The world economy is slumping. Record sales have plummeted. Music stores are closing, and record companies are slashing jobs at a record pace. But in the words of heavy metal band AC/DC, "You can't stop rock and roll." So, it was business as usual at the 23rd annual South By Southwest Music Conference, or SXSW, held in mid-March in Austin, Texas. The number of official registrants this year was down due to the economic recession. But, the amount of live music was greater than ever with close to 2,000 acts performing.
Thanks to songs like "Wild One," Those Darlin's drew a large and appreciative crowd to their first night appearance at SXSW. By the end of the week, the girl group from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had played several shows around town, and ended up being one of the most talked-about bands at South By Southwest 2009.
When South By Southwest first took place in 1987, only 700 music industry professionals attended the event. This year, close to 12,000 registered for the four-day "South By," conference and tradeshow, with an additional several thousand purchasing wristbands that gave them access to the evening music events.
The number of performers has increased as well, with the 2009 event featuring more than 1,800 artists from all over the globe performing concert sets at 80 venues scattered throughout Austin.
The artists appearing at "South By" performed all types of popular music from, pop and hip-hop, to country, bluegrass and blues.
With such a variety, it's hard to decide which bands to go see. Some attendees spend hours scouring the official South By Southwest schedule, and put together complex charts listing all possible options. Others, like local performer and producer Gurf Morlix, take a simpler approach.
"There's what? There's probably 3- or 4,000 bands in town from all over the world? How great is that? You can just wander," he said. "There's free stuff [performances] everywhere."
But, did he have time to enjoy any of it this week? Or was he too busy working?
"I'll find some time. I like to just wander and see what I can find out," he said. "I've been known to see people with an odd mode of dress, then follow them to wherever they're going, listen to them play, and then go 'Wow, this is really cool!' There's always that opportunity here. There's so much going on."
Or you could just follow the crowds. On Friday night, that might have meant winding up at La Zona Rosa, where Glasvegas, one of the most talked-about bands of SXSW, was playing. The quartet from Glasgow, Scotland, packed the club and played a short set of songs from their self-titled debut CD, including "Geraldine."
While South By Southwest is home to many young bands looking for stardom, it's also a prime spot for artists hoping for a comeback. This year, there were unannounced, but far-from-secret shows by rapper Kanye West, and heavy metal bands Metallica and Jane's Addiction. And on the official schedule were soul instrumental group The Bar-kays, plus new wave bands Echo And The Bunnymen, and Devo.
The music festival began with the 27th annual Austin Music Awards. While singer-songwriters or country bands usually come to mind when we think of Austin music, the city also has an active rock scene. The Black and White Years took home Best New Band honors at this year's music awards. The group's "Power To Change" was named Song of the Year.