RULES TO SOUTH BY
(Had to quote and post video of some rough and inarticulate language so… NSFW)
So if my last post was aimed at the festival goers, my imaginary audience for this one is the bands who have or will play SXSW. Notably, two bands have expressed disdain for the rigmarole of South by this year, Foxygen (above video) and DIIV (below rant). Both reacted to experiences that are all too common throughout the week: lots of advertising and advertisers, subpar playing conditions, drunk people, people that get into shows only to talk through entire sets, and drunk people that get into shows only to talk through entire sets. Well, I’ll let Cole explain it…
“Hi Austin. Fuck SXSW. There… I said it.
Here, the music comes last. 5 minute set-up, no sound check, 15 minute set. The “music” element is all a front, it’s the first thing to be compromised. Corporate money everywhere but in the hands of the artists, at what is really just a glorified corporate networking party. Drunk corporate goons and other industry vampires and cocaine. Everyone is drunk, being cool. “Official” bureaucracy and all their mindless rules. Branding, branding, branding. It’s bullshit… sorry.”
- Zachary Cole Smith of band DIIV after a presumably bad show for “the man”
First things first: This guy Cole of DIIV has been to Austin for this unholy week of music hating corporatism before. His previous band, Beach Fossils, has played at least the last two years so he can’t say he didn’t know what he was getting into and it honestly hasn’t changed that much in the past five years. So that being said, don’t sit backstage at the Mohawk and slap “Hi Austin. Fuck SXSW” up on your Facebook and band’s site after your second show (on a Thursday after the first being two days before, so this is hardly his exhaustion talking as was more the case with Foxygen, as we will get to). I mean, you can but what’s the point? I’m moving on… dunno if it’s this guy’s attitude, the “whatever” shoegaze schtick, if it’s Brooklyn pooh poohing on Austin, that Trent Reznor somehow sees something in this band… Moving on…
Rule #1: If you don’t like SXSW, don’t play SXSW. Pretty self explanatory.
Rule #2: Don’t book ten shows in four days. And if you do get out of downtown and play something low key, less drunk. Cuts down on the chances of someone, in the case of the above Foxygen show, telling you to “just play a fucking song” when you’re soundchecking. People are much more patient and understanding when they can sit on a grassy hill, under a beautiful Austin spring sky or a bar with some outside space, away from the lack of ventilation, leaking sewer pipes, and general funk of thousands of sweaty ex-patrons. Another video of that Foxygen show drives this point home, wherein lead singer Sam France starts to go into what seems to be rant about Pitchfork before realizing they were playing a gig put on by their own label, Jagjaguar and not by Pitchfork. This was their fifth show in two days and France went on to blow his voice, among other things, the next day and decided to cancel their last two shows of the week.
Rule #3: Research your venues, sponsors and promoters. As good of an idea as “SXSWendy’s” (a schoolbus/stage/power supplier that sets up behind the Wendy’s at 7th and 35) may sound at the time, save yourself the frustration of getting a text en route to your 1am gig saying their Jr. Bacon Generator blew and the show is postponed til next year (Sorry, Absolutely Free!) Technical difficulties and noise complaints have plagued the bus in years past and this year was no different. Pop up stages are great (see: Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, Papi Tino’s, Yellow Jacket) and it’s pretty easy to go through feedback on social media sites to see how past years have turned out.
Rule #4: Go East! I have 30 words for ya: Shangri-La, The Gypsy Lounge, Papi Tino’s, The Yellow Jacket, The Grackle, Maison d’Etoile, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Liberty, Longbranch Inn, The Owl/ Baby Blue Studios, Hotel Vegas and The Volstead Lounge. An independent study concluded that there are 67.9% less asshats east of Interstate 35. So from a completely unbiased perspective, the eastside is where it’s at (just as far as SX venues go. Don’t move here.).
Rule #5: Be more like Conveyor. (I used this rule as an excuse to gush about the fairly young, up and coming band Conveyor, though they serve as an excellent model for bands who would prefer not to implode at some point in the week.) Michael from Conveyor was just as gracious and warm during brief “good show” encounters at their ninth (!) show as he was at the fourth. Rather than whining on social media sites or breaking down on stage, the guys put on three solid shows that I was able to catch, and after their last he said they were relieved they were through but were going to go out and enjoy their last night in Austin. A surprising response, as they undoubtedly had a much more taxing week than me and I wasn’t about to go out Saturday night with out complaining a little bit. Another smart career and sanity saving idea they employed: If there’s only 60-80 people there for your last showcase it’s ok to, for example, save your voice and not attempt the high notes on “Sleep Right” (or whatever song your band has that requires you to scream like a beautiful banshee). Anyways, with a work ethic and an ethos these guys appear to have, it’s no surprise to learn that have gotten undeniably tighter and more confident in presence and musicianship in a remarkably short time. Which brings me to a final rule:
Rule #6: Lower your expectations and have fun. You have to be a certain type of band to be “discovered”, to become the “next big thing” at SXSW, the most buzzed about act coming out of the festival, especially when you’re going up against the press that Prince and Mr. Timberlake got this year. It hasn’t been the way that some people talk about it in a long time, not unsigned artists playing to all eager ears. No A&R people anymore. There are just a few music labels left that have the power to cultivate talent like before, what ended in the late 90’s, so it’s just a mad dash to grab the most middle-of-the-plate, risk free, no brainer of a group they can get there hands on. Who can blame em, they’re desperate.
It’s a brave new world, devoid of middlemen and gatekeepers so prep ahead of time, get the music to the people and then when this little conference rolls around in March, reach out to the fans. Let em know where you’ll be and with any luck, one person will bring along someone else and so on and so forth. Where it goes from there, I don’t know. My hope is that great music and positivity will prevail. That the echo chamber of social media and the rantings of a baby won’t change the reality of what I see, in the flesh, once a year in my fair city. That the good guys win.