And final thoughts on the EMP Pop Conference 2010

Because, without wanting to sound impatient or ungrateful, it really is time to look ahead to other things! Seeing what so many fellow attendees have been doing via their Twitter feeds makes me feel a bit slack in comparison. Then again, the one truly bad thing about the conference this year was whoever inadvertantly brought the bug that went around — I know at least three other people who got hit with it, and personally I’ve had a fairly blah week dealing with a combination of laryngitis and chest cold and more besides — so I’m not going to let myself feel pressured to do too much when I’d rather just take it easy!

First off, though, two obvious things to note — first, to give thanks to everyone involved, especially Eric and Ann, the eternal prime movers. Second, here’s the updated notes I took from the presentations, with formatting fixed, links added and other additions and tweaking done to make everything more of an overall useful archive:

All further thoughts and observations welcomed!

I think the prime feeling I had as the weekend went on was of a sense of closure, largely due to the fact that the conference will, for the first time next year, not be held in Seattle — while the EMP will be the prime sponsor still of the whole thing, next year’s Pop Conference is due to be held at UCLA, the following year’s at NYU, and then back to Seattle in three years’ time. Admittedly on a purely selfish level I’m more than happy with next year’s conference being held just an hour away by car — easier to get to and to return from, for a start! But having grown used to spending a few days in mid-April in Seattle catching up with many people, above all else being my good friend Mackro, it’s going to seem strange not to go there next time around. Seattle is and remains a wonderful city and I look forward to my next visit, whenever it is (and which will definitely be sooner than three years from now!), and in a weird way not having the conference to take up much of my time next time through can mean a more leisurely trip anchored around enjoying the city as it is.

For that reason, building off my previous post, it wasn’t merely a thrill to get to present at this year’s conference, but also a sense that I got to do in its home, for lack of a better term. This observed, there is much about the EMP as a venue that’s both a joy and — I think many people would agree with me here — a frustration. I say this not to be ungrateful but simply because there’s no such thing as perfection. I remember the first year I did obsessive blogging on the conference I discovered that, whether due to the building’s construction or the quality of the network at the time, it was nearly impossible to access the AT&T network at many points in the building itself, while the EMP’s own guest wi-fi program didn’t work for me at all. It’s never been a problem since, so it’s not like things are static, but it’s an instance of how sometimes the best of intentions can be tripped up by reality. Still, it is now very familiar to me as a venue through and through — I was almost scared how quickly I remembered where everything was — and not having that at UCLA beyond the hazy outlines of my undergrad days will be an initial challenge.

Meantime, there’s always the fact that one can’t see every panel that looks interesting, just due to the logistics of the conference — this will likely never change, and there are always regrets. For me, not being able to see Christine Balance and Alexandra Vazquez present was the result a simple enough situation — they were presenting at the same time I was, so I could hardly duck out and see them! But there were many other presentations that caught the eye and as always one must choose as one can.

In a discussion on Sunday at lunch after the conference wrapped up, a local friend, Robert, mentioned that to him the conference, while still jam packed with many excellent ideas and presentations, had been less inspiring in terms of chasing down new songs and new groups this year in comparison to previous years. He enjoyed it as per usual but I could see how he thought that, though I found the balance towards larger ideas, or repurposing of familiar figures and songs to new ends, to be a good tradeoff. At the same time, everyone’s conference is different in the end, based on what one sees, and I learned more about a variety of figures than some but certainly less than others.

There was one thing that was definitely different for me this year, though, and that was a lack of mental exhaustion, for lack of a better term. I think this can be taken two ways — on the one hand, so many of the previous conferences had been in serious intellectual overdrive that one’s head could spin, where I felt a day or two was needed simply to digest every observation that came along. On the other hand, it wasn’t that this conference was no less creative and whip-smart with ideas, but I felt better able to ride the flow of this one in all, perhaps helped by a sense of familiarity with many presenters and what they would cover. As ever I did my best to balance that out with unfamiliar names and topics where possible — there is no point is simply relying on the tried and true, as where else would one get surprises? — but things seemed to move very well and then ease down just so into the final night and following morning. (That get-together at the Solo Bar was actually a really great Saturday night all around, social but not hectic!)

If there’s a constant question, it was one that I’ve seen a number of Seattlites say before and which some said again — “Where’s everyone else in this town?” It wasn’t that there weren’t local attendees at the conference, but they always seem to be fewer and far between in comparison to the rest of us swinging into town. I’m hoping that the pattern won’t repeat at UCLA, if only because I could imagine any number of people wanting to make use of the resource that is the conference who haven’t been able to make it to Seattle themselves yet.

But all this said and done — as ever, just a blast to see and chat with so many people again, and to finally meet others at long last like Chuck Eddy. Renewing friendships face to face is always a key joy no matter the context and without wishing to sound either soppy or overly tribal there is definitely a sense at the conference that I’m among ‘my’ peers to a large degree, at least in the arena I’m most well known for. At this point I have memories of everything from chatting with Ann and Evie and others at the Rendezvous bar in downtown well after midnight about family and luck to chilling over margaritas with Mackro and Andy and Lisa Jane on an easy afternoon, and much more. The notes I took and the papers and articles I may yet read that came out of this all have their place, but those are the images that’ll stick with me the most.

Roll on next year! Now if I can just get this darn bug I have to give up the ghost and go away. Anyway, more garden, food and of course Not Just the Ticket stuff soon to come…

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