You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW jam-packed, but jams still matter

Artists rise above the branding bonanza

There’s no denying that Austin’s SXSW Music Festival is a must-do annual industry event. Since it began in 1987, it has grown to include countless panels, invaluable networking opportunities, and thousands of perfs by burgeoning musicians alongside established artists like Bruce Springsteen, who delivered this year’s keynote address and showed the youngsters how it’s done at his hot-ticket showcase.

In the past 25 years, SXSW Music has grown from 700 registrants to more than 17,700, not counting the unregistered hangers-on or the massive Interactive and Film components. And while this may be good news for fest organizers, it makes life much more difficult for festgoers. It used to be easy to waltz into official SXSW showcases to see your bands of choice, but now a badge-holder who wants to see, say, Jack White perform may wait in line for hours, with no guarantee of getting in, as was the case Friday night when many were left out in the cold.

Not surprisingly, countless brands have been cashing in on the opportunity to market to this large, tastemaking audience and align their products with hip bands. Some brands, such as Fader Inc. and Converse, have been doing this for years to great effect, sponsoring some of the most well attended and anticipated events, such as the Fader Fort, where everyone from Kanye West to the Black Keys has performed. This year Converse created a “pop-up” version of its Brooklyn-based Rubber Tracks studio, where artists can record in a state-of-the-art studio for free.

“We feel compelled to do things in the music space that gives back to the music community,” said Converse chief marketing officer Geoff Cottrill, who pointed out that the company’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been embraced by musicians for decades. “We decided, ‘Let’s bring our (Rubber Tracks studio) to Austin this week.’ We’ve had people in here every day recording.”

Other promos, such as those by Doritos and Mountain Dew, were more blatant, like the five-story stage Doritos constructed this year to look like a giant vending machine. The launch event Mountain Dew threw with Lil Wayne for its DEWeezy campaign, where Weezy swigged the soft drink onstage, was widely criticized for being too gimmicky, and you couldn’t turn a corner without spotting ads for energy drinks, potato chips and cars plastered on every lamppost.

“When the people are there, the brands will always follow,” said Fader prexy and publisher Andy Cohn. “(SXSW) has become a ‘must’ trip for anyone who works anywhere surrounding the music industry.” Cohn, who has overseen the expansion of the Fader Fort from a small outpost on 6th Street to an outdoor venue that spans five city blocks, said the growth has been positive for his brand.

But while brands have taken centerstage, it’s important to not forget SXSW’s raison d’etre: live music. This year was as much about major artists’ return to form, including Fiona Apple, Lionel Richie, the Shins and Santigold, as it was about up-and-comers who generated significant buzz.

Scottish quartet Django Django, who played at the Fader Fort and gave a spirited perf at Under the Radar’s day party, blended rock and electronica and some impressive harmonies that avoided being derivative and managed to feel fresh and danceable. Brooklyn band Chairlift has expanded from a duo to a fully formed five-piece to showcase their soph album, and their frontwoman’s vocal gymnastics will leave you breathless. Southern rock act Alabama Shakes generated some buzz before their KCRW showcase, but their perf proved that while they have strong musical chops and a honey-voiced singer, they need to work on their stage presence. Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-based rapper Theophilis London has the requisite rapper swagger, and flaunted it at the Thrasher and Converse-sponsored show at Hype Hotel. His rapping didn’t stand out, but his melodic tunes, which blend electronic and R&B, helped him rise above the fray. Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman), former Fleet Foxes drummer, got people talking about his heartfelt, earnest singer-songwriter jams from his Sub Pop debut, as well as his biting wit.

The many noteworthy bands descended on Austin, and proved that despite the crowds and the ubiquitous corporate branding, the music is still what matters.

More Music

  • Kane Brown 52nd Annual CMA Awards,

    Kane Brown's Staples Center Concert Postponed After Drummer's Death

    A sold-out concert by country star Kane Brown scheduled for Friday at Staples Center in Los Angeles has been postponed until January, due to the death of the singer’s drummer, Kenny Dixon, in a car accident Saturday in Tennessee. Brown was scheduled to perform Friday at the first of several gigs intended to celebrate the [...]

  • Kenny Dixon, Drummer for Country Star

    Kenny Dixon, Drummer for Country Star Kane Brown, Dies in Car Accident

    Kane Brown and his fans are mourning the death of the country star’s drummer, Kenny Dixon, in an automobile accident in Tennessee Saturday. “I’m gonna miss you so much man. I’d always come back and jam out with u,” Brown tweeted on Sunday, posting a photo of himself standing on the drum riser grinning at [...]

  • Chambers Brothers

    George Chambers, of 1960s Hit Group the Chambers Brothers, Dies at 88

    George “Pops” Chambers, singer and bassist for the Chambers Brothers, best known for the 1968 hit “Time Has Come Today,” died Saturday at 88. “The best big brother you could ever have,” Willie Chambers wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night. “I am so sad, and at the same time, I’m so glad to have [...]

  • Stock market

    Trading In Music's Futures: How to Cash In on the Industry's Gold Rush (Guest Column)

    The music industry is entering a time of financial prosperity thanks to the widespread use of streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal. According to a recent report by Musicwatch, 77% of all internet users in the U.S. stream music, while Goldman Sachs projects a revenue pot of $34 billion by 2030. Finally, the [...]

  • Vampire Weekend - Brian Robert Jones,

    Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, Rufus du Sol to Headline Okeechobee Festival

    Today, Insomniac Events announced the lineup for the fourth edition of Florida’s Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. The four-day event will return to Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Florida March 5-8, 2020 with a multi-genre lineup led by Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, Rufus du Sol and Bassnectar, along with over 100 other artists across a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content