SXSW 2012 Music

SXSW 2012 Music festivalIt’s time once again for Austinites to grab the handrail tightly as the city braces for yet another SXSW festival. This year’s music portion (the focus of this article) is March 13 through 18.

This writer will be reporting mainly from the downtown and east side areas, on his trusty $90 flea bike. As usual, I will be attending mostly day shows, because I am “thrifty.” Here are some of the highlights of my weekend…

Wednesday the 14th… Spiderhouse will have Bare Wires, country rockers Natural Child, FIDLAR, Austin’s own Dikes Of Holland and Rayon Beach, garage band The Allah-Las, and two more Austin bands, Alfie Rabago’s Lola-Cola, and Crooked Bangs, featuring two rockin’ dames, Leda Celeste Ginestra and Samantha Wendel. Bare Wires play again at Beerland. Trailer Space weighs in with San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees, Mean Jeans, and Natural ChildThursday the 15th… the east side’s dirty dive the Legendary White Swan hosts a night show, featuring Jesse Malin from D Generation performing a solo set, Atlanta’s haircut band The Biters, and more great haircuts with headliners Prima DonnaFriday the 16th… totally scuzzy dive bar Trophy’s will host a day show with Barrio Tiger from L.A., with Miami guitar legend Jimmy James. Jackalope has a stellar lineup with Tommy Stinson, Jesse Malin, Austin survivor Alejandro Escovedo (The Nuns, Rank And File, True Believers), and—hang on to your hats—a reunion of Peter Case and Paul Collins (The Plimsouls, The Nerves). 29th St. Ballroom has fuzztone bands like Thee Oh Sees, Burnt Ones, Xray Eyeballs, and Kid Congo Powers‘s new band, the Pink Monkey Birds. Beerland has Denton’s Wiccans and two great Austin Bands, OBN IIIs and A Giant Dog. A new burger joint on Manor—Flat Top—will host an unspecified appearance by The Wedding Present (spoken word? music? meet ‘n’ greet?). Lustre Pearl has The Drums. The New (and awfully big) Emo’s East has a super noise fest with The Gories and SpitsSaturday the 17thWaterloo Records continues its excellent free parking lot show tradition with a series of day shows, including appearances by Blouse, Strange Boys and Kid Congo. Trailer Space has Ty Segall pal Mikal Cronin and Austin darlings Hex Dispensers. Beerland has the wonderful local power pop band Bad Sports, fronted by the talented Orville Bateman Neeley III (also of OBN IIIs and A Giant Dog), plus Bass Drum Of Death and Flesh Lights (I’ve been singing this band’s praises to anyone who will listen—frontman Max Vandever is a dynamo). Peelander-Fest returns to The Grackle with headliners and hosts, Peelander-Z. Lots of other Japanese rock/punk bands will feature. Spiderhouse hosts Ben Tipton’s Burgermania, with Paul Collins and Peter Case and cool Atlanta power poppers Barreracudas. Wayne Kramer will play Lucy’s Fried Chicken. Rock sisters Bleached play the Red Eyed Fly patio… Sunday the 18th… Renate Winter’s excellent ‘zine Rubberneck hosts a showcase at Sidebar with Austin artists the Ugly Beats, Quin Galavis, Hex Dispensers, and Air Traffic Controllers (Matador Records’ Gerard Cosloy), Thom Tex Edwards’ Purple Stickpin (former Nervebreakers). Closing the festival with style and grace, the missus and I will enjoy a rare one together, at Congress Avenue’s beautiful camera shop, Lomography. They promise free cold ones and her fave all-acoustic rockers, princeton University’s Miracles Of Modern Science.

For the best, most complete, and up-to-date SXSW music listings, I always recommend Showlist Austin.

Classic news magazines get redesign

NYT magazine and Newsweek redesignsTwo magazines got a facelift in March—Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine. Jack Shafer reported on Slate that Newsweek editor Tina Brown initiated a complete design and content overhaul. At first glance, the cover line above the nameplate contains the usual list (“150 Women Who Shake the World”), with a cover story featuring Hillary Clinton rife with plaudits for the Secretary of State. Shafer opines Newsweek foolishly squanders pages that rave about Melinda Gates and her attempts to eradicate polio. He feels her efforts would have been impossible without clout from her husband, Bill. Tina Brown’s Newsweek draws the wrong lessons from the decline of print and the rise of the Web. In her introductory note, Brown attempts to build a case that Newsweek will “sift out what’s important, [and] pause to learn things that the Web has no time to explain.” Shafer feels the paper magazine failed to add anything apart from the web content, and feels underwhelmed by Newsweek‘s overall redesign, and disappointment by Brown’s efforts.

On the other hand, the first redesigned issue of The New York Times Magazine appears to be a triumph. Design director Arem Duplessis had the difficult task of taking an iconic weekly, already known for its fine design, and elevating it further. Duplessis raided the NYT archives and found inspiration in issues from the 1960s and ’70s—I liken them to Woody Allen’s timeless scrolling film titles. The design team chose a monochromatic color palette, and loaded its pages with typographic detail. My only complaint would be with its cover, which insists on cluttering with cover lines. (Remember, the magazine is distributed with issues of the New York Times, not as a stand-alone on the newsstand.) The cover layout feels tabloid-like, rather than the sharp and sophisticated cover we are accustomed to.

It is no doubt a work in progress and we shall anticipate each new issue with interest.

The stories behind automaker logos

BMW's emblem denotes propellers against a blue skyThe How Stuff Works website recently posted an interesting article about automaker logos and the stories behind them. Many of the histories I was already familiar with, but many of them were surprising. For instance, I got that the Acura “A” is a caliper, a tool that suggests “precision engineering.” And that several badges feature coats of arms (Alfa, Buick, Cadillac, and Porsche). I was also aware that BMW’s center represents airplane propellers. But I was pleased to discover that the Chevrolet “bowtie” was inspired by French wallpaper.

Browse the article to find your favorites, though some—Ford and VW, in particular—chose not to participate. However, I can reliably report that Ford uses a variation of the hand-lettered script developed in 1912 for use on its Model “T” badge.

SXSW 2011 festival

SXSW Music, Film, Interactive festival, March 11–20, 2011“But will they have free drinks?” That cry will be heard throughout Austin during the SXSW festival, from March 11 through 20. But of course we all have our different reasons for attending. Filmmakers, technology geeks, and live music enthusiasts alike can get their mojo on.

Wednesday through Saturday, the Austin Convention Center will house the 29th annual Flatstock poster show and the Texas Guitar Show. Flatstock has the latest in screen-printed poster designs, and promises to have a “portable” printer on-hand to show you how it’s done. Both shows are free to the public.

Interactive design firm Frog Design will host its annual SXSW kickoff party March 8. Industry peers will gather for a night of revelry and conversation.

And, oh, the music! I will be attending mostly day shows. Wednesday the 16th… Neo soul boys Fitz & The Tantrums will play a free show in the Waterloo Records parking lot. Texas’ own Bad Sports will play a day show at Trailer Space Records. Two interesting bands feature at Red River Street goth club Elysium: tough and tight garage rockers The Woggles, and Japanese punk crazies Peelander-Z. San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees will be at Spiderhouse on the drag. Draft beer emporium The Ginger Man will have three great Texas bands: Ugly Beats, Thunderchiefs, and Eve & the Exiles. On the east side, newly-opened pub The Grackle will host “Gracklefest”—four days of free shows. Do not miss Flesh Lights, an Austin trio led by that young bolt of lightning Max Vandever. Two more must-see Austin bands OBN IIIs and my soccer mate Alfonso’s band, Manikin, will be at Beerland. Thursday the 17h… Poet, survivor, lover Kacy Crowley will open for The Sour Notes at Betsy’s Bar downtown. Soul shouters Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears will dominate another free parking lot show at Waterloo, and then later at the Mohawk. I love the twee-ness that is The Carrots, and they’ll appear at the east side’s Baby Blue Studios. For $10 you can see former 13th Floor Elevators legend Roky Erickson and pals including Peter Buck from R.E.M. at Threadgills. For me a SXSW highlight will be UK band Pete And The Pirates at British pub Dog & Duck. On the same stage are The Minus Five, featuring former members of R.E.M. and The Dream Syndicate. Friday the 18th… Last year I spent some time on the beautiful grounds of the French Legation Museum. This year electroclash hell-raisers !!!, Cults, and tUnE-yArDs are my picks. The Shangri-la is a cherished east side neighborhood spot, and local boys done good The Hex Dispensers will be a good reason to stop by. Two festivals ago, I witnessed Gentlemen Jesse And His Men perform a scorching set in a record store parking lot. This time, the men will be outside at the Mohawk—not to be missed. South Congress Avenue shouldn’t be left out, and tiny outsider art gallery Yard Dog will somehow manage to find space for former X frontwoman Exene Cervenka to perform. Two excellent indie rock bands—Okkervil River, and Surfer Blood—perform at Flamingo Cantina. If you remember 1980s punk rockers ALL, their former singer is now fronting a band called Drag The River, and will be performing a few shows around town: at Hole in the Wall, Liberty, and Barbarella. Saturday the 19th… “Gracklefest” continues with Peelander-Z, 8-bit electro nerds Anamanaguchi, and my friends Cody, Zach, Nick, and Weston from Austin punk rockers Lost Controls. Rainey Street is fast becoming an alternative for dining and entertainment, and Okkervil River and Tapes ‘n Tapes will grace Lustre Pearl’s patio stage. Sunday the 20th… The last day of the festival goes out with a bang at the Side Bar. Flesh Lights, former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard, and two garage bands, Austin’s Ugly Beats and Pittsburgh’s Cynics will bring the house down.

For the most accurate, complete, and up-to-date SXSW music listings, I urge you to visit Showlist Austin.

The Black Keys rock ’n’ roll marriage

The Black Keys drummer Pat CarneyThe Black Keys are a rock duo from Akron, Ohio, and recently won two Grammy Awards, including the best alternative music album prize for their latest album, “Brothers.” I was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, a former industrial town on the bank of the Ohio River. It’s at the southern tip of the state, bordering on Kentucky and West Virginia. I never actually lived in Ohio—my father relocated our family to Chicago, and my mother returned to her Ohio hometown to finish the final trimester of her pregnancy with me. But feel an affinity with the state. It’s not a glamorous place, and I follow with interest the careers of Ohio artists and applaud any artist able to earn a name for themselves.

I remember clearly when the Black Keys’ first album was released, 2002’s “The Big Come Up.” At the time, drummer Patrick Carney was married to his teenaged sweetheart, Denise Grollmus. Grollmus is an excellent writer, and detailed in a post for Salon her love affair and ultimate painful divorce. It’s a moving story, and humanizes her relationship with a rising rock star through reminiscences of the Black Key’s first appearance on “Conan,” and she describes a poster for a band she and Carney formed before the Black Keys.

A good match: Pantone and fashion

Pantone spring 2011 colorsGraphic designers and printers have used the Pantone Matching System for ages. But many people don’t often realize how vital Pantone is to the fashion industry. To coincide with New York’s Fashion Week, Pantone released its top 10 color report for spring 2011 women’s fashion. Designers and fashion houses such as Badgley Mischka, Tommy Hilfiger, Adrienne Vittadini, Betsey Johnson, and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano read the report and chimed in with their take on the colors.

One notes at first glance the absence of primary colors. And many of the designers latched on to “Honeysuckle,” a bright red-pink hue dubbed color of the year. But who are the people who select these colors? Answer: as most things are decided—by committee. A top secret committee of 10 people meet in Europe twice a year at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in Carlstadt, New Jersey.

Pantone designer David Shah, who presides over the meeting, said he seeks opinions from a broad range of industries. “I have people who work in the car business, who work with big store groups,” Shah said. “I can’t tell you the names. They’re involved with everything from furniture through to clothing and knitwear.”

Pantone’s main business is color standards. There are 1,925 colors in Pantone’s library of textile colors, each with a unique identifying number, and the familiar swatches. This number is used to communicate color standards so that graphic designers and their printers, or fashion designers and their textile manufacturers, are on the same page.

No double-space after periods!

Compare single-and double-spacingThere is no need to type two spaces following a period. Why? Simply put, typefaces used by modern computers are proportionally spaced rather than monospaced. Double spacing after periods was acceptable for typewriters, because the spacing between each character was of equal space. However, today if you type two spaces following a period, or any sentence-ending punctuation, a wide gulf of visually unappealing negative space is created. It looks amateurish.

Since the time described in the book of Genesis, those raised on primary school typewriting classes have been well-drilled to type two spaces.When designing for clients, I am often delivered text that was composed in a word processor rife with extra spaces. It is no bother for me to search and replace these with a single space—it is ingrained into my design process. However, experienced typographers know, for elegant copy in published work, single spaces are mandatory.

Snow in Texas

Snow in Austin, TexasHappy (brrrr…) Valentine’s Day! Since last week, most of the United States has been in the throes of icy winter weather, closing airports and leaving motorists stranded in snow drifts. This typical scene plays out every winter, threatening to upset life and commerce in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. But one doesn’t often consider Texas a target for blizzards. On February 4, several inches of snow fell on Austin. That weekend, I drove up to Dallas to visit a friend. Icy road conditions forced an added hour to what is usually a three-and-a-half hour commute. Road conditions were fair until crossing the Dallas county line, where ice coated the main interstate. I passed Waco—a sizable city— that managed to treat its roads with sand. What happened, Dallas?

That Sunday the Dallas area (Arlington, actually) hosted the Super Bowl. While I did not attend the game, I was witness to a city of over 6.5 million totally unprepared for big crowds and icky weather. Brought to its knees, the Dallas police department seemed hapless to protect and serve, and many Dallasites grumbled—inconvenienced by the weather, 100,000 out-of-towners, and a paucity of taxi cabs. Public schools closed for days due to buses unequipped to deliver students.

Jennifer Dunn, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, admitted that the “first band caught us a little off-guard.” This week’s snow will likely push the season total into territory not seen since the record-setting storms of the 1970s.

Downtown Austin, Texas, February 4, 2011

Au revoir CAPS LOCK

Google Search keyGoogle recently launched its new Chrome OS laptop with one important new feature added… and one missing. The Caps Lock button has been deleted! In its place is a Google Search button, signified by a magnifying glass symbol. By changing a few settings, users can switch the Search key back to Caps Lock. But by default, those preferring to “shout” by typing all caps must hold down Shift.

It is surprising the Caps Lock button has lasted this long. It has its roots in late-19th-century typewriters (manually operated, of course, not electric). In those days, without italics for emphasis, typists used all caps. The Shift key had to be held down—not an easy thing to do for more than a few letters. So manufacturers added the “shift lock” button.

These days, typing in all caps is considered offensive, its usage reserved for the very elderly or looney ranters. Will other manufacturers choose to banish the Caps Lock button to thrift shop obscurity in favor of the 21st century-friendly Search button?

Starbucks changes logo

Starbucks logos through the yearsIn March Starbucks will celebrate its 40th anniversary and rollout a “new” logo  (not actually new—a stripping away of the word ring, leaving the familiar siren unchanged but now in green).

Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman and CEO, writes in an announcement on the company’s website, “we’ve given her a small but meaningful update to ensure that the Starbucks brand continues to embrace our heritage in ways that are true to our core values and that also ensure we remain relevant and poised for future growth.” By removing text from the logo, “international ubiquity”  and an exploration into non-coffee business ventures must have been listed on the team’s creative brief. But overall, reaction from the rank and file has not been positive. A typical comment on the site reads, “This gold card user isn’t impressed!”

Mike Peck, senior creative manager at Starbucks and his creative team admitted modifying the brand identity “was the project of a lifetime.” The logo was broken down into four main parts—color, shape, typeface and the siren. Peck and his team found the answer in simplicity.

In 1971, the company began selling coffee beans and spices in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. By 1992, the company became publicly traded.