Every March, thousands of people fly to Austin, Texas to experience one of the largest music festivals and conferences in the world – South by Southwest(SXSW). As the largest free festival of New York City, SummerStage annually sends representatives to the “Live Music capital of the World.” This year, it was SummerStage Programming Associate Paula Abreu. Read on for her first-hand account of her experiences during five jam-packed days at SXSW.
This was my first time at SXSW, and as a usual first-timer, I was overwhelmed (in a very positive way) with the intensity of this 28 year-old festival. All of downtown Austin and most of east Austin are virtually taken over by SXSW. Every single venue, store, café, and restaurant takes advantage and celebrates it. Despite all the madness, SXSW is definitely the destination for “discovery”. I’ve recounted below some of my favorite personal experiences and highlights.
Tuesday, March 11
I landed in Austin in the early evening, so I didn’t have time to do much. After a quick bite, I went to Red 7 to check out SummerStage alum (2013) Emicida, who recently released his first studio album. I particularly liked the fusion of hip-hop with Brazilian rhythmic influences in his new work. It was also very cool to see Austin’s Baby Chino on stage. Known as “the world’s youngest DJ,” the kid has performed alongside heavyweights in the music industry and really does the business.
Wednesday, March 12
I started the day with a thought-provoking panel – Man versus Machine: The Curation Dilemma. The conversation focused mostly on music streaming services, whether algorithms that curate to individual listeners are effective, and the challenges of introducing new music to audiences. It’s intriguing to think that about 20% of the music on Spotify has never been streamed. As the discussion evolved, I couldn’t help thinking what the future of music consumption will be. Will streaming services, live music, and different platforms converge and result in more and more customized curation? As I said, thought-provoking.
In terms of talent, two of my favorite discoveries of the night were: Slothrust and Boogarins. It’s impressive how Slothrust can easily flow from bluesy guitar to loud grunge sounds. The audience was raving for them and so was I, even with my earplug-protected ears. Boogarins was definitely one of my top discoveries. The psychedelic pop band from Goiânia, Brazil, named after a jasmine flower that “smells like pure love,” has a fresh and delicate, yet wild sound. The young but very impressive band has its roots clearly inspired by beloved psych-pop Brazilian band Os Mutantes.
Thursday, March 13
Two of the panels I attended on Thursday – Smart Touring and Reinventing Artist Management – raised relevant points for artists regarding positioning and differentiating in a saturated market. The key is to think that although music is the foundation of the business, success lies in exploring the value/relationship with consumers and finding the connective tissues between artists and their audiences. As a festival presenter, it’s definitely necessary to stay up-to-date with some of the artists’ current challenges and best practices, as after all, we’re in the business of serving both audiences and artists.
That night, I was thrilled to finally be able to see Big Freedia, the “Queen of Bounce” from New Orleans. Her show is definitely a unique and insanely fun experience.
The Korean rock band Jambinai, presented by Womex, was also a beautiful discovery. They take the fusion of avant-garde/traditional music to another level with their virtuosic playing of Korean traditional instruments.
Friday, March 14
Most of my Friday was purely music. It was great to visit the parking lot transformed into Spotify House. St. Paul and The Broken Bones got the audience raving and literally yelling for them. The group delivers exactly what you would expect from a high profile soul band: a sound from and to deep in the heart. I was also thrilled to catch SummerStage alum (2010) Tinariwen, at the globalFEST showcase, amongst the killer festival’s line-up.
Saturday, March 15
Another brand that took over a parking lot was Airbnb, who did an amazing job in decorating the space. I heard many people in the audience saying they felt like they were in someone’s backyard. Listening to Allen Stone (playing SummerStage this June!) on his acoustic guitar in that friendly campfire felt like a sweet dessert after a whole week of intense music. And the icing on the cake was seeing Suzanne Vega at the Central Presbyterian Church, an official SXSW venue since 2006. Suzanne filled the whole room, and my mind, with her sweet voice and timeless sound.
Overall, I would say SXSW is the place to be if you are looking to experience new music, learn, and expand your horizons and possibilities. I am extremely happy with this experience and looking forward to what discoveries future visits to SXSW will bring.
Paula Abreu is a SummerStage Programming Associate