South By Southwest is upon us and yours truly is headed to Austin to check out this year’s music selection, and more importantly, follow the Boulder and Denver acts that earned spots in the showcases and parties.
What sets SXSW apart from other music festivals, other than the additional presence of film and tech showcases, is that it almost exists more for those within the music industry than the fans. A festival like Coachella offers the best music in the country as pure entertainment. It’s an honor to play there because it’s a high-profile place to perform. But a SXSW gig is more than a performance, it’s an opportunity.
The festival started in 1987 as a showcase for upcoming Texas bands. It steadily grew wider and wider in scope, pulling in acts from around the region, then all over the country. Eventually it became what it is today, a musical mecca. New and established musicians, along with indie and major record labels, booking agencies, PR firms, and advertising companies, travel to Austin from all over the country and even other parts of the world.
When SXSW takes over Austin, it really does dominate the city. The Austin Convention Center is packed, and nearly every bar, club, and restaurant hosts a show. According to the festival website, last year 16,000 “music industry professionals” were in attendance, and over six nights there were more than 2,000 acts playing at around 90 venues.
And that’s just the official SXSW. The unofficial parties and showcases are an enormous part of the festival’s culture and can be just as valuable to the artists as an official show. They’re thrown by labels, promoters, and even companies with no direct music connections (like clothing lines).
Boulder and Denver bands will be visible on the official and unofficial scene. The Yawpers have at least two appearances lined up on the unofficial side, including the 2nd Annual Illegal Pete’s Starving Artist Showcase, which focuses on Colorado music. Over two nights, Illegal Pete’s will also host fellow Boulderites Air Dubai, plus a long list of Denver acts including Photo Atlas, A. Tom Collins, The Epilogues, Take to the Oars, and Bad Weather California.
On the official side, Colorado will be represented by Tennis, Pictureplane, and Paper Diamond. The latter, Boulder producer Alex B, will perform as Paper Diamond at two electronic showcases in addition to an unofficial party. Denver indie pop duo Tennis will be in two pop showcases. Then there’s Travis Egedy, better known as Pictureplane and one of the founders of Denver DIY venue Rhinoceropolis, who will be at an official electronic showcase and at least one day party.
The goals for a more established, nationally famous band like Tennis will be different from brand new band like The Yawpers, but at the core, it’s all about exposure. It’s difficult to keep track of deals signed after a SXSW performance, whether it’s a record deal or licensing a song for a commercial, but there’s no doubt that a stand-out show will grab attention.
In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Gadling blog, Vice President of A&R for the Capitol/Virgin Label Group Michael Howe said he’ll see 75-100 bands. In past years, he signed Brett Dennen and Cold War Kids during SXSW.
Of course it’s not all business, all the time. Actually, it’s more like mixing business with pleasure — this is the music industry, after all. It’s six straight days of round-the-clock partying for fans, and when bands aren’t “working,” they can do the same.
From Tuesday to Sunday, I’ll be striking the delicate balance between the two and reporting back to you. Stay tuned to the Colorado Daily for coverage of all the local bands, and everything in between – and get more frequent updates by following me on Twitter at @AshaleyJill.