Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

SXSW Music: it’s a wrap

Six final observations from the SXSW music marathon before we put a lid on it for another year. (1) “We’re just one human being short of a full tilt boogie”. That was how local resident Robyn put it when I …

Wed, Mar 23, 2011, 09:33


Six final observations from the SXSW music marathon before we put a lid on it for another year.

(1) “We’re just one human being short of a full tilt boogie”. That was how local resident Robyn put it when I asked her if this year’s SXSW was the busiest yet. Every year, the festival gets bigger and bigger and you think it really can’t get any bigger. Come back in 12 months, though, and it’s found even more space to take over to the east and south of the city. SXSW’s ongoing popularity means there were some capacity issues (The Strokes played an official free show out by Town Lake and there were a lot of people shut out) and it will be interesting to see how and if the organisers address these things in the future. After all, SXSW is now as much about the unofficial free party scene as it is about the big bands playing small shows and the would-be stars of tomorrow having a go. Then again, it’s worth remembering that the only reason all these free shows come to Austin during March is because SXSW is here. If it wasn’t happening, would the city be so busy?

(2) Speaking of the “unofficial party scene”… You couldn’t move in Austin for brands aiming to leverage some of that SXSW cool for themselves by booking (and paying top dollar for) big-ass names for their parties. Hey, you don’t think Kanye West and Diddy and Foo Fighters were playing like all the rising bands for free, did you? The video games companies, car companies and soft drinks companies jostling for position are hoping that their line-up will be the one which gets all the traction and they’re prepared to pay for that talent. But I wonder does it work – despite all the marketing work, I’m sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t tell you the name of any brand (or blog or magazine or agency) behind some of the parties attended. After all, I was in that venue at that time to see certain bands.

(3) Which brings us to the reason we were all here in the first place. I’d hate to be in a band playing at SXSW. In fact, if I ever get my grime-ska band together, I’ll be telling my manager not to even think of sticking us on at SXSW. For bands, it must be hell. You spend every day and night rolling around town from one venue to another, playing truncated sets, putting up with terrible production in many cases and generally getting cheesed off by your lot. I know, I know, it’s Austin in the sun and all of that, but there are many acts who probably went home wondering “what the hell was that all about?”. After all, only a small number of acts get to shine.

(4) Indeed, only a small number of acts get to play the main day parties too. In the months leading up to SXSW, I get emails from various Irish bands heading to Texas wondering how they get on the party circuit. I give them the same advice – check out who threw parties in the past and hassle the hell out of them – but most of those who book the parties are really picking from a small pool. You had umpteen opportunites every day to check out bands like Cults, Fitz & The Tantrums, Baths, Dom, Yuck and The Joy Formidable because they seemed to be on every bill going. It stands to reason – party-bookers want the best bills hence why they’re going for the same acts again and again and again.

(5) For anyone seeking an insight into where the music business is going, there was probably no point in going to SXSW Music because many of those future issues were rinsed out in the wash at SXSW Interactive (my piece on SXSW Interactive from last week’s Business supplement is here). There was little in the panels and keynotes (er, Bob Geldof) at the conference part of SXSW Music to fill you with optimism. It was the same old topics with the same old speakers as has been the case at SXSW Music for years. There’s little new thinkers coming to the fore here and there is a bit of a generation gap developing. Indeed, it’s telling that the only time you got any youngsters around the convention centre where the conference was held was when the local Austin kids flocked there for the American Apparel factory flea market.

(6) Dates for your diary: SXSW 2012 runs from March 9 to 18