Over the past few weeks, if you work in and around the so-called music biz, you've received hundreds of incessant emails about the shit show down in Austin called South-by-Southwest. As tens of thousands of people descend upon the city, everyone and their sister are going to try to check out as many bands as they can, which is awesome since there should be something for everyone. What isn't so great is that unless a band knows someone high and mighty, this week will be a fruitless attempt at gaining some super-cool blogger's attention. While smart in theory, many of these bloggers have their own showcases and parties to pat themselves on the back for being so in the know, leaving the fests' general population out in the cold and several thousands dollars poorer.
For those of you who don't know, before SXSW became an event of cool to showcase an industry of cool (Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lester Bangs' words in Almost Famous, not mine), it was once a productive tool to discover exciting new bands. Formed in 1987, the event was started by a group of locals to showcase bands they liked and though they expected 150 attendees, 700 showed up. From there, it only got bigger.
Now the event attracts everyone from Silcon Valley capitalists to New York lawyers who descend upon to the Texas capital. But instead of searching of the next big band or film or even to discover the latest hip app that could redefine social media, they come for two interchangeable reasons: money and pretending to look important. Yes, little ol' SXSW has become a beast unto itself (most notably mocked by the amazingly delightful Twitter handle @sxswpartyzzzzz). Labels, websites, magazines, technology, marketing agencies, cell phones, clothing brands and your favorite blogger now have 'showcases' and industry parties. And for many, it's nothing more than an excuse for a week-long vacation that happens to include bands, booze and barbecue.
I've seen and heard so many people complain over the past few weeks about 'having' to go down to Austin because they have no choice. Yet I'd give any gambler great odds that said people secretly love going down there, but can't admit it aloud. Thus, this has become the ultimate event of irony, the hipster Super Bowl (unless you count Coachella). For some, seeing that small band from Europe that can't afford to play more than one or two shows per year in the States is awesome. However, too many people go to pretend of the curve or at this point, to be ironic (hey, let's check out the 11th-most buzzed-about band from 2005!).
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The most harmful thing for an undiscovered band is that they feel obligated to spend every last penny to play SXSW on the chance they get 'discovered.' Hate to say it, but if you're in that boat and have no infrastructure (manager, publicist, etc) then said band, you will be wasting your hard earned funds for what is equivalent to winning the lottery. It's not worth playing an 11:30 am slot at a random restaurant on the edge of downtown with hopes that some power broker will be dining there, because he/she probably won't be there.
Nowadays, you're likely to see X big band playing a not-so-secret show for the elite in order to drum up interest in their tour or upcoming album. Just look at the cast of characters who have the most interest in their shows this year, and that's not including the not-so-secret secret Prince show. B-O-R-I-N-G (unless you're one few who gets in, then it's awesome).
If there's one thing that epitomizes the excess of SXSW, its the idiotic Doritos vending machine stage. Look at it yourself; there are no further words necessary. By going mainstream, commercialization and ego have taken over this once-awesome showcase and turned it into everything it wasn't supposed to be. Granted it does help some already buzzed-about bands get to the next level (see Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Alabama Shakes), but the thing is, if a band was already considered a buzzband, then they didn't need to play SXSW to cement their standing. The festival's out-of-control growth has made it as bloated as a Michael Bay movie. And as anyone who has suffered through those films can attest, that's not a compliment.