SXSW 2012 is over, and how to summarize an event like this? Around 2000 official showcases, about 1000 unofficial bands, numerous parties, a 6th Street where you almost couldn’t get through because of all the people, many people not getting in at gigs, Bruce Springsteen 50 Cent, Norah Jones, Jimmy Cliff, Alabama Shakes.
I have been going to SXSW since 1997, with the exception of two years, and have seen the festival growing from something manageable to quite overwhelming. I remember a 6th Street where you could get from one end to the other in good speed, while this year the stret was a gigantic party, partly blocking the entrance to many of the clubs and generally making me try to avoid going there at all.
One thing that definitely has become much better by the years, is the conference part. Since I am genuinely interested in, among other topics, the development of the digital music services, the changing of the rights management in music and the development of the recording industry, I have got more and more out of the different seminars and panels over the last years.
I have no principal objection towards the overwhelming number of showcases thevenues a last couple of years. But I am not so sure that this is the best for the emerging bands, since there is more of a question of how many bands you miss than about how many you can manage to see. And since an important goal for 99% of the bands coming here is to be seen and be discovered, the more of the “important people” who see them, the better. So far, about 2000 bands seems to me to be a bit over the top.
One problem with these many bands and showcases, is the sheer number of venues that has to be available. Austin has a great number of good and passable live music venues, somewhere between 30 and 50 where you can see live music many days a week. During the festival you could see bands at 90 + venues. I have no doubt that all these venues did their best to present the bands in the best way possible. But the lights and sound wasn’t the best everywhere, and some venues with singer songwriters experienced sound leakage from the hard rock band next door.
I can understand the organisers who want to accomodate all the bands who want to play SXSW. And to a large extent, the high number of showcases is also one of the best things about the festival. My point is that there is a limit to what is practicaly possible, and it seems to me that the number of venues and bands last year and this year is either over, or very close to that limit.
What is my conclusion? SXSW is a great experience with a high quality seminar program and so many showcases and parties that you can virtually see bands all your waking hours. The festival should probably not become any bigger. At the same time, bands who do their homework before they come to SXSW can have big opportunities playing here. And even if they aren’t dicovered, whey will probably have a great time playing and checking out other bands and staying in “The Live Music Capital Of The World”.
Here are more pictures of some of the showcases I saw.
All pictures are © All RIghts Reserved Per Ole Hagen.