SXSW (or South By South West, to use its full name) is widely known by the music industry and music fans as the ultimate showcasing festival for new music. Each year in March the World's music industry decamps to Austin, Texas, for six long days and nights of BBQ, margaritas, tacos and live music. And this week, for the first time, I'm amongst them.
I've heeded all the advice; and boy was there a lot of it. 'Venture beyond the usual music industry haunts to find the really interesting shows', 'don't forget sunscreen!', 'you'll only make it to about half of your meetings and get into half of the shows you want to see', and lastly the all-important 'SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint...PACE YOURSELF!'.
As I sit here four days into the six-day marathon, I am REALLY feeling this last point. I'm exhausted. But I've had life-changingly good tacos, played beer pong at 10am, seen some incredible bands and actually made it to some very productive business meetings...so I'm not going to complain.
I left London for Austin on Monday with a sense of trepidation and excitement. On my final day here I am speaking on a panel, 'Passport To Women In Music: A Global Review', so I've done the necessary preparation and am excited to connect with other women in music from around the world and discuss the pursuit of gender equality in the music business. It's a subject I'm very passionate about and an area where there are currently so many interesting initiatives and developments which are really affecting change. But first I have to make it to the final day, with my voice intact and some semblance of brain power left. It's not looking good if I'm honest.
On arrival in Austin I successfully passed the week's first challenge: customs. With the new administration in the US, some of the bands and artists due to perform at SXSW have not been so lucky. I know of several artists who have had their visas revoked and other complications just days before they were due to travel. It's a sorry state of affairs and I really sympathise with the SXSW organisers and bands who have had to pull out of performing after booking flights, accommodation and shows. Nice one, Trump.
My first night of SXSW was a battle against jet lag, but I managed to survive to see the awesome Muncie Girls play a 1am set at the British Music Embassy, where we are showcasing the best in British talent all week alongside partners including BBC 6Music. After a whole 4 hours sleep and a predictably excessive hearty southern breakfast it's time to dive into Tuesday's packed schedule. Early morning meetings are followed by showcases hosted by Pandora, Vevo the City of Memphis before it's time for a night of British grime acts. Rude Kid, Frisco, Ghetts, Logan Sama, Little Simz and Kano have the mostly American crowd eating out of their hands; it's really exciting to see grime crossing over internationally. Little Simz is my personal SXSW highlight so far.
Wednesday starts with a Women in Music meet up hosted by the organisation of the same name, of which I'm a member. It's encouraging to see a huge turnout of women from all different parts of the industry, and a really welcoming and friendly event. It's straight from there to back to back meetings and panel sessions until once again it's happy hour and time to race from venue to venue to see all the acts I've highlighted in the jam-packed gig schedule. My head hit the pillow at around 3am, 5 hours until breakfast!
So that brings us to today. The sun has given way to an overcast sky that reminds me of home and the pain is real. How does everyone do this?! From a quick tally up I have so far seen 22 live acts, attended four panel sessions, won 0 games of beer pong, averaged 4.5 hours sleep and had those life-changing tacos. Don't forget the tacos.
For a festival showcasing new music, there's a fair few blasts from the past on the bill. Last night I managed to catch an amazing Jimmy Eat World show and tonight I'm seeing Hanson. Yes, that Hanson. Of course, I've discovered some incredible new acts too; I'd highly recommend checking out Fizzy Blood, Muncie Girls and Jacob Banks. I'm really proud of the British talent we have showcasing this year; British music hasn't been this exciting for a long time.
With my panel fast approaching and my voice rapidly disappearing I've decided to get a (relatively) early night tonight and sneak away for a decent night's sleep.