SXSW

In the summer of 1987, downtown Austin, Texas hosted the first South by  Southwest music festival celebrated indie music with nearly 700 registrants.  Since then, it has blown up.  The event’s website writes, “The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW® is the premier destination for discovery.”  The famed festival (namely, the 2010 Music and Media Conference, Film Conference & Festival, and Interactive Festival) has grown dramatically to an event with almost 11,000 people including 1,400 musicians, 80 venues around the city and nearly $110 million in generated revenue for Austin.  SXSW has also incorporated film and interactive media as part of the event as well.  Last year, this included 250 films, 54 world premiers, and a screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award Winning Best Film movie, Hurt Locker and Spike Lee’s Passing Strange.  This years festival kicked off this past week, lasting from March 12-21.

Emerging during the 90’s and amidst a generation that grew up with the tech boom, the festival has also become famous for it adoption of new technologies to promote the shows and engage participants in new ways.  An article on the festival from the LA Times writes,

“But this is South by Southwest on the weekend after the revolution, where artists claim their moments and move on beyond any familiar definition of acceleration. Surfer Blood is not the band of the fest, or the hour, but of the Tweet: excitement builds for such young artists over the course of minutes, only to be instantly superceded by a new chime on everybody’s smart phones…. There’s no feeling of hierarchy of talent emerging, no one comet tail everybody has to grab. Instead, ask a dozen of the music industry insiders wandering around for a must-hear tip and you’ll get that many different answers. There needs to be a new word for ‘buzz’”

There has been a movement- and international one- dubbed NotAtSouthBySouthWest that consists of groups in other cities (New York, London, Portland) coordinating online to stay afloat with the festival’s events, highlights and leading acts.  The Interactive Festival looks to meet these trends by bringing together industry web developers, music industry members and entrepreneurs to discuss changing technological trends and its effect on the music and film industries.

Despite the tech-centric nature, SXSW is all about the music.  This year’s headliners included Austin natives Spoon, Brooklyn Rider, G-Side and Local Natives.  New groups like Best Coast mix 60’s pop, fuzz and plenty of reverb. The  Smith Westerns have brought grungy anti-ballads to frequent improvisations and themes from the Pixies.  One of the festival’s highlights so far has been Broken Bells, a collaboration between James Mercer of The Shins, and Danger Mouse of Gnarles Barkley Fame.  Broken Bells’ efforts sound more succinct then the Shins records and is reminiscent of Danger Mouse’s recent collaboration with Beck on his 2009 album “Modern Guilt.”  NPR’s All Songs Considered give a great run-down of the festival complete with live concerts, photos and commentary.

Brian Mehler is a former MA student at Georgetown University’s department of Communication, Culture and Technology. While completing his BA in English Literature at Villanova University, he focused his studies on the role of new media in contemporary art, critical theory and digital poetics. A native of Freeport, ME, he has worked as a consultant and researcher in the non-profit sector for the Phoenix Foundation- a Portland-based organization that teaches ethical leadership and alternative learning throughout northern New England. Between his academic endeavors, Brian took a year off to travel, mostly backpacking through India and Nepal where he spent most of his time exploring the Kathmandu Valley and trekking in the Himalayas. In Washington DC, his research focuses on cultural narratives, social innovation, international development and visual theory.