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Minnesota Migration: Prelude to SXSW Music Festival

What better way to start writing for the venerable mnartists.org than by covering the behemoth, one-week roaming music festival that is South By Southwest (SXSW)? SXSW has made Austin, Texas a destination for the music, interactive, and film world every March for the last 26 years. I’ve attended the last seven years, and for me […]

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What better way to start writing for the venerable mnartists.org than by covering the behemoth, one-week roaming music festival that is South By Southwest (SXSW)? SXSW has made Austin, Texas a destination for the music, interactive, and film world every March for the last 26 years. I’ve attended the last seven years, and for me the festival has been a welcome respite from the harsh Minnesota winter months. As a music fan for 18 years, with several thousand shows under my belt, I’ve also found SXSW to be an annual binge of epic proportions. Each trip to Austin has had some massive high points, but I always find it offers some valuable perspective on both the best and worst elements of the world of music. There’s much clacking at keyboards and on screens done every year (nationally and in Minnesota) well in advance, anticipating the festival’s highlights. There are also plenty of people talking about the growing list of problems with SXSW. For some, those issues are why they aren’t going this year. These different aspects of the festival (and music world) are constantly bouncing around in my head, and I’ll touch on them often as I weave in out and of the crowded streets this week and report back to you here.

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Image courtesy by Daniel Ralston of the Low Times

The above Venn diagram succinctly captures the frustrations of SXSW for longtime music fans. As the festival’s reputation has grown from a regional musical gathering to a multi-billion-dollar interactive and creative industry marketing event, the vibe has shifted away from its original priority on discovery of new music and artists. In the course of my years attending the festival I’ve increasingly found it easier to stumble across new ad campaigns for garbage “food”, energy drinks, and booze than memorable musical experiences. SXSW is now fraught with long lines and needy creatives desperately trying to”make it.” It can all be painfully disheartening. The sheer energy behind the live music experience that inspired me to make half of my life’s work in this field is hard to find these days at SXSW. In the din of the surrounding commerce and hype, diligence is both required and necessary to find those vital mischief makers and studied purveyors of sound that make music so special.

Sunny weather in March is appealing in its own right, but I still keep coming back to SXSW for those handful of transcendent, unique moments you have to be in person to catch, moments that just don’t translate on a computer screen or in print: weird chance meetings, bumping into and chatting with the very people who helped shape the world of independent music — like Geoff Travis. And there are those bonding moments in the melee, with friends from the Twin Cities and across the world. Plus, there are always shows (see below), all in one place, that I’d ordinarily have to travel by plane, train, and automobile, all over, to hear. This is what brings me back to Austin year after year.

I’d write more but I’m heading out to hear two Scottish DJs who have provided the perfect soundtrack to a number of road trips I’ve taken of late, including the 16-hour jaunt to Texas. Music still rules my world.

Some personal SXSW highlights:

2007 – Les Savy at Red Eyed Fly

2007 – Lily Allen Ranting about the NME

2007 – Public Enemy at the Auditorium Shores Amphitheater 

2007 – Daniel Johnston

2008 - Jandek at Central Presbyterian Church

2008 – Roky Erickson (with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top on guitar)

2009 – Rusted Shut

2010 – Maybe Mars (Chinese independent label) Showcase

2010 – Death (70′s Detroit proto-punk band) reunion at the Mohawk

2012 – Astronautalis at the Liberty

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

Minnesota Migration will be the musical adventures and musings of Tom Loftus as he travels outside of the Minnesota borders for new and interesting sounds.