Tuesday, March 11, 2014
In Defense of South by Southwest
We're in the throes of South by Southwest season and surely if you're in some way a music or media fan (or check social media even occasionally), reports about it are pretty hard to ignore. And in more recent years, people have actively started to make an armchair sport of mocking how overblown and commercial SxSW has become.
Yes, it IS incredibly commercial. I roll my eyes every time I read an insane announcement about how the iTunes Festival is setting up shop and bringing Coldplay and Pitbull. It totally tickles me to think about Lady Gaga playing the Doritos stage, which in past years has been modeled to look like a giant vending machine. And please believe I'd pay to have access to a Judge stage-dive cam for their throwdown for Converse.
But you know what? I'd still go back in a second if it fit into my schedule. My experience with the Austin-based culture extravaganza extends only to attending the music portion several times over. I've never really done the tech or movie parts (despite having access) because of time constraints and to spare the health of my liver and kidneys.
Here's the thing, though: in all my many years of going, I've never had a bad time. Whatever type of music you're a fan of, you'll likely find it. There are literally thousands of artists that descend upon the city for your entertainment. And you have the nerve to complain that these acts are picking up some corporate exposure along the way?
Sure, my experience is biased as a member of the press. I've never had to load in or find parking around closed streets flooded with jaded day-drunks. (FYI: I'm saving all my intoxication, band and make-out stories for the inevitable book.) But are you seriously willing to tell me that hanging outside in (usually) warm weather, drinking a free beer while watching an endless array of bands is a BAD thing? Buddy, you've got problems.
So after reading and hearing so much dumb smack-talk over the last few years, I present my reasons of why you should stop complaining about SxSW.
In Defense of SxSW in Five Gripes:
Ooh, SxSW is So Lame! When Have I Gone? Never
Those who actively denounce SxSW but have never attended can just step over to the left and STFU. It comes off petty. All that shit-talk sounds like embitterment because you've never been connected, adventurous or intrepid enough to make your way in. Hell, even without any kind of pass, bracelet, credential or guest list, ANYONE can catch free music, eat (good) free food and drink free beer if you resolve to get in the thick of it and show up in Austin.
Not Liking SxSW is Kind of Un-American
Think about the tenets this country and the Peoples Republic of Texas are founded on: loud music, ever-flowing beer, cool breezes and seared meat. Guess what? That's pretty much what you're in for at SxSW. And since Austin is home to Whole Foods, chances are there will be a veggie option. You're going to tell me that this is a TERRIBLE proposition? Time to move to Canada and attend NxNE instead.
There's No Discovery Because People Are Busy Watching A-List Acts
Sure, your editor might expect you to cover the huge marquee performance, and that might conflict with the set time of the new band you're dying to check out. Luckily, said unknown band probably has five gigs at SxSW, so you can do BOTH. Or if you're not obsessed with being the humble-bragger, pick a lesser marquee act that you've always wanted to see but haven't. A few years back when Metallica was headlining Stubb's, I decided to go check out Devo for the first time and my mind was blown. Then I probably went off to see some metal band stomp all over Emo's.
There are literally opportunities to see music each day from noon until 4am - day party to after party - the great alpha and omega of South by Southwest. Even without trying hard, I've probably caught 35-50 acts per trip, with plenty of eating and schmoozing in between. Remember the time there was a Profound Lore showcase, followed by a jaunt to see Panic! At the Disco before grabbing a Sausage King dog and hopping in a pedi-cab to see Eyehategod and Pentagram play a huge field? I fuckin' do. That was also the same day I caught The Kills and Havok back to back. Yes, folks, you CAN see it all.
It's Way Too Commerical
In a one-block radius, I once scored Mountain Dew sunglasses, a remarkably soft Rolling Stone T-shirt to sleep in and a much-needed chicken burrito from a truck with Danny Trejo's visage and the Shady Records logo painted on it. Why? Why the hell not!? It was there and marketing is everything. Might as well suck on that teet and save your food money for drugs and bartender tips.
SxSW is Too Impersonal
Ooh, I can't get into this panel and see my favorite NPR commentator or the kid I know from Twitter.... I'm gonna call bullshit right here. Since Austin is smack-dab in the middle of the country, people from LA and NY (and all those other places in between, even from across the world) attend, making it a wonderful place to rub elbows with tastemakers, potential employers and the dorks you had flame-wars with in the Geocities days.
Still not convinced? Not much more I'm willing to say. But at least do yourself a favor and live through SxSW once before shrugging it off. As Albert Einstein put it, "The only source of knowledge is experience."
PS: Want to see who've I've seen? Some SxSW galleries HERE and HERE.