It certainly is exciting to find out that the band you manage (Gasoline Cowboy in my case), has been accepted to perform at the largest music performance showcase/festival in the world.
That festival is South By Southwest (SXSW), the event that takes place in Austin, Texas each March. It somehow seems to keep growing, this
year over 1500 bands/acts from all over the world performed across 70 venues over five days. To say it is overwhelming is an overwhelming understatement.
|Above is Die!Die!Die! frontman Andrew Wilson.|
The music begins at noon on Wednesday March 14 and doesn't end until next week - Monday morning around 2am. Bands play on the street, in shop windows, on the backs of trucks, at private parties, on daystages, and in venues - and some of these acts aren't actually part of the festival. The 'official' 1500 acts were selected by the organisers - half as many again that weren't head to Austin anyway, hoping to cut a break.
There is an Indie Festival that takes place at the same time - also with bands and performers strutting their wares. Throw into the mix that it's actually the U.S spring break and you have the ingredients for the largest music party in the world. Well, this is Texas, and they do do it bigger.
As well as bands, bands and more bands, this is also where the top industry practitioners come to walk the talk with over 8000 fellow industry registrants. Actually, that's really why the bands are here. This is the place to be pressing the flesh with some pretty high flying industry types.
Pete Townshend was a keynote speaker this year and in the past Robert Plant, Neil Young and Johnny Cash are amongst the long list of megastar artists. Oh and everyone's cherry popping favorite friend Tom from Myspace was also one of this year's keynoters. Bless.
There are panel discussions running everyday which include the international leaders of their fields, covering everything from 'Reinventing Payment Models for Digital Music' and 'China's Emerging Music Market', through to 'Crash Course in Shoestring Touring'. My favourite was 'Demo Listening'. This is a chance for independent artists to play 30 seconds of their track to some of the top A&R scouts in the industry and get their direct feedback. Best take a hanky.
You can also go and talk noodle at the Music Tradeshow Exhibition - where about 350 stalls are set up promoting and selling everything from CD manufacturing, merchandise and touring companies through to fanmail promoters, publishers and record labels. Also, various territories will promote their own showcasing artists here as well. It's a great place to blag lots of free swag. New Zealand has taken a trade stand for the last five festivals, organised and manned by the NZ Music Industry Commission.
The big name act line up this year included: Kings of Leon; Buzzcocks; Iggy Pop; Public Enemy; Lee 'Scratch' Perry; Mastodon; Bloc Party; Lily Allen; The Good, The Bad & The Queen; The Stooges and... the list really does go on. Some advice to future SXSW goers - get the booklet and spend a few hours marking off all the bands you want to go see well in advance. Keep in mind that you may be queuing for a few hours to get into the bigger shows. Mostly, as soon as one show finishes the next starts being set up, and the crowds swap over in the same time as the stage does.
So, with these tall odds, how does a group of musos from Blenheim, Timaru, Riwaka and Westport represent amongst this mayhem? Luckily the Gasoline Cowboy showcase was on the final night of the festival, which meant four days of on-ground promotion. The result was an impressive number of punters.
When your act is selected to perform at SXSW, you are given one showcase with no control over what venue, time or day. In other words it's the luck of the draw - especially considering there will be 70 or so other acts performing at that very same time.
Many territories hold daytime parties providing a quick overview showcase of some of their acts. New Zealand had a very strong delegation in industry and artists this year. Evermore did a no show but all present and correct were: Gasoline Cowboy; Bic Runga; Blindspott; Dimmer; The Mint Chicks; Die! Die! Die!; Carly Binding; So So Modern; Elemeno P; Hera; Cut Off Your Hands and Deja Voodoo. The biggest and most commercial Kiwi contingent to date. Plus there were local industry reps from the NZMIC, NZ On Air, CRS Management, Flying Nun, Red Bull Studios, Isaac Promotions and Native Tongue.
|Above is Gasoline Coyboy's Jol Mulholland in downtown Austin.|
The NZ Music Industry Commission throw their party every year in a marquee in Brush Square Park - right in the festival's hub of downtown Austin. In the past this has been an invite-only event but this year it was opened up to pretty much anyone who RSVPed. Over 800 people turned up to have a drink, eat some meat, network, catch up with old friends and see performances from Gasoline Cowboy, Dimmer, Blindspott, Die! Die! Die!, Deja Voodoo and Cut Off Your Hands.
For the past four years the NZMIC party has been held on the opening night of SXSW, but this year was bumped a day to the Thursday night, since the Canadians had grabbed the slot. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise with spectacular, saturating thunderstorms plaguing Austin all day Wednesday. (Yes, it seems even the thunderstorms are bigger in Texas!) And the outlook for Thursday... proved fine.
NZMIC's International Manager Gary Fortune, who oversees the Outward Sound international funding scheme, reckons this year's party was the best yet, with queues for the bbq and bar (sponsored by Kim Crawford wines) starting half an hour into the event. BBC Radio's Steve Lemacq was among guests. He had apparently come along to see Cut Off Your Hands perform and he has subsequently been raving about them, even dubbing them his 'new favourite band'.
|Dave Benge and Liam Finn|
Apparently it's not unusual at this event to play to your soundman but this wasn't the case for our troops. Cut Off Your Hands also had a particularly great response and Elemeno P apparently had an interested Roadrunner rep in their crowd. Although Carly Binding had an intimate showcase for her acoustic set, she was approached by an enthused (and reputable) American publisher immediately after her gig. Die! Die! Die! had a great crowd response for the second year running, performing to over 150 people. Bic Runga's show sold out, with fans requesting songs throughout her brief performance and a major queue wanting their newly bought CDs signed after the gig. So So Modern took a leaf out of the brief Goodshirt guidebook of stage costumes, performing in boiler suits, theirsinger playing Pied Piper, mic and all, out onto the street mid set. The Mint Chicks were headlining a Flying Nun showcase but more intent on redeeming themselves after their altercation-dominated performance back in 2004. Fortune says they played a "blinding showcase", were thoroughly professional and won a lot of people over. They also had a healing kiss and make up session with the local band involved in the on-stage fisty cuffs.
It is hard to immediately gauge the value of being part of an event as overwhelmingly big as SXSW. It can be that one great contact or one influential audience member makes it pay off. It's hard to know just who is watching you. Most of the NZ bands who performed at SXSW have gone on to do further shows in America, the UK and Europe, so watch this space.
|Cut Off Your Hands impress at Co-op Bar.|
|So So Modern boil it up at Blender Balcony.|