Crossfader and The Dears

This is the coolest digital media thingie that Microsoft’s done in a long time. It’s only in beta right now, and the content is pretty sparse, but I talked to Eric Schmidt, who’s helping drive Crossfader, and he convinced me that it’s a serious long-term project, not just a one-off marketing blip that will disappear.

Quick background: Microsoft’s looking for a way to promote Windows as a platform for professional audio production. (This market’s generally dominated by the Mac–I can’t tell you how many times people have said “get a Mac” when I tell them I’m thinking of getting into home audio production.) So Microsoft decided to ask digital music producers and enthusiasts what they actually want. Answer: an online forum to share tips and tricks, plus relevant editorial content from DJ-oriented magazines like URB and BPM (no link), and educational resources from places like Berklee. Editorial and outreach is being overseen by Darek Mazzone, who hosts a great world music show on Seattle college radio station KEXP. Of course a lot of the content will be focused on Microsoft platforms (Windows, .NET) and the partners who build pro audio software and hardware on those platforms, but overall this is a nice change of pace from the usual centralized marketing blitz that Microsoft puts out. Sometimes the 800-pound gorilla surprises me with its nimbleness.

Speaking of 800-pound gorillas, I saw one of the worst bands in the world last night. Imagine a bad version of Bachman Turner Overdrive with a bit more AC/DC guitar (although their three guitarists couldn’t touch what Angus accomplished with one) and the worst Oasis-type moon-june-tune lyrics. Yet, they’re on a major label and have a really nice tour bus outside and are getting people to pay $15 for entry. Here’s how this must have happened: some A&R guy heard The Strokes and White Stripes in about 2001, read that The Hives (from Sweden) were the next big thing, and signed these guys, who also play rock and roll and are also from Sweden! This exemplifies the safe, follower-wannabe type acts that the record industry loves, and maybe they know what they’re talking about: there were about 40 people who seemed really, really into them. (Or maybe there’s way too much cocaine in Seattle.) But what an obvious, disposable, flash-in-the-pan, no-talent excuse for music. Almost every single band I saw last week–all indie or unsigned, and mostly local–were just as rehearsed and tight, and far more creative and and talented than these drones. And the record industry wonders why it’s in trouble?

So the reason I was sitting (standing) through this crap? A friend insisted that I join him to see band before them, The Dears. Amazing band, and almost indescribable. Imagine three typical alt rock guys (guitar, bass drums), two robotic looking women playing keyboards and other instruments (one of whom has beautiful heroin eyes and plays the flute), all flanking a sexually ambiguous black lead singer/guitarist/producer with a black neckerchief. All I know is that they’re from Montreal, which has spawned some incredible music in recent years, as well as some of the best beer outside the Pacific Northwest and Belgium. (Must be something in the water or the radio waves…I have to visit some time and find out.)

So they start with a 15-minute post-rock noise jam that sounds like a blend of Tortoise and Kinski. Then they start playing songs, with influences that run the gamut from glam rock to early 80s cheese pop (I kept thinking of Erasure) to goth (Siouxsie and Love & Rockets) to Morrissey to emo to Prince. One of the weirdest and most creative bands I’ve ever seen. (I heard part of their latest album, though, and it didn’t quite translate…a little too much cheese, not enough rock.)

They just recently got signed to a major after three independent albums, so perhaps there’s hope for creative music.

Venue was El Corazon, formerly known as Graceland, formerly RCKCNDY back in the auld Seattle rawk daze. Still a loud, poor-sounding dive with insufficient numbers of bartenders who accidentally-on-purpose overcharge for drinks (run a tab at your own risk) and stupid house rules that they don’t warn you about (this was an all ages show…but they don’t tell you not to bring drinks into the band area until AFTER you’ve bought them…nice). In other words, new name, same old bullshit.

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