Echotone: Austin, Texas: The Quiet Fight for a Louder Future

This is a scattershot documentary about live music in Austin, Texas, that features a lot of great material with local musicians, but bails out on its intriguing noise vs. neighbors premise early in the film.

Echotone: Austin, TX: The Quiet Fight for a Louder Future

Artists: Various Artists
Label: Indiepix
US Release Date: 2011-09-27
UK Release Date: 2012-01-31

Austin, Texas is a city filled with a lot of independent-minded musicians and filmmakers. Echotone seems to be what happens when one of those filmmakers decides to make a movie about the entirety of Austin's music scene. Predictably, the film feels a little scattered, but there's a lot of interesting footage of a whole host of Austin-based musicians in action. This live footage and the accompanying backstage interviews keep the movie from being boring, but it still feels like quite the missed opportunity.

Director Nathan Christ starts Echotone out with a mission statement of sorts. We're riding along in a delivery van with singer/guitarist Joe Lewis, of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Joe is an affable guy who has clearly become a little jaded. He discusses his day job delivering fish to local restaurants and customers, and eventually gets around to mentioning his band. At one point, he tells an anecdote involving his daily trip up to the penthouse of one of Austin's new high-rise condos, and how the man there never seems to recognize him despite the fact that he delivers fish to him every single day.

After that cold open, the film snaps into focus as Christ uses archival footage of Austin's city council-created Live Music Task Force. The Task Force was formed in early 2008 to try to find solutions to a growing problem in Austin. With thousands of new residents moving into those high-rise condos, what can be done about the noise put out by music from the dozens of clubs and bars in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World? Do the new, mostly well-off residents deserve to have some peace and quiet in downtown Austin? Or do the musicians and club owners have the right to keep operating the way they have been for the last 40 years or more?

This is a great topic for a music film, and for the first 20-25 minutes of Echotone, it seems like Christ is really going to dig into it. But then problems arise. Most of the musicians Christ profiles don't seem particularly interested in the debate, and the handful of businessmen and city council types that make it into the film don't really have anything insightful to say, either.

Midway through the movie, Christ films a meeting of an Austin musicians' group dedicated to fighting for the musicians' rights. It draws about a dozen attendees, none of whom could be described as young. Intentional or not, it sums up Christ's problem. The musicians in the city care about their own economic situations, but not enough to actually get involved in local politics. Since the interview subjects won't engage with the film's premise, Christ retreats from the social focus and instead tries for a more personal document.

Beyond Joe Lewis, by far the movie's most personable subject, the film also spends a lot of time with Cari Palazzolo of Belaire, Bill Baird, formally of the band Sound Team, and manager/artist/label head Daniel Perlaky. Palazzolo takes being an independent musician to almost ridiculous extremes, going so far as to hand-decorate each cd and band t-shirt individually. And yet Belaire allows one of their songs to be used as background in a shampoo commercial. Notably, though, it's only broadcast in Europe. This "sellout" conundrum is one that seems particularly played out in the 21st century, when the major music labels have largely collapsed and artists have had to find new ways to market themselves.

And yet Bill Baird seems to feel the sellout question down to his bones. Baird has a jaded, shell-shocked look about him. As a member of Sound Team, he experienced the massive shift that came from being in a local band to being a group on a major label when Capitol signed the band in the mid-00's. But Sound Team's Capitol debut sold poorly, the label restructured, and Sound Team was unceremoniously dropped. Without much of a national fanbase to keep them going, Sound Team broke up in late '07. When Echotone catches up with Baird beginning in early '08, he sounds defeated and a bit overwhelmed. The movie spends a lot of time with Baird as he talks about his experiences with Sound Team and the difficulty of picking up the pieces and starting over as a local musician again.

Then there's Perlaky. An artist by choice, he says he became a band manager and label head mostly as a way to display the art and photographs he was doing for local bands. Perlaky gradually becomes something of the film's main character, as Christ begins using him as an inside man to interview Austin musicians. Clearly he's a known quantity around town, and people are willing to talk to him about a wide variety of topics. Except, you know, for the question of concert noise vs. residential rights. He's a genial and engaging personality for the most part.

Still, Perlaky isn't immune to occasional bouts of band manager bullshit. There's a great moment during an interview with notoriously snarky A.V. Club editor Sean O'Neal when Perlaky starts talking about one of his bands. O'Neal calls him on it by saying "You're just gonna plug your band, like, 'they're the future of music'?" Perlaky responds with, "They really are the future of music in the sense that they don't give a shit!", while O'Neal just buries his head in his arms.

Little moments like that one, as well as the crushed-dreams honesty of Bill Baird and the good-natured but realistic outlook of Joe Lewis, are what keeps Echotone afloat once it becomes obvious that Christ isn't going anywhere with his original premise. There's a lot of great live footage of the various bands (Ghostland Observatory, Dana Falconberry, White White Lights, The Octopus Project, The Apeshits, The Black Angels), many of which get what amounts to half-song cameo appearances in the film. Cinematographer Robert L. Garza does an excellent job of capturing the live performances in a variety of different ways, and it's a shame that the DVD's scant extras (trailers, a 5.1 sound mix, a handful of extended interviews) don't include the full song performances of each band featured in the movie.

Eventually, Christ finds a new focus with which to finish the movie, and it's completely predictable. It seems like he was following these artists anyway, so he decided to stick with them in the runup to South by Southwest, Austin's yearly massive music showcase event. It's hard to do a film about music in Austin without discussing SXSW, but the fact that it isn't even mentioned until Echotone's second half makes it feel like an afterthought. For all I know Christ always envisioned his movie ending with the featured artists performing triumphantly at SXSW, but the film's structure makes it feel like a cheap substitute that had to happen after his initial premise fell apart. There's enough interesting behind the scenes material in Echotone to make it worth watching for music fans, but it's hard to recommend it as an actual coherent film.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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