Place,” and a healthy dose of tracks from her last album, Biophilia. She offered up that impressive body of work and distinctive voice in a way that revealed her to be an artist still in conversation with her craft. Prior to her set she displayed a message asking fans to not to focus on documenting the show, urging them just to watch and listen in the moment. So, in that spirit, I didn’t take any video or photos while she performed. But trust me: next time she’s in the area, go see her. It’s an amazing show, well worth traveling for. A trip to see her perform again soon is already on my to-do list.

Following the Icelandic treasures Bjork offered the night before them was no small task. But fellow northern hemisphere islanders, Belle & Sebastian, took the stage with a joie de vivre you might not expect given the music’s sometimes dour tone and intricacy. But band frontman Stuart Murdoch pantomimed playfully across the stage. On more than one occasion, he invited fans on to the stage or jumped down among us, to join the frolicking crowd below them. During one song, he had a fan apply his eyeliner and then returned the favor – all told, a heartening display of solidarity with his fans. Even though the stage was filled to the brim with the full ensemble of musicians behind the group’s hallmark sound — chamber pop-meets-60s girl group-meets the Smiths — Stuart invited almost 20 fans to dance along with him on the stage. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous, but the sing-a-long happy energy of the audience was more than fair compensation. Listening, as Belle and Sebastian wrapped the set up with “Judy and the Dream of Horses” and an encore performance of “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” the crowd singing along — it was pure music-lover bliss.

Even if the festival had only featured those first two evening headliners, I’d deem it worth the price of admission for the weekend twice over.  Fortunately, this year’s Pitchfork had an exceptional number of truly fine musical moments. Minnesota’s own Low had the audacity  to play a fairly straightforward, strong set of newer songs, concluding with a brilliant cover of Rihanna’s pop hit “Stay”. Swans played well too, with no sign of being worse for wear after more than 20 years — with Michael Gira at the helm, their continuing aural explorations of punishing-cathartic sound went from chaos to something almost beautiful. London’s newest punk saviors, Savages, invoked the ’80s post-punk spirit of Joy Division, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Gang of Four. Ripping through their songs at full bore, dressed all in black to play at the punishing peak of the midday sun, Savages convinced me that seeing them (indoors) later this fall is necessary. Wire, a band that likely influenced Savages, played a set of mostly newer songs that can’t touch the brilliance of their first album, Pink Flag; all the same, the new work shows another iconic band not hindered by their age. R. Kelly was the surprise of the weekend. Blowing through a staggering 38-songs set of his musical history, the controversial Chicago R&B superstar showed that despite his lavish entourage and microphone he can still connect to his hometown audience. He put on an crazy yet passionate performance — filling the night sky with a release of white balloons filled with LED lights along with dove-shaped inflatables is anything but understated.

Not a shabby capstone to the festival either.

Of the nearly 50 artists on stage and some 20 hours of music July 19 through 21, I saw at least half the bands playing. Some newer groups that I wanted to see – Parquet Courts, Phosphorescent and Merchandise, for example –I missed only because I got caught hanging out too long in the record fair or checking out gig posters at Flatstock. Some artists I only saw in bits — like Yo La Tengo, Killer Mike, Mikal Cronin, The Breeders and Joanna Newsome –  caught me at an off moment, when I needed a reprieve from the sun or knew I wouldn’t have the patience to brave the crowds for a whole set. I mention all this by way of offering some hard-won advice: You’re going to miss some shows worth seeing, and that’s okay. Have you ever eaten so much of something you love that your enjoyment turns ugly, gets spoiled by overindulgence? It’s a little like that. It’s good to respect your limits.

There have been a few well-curated and under-the-radar music festival options over the years in the Twin Cities, and I’m hopeful that First Avenue will be able to pull something together for 2014. Unfortunately, the majority of our state’s well attended music festivals are poorly curatedpathetic or are hobbled by unbalanced lineups. I don’t think there is a music culture or tastemaker in Minnesota right now that can pull off something with the scope of Pitchfork Music Festival. Pitchfork draws a massive national and international audience that few cities can appeal to. But let me tell you: Pitchfork sets the standard template for how to do a big-ticket festival right. The best moments of Pitchfork this year had me overcome with emotion, and it made me love all this music even more. I left the festival each night humming tunes under my breath,wanting to get home just so I could put the needle on my favorite records. Creating both the opportunity and atmosphere for such once-in-a-blue-moon moments to happen — that’s an art that Pitchfork has down.

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

 

Rock the Garden 2013: Two Minnesota Greats at their Best

Your average outdoor music festivals has little appeal for those of us who attend live music events on a regular basis. A ton of people cram together in a confined space for an extended period of time, and a lot of the time they’re doing so for reasons which have nothing to do with hearing […]

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Rock The Garden crowd. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

Your average outdoor music festivals has little appeal for those of us who attend live music events on a regular basis. A ton of people cram together in a confined space for an extended period of time, and a lot of the time they’re doing so for reasons which have nothing to do with hearing the music. Sure, some have turned out to see bands they know and love, but plenty of others see a music fest as an excuse to party in public and channel that archetypal festival punk — yeah, that guy – we’ve all seen in countless incarnations online.

I’ve been to scores of concerts over the last 18 years, and at this point I know what to expect when I go to an outdoor festival — very little.

I say this to explain why, even though Rock The Garden is now in its 11th iteration, this past Saturday was my first venture to the popular annual collaboration between the Walker Art Center and Minnesota Public Radio’s “new music” station, The Current. In addition to my aforementioned reasons for skipping outdoor festivals, the artists playing Rock The Garden in the last few years either didn’t appeal to me and/or regularly play other venues that offer better atmosphere in which to actually hear them. But hey — I’m getting deep into the second half of my 30s. The line-up was pretty good this time around, and I figured: If I’m ever going to check out this other great Minnesota get-together, this year’s as good a time as any.

The gates opened at 3, but between a forecast calling for heavy rain and first billing for Dan Deacon, I was in no rush to get there. I’ve seen Deacon a few times and while I can appreciate his ability to engage the audience, I find his music incredibly forgettable. It sounds like glitchy pop/dance music for people who don’t really like electronic music. That said, Deacon’s ability to move an audience really came in handy, as inclement weather soon forced the audience indoors. He put on a huge dance party in the Walker’s underground parking garage and by all accounts played a really memorable set.

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Low Drone. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

When Duluth’s Low was announced on the bill for Rock the Garden, to be honest, I was worried the venue would turn out to be all wrong for them. Ten albums and 20 years into their careers, Low is an institution. (Seriously, if you live in Minnesota and haven’t seen or heard them yet, what the hell are you doing?) This band has crafted a library of subtly beautiful pop songs; you listen, and the music leaves you feeling hopeless and triumphant in equal measure. But the music requires careful attention as it builds to those transcendent moments. Two of the best shows I’ve seen in my life were Low performances at Orchestra Hall, in part because the space provided a perfect canvas for Low’s spacious pop creations. Similarly subdued concert spaces have also served them well. You need a stretch of calm for your ear to hear the moment when Alan Sparkhawk drowns out the room with his hypnotic guitar playing and Parker joins him, subtly drumming, then coming in with that angelic voice in perfect unison, their sounds swelling together.

Just give these a listen: “Witches,” “When I Go Deaf,” “Dragonfly,” “Silver Rider,” “Amethyst,” “Shame,” “Sunflowers,” “Two-Step,” “Lion-Lamb,” “Time is the Diamond“…You get the point. It’s worth paying a little attention to catch the subtleties of what they do best. And what they do best is, I think, pretty awesome: This is a band that deserves to be in the same category as the Beach Boys, My Bloody Valentine and Neil Young. Reservations aside, Low’s recent output tends more toward straight-ahead shoegazer pop, and I figured that would be a better fit than their usual stuff for the rock festival atmosphere.

The thing is: What they provided on Saturday was something completely different. After the rain passed, as the festival crowd came back outside to set their blankets down on the Walker’s soaking open field, Low pummeled them with an extended 27-minute drone version of their song “Do You Know How To Waltz?

The guy in front of me stood with his hand up and thumb facing down as Low crafted a hypnotically beautiful piece that matched the changing weather patterns . One crowd member went as far to create a twitter account, @FU_Low, unsurprisingly and primarily to say:

Fuck you @lowtheband such assholes u made me make an account to give you a big fuck you!!!!!

Low’s Alan Sparhawk ended the set with three barely-audible words: “Drone, not drones.” The band even retweeted the disgruntled comment quoted above. In an event sponsored by one of the premier modern art museums in the world, Low took the opportunity to challenge their audience and to engage them in a much needed public discourse about music and the state of the world, even if they didn’t intend quite that. Sparhawk was quoted in an interview with the Star-Tribune as saying that they just “decided to try to do something beautiful.”

You know what? They absolutely did. As I sit here writing, one night later, I can’t wait to see Low play again after that. I want to support artists brave enough to buck expectations, who play music with something to bold to say. The world is full of watered-down bands who say far too little of consequence when given such a platform.

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Bob Mould and Jon Wurster: Two rock geniuses. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

Like Low, you should also know Bob Mould if you’re a consumer of quality music. The Minnesota-bred Mould has created ungodly loud, catchy guitar-driven pop/rock under his own name and with the bands Hüsker Dü and Sugar for over 30 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. Incidentally, his performance at First Avenue this past September featured a perfect mix of career highlights and was one of my all-time favorite shows of 2012. In fact, it was his presence on the billing, the chance to hear him again with his current support, that clinched my decision to finally buy that ticket to Rock the Garden this year.

And Mould didn’t disappoint. He started out with Side A of the Sugar’s unstoppable Copper Blue album, then moved at a breakneck pace through his new solo material. After that, he blazing on to play sunny-day appropriate Husker Du jams “Celebrated Summer” and “Charted Trips,” finishing the whole set off with his infectious alternative hit “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” Mould paused just long enough between songs to introduce Narducy and Wurster, his incredible rhythm section, and to comment on the newly passed gay marriage law. About that, he declared simply that gay marriage “is good for the economy” and then went right back to work making my ears bleed, moving around the stage like a man half his age.

Going in to Rock the Garden this year, I went with the idea that I wouldn’t stay any longer than necessary: I’d go, check out the scene and then get out while the gettin’ was good. So, I took in the sights, had some ice cream and spent a fair amount of time avoiding the many picnic blankets that covered the Open Field. But about two or three songs into the Silversun Pickups’ set, I headed for the gates. Their warmed over Smashing Pumpkins-meets-’90s Brit pop does nothing for me, and I wasn’t particularly keen to see Metric after the bits and pieces of their playing I’d heard prior to the festival.

I didn’t like everything on stage, but I left with a positive feeling about my Rock the Garden experience, nonetheless. I mean, the main attraction of an event like this is the chance  to enjoy a grab bag of live music performances outdoors with a group of “like-minded” individuals. Sadly, this year, some of my fellow festival-goers didn’t look at it that way. A number of them went online to snark in various comments sections to broadcast their displeasure, admonishing both Low and the Current for failing to deliver the expected product. They wrote: “This was not music or art.”

So, let me offer this final word: I hope the Walker and the Current continue to embrace what Low brought to this festival. I hope they ignore those with such very narrow notions of what constitutes “real” music and art. Institutions like these, that pride themselves on being at the forefront of both music and art, shouldn’t be intimidated by a little blowback. There are scores of crowdpleasing festivals which are cancelled all the time. I don’t expect to like every band at a festival or every piece of art in a museum — no one should. The things outside our comfort zone create a space for conversation and dialogue. And you can’t deny: there’s been a lot of dialogue since the festival. In the span of 48 hours post-Rock the Garden I’ve participated in and read numerous conversations about Low’s set. I wish more art got us talking like this afterward. And I hope future Rock the Garden iterations again engage in both crowdpleasing moments and serious discourse. Why shouldn’t we want both?

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Morrissey and Marr: 30 Years Later, the World is Still Listening

Stop right now if you haven’t heard of Marr and Morrissey before this, and pick up The Queen is Dead, Louder Than Bombs, Hatful of Hollow, The Singles… and more or less anything made by the Smiths. So, the story goes like this: Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr, two handsome young music devotees in the formative years […]

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Smiths and Morrissey vinyl. Photo courtesy of author

Stop right now if you haven’t heard of Marr and Morrissey before this, and pick up The Queen is Dead, Louder Than Bombs, Hatful of Hollow, The Singles… and more or less anything made by the Smiths. So, the story goes like this: Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr, two handsome young music devotees in the formative years of their lives, joined together in the early ’80s to create literate, bitter, beautiful and punk-infused songs that has influenced generations of indie rock bands. In just five years time, the duo, via their band the Smiths, bowled over the world of music with 70 songs. Provocative and stylized record covers, coupled with witty lyrics and superb songwriting, combined to give the musicians an aura of otherworldly artistic productivity that lives on for their fans to this day. (But you know all this already, right?)

The Smiths’ breakup in 1987 sent these two creative geniuses their separate ways, but neither has since slowed down much. Marr has made music with a host of artists, including New Order / Joy Division’s Bernard Sumner, the Pretenders, The The, and Modest Mouse. Morrissey continues to tour and record under his own name, even now. I’ve spent more time with the latter’s music, but as this May marks the 30-year anniversary of the Smiths’ first single, “Hand in Glove“ on the venerable Rough Trade Records, I thought I’d check in, see how these two have been holding up.

To be completely honest, I haven’t really kept up with Marr’s musical output post-Smiths. As mentioned above, I’ve seen his name attached to big-name bands, but I’ve not really tracked particular albums he’s worked on. It’s likely his presence was just overwhelmed by the glare of larger personalities and lyricists also associated those groups. It doesn’t help that each time I thought to seek out Marr’s music, I was underwhelmed. Prior to this year, his cameo on Portlandia (see above) may well be the most notable of the work he’s done – certainly, it’s the most enjoyable of his performances I’ve heard in recent years.

Still, I was intrigued when I got word of a new solo Marr album. And when a Minneapolis show date, April 23, was announced as part of his tour schedule, my ears really perked up – definitely marked the date on my calendar. (I figured I should jump on the opportunity; who knows when it’ll come by again? Morrissey has canceled his visits to the the Midwest three times in the last year.) I picked up a copy of Marr’s new album, The Messenger, and I have to admit I’m pleasantly surprised. The record is vibrant, punchy and full of Marr’s distinctive, melancholy guitar playing; but he’s also invoking elements of Brit-pop bands from the 90′s influenced by Marr, like the Verve and Oasis – something I have a major soft spot for.

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I’ve seen Morrissey perform four times in the last five years, but last week’s show at the Varsity was the first time I’ve seen Marr play — solo or otherwise. The Morrissey shows I attended were filled with both young and old fans adorned in Smiths and Morrissey attire. I expected to see the same crowd to turn-out for the Marr gig, but I only noticed one young man with his hair coiffed in Moz-like fashion. In fact, Marr’s was an older crowd, one that seemed likely more familiar with the music he made with Morrissey than his more recent stuff.

After a glowing intro from local music addict Jake Rudh, the set began with an anthem of sorts, “The Right Thing Right,” the first song off Marr’s new album. For a moment, I wondered if this was going to be one of those performances where the artist gets up and plays the new album straight through, but right afterward, he jumped straight to a rendition of the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”! In fact, it was the first of five Smiths songs Marr played through the night; the bulk of the show was devoted to playing from his new album, with a smattering of additional covers. The mix made for a stellar but uneven show. At times, it sounded like two different bands were splitting the set: one doing amped up, straight-ahead Brit pop-infused punk, and the other band covering Smiths songs. All of the songs were pleasing to the ears but, even now, the Smiths songs have a special potency (and maybe overshadows the rest), even without Morrissey’s presence on stage. This review by Jeff Gage for City Pages nails my ambivalence:

It’s [what] so often seems to affect musicians that make their name as a member of a truly influential group, and then embark on a solo career. All too often, what was once consistent inspiration peters out to mere professionalism.  … His show was tight and immaculately played. On several occasions, in fact, his guitar solos were the highlights of the songs, still daring and explosive, full of whammy bar dives and delivered with a full-on pouting expression. Yet for all that, a song like “Bigmouth Strikes Again” couldn’t help but upstage the proceedings. It, more than all the others, just sounded, to borrow a favorite British phrase, massive. It was urgent, it was big, and it was full of attitude …

Here’s the deal: Marr put on a fantastic show at the Varsity, but something was missing. It’s clear the musician himself felt otherwise and responded on Twitter to such criticism, asking “What more do you want, exactly?” And maybe he’s got a point. Maybe his past work has set up unrealistic expectations in myself and others.

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Tom Loftus dressed to DJ wedding for fellow Morrissey nerds. Photo courtesy of Carl Wedoff

But then there’s this: I may have lost track of Marr over the years, but where Morrissey’s concerned… Let’s just say: I may or may not have named my black and white cat, Moz, after him. A sharp-eyed visitor may also notice an entire shelf in my living room dedicated to a certain English crooner of Irish blood from Manchester. I mean, at this point there are websitesbooks, and documentaries dedicated to this charming man, and I’ve eagerly consumed all of them.

My point is this: In the 25 years since the separation of the Smiths, Morrissey has gone on to create a library-full of angry/blissfull/morose music; he’s toured the world and had a thriving solo career. Even so, these days it seems like Morrissey receives the most attention for “outrageous comments” and rumors about his “retirement” from live performance. It’s also true that, superfan or not, I don’t listen to his recent records as avidly as I did those he put out in the ’80s and 90s. All that notwithstanding, I’d argue Morrissey remains one of the most eloquent voices in the music world. Consider his comments on the passing of Margaret Thatcher. The entire piece is well worth reading, but this excerpt shows Morrissey at his best, in dialogue and angry with the ills of the world:

Whilst the BBC tut-tut-tutted a polite disapproval at the Russian government for sending a “feminist punk” band to prison for recording an anti-government song, they engage in identical intolerance against Ding dong the witch is dead without a second’s hesitation. Thatcher’s funeral will be paid for by the public – who have not been asked if they object to paying, yet the public will be barred from attending. In their place, the cast are symbols of withering – as old as their prejudices, adroit at hiding Thatcher’s disasters.

Millions have been offered for shows and tours that would reunite the talents of Marr and Morrissey, but I’m content with the idea that it will never happen. The time when these two combined forces to create the Smiths is a moment we’re fortunate to have well documented. Their early songs and records are still here, absolutely still relevant and ready to be enjoyed for generations to come. The legend of the Smiths looms heavy over the rest of their careers, sure. But just as important, Morrissey and Marr are still in conversation with music and the world. What more could we want or need?

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Daft Punk: Need More RAM!

Click. Refresh. Click. Refresh. Click. Refresh. Is this it? Nope. It’s another fan made remix that Stereogum jumped on too fast. Second time today I fell for something like this. Oh, there it is! False alarm. Argggh! And that’s how I spent Tax Day 2013. I’m in full-on junkie mode searching for the full version […]

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Click. Refresh. Click. Refresh. Click. Refresh.

Is this it?

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Nope. It’s another fan made remix that Stereogum jumped on too fast. Second time today I fell for something like this.

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Oh, there it is!

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False alarm. Argggh!

And that’s how I spent Tax Day 2013. I’m in full-on junkie mode searching for the full version of the first single “Get Lucky” off the upcoming Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories. Where did this all start?

Come back in time with me for a minute to suburban Coon Rapids, June 7, 1994. My high school days started around 6 am back then, so I was rarely a night owl. That evening was an exception. The new Stone Temple Pilots album, Purple, was coming out at midnight that Tuesday night, and I was determined to hear the new, much-hyped album from one of the leaders of the “alternative nation.” I remember I expected a long line at the strip mall music store, but happily got in and out without a wait — home again by 12:15 am. It wasn’t enough merely to get the disc early — I stayed up so I could hear it right away. Two listens later, I finally headed to bed, only to wake up soon after so I could dub the CD on to tape to play in my car on the way to school. Stone Temple Pilots debuted that week at #1 on the Billboard charts.

This is the first time I remember really itching with anticipation for the release of a new album, but it was surely not the last.

A year prior to that late night excursion, two French musicians grew tired of rock ‘n’ roll and started making electronic music. Months before the release of Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple, Daft Punk released their own first single, “The New Wave.” Three years later, they were the toast of the burgeoning international club music scene with their album Discovery. The duo, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, synthesized the best elements of house music, leaning heavily on the type of disco music heard in the ’70s and ’80s at the Loft and Paradise Garage. Over the last 15 years, Daft Punk has become legendary, not only for their music but for the striking imagery in their elaborate live shows, their wildly creative videos and movies. Combine all this with near radio-silence on the interview front and you have an element of real intrigue surrounding their latest project, too.

In the last 20 years, my personal music tastes have shifted. That Stone Temple Pilots CD is somewhere, I’m sure, but I’ll be damned if I remember the last time I considered listening to it. Daft Punk was something I first heard in college, but I didn’t get it. At the time, I was searching out the “real” punk and hardcore records from Southern California and Washington, D.C.; dance music felt outmoded to me then, like baggy pants and glow sticks. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and repetitive simplicity that is the calling card of truly danceable music. When artists like Ted Leo started covering Daft Punk, their work started to make sense to me; I could hear in it some of that urgency for making the most of the “moment” that I love in rock music. Look at the history of house music, and you see it’s equally subversive.

The myth of Daft Punk has now grown to epic proportions. The long wait for new music from them has created a collective yearning you don’t often see anymore in today’s ADD culture. In January, Daft Punk announced they would be releasing a new album this year. I was giddy and so was the world of music. The hype has been crazy. Shortly after they announced the upcoming record, rumors about Daft Punk playing the spring Coachella music festival started popping up. A 15-second commercial aired during Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks ago giving a taste of the new single, and those 15 seconds were the talk of the music media for days afterward. DJs and fans did their best to capture the moment through extended remixes … of the 15-second teaser. Word hit that the duo would launch their new album at an agricultural fair in Australia eight hours outside of Sydney. Despite their absence from the lineup at Coachella, one of the biggest questions in advance of the festival last weekend was whether the “robots” might make a cameo. And on Friday, April 12, before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set, a one-minute, 42-second video featuring Daft Punk playing drums and bass, backing Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers, showed on a big screen to the festival crowd.

That additional one minute and 27 seconds of previously unheard material subsequently took the internet by storm. Multiple versions of the Coachella video exist already, and the combined views of these videos on YouTube is staggering; the teaser linked above had well over a million views in the span of just three days. Full disclosure: I account for at least 50 of them.

Anticipation stoked to fever pitch by the video release, hopeful fans were sure Daft Punk would be joining fellow Frenchmen Phoenix for their Saturday late-evening set at the festival. Phoenix goes on to wild applause; the group finishes their set, and the lights go dark. R. Kelly appears. Phoenix closes the evening collaborating with R. Kelly to make a mash-up of both of their biggest hits, “1901″ and “Ignition.” The collaboration was a rare treat in its own right, but if you watch video of the performance, you can hear both artists finishing the song to chants from the crowd for … DAFT PUNK.

So back to me, this Monday: rumor coming out of the weekend has it that the full version of the duo’s new single, “Get Lucky,” is going to be released. After suffering through another snowy mid-April weekend, I can feel myself becoming unreasonably excited at the prospect of a bright, shiny new Daft Punk tunes on the horizon; based on the obsessive chatter by fans and music media on the internet, I’m not alone. But the single doesn’t materialize. On Monday, what shows up instead is a new Daft Punk “Collaborators“ video, this one an interview with Pharrell Williams. In fact, the contributors to this record are, themselves, notable — collectively responsible for creating infectious dance and pop music that spans the last 40 years.

I know all too well the amount of marketing effort that is put in to hype of an album, but the organic, grassroots fervor for this one gives me hope that it’s more than just clever PR. And after days of news stories about the Boston Marathon bombing, I’m happy to go along for the ride, grateful that there are still things being created in the world that give us all something we can so look forward to.
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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Minnesota Migration: SXSW 2013, We Hardly Knew You

Was SXSW really a week ago already? It’s my first time attempting to get a sense of the happenings in Austin down in writing, so bear with me here. Blogging about things as they happened didn’t pan out; turns out, I needed some time to fully absorb the vibe from this year’s festival (and to expunge […]

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Iggy and the Stooges at SXSW. Courtesy Staciaann Photography 2013.

Was SXSW really a week ago already? It’s my first time attempting to get a sense of the happenings in Austin down in writing, so bear with me here. Blogging about things as they happened didn’t pan out; turns out, I needed some time to fully absorb the vibe from this year’s festival (and to expunge whatever this sickness is that waylaid me toward the end of this week).

It’s likely you’ve seen, heard, and read some SXSW footage already; you’ve probably seen festival coverage featuring the young buzz bands and artists who’ve been household names in the last 50 years of popular music who turned out, like Stevie Nicks, Green Day, Depeche Mode, Iggy and the Stooges, Justin Timberlake, and Snoop Dogg (er, Snoop Lion). Predictably, hordes of people once again flocked to sunny Austin, Texas to take it all in. And there must be hundreds of articles at this point about the state of the festival itself, both from writers bemoaning the changes in SXSW over the years and those responding to their complaints.

The truth is, like anything else, when you’re on the ground and in the middle of it all, there are both good and bad elements in a sprawling event like this. And during SXSW, those good and bad moments collide with each other at a pace that’s hard to keep track of. So, I’ll keep it short and you can follow the hyperlinked crumbs I leave here to dig deeper for yourselves, if you like.

For this, my sixth visit to the festival, I was particularly thrilled to receive, for the first time, “priority” access thanks to a pricey SXSW badge. So, I picked my badge up early and, so armed, rushed to hear Nick Cave speak – only to be told that the room was full when I was just 10 people down the line from the room’s entrance. Salt in those wounds followed shortly afterwards, in the form of an email stating:

You entered the ticket drawing for a chance to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Alt-J, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Cafe Tacvba. Unfortunately, you didn’t win a ticket to this show. Demand for the drawing has been incredible but there is a limited capacity. Luckily, there’s still lots to do tonight at SXSW.

Seriously? Here’s one of the artists I’ve been most looking forward to seeing, and I’m already shut out? Why did I even get this silly looking thing?

Scottish DJs Optimo at the Haven. Photo courtesy of the author.

Scottish DJs Optimo at the Haven. Photo courtesy of the author.

The music portion of the festival hadn’t even “officially” begun but, of course, the email was right on: Nick Cave might be out of the picture, but there were a ton of options still available. So, later that evening, I took in a transcendent early evening set by Scottish DJ duo, Optimo – it was a rare opportunity to see two artists who greatly influenced the way I have DJ-ed in the last few years. At SXSW, you take the good with the bad.

With a long wait in line plus no guarantee of actually hearing Nick Cave in my future, I made a decision to forgo seeing a lot of music on the first day of SXSW to stand in a different line. I decided to see another band on my bucket list: Iggy and the Stooges. Standing in the sun for two hours isn’t my (or anyone’s) idea of fun, but all that was forgotten when Iggy took the small outdoor venue’s stage with a Stooges lineup that included Mike Watt on bass and Steve Mackay on sax. Their set was filled with all of the songs you want to hear: “Funhouse”, “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” plus a few new songs I’m not sure I need to hear again. The highs and lows collided once again.

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Nardwuar and the author. Photo courtesy of Tom Loftus.

These moments during my first two days in Austin encapsulate the overall experience of SXSW for me this year. As expected, I consumed heavy amounts of live music in less than a week’s time (find my highlights and lowlights from those experiences listed below). I always come in to SXSW trying to figure out if the festival is still worth the trek and effort, especially considering just how much we already have going on in the Twin Cities. As I do every year, I spent hours in preparation poring over schedules and researching bands, so I could maximize my time in Austin. And then, as usual, I proceeded mostly to ignore those careful lists of shows, going with the flow instead.

So, was it worth driving through two blizzards to get to and from Austin this year? Could I have seen just as many shows staying at home in the frigid Twin Cities? Was that Stooges set one of the best things I have ever seen in my life? Do I feel like a lot of what SXSW represents is the antithesis of what is good in music discovery?

Yes, to all these questions.  I am still conflicted. But as of right now, I’m also still planning on driving down again next March.

Highlights:

  • The Soft Moon and Austra at Elysium to finish off my SXSW on Saturday. First time seeing The Soft Moon and I have listened to their Zeroes album at least 10 times while writing this piece.
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Nardwuar (shirtless) and Andrew WK (Candian motorcycle helmet) with crowd at Riot Act / Mint Records Day Party. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Andrew WK  and Nardwuar‘s joyous and playful set that involved crowd participation. Be on the lookout for footage of me and some other guy carrying Nardwuar arnound throughout an entire song.
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Courtesy Staciaann Photography 2013.

  • Marijuana Deathsquads’ bangin’ indoor set at Mohawk on Thursday night
  • Watching Free Energy play an energetic set at the Iron Bear (yes, it’s a bear bar)
  • Meeting up with other music addicts, aficionados and friends in idyllic temperatures

Lowlights:

  • That drunk guy who asked me where he could find “free chicks” in Austin
  • Rick Springfield with members of Foo Fighters and Nirvana playing “Jessie’s Girl
  • Seeing members of Slipknot, Cheap Trick, Foo Fighters and Nirvana playing together on the same stage

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Minnesota Migration will recount the musical adventures and musings of Tom Loftus as he travels outside of the Minnesota borders for new and interesting sounds.

Minnesota Migration: Prelude to SXSW Music Festival

What better way to start writing for the venerable mnartists.org than by covering the behemoth, one-week roaming music festival that is South By Southwest (SXSW)? SXSW has made Austin, Texas a destination for the music, interactive, and film world every March for the last 26 years. I’ve attended the last seven years, and for me […]

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What better way to start writing for the venerable mnartists.org than by covering the behemoth, one-week roaming music festival that is South By Southwest (SXSW)? SXSW has made Austin, Texas a destination for the music, interactive, and film world every March for the last 26 years. I’ve attended the last seven years, and for me the festival has been a welcome respite from the harsh Minnesota winter months. As a music fan for 18 years, with several thousand shows under my belt, I’ve also found SXSW to be an annual binge of epic proportions. Each trip to Austin has had some massive high points, but I always find it offers some valuable perspective on both the best and worst elements of the world of music. There’s much clacking at keyboards and on screens done every year (nationally and in Minnesota) well in advance, anticipating the festival’s highlights. There are also plenty of people talking about the growing list of problems with SXSW. For some, those issues are why they aren’t going this year. These different aspects of the festival (and music world) are constantly bouncing around in my head, and I’ll touch on them often as I weave in out and of the crowded streets this week and report back to you here.

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Image courtesy by Daniel Ralston of the Low Times

The above Venn diagram succinctly captures the frustrations of SXSW for longtime music fans. As the festival’s reputation has grown from a regional musical gathering to a multi-billion-dollar interactive and creative industry marketing event, the vibe has shifted away from its original priority on discovery of new music and artists. In the course of my years attending the festival I’ve increasingly found it easier to stumble across new ad campaigns for garbage “food”, energy drinks, and booze than memorable musical experiences. SXSW is now fraught with long lines and needy creatives desperately trying to”make it.” It can all be painfully disheartening. The sheer energy behind the live music experience that inspired me to make half of my life’s work in this field is hard to find these days at SXSW. In the din of the surrounding commerce and hype, diligence is both required and necessary to find those vital mischief makers and studied purveyors of sound that make music so special.

Sunny weather in March is appealing in its own right, but I still keep coming back to SXSW for those handful of transcendent, unique moments you have to be in person to catch, moments that just don’t translate on a computer screen or in print: weird chance meetings, bumping into and chatting with the very people who helped shape the world of independent music — like Geoff Travis. And there are those bonding moments in the melee, with friends from the Twin Cities and across the world. Plus, there are always shows (see below), all in one place, that I’d ordinarily have to travel by plane, train, and automobile, all over, to hear. This is what brings me back to Austin year after year.

I’d write more but I’m heading out to hear two Scottish DJs who have provided the perfect soundtrack to a number of road trips I’ve taken of late, including the 16-hour jaunt to Texas. Music still rules my world.

Some personal SXSW highlights:

2007 – Les Savy at Red Eyed Fly

2007 – Lily Allen Ranting about the NME

2007 – Public Enemy at the Auditorium Shores Amphitheater 

2007 – Daniel Johnston

2008 - Jandek at Central Presbyterian Church

2008 – Roky Erickson (with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top on guitar)

2009 – Rusted Shut

2010 – Maybe Mars (Chinese independent label) Showcase

2010 – Death (70′s Detroit proto-punk band) reunion at the Mohawk

2012 – Astronautalis at the Liberty

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Minnesota Migration will be the musical adventures and musings of Tom Loftus as he travels outside of the Minnesota borders for new and interesting sounds.