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VB Transform 2019: AI by All

And how we've got recommendation systems all wrong

I had the enormous privilege to go to VentureBeat’s Transform 2019, an AI conference in SF. My mission was to find out how to make recommendation systems better. Services like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify use them to help people choose what to consume next, and the one thing they all seem to center it around is a person’s past behavior. It shouldn’t.

For Amazon, behavior should be a sizable part of the equation in recommending products to buy, but for ideas, stories, and any kind of content, it’s different. It should be different. People can go to their friends and family for what’s happening in their community and culture, but the greatest promise of the internet and other mass communication is being able to hear ideas & stories from people anywhere around the globe. Mind you, there’s a lot of them out there.

That’s where editors, curators, dj’s, and other domain experts come into play. It’s about gearing them up with the latest tools and technologies. They will be the ones best suited to program recommendation systems to help people get outside of their own filter bubbles. One of the speakers at Transform put it simply, this isn’t just about artificial intelligence, but augmenting (human) intelligence as well. First and foremost, the people who are at the forefront of a field. Someone who’s made it their life’s work. Next, democratize it to everyone else.

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Michael Kiwanuka & Tom Misch · Money

Expectations are high when two talents get together

Expectations are on high when you get two talented musicians together, but the outcome usually doesn’t match up. Rarely do the two amplify the talent.

When I heard Michael Kiwanuka and Tom Misch collaborated, I was intrigued but tried not to set expectations too high. When I hype anything up, I feel like it always falls short. Money might be the exception.

Tom Misch is slowly gaining status as one of the best guitarists of our time, and leads Kiwanuaka’s voice in this disco melody. A departure from his usual soul music, it reminds me of a Mayer Hawthorne song with a bit of James Mercer’s voice on Broken Bells. That’s why I love the song so much. Not only does it exceed my expectations, but it’s a departure from what I’ve heard in Kiwanuaka’s past.

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Porter Robinson’s Second Sky Festival

It's not just about the headliner

There are quite a few people in the music industry where I appreciate their influence more than their actual work. Porter Robinson is a great example. It’s not that I don’t enjoy his music, but what he’s done for a few underserved musicians I know and many more will be far more long-lasting. And that’s one of the reasons why Second Sky Festival exists. To showcase musicians that deserve a more global presence, or at least one in Oakland, California, where the festival is being held.

This year has been all about expanding my music taste globally. SXSW took me to Brazil, MUTEK to Italy, and now Porter Robinson’s Second Sky to Japan.

I found Wednesday Campanella going through the festival’s 10 acts. KOM_I’s voice, lead singer of the group, will probably take me years to get used to, but it’s festivals like this that will open me up to sounds, and more specifically languages, I’m not accustomed to. The group’s sound is a beautiful intro into the Japanese language.

KOM_I created a recent YouTube Original to document her new album. Re:SET speaks on the parallels between the desire to grow your art, fan’s judgment on that change, and the twisted nature of reality (literally.) I don’t know if anything else could have gotten me more excited to see her perform live.

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MUTEK.SF

An electronic festival not suitable for a furniture store

MUTEK is a global touring electronic music & arts festival that started in Montreal. It debuted its US spot in SF last year and was back for another round this year. The festival isn’t just a bunch of dj sets but touts an immersive quality to it with technology pushing forward what your ears, eyes, and every other sense feel.

I went through the 100 or so djs, producers, and musicians performing, but they’re meant more for a setting other than Living Spaces – my girlfriend wanted to test out couches for what felt like four hours.

Usually listening to music beforehand gives me a better picture of what I want to see. With MUTEK, you can’t prep. Well, at least not until a suitable VR experience is available. It was about listening there, especially Friday, the first day of the festival. The night astonished me a few times over.

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Kelsey Lu made me blush

And more of my awesome awkwardness

I’m a proud member of Concert Raptors, a Facebook group with over 11,000 highly enthusiastic Bay Area fans of live music. It’s a good place to exchange tickets with people you know aren’t bots, let people know about the latest stellar musician coming to The Bay, or organize group meetups around events. Those are the things that make it good, but what makes it great is the culture set by moderators and active members. Kind of like Dogspotting, no one takes it too seriously and fun is highly encouraged, if not required when selling tickets (never above face value.)

I’ve met up with people from Concert Raptors before, but Kelsey Lu was the first time I did it solo. A few people were getting together at Smuggler’s Cover before the show. When I got there, I had no idea where to find them. The small bar near the entrance had a half-dozen people sitting on stools, but I wasn’t sure they were raptors, so I went downstairs. I ordered a drink, tried to see if they posted exactly where they were, but my phone had no service down there, so I scoped out the place and narrowed down who a raptor could be. My pick was wrong. They asked me, “what the hell is Concert Raptors?” I explained and skurried upstairs with tail between my legs.

After getting upstairs, I had internet connection once again and saw they posted that they were upstairs. There were only two sets of three people at the bar, so I picked what I thought was most likely. The guy responded with, “what is that some shitty band name?” Once again I explained what it was and tried to get out of the situation as fast as possible. Someone mentioned there was a third floor, so I awkwardly backed out of my seat and went that way.

I finally found my raptors and went with them to the show soon after. Kelsey Lu was an experience all her own. I appreciated her music before, but seeing her live puts a lot more background into who she is. Her personality on stage shines. She gave me goosebumps and made me blush at the end. Few times have I felt a show ended too early. This was one of them.

In the end, the stress that came in finding my group of raptors made the show all the more enjoyable. Check out a video of Kelsey Lu’s performance at Great American Music Hall. You’ll need to be a raptor of Concert Raptors to view it.

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SXSW 2019: 1,400 musicians to 50

Expanding your taste in music is what South by does best

There were at least 1,466 musicians performing at SXSW for 2019. I went through every one of them and narrowed it down to 58 (just under 4%) to see.

Going through a thousand or so songs for South by, a few thousand more from Majestic Casual’s catalog, and close to 100,000 songs over Silence Nogood’s almost ten years, I’m developing an ear for finding musicians that aren’t just an easy recommendation in similar sound and quality. But I still struggle to convince others. It’s hard to convey the context in why you should listen, let alone when, but seeing musicians and DJs live is one of the best ways to do so.

My job is to guide a path for people from listening online to experiencing music live. Something I want to work on particularly hard this year and South by was my first big step.

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Not UR Wedding DJ

Dance to what you love and what others do too

I wanted to make a playlist for my friends’ wedding, but not with all the stereotypical hits. Unlike what I’ve promoted in the past, this playlist still caters to what music people know and love singing to (or at least dance to), but not all the hits you hear at weddings.

It starts with the best, goes into what we loved growing up in the 90’s, takes it back to what our parents grew up with, and ends with the newer favorites.

I also stuck in a few personal gems for the bride & groom. Congrats, Connie & Dan!

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Noise Pop 2019: Did it right for the first time

And found a great guitar player in the meantime

I’ve done Noise Pop Festival all wrong for the past four years. Usually, I go through the lineup when it’s announced, find the acts I know, and go see them. For the fifth year, I did it different.

I went through all of the 150 or so musicians playing this year and got it down to a handful or so to see. Noise Pop made it easier to get through all of the artists. It still took waayy too long, but I love to take on massive amounts of music.

I made a playlist of 14 musicians (9% of the lineup) for “Where I’ll be at Noise Pop Festival 2019,” but I only got to go to see five. It was all over The Bay Area, raining half the time, but I found at least one musician I’ll be following (for real) to every gig I see. Guess which musician it was.

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Tommy Guerrero and his guitar

This is gonna take me a long time to digest

I don’t listen to enough good albums. It’s hard making a great song, let alone more than a few in a row.

I found Tommy Guerrero out of the 150+ musicians performing at Noise Pop Festival this year. He reminded me of the psychedelic surf rock reminiscent of Khruangbin and a bit like Toro y Moi too, but after going through his ten albums, he’s incomparable. His rifts are the catchiest thing I’ve heard all year.

I chose a little over 30 tracks to feature here, but I have a feeling all his music will set in with time. Full albums and all. There’s just too much to love here and I don’t say that enough.

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A COLORS festival in Berlin needs to happen

The simplest backdrop brings out the best in a musician's performance

COLORS out of Berlin produces some of the cleanest music performances on YouTube with some of the biggest prospects in music right now. Going through the 271 videos they’ve uploaded so far, and picking 36 (13%), two themes in my selection process stuck out.

The videos didn’t help every performer sound better. In the end, it was about their vocal chops. It did, however, bring out the best in the voices that stood out. Imagine a COLORS festival in Berlin. Live is the ultimate goal for any content company and most others.

I also realized, or more so confirmed, my dislike for listening to rap from outside of the US. It’s not about what they say, it’s about how they say it. Not being exposed enough to the phonetics in other languages when it comes to music has trained my brain to prefer the American accent. Even Canadian rappers I can’t take seriously sometimes. “Aboot” makes me chuckle, let alone when it’s in a rap song.

That’s why I appreciate COLORS. I trust their selection and they expose me to rap from around the world. I know if I listen long enough, they’ll find something I love. And if not COLORS, there are plenty of other international curation houses that’ll turn something up. Although not with a simple, vibrant, one-color backdrop that COLORS displays so beautifully behind each upload.

Would love to see Durand Jones & The Indications in front of COLORS someday.

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