Underground shows amplify lineup

South by Southwest 2012

As the 26-year-old SXSW music festival grows ever bigger, so does the number of unofficial satellite parties, hotel-room showcases, warehouse raves and off-site mini festivals that spring up around it, events that for some festivalgoers (especially those without passes) can sometimes be more appealing than the “official” music lineup.

Last year, for example, hip-hop star Kanye West threw an unofficial, Twitter-invite-only party at the Power Plant, on the other side of town from the official SXSW music events. And when indie artist Jenny O. tweeted that she was performing a morning acoustic show in her hotel room at the Driskill, journalists from NPR and the New York Times turned up for the experience.

“Unlike most SXSW shows, it was quiet and very intimate, being that it was in a hotel room with bagels and champagne, and the artists sitting on the bed with their guitars,” says Laurel Stearns, Jenny O.’s manager. This year, her artists are taking part in another unusual, unofficial SXSW event: a show on Willie Nelson’s ranch, about 25 miles away from the official hub of the festival.

With most of the hotels and venues in Austin fully booked during SXSW, DIY event spaces like parking lots, warehouses and rooftops are in high demand by brands, magazines and outside event planners, who are often willing to pay bands large sums of money to perform. Sometimes, brands insist that the bands withhold from playing any other SXSW events as part of the deal — even their own record label’s showcase, for example, something that can put cash-strapped bands in an awkward position.

“Oftentimes the unofficial events are basically just bringing big business into the independent music game,” says Heathcliff Berru, founder of Life or Death PR, who represents rap stars Odd Future. Berru is organizing two events at this year’s SXSW — one official, one unofficial — and made sure to get SXSW’s blessing for his daytime unofficial event.

It can damage a band’s relationship with SXSW if they insist on playing too many competing unofficial events, says Berru — something that just isn’t worth it in the long run, as it is not unheard of for the festival to pull hotels and money from artists who do not play by the rules.

“It makes sense to respect SXSW and have them as your ally,” he says.

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