Friday, January 9, 2009

Free at Last, Free at Last



This March 18-22 will mark a very special milestone for me this year. It will be the first South by Southwest that I will not have to attend. I don’t mean that in an “I don’t have to work it so it’s going to be soooooooo much more fun!” kind of way. I mean, I will be as geographically far away from Austin as I can possibly be. The feeling I get when I think about the fact that I don’t have to attend SXSW this year is the same feeling Ativan-popping housewives get when Oprah points at them and tells them they’re getting a car. I have now worked in and around music and the music industry for a decade. My present to myself is that I don’t have to go to SXSW this year or any year in the near future.

First off, I am no big fan of Austin at any time. I will refrain from going into detail about my near-hatred for Austin out of respect for my Austin-dwelling friends. Let’s just say that it’s not my kind of town. At all. So when Austinites get all “Yeah but all people see during SXSW is downtown and Sixth Street. You gotta get away from the festival, maaaaaaaaaaaan. South Congress, brah! Dripping Springs. Let’s go tubing!” No. Thanks. But more to the point, I despise SXSW with every little capillary in my body. While all the cool kids are sauntering to Stubb’s to try to worm their way into a party, the blocked off streets create a Mad Max Battle to the Death between people who actually are working and might have to transport a vehicle or large item to a venue.

What really amazes me is how anyone would get anything other than five or more hangovers out of the whole thing? There’s a few different categories of people who attend SXSW and from what I can tell, few if any of them come away with anything worth all the hassle that is SXSW. There’s the music lovers. They’re the ones who are generally screwed over the hardest. They start with the absurd search for a wristband. Begging badge holding friends and strangers to hook them up. Trying to find a band willing to claim them as a roadie or manager. Paying Austin residents to stand in a line at Waterloo for you. I think SXSW has made it incredibly clear that they don’t want you flying into town and pumping your dirty music fan money into their totally-fine-on-its-own local economy, thanks. But even if you don’t have a badge or wristband, you can still see all the bands you wanted to see, right? Technically, yes. If you’re well-prepared with all your printed off party lists and maps and RSVP emails, you can delude yourself into thinking that you will see everyone you want to see. That is once you crawl over the piles of industry people talking loudly into their iPhones with their backs to the stage, yelling to their buddies about how they are seeing a HOT NEW ARTIST. Totally buzzworthy! You will also quickly realize that the fact that you are actually there to see a particular artist or to check out a few bands you have heard good things about makes you the weirdo. The parties are full of people there either to do business, network or have bragging rights about what “exclusive” parties they were able to get into.

And I can’t cast judgment on those people because, as I blogged about a few months ago, when music is something you HAVE to be around and you HAVE to write about or a show you HAVE to attend is when music goes from being pleasurable to being your TPS reports . I remember last year when someone asked me who the best band I saw at SXSW was, all I could muster enthusiasm for was the fact that I ran into friends from far-flung towns who I usually only see once a year at SXSW. It’s like a class reunion where you see label friends from New York and musician friends from London and tour managing friends from LA. So apologies to anyone who ever wanted to get into some party and see some band they really loved only to be stuck in line behind some asshole like me.

But that leads me to ask why in the world bands would attend this festival in hopes of “making it” or whatever it is they think will happen as a direct result of them playing either a SXSW official showcase or at a party. I know bands who have said that they were inspired to play there by tales of bands getting their big break at SXSW. Of course, what they don’t realize is that for every band who has a “getting discovered at SXSW” story (and I only know a handful of those stories that are even remotely true), there are 1.2 million other bands who spent a lot of money and time and got their hopes up only to be thrown onto a completely incongruous bill at a totally hidden “official” venue only to play a thirty minute set to the bartender and door guy at 7pm. Hope it was worth all the hassle, homes.

There are some reasons to go to SXSW. If you like to drink (and I do) you can score plenty of free drinks without a wristband or badge of any kind. Do you like gift bags full of sampler CDs? You’re in luck. Are you writing an article about the increasingly desperate tactics of guerilla marketing companies? Oh boy, you’re in the right place. If you want to end up spending a blurry night at an EconoSuites off the highway with a total stranger in your own icky American Apparel ad come to vivid life, make your way down to Austin post haste. Do you like waiting an hour for a burger at Casino el Camino? You see where this is going.

For those people that enjoy SXSW, I say “huzzah” and “godspeed” to you. You and I are two very different people. I am some sort of amalgam of Danny Glover and Walter Matthau and you are a spry and enthusiastic spring chicken. I could let this blog entry devolve into my rant about the rapid oncoming death of the music industry as it has existed for 50 years but I will save that for another day. Now if we can all just agree that all you bands going to play SXSW have paid money for applications, plane tickets, hotels, cabs, meals and tips only to come to a gathering of people that look like you from other cities and nothing more, we’re getting somewhere. And if you attendees will admit that there’s a certain “see and be seen” element to your attendance, we’re getting even further. And if you industry types would stop texting into your iPhones for two seconds and admit that you don’t give a shit about 99% of the bands you are going to see and that you should probably keep the receipt to that iPhone just in case your job is the next one to get the chop, we’re really starting to cook with oil.

8 comments:

Darin said...

Nicely Played A...

Austin during this is a giant jar of fecal material...BUT
I heard the singer of "Tab-Tab-Throw-Throw" Is going to do the "Burning Monk" he's even dressing in the robe and everything at Bates this year during their showcase. Sure, it makes them a one trick pony, but the BUZZ!!!

amandacobra said...

Maybe it's because I am not particularly domesticated and therefore could theoretically live every week like it was Shark Week, so to speak, that the idea of "Maaaaaaaaan, it's gonna be great to get wasted on cheap beer and eat BBQ in Texas" just sounds like an early start to the weekend for me.

/trying to reclaim my edge

Darin said...

actually sounds like a Wed Morning...

rod the bod said...

touch my penis

Daniel said...

I lived in Austin for 2-3 years, and I hate it, too. Rant available upon request.

More detail on the matter from our blogmistress, please?

Oh, and Rod, no punctuation or caps makes your provocative statement come off as the timid plea of a schoolboy during "last skate."

Would
Touch my penis.
kill you?

Or, much more forceful:

Touch my penis! (This effectively communicates the urgency of the situation.)

Logical, breaking the thought into components for easy digestion:

Touch -- my penis! (Although this could be misconstrued as a social introduction to your member, to whom you have bequeathed the name Touch.)

This could be either a movie tough-guy in a moment of erotic tenderness, or an insult:

Touch. My. Penis. (With the addition of an exclamation point at the very end, this formation may give the impression that confetti and noisemakers are in order upon utterance of the final word. An exclamation point after each word would indicate that the speaker is trying to get thrown in jail.)

Tommy said...

Great, and this is the year I go back to SXSW. I went a few years ago, and since then I've talked myself out of my initial opinion. This li'l essay confirms that first impression.

Don in Austin said...

I live in Austin but haven't attended SXSW. I wouldn't mind being at a showcase where only a bartender and a doorman were in attendance though. I don't do lines or crowds very well and my musical taste runs towards singer-songwriter anyway. For a change of pace there's always the Kerrville Folk Festival, but if don't care for Austin you probably don't like camping and tie-die either.

In the olden days, the business might have been different, but concerts were more affordable. I didn't have to work but 4-5 hours at minimum wage to see the top tours. Now a concert ticket is nuts expensive and cover charges in a bar run upwards of $20. Too bad.

nerver said...

I, too, am not a fan of Austin. I am ridiculed for it often, but I maintain my stance. A high-five to you. Or chest bump, were we on mother effing 6th St.