When I sat down to write a few words on this year's SXSW in Austin, Tx I was thinking 500, maybe a 1000 would be sufficient to sum it up. I was wrong.
Put in seven simple words, SXSW is THE BEST INDUSTRY EVENT ON THE PLANET!
It's a mad few days and the UK contingent seemed stronger than ever this year, bumping into the likes of Sony RCAs Peter McGaughrin on the way to the Chess Club all day showcase, or sharing a rickshaw ride with Kevin Godley from 10CC who is launching an amazing new music offering on the web, (watch this space for an exclusive) the Brits were everywhere and making bigger waves than ever in Austin.
The UK Music industry should be proud of all the events and buzz they manage to create in a hubbub of bands and gigs. From the official UKTI backed showcases at the British Music Embassy, which looked ultra cool again this year, to the Communion label shows, a gig in a Pentecostal church from Billy Bragg to a sold out and enigmatic performance from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Stubbs BBQ (thanks must go to the ever genteel Brian Message who waved in myself, Nathan Graves and a couple of stragglers we'd brought along with us). I had my band Skinny Lister with me who played 10 gigs including a very cool BBC America showcase with Frank Turner aswell as a St Patrick's night barnstormer at BD Rileys on 6th Street.
Austin really is a great city and the vibrancy during the festival is electric. The hardest thing about the week as ever is working out what to see and trying to connect with as many people as possible. The Four Seasons rightfully reclaimed its position as number one networking spot this year, with a really old school feel of deals being done over coffees and cocktails. Driskills hotel hosted a rather lovely brunch for US collection agency SESAC, which proved a great venue for some good connections with publishers and songwriters and fortunately there was no unexpected intervention from the venue's resident ghost.
The maddest thing about SXSW is the multitude of venues and bands as literally everywhere you look there is a band playing, warming up or leaving the stage, be it a gas station forecourt, the side walk of 6th Street(so many i can't even begin to recall just one name) the lobby of a Boutique Hotel(Emmy Lou Harris) or a hotel atrium(Skinny Lister gig number 8!). I attended a very cool industry event organised by NARIP, which proved a great opportunity to meet music supervisors from Microsoft, You Tube and also publishers such as Glassnote, but some of the best connections are made completely randomly. Anyone who knows me will know I love yoga. So it was a miracle at the end of the week to find myself awake before 11am and in a hot yoga class on 5th street with the afore mentioned Nathan Graves(Music Sales). Having flushed a micro-amount of the weeks toxins out of our skins, we resumed sx-mode and headed across to Whole Foods for a smoothy, en-route to Waterloo Records across the street, where we could already hear Richard Thompson was in full flow. A young lady passed by the counter wearing a cool Joy Division T-shirt which sparked a conversation. Turns out she was the head of music for a major clothing brand responsible for putting music in all their stores. Later she came along with a music supervisor friend to my band's official showcase, which she loved and hopefully now we're going to do some business.
I think the main thing heading to SX, is to come with an open mind, be ready and open to meet people. Talk to people, I lost my voice pretty much completely by thursday and as I sit here in Tokyo writing this its pretty much non-existant. SXSW is what you make it... on the upside, its the best opportunity you will get as an exec in the global business to reach out and meet the industry from every major country in the world. The Mushroom Records party on the roof of the W Hotel was probably the best location of all the parties I went to; the Hopeless Records drinks the busiest and of course the New Zealand Commissions drinks on Brush Park had the best wine! The best band I saw during the week was Vampire Weekend, whose new material is very exciting. Closely followed by The Specials, who reminded me just how important culturally they are to the UK. Prince played to 250, Jake Bugg seemed to be everywhere and every record label A&R i bumped into mentioned Flume. I missed Thomas Dybdahl at the Sonos Lounge by five minutes.
On the downside, as the SXSW organisation gets bigger and more profit motivated some things have slipped. Bands still have to spend a fortune to play there and having done that, they're at the mercy of things like part-time sound guys who don't give a f*ck and can ruin your chances in a dash. I saw that happen a few times at various locations across Austin. SXSW you've got to do something about that and remember thats the whole point.
All in all though, for that week, Austin is the coolest place on the planet and I know for sure I'll be back there again next year for the best industry event in the world.