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Foo Fighters frontman hails tech and the voice at SXSW

Dave Grohl arrives at a screening of his movie "Sound City" during the SXSW Film and Music Festival, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP Images)

AUSTIN, Texas: Rock music Renaissance man Dave Grohl hailed the march of technology Thursday as a powerful enabling gift to young musicians searching for their voices and firm control of the creative process.

Giving this year's keynote speech at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, Grohl looked back on his life in music, which began when he first heard Edgar Winter's 1970s instrumental classic "Frankenstein" on a old record player.

"There is no right or wrong. There is only your voice... Every human being is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last. It's there if you want it," the Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer said.

"Now, more than ever, independence as a musician has been blessed by the advancement of technology, making it easier for any inspired young musician to start their own band, write their own song, record their own record, book their own shows, write and publish their own fanzine -- although now I believe you call it a blog," he said.

"Now, more than ever, you can do this, and it can be all yours -- and, left to your own devices, you can find your voice."

Grohl looms large over SXSW this year, where he performs later Thursday with his supergroup Sound City Players, featuring Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame, John Fogerty of Creedance Clearwater Revival, Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick and Australia's Rick Springfield.

His documentary about the now-shuttered Sound City recording studio in Los Angeles -- where Nirvana recorded their 1991 grunge milestone "Nevermind" -- is meanwhile a critically acclaimed highlight of SXSW's film program.

Grohl's encouragement to young musicians stood in sharp contrast to the sense of panic gripping the multinational corporations that have long dominated the recording industry but whose business model is being upended by new technology.

Wearing a plaid shirt and drugstore reading glasses which, he joked, dented his rock-star credentials, Grohl credited Sound City, its unique analog sound board and its rundown atmosphere ("brown shag carpet on the walls") for Nevermind's raw quality.

"It was the sound of three people (frontman-guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and Grohl) playing like their lives depended on it," he recalled.

His audience fell silent when Grohl touched upon Cobain's suicide in 1994, saying how it led him to give up even listening to music before he founded Foo Fighters months later as a personal solo project that recorded 14 songs over five days.

"I considered it an experiment (and) therapy" after Cobain's death, he said, but like the primitive recordings Grohl made on cassettes in his bedroom growing up in Washington DC, "there was no right or wrong, because it was all mine."

By no means a musical snob, Grohl confided he's a big fan of South Korean rapper Psy's viral hit "Gangnam Style," calling it one of his favorite songs of the past decade.

But he loathed the self-styled tastemakers of popular music such as reality TV competitions and websites like the indie music blog Pitchfork, which he suggested stifled creativity.

"Who's to say what's a good voice and what is not a good voice? 'The Voice'?" he asked, namechecking a popular US reality show featuring a panel of celebrity judges.

"Imagine Bob Dylan playing 'Blowin' in the Wind' in front of Christina Aguilera," one of the program's judges.

Around 2,200 acts -- some established, others up and coming -- have been lined up to play at SXSW in Austin, the state capital of Texas, before the 10-day festival that covers music, film and interactive technology wraps on Sunday.

 

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