SXSW: Location Location Location

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SXSW Interactive’s hotbed of ideas, networking and conversations is the ideal place for new technology to emerge. The conference’s geek-heavy attendees are interested in the future of the web, in apps and new platforms. While Twitter and Foursquare caused a stir in Austin, Texas in previous years, 2012′s hot new apps fill the void between cool new social platforms and y’know, genuine usefulness.

Sure, the constant infostream of Twitter or the geo-tour guide of Foursquare are cool but there’s always been a gap between the fabricated reality of social networks and actual real life. The latest apps at SXSW in 2012 addressed this issue. This year’s buzzwords were “social discovery” and “ambient location”. Most people have used social networks have had that awkward moment where “someone they know from the internet” has introduced themselves in the flesh. You know who the person is but they look different to their online picture or avatar.

Highlight is an “ambient location” app for iPhone that will prepare you for such situations. Bridging the gap between networking application and conversation enabler, Highlight sits on the background of your phone and alerts you when you’re in the near vicinity of a friend of yours on Twitter or a person with likeminded interests from Facebook. It’s a conversation starter, an excuse for new genuine, real-life friendships or conversations.

After installing Highlight on my iPhone a few weeks before SXSW, I promptly forgot about it. When I was in Austin, my phone buzzed a few times with a message telling me that a blogger I had long admired was in my immediate vicinity and the shared interests we had. Perfect. We finally said hello after a few years of Twitter talk and it wasn’t weird at all.

Highlight isn’t the only hot new location-aware connection app, there’s also Sonar, Banjo, Gauss, Glancee and of course, Grindr, the geolocating app for gay men that was ahead of the curve in 2009. It looks like 2012 may be the year of “ambient location”, a next generation of apps, ones that are location-aware, people-aware and socially-aware.

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The best of SXSW music downloads

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You don’t have to be in Texas this week to follow the action at the 26th annual South By Southwest Festival in Austin. There are plenty of other ways to experience the same set of new music drawn from over 2,000 bands playing the festival thanks to hundreds of previews, mixes and downloads. Here are the pick of the bunch. Discover your own favourite new band.

A good place to start as ever is the American radio network NPR and their always excellent home for music on the web. Their SXSW microsite ( features a handpicked list of 100 of the best bands playing the festival playing as a continuous 7 hour mix that you can tune into at any time. It features tracks from Alabama Shakes, Cults, Hospitality, The Men, Young Prisms and more. 71 of the songs are available for free download too. Not only that but NPR’s own showcases featuring Sharon Van Etten, Dan Deacon, Magnetic Fields and Andrew Bird are being webcast for a limited time. It’s expected that Fiona Apple’s return to live music as a headliner will be available too, as long as Ms. Apple is happy with it. What a diva.

If volume is what you want is back with BitTorrent files featuring a whopping 1,219 song downloads taken from each official band playing the festival from the SXSW website.

The long standing Stereogum blog keeps it trimmed to 25 songs from bands who they’ve championed in the past including Candy Walls from the Austra side-project TRUST and the Whigfield-sounding I’ll Never Know bounce pop from Londoner Charli XCX.

Highly recommended from the newly formed Portals Music blog collective is their SXSW 2012 sampler available for free from Bandcamp featuring some of the smaller, more underground names at the festival from the skittery dreaminess of Florida’s Hundred Waters to the catchy acoustic folk pop of You Won’t. More from SXSW 2012 next week.

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Bands as brands: Howler’s SXSW-based ad campaign

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Every March, over 2000 bands head to Austin, Texas for the South By South West (SXSW) music festival in the hope that they can turn their passion into their career. But with so many acts poring into the American city over one week, how do you stand out from the rest? Minneapolis band Howler are hoping they have the answer: hire an ad agency.

The five-piece band, signed to revered indie label Rough Trade are already doing quite well in the UK thanks to the blessing of NME. They’ve garnered comparisons to The Strokes and have been hailed as the latest saviours of guitar music (snore). Back home however, it’s a different story for Howler and to increase their visibility in the US they have enlisted the services of Mono, an advertising and branding company from their hometown to help them make an impact in the lead up to SXSW. Mono have worked on campaigns for Apple, MSNBC, NBA and Sesame Street. So how are they approaching advertising a rock ‘n’ roll band?

Rather than spending money on one big budget video, the band, or specifically their North American independent label Beggars Group spent the money on a campaign based on the title of the band’s debut album – ‘America Give Up’.

The campaign features an elderly black man passing commentary on all things that could be attributed to the decline of American civilization from canned cheese to the Kardashians to social networks. The hope is that enough chatter will be created around the campaign that it will work positively for the band going into the festival but it’s hard to see how the an elderly man will appeal to kids looking for some genuine rebellion or energy.

Of course, lots of bands using marketing or branding to stand out these days so this is really nothing new. If anything, authentic indie artists need only look at the reaction to Lana Del Rey to see how manufactured authenticity can backfire. We’ll know post-SXSW, just how successful this campaign was.

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Band of Blogs: Death Grips, Kid A, Nite Jewel, Amanda Mair

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Death Grips
Last year’s Ex Military free download album introduced the aggressive noise rap of Death Grips. The Sacramento band are now inexplicably on a major label deal. How Epic plan to make money out of these guys is beyond me but new song Get Got is some thrilling raucous noise.

Kid A
This Virginia musician released an imaginary movie soundtracks last year with lyrics mostly in Japanese. That may sounds pretentious but the English-sung BB Bleu sounds like something Massive Attack might have made if they were still making Blue Lines material.

Nite Jewel
Ramona Gonzalez has been releasing lo-fi pop-funk for four years now but her new and second album One Second Of Love has seen her add some bite and swerve to her sound.

Amanda Mair
At just 17, this young Swede has eschewed the reality music TV route and signed with the cool Scandanavian label Labrador. Popjustice hailed her previous single as one their favourites of 2011 and Sense, her new song finds the middleground between radio-friendly and indie-appeal.

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Band of Blogs: Madeon, 2:54, Algiers & Mia Sparrow

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The best music found by us on the web this week…


Hugo Leclercq, a 17 year-old “pop house” producer from France has established a reputation based on tracks posted on Youtube and Soundcloud recently. His first big single, the big pop electro rush of Icarus should see him hit the mainstream.


Moody shoegaze rock from two Irish sisters Hannah and Colette Thurlow who grew up in the UK. The single You’re Early will fill any Warpaint-sized holes you may have.


An “experimental gospel no wave soul pulp band” (of course), Algiers debut single Blood is all of those things plus a big dose infection of voodoo blues.

Mia Sparrow

Pairing post-rock guitar lines with melodious vocals, this three-piece Dublin alt-rock band released their debut album for free on Bandcamp last week. Lovely noise.

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John Peel’s record collection to be archived online

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While the world’s interconnectivity and hyperawareness means we have access to everything these days, the consequence is that we will never see the likes of the late great John Peel again. The BBC radio presenter was the original tastemaker and in honour of his legacy, it was announced last week his record collection is to be archived in a virtual home on the web.

The collection which numbers 40,000 vinyl singles and 25,000 vinyl albums will be archived from May. The collection will include some of his personal notes, stories from contributors along with video interviews with family and those musicians that were close to him. You will be able to browse the artwork for 2,500 of those albums, at the rate of 100 per week, from May to October, though due to copyright limitations, only the BBC Peel Sessions archives have been confirmed for listening at this point. Watch the brilliant 2005 documentary John Peel’s Record Box for a taster of what to expect from the hero’s collection come May from

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France’s three strikes law: The numbers

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The controversial French Hadopi law which sends internet users who download copyrighted media illegally with up to three warning letters has been in place for under three years now. That’s just long enough to pump out some juicy stats on the behavioural patterns of those offenders when faced with stern warnings. It’s of particular interest to us Irish, as Eircom adopted the same tactic after pressure from music representative body IRMA (Irish Recorded Music Association) in 2010.

So what are the results? Out of 45 million internet users in France, 822,000 people were sent first round warning letters about their infringements. That number drops to 68,000 people for second round repeat offenders. The number of people who received a third letter of warning? 165. That’s a significant drop that suggests the three-strikes policy is more useful than litigation or site blocking. Discuss…

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Physibles – The Pirate Bay’s next move

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As the web’s most vigilant and outspoken piracy hub, The Pirate Bay is still going strong despite deliberate copyright flouting, jail sentences and fines. The site has vigilantly resisted opposition for so long now that the owners are considering moving on from mere BitTorrent files that link to pirated entertainment.

As of February 29th, the site moving to a different format away from .torrent files and to Magnet files. The site also moved to a Swedish domain to stop any potential seizure from US authorities.

These latest moves angered the Recording Industry Association of America whose Vice President Mitch Glazier went on the offensive. “It is, in a phrase, one of the worst of the worst,” Glazier wrote. He went on to call on responsible leaders in the tech community to come up with constructive ideas to address these “foreign rogue sites that steal American jobs.”

The Pirate Bay, ever ready to snark back responded in an article on the TorrentFreak website. “The recording industry is like a kid screaming for candy. The problem is that the kid has diabetes.”

But perhaps the grandest idea that The Pirate Bay has come up with has yet to be unleashed. Forget digital files, the site is now talking about “Physibles”. With 3D printing on its way to mass-market, TPB is predicting that the next big thing will be downloadable models for constructing 3D physical objects that will allow you to print your vehicle spare parts or sneakers, for example.

“No more shipping huge amount of products around the world…No more child labour. We’ll be able to print food for hungry people. We’ll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal.”

The Pirate Bay’s battleground has shifted to a more difficult and open terrain – the real world.

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