JIM CAR­ROLL ON THE RECORD

Is South By South­west in dan­ger of be­com­ing a vic­tim of its own suc­cess?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

We’re back, as the song goes, deep in the heart of Texas. If it’s March, the mu­sic in­dus­try’s mag­pie eyes turn again to­wards Austin and the an­nual South By South­west (SXSW) jam­boree.

You’ve 2,000 bands and all the bag­gage they bring in­clud­ing en­tourages, crews, la­bels, man­agers, agents and fans spread all over the city. There’s mu­sic hap­pen­ing in what ap­pears to be ev­ery nook and cranny from early morn­ing un­til late night. It’s the big one.

Those of us who’ve been com­ing here for years are a lit­tle taken aback by the at­ten­tion that SXSW now gets. I can re­mem­ber a time not so long ago when it took a bit of per­sua­sion to get an edi­tor to run a piece on the fes­ti­val.

All that has changed, and a lot of this new-found at­ten­tion is down to wide­spread cov­er­age of the in­ter­ac­tive side of the event. Your mam and dad are prob­a­bly think­ing about pop­ping over to South By next year fol­low­ing last week­end’s visit to the city by Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right).

How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of the 300,000 vis­i­tors in town this week are here for the mu­sic part of SXSW. Many are here be­cause SXSW is where big acts such as Kanye West, Jay Z, Prince and oth­ers come to play.

Such block­buster acts are here to be hand­somely paid to play spe­cial shows for big con­sumer brands. The pun­ters are here to try to get a taste of that ex­pe­ri­ence, and the brands get to crow about what they’ve done.

Oth­ers are here be­cause SXSW takes place dur­ing the spring break for many US uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to come here than travel to Cancún or Mazatlán, es­pe­cially when you have a wel­ter of day­time par­ties with free drink, food and live mu­sic hap­pen­ing dur­ing SXSW. The weather is also usu­ally de­cent.

In­dus­try bandwagon

Then, there are those who are here be­cause they work in the in­dus­try and this is where the bandwagon is parked for the week. There may not be many deals done – and the stan­dard of the event’s pan­els and talks is poor com­pared with the in­ter­ac­tive of­fer­ings – but it’s where peo­ple come to hang and take stock nonethe­less.

What’s on the in­for­mal chin­wag agenda for a lot of at­ten­dees this year is SXSW’s fu­ture. Last year’s fes­ti­val was marred by a car crash that re­sulted in fa­tal­i­ties and in­juries, and it’s clear that the man­age­ment and polic­ing of this year’s event is heav­ily in­formed by the need to pre­vent a re­peat of such tragedies.

While the city has clamped down on the num­ber of unof­fi­cial day­time events oc­cur­ing dur­ing SXSW, the fes­ti­val is still drawing the same num­ber of vis­i­tors as be­fore. All of th­ese folks are thus try­ing get into a smaller num­ber of par­ties and show­cases, a sit­u­a­tion that can only lead to more grid­lock around the city’s down­town area.

By any reckoning, SXSW has been a huge suc­cess for Austin since it launched in 1987. It draws in rev­enue, in­creases pro­file and helps to aug­ment the city’s tourism in­dus­try. All those new ho­tels open­ing down­town are prob­a­bly do­ing so with one eye on the SXSW fi­nan­cial bounce ev­ery March.

But in or­der for SXSW to con­tinue and thrive, changes may need to be made and this must in­volve all in­ter­ested par­ties. It’s never go­ing to revert to the down­home fes­ti­val of old, but few will wel­come it be­com­ing just an­other heav­ily-branded mu­sic fes­ti­val ei­ther.

There’s mu­sic hap­pen­ing in what ap­pears to be ev­ery nook and cranny from early morn­ing un­til late night. It’s the big one

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