Upon first glance the 25th anniversary of Austin’s South by South West (SXSW) was a huge success: higher attendance, especially within the interactive (technology) section, more day parties, and mostly (except this) good spirits. The festival known for spurring the careers of many bands has each year attracted more and more musicians both unknown and famous. This year, digital music video company Vevo, showcased a huge list of popular artists with Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Common and Pusha-T. It was not Kanye’s first appearance at SXSW and probably not his last.
Upwards of 2,000 bands performed this year, forcing every attendee to make a similar decision: who should I see? The growth in attendance made it infinitely harder to catch several showcases because of the long lines. Catching the biggest buzz band was as difficult as seeing Kanye West. On multiple occasions lines formed for evening showcases even before the day’s lineups had finished.
This was only our second year attending, but it feels like the event is about who you know and how many names you can drop. On more than one occasion, even VIP lists didn’t guarantee access into showcases. Unfortunate and naïve (or dedicated) fans waited in huge lines hoping to see their favorite band, only to watch VIP enter through back doors, like private Watergate agreements between sponsors.
Like Vevo’s showcase, many of the major corporate sponsored parties featured already popular musicians. SPIN’s annual party at Stubb’s, an invite-only ticket, headlined former indie stars TV On The Radio and The Kills. The MOG party also featured TV On The Radio and Big Boi of Grammy winning Outkast.
Mainstream artists, like the biggest corporate sponsors, are also using the event to brand themselves. Odd Future, one of the biggest hip hop buzz groups at SXSW, among its nine performances were joined by Erykah Badu and Puff Daddy.
We hate to make an overarching statement like “the festival has changed” because we’ve only been twice. There were exceptions like Jack White’s impromptu performance in a parking lot. Another example was Columbia College Chicago’s showcase, which provided the opportunity for the school’s Arts, Media And Entertainment students to choose performers and organize an event.
But while many bands continue to migrate to Austin hoping to be discovered or just gain more fans, it seems less realistic. Attending smaller showcases might provide a solution to these listed issues. Unfortunately, many corporate and popular artist endorsements seem to suggest that the public’s interest lies elsewhere.