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Tuesday, September 26, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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It's back to basics so let's rock ; North by Northwest: Fixation on technology is over

Seattle Times staff critic

PORTLAND, Ore. - The revolution is over. Time to get back to the music.

In its first five years, North by Northwest was fixated on technology. This year the annual music-industry conference, which ended its four-day run here Saturday, moved beyond Napster, the Internet, digital recording, etc., and got back to basics.

While panels on technology were only sparsely attended, the ones about succeeding in the music business were packed. Their conclusions: Get a lawyer and a manager, learn about the business, build your career in stages, investigate all avenues for getting your music heard.

Some panelists got down to the nitty-gritty, painting a blunt picture of the industry and how it sometimes works.

"The music industry's full of creeps," warned David Meinert of the Seattle-based management company, Fuzed Music.

"Go to where the money is - your neighborhood drug dealer," advised I Self Devine, who admitted that's how he financed his Atlanta hip-hop group, The Micranots.

"I'm from the artist-as-outlaw mode," veteran Bob Neuwirth boasted. The singer-songwriter, known for his work with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith and others, elicited cheers when he declared, "Music keeps you young. Music is life. Money is not life."

The Los Angeles-based Neuwirth also drew cheers at his Thursday night performance at the funky, book-lined Tugboat Brewpub, singing knowing, nostalgic, finely crafted songs about his life in music.

In the daily panel sessions, held in meeting rooms at the Embassy Suites Hotel, and in the clubs at night, where nearly 300 bands performed in 20 venues, the NXNW atmosphere was optimistic.

More opportunities exist for bands than ever before, thanks to the Internet, several industry panelists said. The big word at this year's panels: "monitize," i.e., how to make money on the Web.

"That's the holy grail," Bruce Haring of Inside.com said in a Friday panel on Napster, the controversial Web site that was shut down due to copyright violations. Panelists agreed that a standard "monitization" system will soon be in place because there's so much money to be made.

Copyrights and government intervention were major issues that emerged from panel discussions.

"The real flaw is the legal system," Ian Clarke, the upstart creator of Freenet, observed. The Dublin-born, London-based 23-year-old argued that the FBI's "Carnivore" project, which seeks government access to all Internet communications in the name of national security and preventing cybercrime, would constitute a form of censorship.

Clarke said security and pornography fears are not sufficient reasons to jeopardize free speech - including sharing music - on the Internet.

"If you support freedom of speech," he argued, "you can't pick and choose."

Freenet is a new way to download music files that uses a decentralized system - person to person - as opposed to such centralized services as Napster. It has initially avoided the legal hassles that plague Napster and other music sites.

"It's been a real adventure so far," Clarke said. "Maybe it will go horribly wrong, but not yet."

In the end, NXNW is really about live music. Many conference-goers skip the daytime panels, workshops and hotel schmoozing and use their NXNW laminates just to get into the clubs ($30 wristbands were available to the public, but did not guarantee entrance to the most crowded venues). Seattle was well-represented with 45 bands performing.

Music at NXNW ranged from the lively, mandolin-based sound of the young, promising Lowcountry Boil Bluegrass Band from South Carolina, to the hard-rock, three-man assault of Peter Pan from the Netherlands.

The Gentlemen was made up of a clean-and-sober, healthy-looking Duff McKagan of Guns 'N Roses and Dave Dederer of The Presidents of the United States of America, both in tailored suits. "Everything in my life is really, really good," McKagan said from the stage at Satyricon, the punk dive where Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love a decade ago.

Another Presidents member, Chris Ballew, performed with the Giraffes, which followed the Gentlemen with a set of up, clever pop tunes.

Among other Seattle bands were the six-piece Mountain Con, which created a party groove at Berbati's Pan Thursday night with modern rock informed with '50s and '60s influences; Eris, which rocked the same place with punk metal the following night; Bugs in Amber, which updated Jethro Tull with violin- and flute-based folk rock at Dante's Friday; and Blue Spark, which country-rocked the Ash Street Saloon Saturday.

The biggest kick of NXNW: The Portland band My Regrets, which brought the house down Saturday night at the Blue Note Lounge with a Stones-like assault led by a skinny lead singer who danced on the bar, on tabletops, and out the door and down the street. He rolled on the floor, rode on a fan's shoulders and was in a mock fight with a guy, all the while singing stinging rock songs, backed by a tight, talented four-piece band, all of them good looking and dressed to kill in tailored black suits.

Forget technology, let's rock!

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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