Author: Grandy, Eric
Date published: March 25, 2010
Journal code: STRR
Last week, I spent my third year in a row at SXSW. The Austin, Texas, music festival/ conference was, as always, a fucking outstanding time-a nonstop party, a music-industry family reunion/spring break, an endless array of shows good, bad, and surprising-but, increasingly, I come home wondering: Is this all it is?
Presumably, in years past, SXSW was where big things happened-deals made, bands "broke" and brokered, trends forecasted. Perhaps, if you were a music critic or a booking agent, it was where you would go to get your fi rst taste of some next big things, to set your agenda for the coming year. It's hard to see that being at all the case now, and the culprit is, as ever, the internet.
Consider the case of "chillwave." The great micro-genre trend of last year, it coalesced not at SXSW (or in any one city's geographically bound scene, for that matter) but online-scare-quotes-intensive blog Hipster Runoff coined the term in July of 2009, and that summer was undeniably the sound's season. SXSW 2010 was awash with these and related acts-Neon Indian, Real Estate, Best Coast, Pocahaunted, Rainbow Arabia, Memory Tapes, Washed Out, Toro Y Moi-but in many ways, this was a celebratory victory lap. The face of Neon Indian's Alan Palomo appeared on glossy posters all over town and gazed down on downtown Austin from at least one billboard, all promoting his new release on Mountain Dew's "record label," Green Label Sound.
If SXSW had any currency as a predictor or an originator of trends, rather than merely as a refl ector of them, then shouldn't these acts have broken out of the previous year's festival? I don't think any of these bands even played the fest in 2009-or if they did, it's not clear that they had any real impact.
Asking Seattle bands and business folks about the idea of making an impact, I kept hearing the same thing: halfhearted hopes that an act might get a little good press out of an appearance, plans to pass out some promotional CDs or download coupons, but mostly just the intent to have a good time. No power lunches, no crucial networking, no deals-all that could be taken care of by e-mail from back home. At least a couple local acts made some impact, however casual their attacks on Austin: Mold-breaking Seattle hiphop acts THEESatisfaction and Shabazz Palaces caught the eye of a few relatively big-time music journalists at one afternoon showcase, amounting so far to some glowing (if necessarily brief) tweets from Rolling Stone and positive blog posts from the LA Times and the Chicago Reader. Good looks, sure, but probably not game changing.
So, maybe SXSW is really just spring break for the Pitchfork set-at least it's a great (if potentially pricey) spring break. In my runnings around, I managed to catch stellar sets from such acts as Flying Lotus, Superchunk, YACHT, WhoMadeWho, Les Savy Fav, and many more (check the SXSW category archive on Line Out for more complete coverage). Oh, and the Seattle Party was a fi ne show of hometown pride, even if it played to a crowd consisting mostly of hometown heads just having a good time.