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SXSW 2012 kicks off and Devo's in the house

AUSTIN, TEXAS -- It's South By Southwest season in Texas, and Tuesday is the day when the interactive and film portions of the conference schedule wind down and the music festival kicks in.  That means Austin is overun by tens of thousands of executives, tech nerds, agents and attorneys touting everything from cell phone aps to better algorithms for interacting with fans.

There's music, too, including heavy hitters such as Jay-Z, who played a Monday set for an invite-only audience, and Bruce Springsteen, who has a show with the E Street Band at a still "secret" location scheduled to follow his conference keynote address Thursday. And then there's everbody else -- 2,000 bands and artists playing at hundreds of clubs and bars over the next six days.

One of South by Southwest's enduring traditions is the daytime panels, which vie with an increasingly active daytime party schedule of live music for conferencegoers' attention. On Tuesday, the film conference was treated to an hour-long interview with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, who has forged a lucrative second career out of scoring music for movies and TV shows.

The success of many of the panels turns on how well the moderators are able to steer questions and frame the debate, but Mothersbaugh didn't get much help from his inquisitor. Nontheless, the affable maverick composer and conceptualist was able to take even the most innocuous question -- "So, tell me about Ohio?" -- and weave multiple story lines out of it.

Mothersbaugh said that Devo's music was as strongly influenced by the music heard in elevators and television commercials as it was other kinds of pop music. He was attending Kent State when National Guard troops gunned down student protesters, and Devo was formed in response -- "we were protesting the war in Vietnam ... trying to describe what was going on around us." But he didn't see the rhetoric of revolution in music as a viable vehicle for changing the way the world works. So he and his bandmates looked to another source of inspiration: Madison Avenue.

The advertising machine was "scary and impressive" in the way it enticed consumers to buy products, he said. "Subversion" became Devo's mantra, tied in with Mothersbaugh's interests in film and art. His later scores for"Pee Wee's Playhouse"and the "Rug Rats" movies surely qualify, as does his recent work as an art teacher in theNick Jr.cable TV hit "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The humor, he said, "works for 2 year olds."

greg@gregkot.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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