The most fashionable thing at SXSW was hating the obvious
by Mish Way
March 21, 2013
SXSW 2012. Hating on the now-mega festival has become the norm.
It all started with a little Tumblr post from DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith:
“Hi Austin. Fuck SXSW. There…. I said it.”
The New York frontman went on a rampage about how industry-oriented SXSW was.
“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.”
The rant popped off. Pitchfork reposted it. People started talking. People started tweeting. This is just what happens these days: We chew up and spit out information in a matter of seconds. Once it’s out of our systems, we barely remember what it tasted like. We live in an A.D.D. world. Bring on the Adderall (another fashionable thing to do simply because it is there and life is so, so hard sometimes).
This was my band, White Lung’s, first time playing SXSW. My agents insisted. Agents are all about “buzz.” It’s their job. I get it. It’s also the job of me as the creative, the musician, to hate on all this “buzz” and just care about the art. The tug of war between publicists, managers, record labels, booking agents, and the “talent” has always existed. Things always become contentious when capital is involved.
When we arrived in Austin, I took one look around at the dirty streets and drunk people running around in even drunker circles and texted my friend, “I made a mistake. I don’t want to be here.” The girl in the hotdog hat and Daisy Dukes is what sent me over. I thought I’d be playing for people who did not care. Why was I busting my butt playing three showcases a day for people like this?
But soon, that feeling faded. I focused on what I had to do, which was play great rock shows and entertain crowds while letting all my anger channel through a microphone. I take my job seriously, even if it is just standing on a stage and challenging every person staring back at me. I am a performer and I like doing it. I want to be here.
Music festivals are annoying. All musicians have to say we hate them. The most fashionable thing at SXSW was hating SXSW. It would be uncool if we liked being at SXSW. But this is exactly why Smith’s sentiment makes me roll my eyes. Anyone who has done their research (and by research I mean spoken to one other band who has attended SXSW) should know that this is an industry festival meant to showcase bands to potential business suitors. Of course there are no sound checks. Of course the sets are 15 minutes. You know what? I prefer it that way. SXSW is not exactly a celebration of music. It is a sampling platter of up-and-coming talent for agents, record executives, managers, journalists, and photographers to nibble at. I knew this coming here, so I accepted it. I accepted that there would be lots of press, pressure, and people kissing my butt. I accepted that I was a little fish in a big pond trying to just do whatever I had to do to get my agents to stop saying the word “buzz” to me. Needless to say, I shut them up. I made them happy. As I mentioned, I take my job very seriously.
As fashionable as it was to hate on SXSW, it was even more fashionable to throw around this disdain when talking to fellow musicians, yet do some major ass-kissing yourself. I won’t name names, but a certain punk who prides himself on his anti-industry sentiment flirted heavily with a married A&R rep all night. Career moves, man. I would never suck dick for a career boost, but I would wink. I would be, at the very least, nice. We all would and we all do, whether we admit it or not.
And I understand the frustration: It’s Kurt Cobain syndrome. We are all supposed to hate the fame and love the art. We are supposed to feel conflicted about the attention and act like we don’t like seeing professional photos of ourselves (being respected by thousands of people) playing on a stage. Musicians all have a sliver, if not a whole pie’s worth, of narcissism in us. Musicians who do not crave attention and fame record solo projects in their houses or teach children music and keep away from the limelight. In a world that requires one to self-promote, self-document, and self-manifest, the want for some level of recognition must be buried underneath the too-cool exterior. You got this far alone, didn’t you? You signed that contract. You went on that tour. You wanted people to listen to your music. You did this to yourself.
So, yeah. SXSW is “industry bullshit,” but this is not shocking or new information. This is a part of the music world. This is what happens when people start to make money off your talent. It’s a slippery slope, and if you don’t like it, get out now because I do not foresee anything about this industry changing to become like Communist Russia anytime soon.