This year was my first year covering SXSW and with so many panels, artists, and films being shown, it was difficult to narrow down my picks for what to see. My first day at the Austin Convention Center, the location for the majority of the panel talks this year, was Wednesday March 15th. Upon looking at the schedule, I was ecstatic to see that New Order was scheduled to speak that same day.
New Order is one of the most successful bands to ever emerge from the punk movement of the 80s, influencing countless artists that would follow. The history of the band is founded on one of the biggest tragedies in music, the passing of Ian Curtis. Ian Curtis is such an iconic frontman, with a memorable deep voice and stage presence. For the remaining members, it was a difficult process to move on from such a traumatic ending.
Ian Curtis’ death was so tragic, not just because of his contribution to the world as a musician but because of the injustice of mental health support and remedies. In many ways, New Order is also the legacy of Ian Curtis, given his surviving bandmates would go on to form the group in spite of the grief and trauma of losing their frontman.
Sure we’ve heard of Dave Grohl, and Jerry Cantrell, losing their best friends and frontmen in traumatic ways, yet Ian Curtis may have been the first death of a frontman in a major band to occur in the rock scene. While in conversation at SXSW, remaining members Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Gillian Gilbert discussed their journey into music as they disliked the educational system in Manchester. The conversation mostly steered away from painful topics, instead focusing on each members personal history, relationship to music, and the importance of Manchester’s punk scene in music history.
Later that same day I was able to catch Killer Mike in conversation with Marcus J. Moore from The New York Times, where he discussed his trajectory as one half of Run The Jewels, his upbringing, and how he got the name Killer Mike to begin with. He talks about the difference between an artists name (Michael Render) vs the real life person (Killer Mike), one can perform and the other can partake in actual political stakes. As some people were upset over him meeting with the governor of his state, he discussed the necessity to do so as politics has an impact on everybody, even artists. He also discussed the way a person exists before an artist as he feels “Killer Mike” is an extension of Michael Render.
When discussing his childhood, Render talked about being the product of an all Black community, and the positive impact of seeing all his “heroes and enemies” look like him. He also discussed the impact of his grandmother who would always say “God don’t like ugly. My grandma put me in the service of others so young, we don’t know how not to do it.” Killer Mike is known for using his wealth to support his home community, something he has been admired for as not every artist keeps their community in mind.
Killer Mike’s rawness was a breath of fresh air, as he was clearly being himself, unfiltered. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the talk was his confidence in speaking about his work, something I believe many Black and Brown people should embody even in the midst of the violence inflicted by the state.