SXSW: Local bands hit the road to Austin, TX

royal canoe sxsw

by Sheldon Birnie

Every year, for six days in March, unwashed masses of musicians, music journalists and industry types (not to mention music fans) from across the world descend on Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest. The largest music conference and festival of its kind in the world, SXSW represents a great opportunity for emerging Manitoba artists to share their music with the world.

“Being from Winnipeg or Manitoba, we recognize that bands have to get out and tour and meet other people in other markets,” explains Sean McManus of Manitoba Music. “These types of festivals are huge in the development of bands.”

Every year, a handful of Manitoba bands make the trek down the I-29 to Austin to take part in the madness. This year, Manitobans Chic Gamine, KEN mode, Imaginary Cities, Boats, Royal Canoe, and Ruth Moody all have official showcases at the festival.

“SXSW can either be a great idea or a terrible idea, depending on what sort of team/network the act has going into it,” admits Jesse Matthewson of KEN mode, who are heading to SXSW for the third time this year. “If you’re going down just for the sake of playing a show and hoping to get discovered, I’d suggest investing your time and money into another avenue.”

“Planning is really important,” McManus agrees. “It’s not the kind of place where you just show up and get discovered.”

Having a team in place seems key to achieving your development goals at a massive festival such as SXSW, where thousands of bands are showcasing every day.

“The first time was just, we didn’t play any shows on the way there or back,” recalls Bucky Dreiger of Royal Canoe, who will be making their third appearance at SXSW this year. “We just went straight down and straight back and played one show.”

Since then, Royal Canoe has built up a solid US team and are planning a string of tour dates around SXSW. The other official showcasing Manitoba artists have all done the same over the years.

“Going down to SXSW has been a big part of that,” McManus told Stylus, while discussing the recent success of bands like Royal Canoe and Imaginary Cities in building international teams to help spread their music south of the border and beyond.

However, with so much going on at SXSW in such a (relatively) short time, it is easy to be lost in the mix.

“It’s kind of a weird thing,” explains Dreiger. “There are so many bands and so many people there so it’s kind of hard to stick your head out and make a noise. But as you go back more and more times, you do more and more touring and release more stuff it gives you all the more reason to go down because more people may have heard of you.”

“I know a lot of people don’t like it,” says Mat Klachefsky of Boats. “They say it’s too loud, too crowded, but for us it’s Disneyland! All your favorite bands are playing … and we get to see a lot of our musician friends that we don’t get to see a lot.”

At last year’s SXSW, nearly 2300 acts performed over the six night festival in over 100 venues in downtown Austin.

“I’m looking forward to wandering around and discovering new music,” says Klachefsky.

As both a music fan and an industry professional, McManus agrees that SXSW is a great place to discover new music.

“Every year I come out of SXSW with just a bunch of new music that I’ve discovered that honestly sets the stage for what happens in the industry over the next year,” he told Stylus. “It’s really great for us to go down and support the Manitoba act, and show the rest of the music industry that we have some amazing artists that they should pay attention to. But also just to take the pulse of what’s going on in the industry.”

Stylus will be in Austin this year to report on how our local acts are received at their showcases, and also to check out the wild scene in the Lone Star State. Keep posted here for daily updates from SXSW starting Tuesday, March 12.

[cite type=image]Manitoba Music/Flickr[/cite]

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