Long Live the Independent Party: KCRW Curates New Music Program At Sundance Film Festival

Posted January 15, 2013 in ,
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Jason Bentley. Photo: Piper Ferguson

Christmas is over. Your film snob friends are more harsh than usual about your Netflix queue’s contents. And, while walking downtown, an inconspicuous Jeff Goldblum gives you the middle finger because you insist on screaming “JEFF! C’MON! LET’S HANGOUT!” five times in a row (I later found out he was only a lookalike). Yes, the Sundance Film Festival is nigh. But this year, thanks to KCRW, film buffs might find themselves rubbing elbows with music buffs. For those unfamiliar, KCRW is one of the most prominent independent radio stations in existence. This L.A.-based organization not only serves as a notorious landmark for famous musicians, but helps birth them (Beck, PJ Harvey and Coldplay are just a few from their debut portfolio). The radio station was invited to curate a new music program, The KCRW Music Café Presented by Acura, at the festival this year. SLUG was given an opportunity to speak to the program director, Jason Bentley, about this newborn program and what we can expect from it.

SLUG: This is the first time the film festival collaborated with a radio station for music programming—undoubtedly a huge deal for a radio station. Where did the decision come in for Sundance to pair up with KCRW?
Jason Bentley: I feel that we are like-minded organizations and cultural institutions with similar missions, in terms of supporting the arts and independent artists. I think we admired each other’s work over the years, and they reached out. We had a meeting with them, and I really felt a kinship with them straight away. I felt that we were cut from the same cloth as people, just in the way we work and carry ourselves. As far as KCRW goes, I think we’re at that intersection of music discovery and film—independent film in particular. I don’t think there is any other radio station that covers that sweet spot.

SLUG: What’s the lineup of artists going to look like on your program this year?
Bentley: Initially, we had three themes—one for each night. The first night is emerging composers, second is electronic music in film, and the third night is singer/songwriters. First night, we have a composer collective called Fall On Your Sword. They have a documentary project on the Wikileaks story, called We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. We also have Dustin O’Halloran, who is a pianist and has done a number of films—definitely more of an independent artist. His music is quiet, nuanced and beautiful. On the next night, I just wanted to have a great party in Park City. The night will feature a few of our KCRW DJs. On Sunday, we are very pleased to present Andrew Bird and Jenny Lewis. In terms of overall profile, those two artists probably take the cake. I love both of them, but Andrew Bird is especially amazing.
SLUG: I agree.
Bentley: Also, for the independent artists, a good film placement or getting an end title can be so important in their career nowadays. You know, with record sales being dramatically different—you can’t really count on them. Touring and sync opportunities are much more important these days. Those relate to the industry—and having those guys play and also partnering with KCRW at an official venue for Sundance is just a smart move.

SLUG: So, the biggest incentive for these first time artists is this being their potential debut.
Bentley: If they get one interested music supervisor or film opportunity, then it’s worth the trip.

SLUG: KCRW is infamous for being the quintessential haven for radio debuts, such as Beck and Sigur Ros, to name examples. I even heard Coldplay’s first US show was for a KCRW broadcast.
Bentley: Yeah! It’s funny—I don’t really push that fact too hard anymore because it’s absurd now. KCRW became a first stop for everyone, like Adele and Coldplay, because we’re all about music discovery. Our music programing emphasis is on what’s next and what’s exciting and, as a natural result, we’re typically the first stop for many artists. It’s sort of routine now.

SLUG: What different elements will KCRW bring to the table in contrast with ASCAP’s and BMI’s music programs at Sundance?
Bentley: Since it’s our first year, it’s still a discovery process for us, but I think being on at night as a destination for music on the strip in Park City is going to be cool. I think our curator is distinctive as well, so you can trust the bands and know you’re in good hands, whereas something more general like ASCAP and BMI don’t have the same reputation. I mean, could you imagine a general ASCAP showcase–what does that mean? I think KCRW has a little more meaning to people.
SLUG: True, because I looked up ASCAP’s lineup. They have varied independent artists, but then—out of nowhere—Kenny Loggins.
Bentley: Yeah, exactly!

SLUG: Will your program be accessible online?
Bentley: It will be streaming in real time and then they’re archived as podcasts.

SLUG: Anything else you want to add?
Bentley: We’re super excited, thanks for your interest and we’ll see you up there.

Stay tuned to the latest KCRW info at Sundance and get details on the Music Café’s lineup on their tumblr: kcrwsundance.tumblr.com.

Jason Bentley. Photo: Piper Ferguson