Still, plenty of money is funneled into Austin every year to throw a seemingly endless number of parties filled with music, the people who love it and the people who love to be seen pretending to love it. That people will pack the clubs of Austin to see music is guaranteed, but does SXSW have the cultural value that it once did? Does SXSW still launch careers? This is something we've been pondering.
To our way of thinking, the use and abuse of state power kind of ruins a party vibe. Luckily, no one else seems bummed about this. Perhaps it’s because artists sail under different constellations. Some of these constellations suspiciously resemble Doritos bags; others, Monster Energy cans; still others like the logos of various payday-lending enterprises, the imperial insignia of famous beer and fast-food concerns, as well as lesser-known savings and loan cheats. Despite all this stardom, there are still artists who sit it out, if only because of the parking and load-in hassles.
But to answer this completely fairly, one must consider the artists, the staff and the volunteers who have committed their time and their bodies, their gear, and their body weight in wristbands and lanyards to the festival, in search of access, swag and, occasionally, a good time. For them, at least until they have Austin in their rearview mirror, SXSW must still matter, because it’s not an artist-friendly environment in any way. For an artist, SXSW is a male nipple, severed and discarded amidst the crumpled-up handbills, the dropped and disregarded promo CDs, and the inescapable sticky, slimy residue befouling that long-running street of dreams deferred. TEX KERSCHEN
Does SXSW still matter? In a word: duh. Maybe the music festival won't break bands in that quaint, Lana Turner-style way people romanticize. That's archaic and not representative of how the music business functions in 2017. What it can and probably will do is give the artists who have been invited some tools they can use to their benefit. The networking opportunities alone make it a no-brainer for go-getters. An official showcase invite at SXSW is like an internship at Goldman Sachs — it may be brief but you can always use its prestige and lessons learned to cash in elsewhere. Also, there's this: SXSW turns a Texas city (and some nearby ones, if you include spillover shows) into a nonstop jukebox filled with unheard global hits that practically anyone can access. Seems like something that matters a lot if you love music. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
SXSW used to represent the future. Or, at least that's what the — for lack of a better word — mythology was. Talented acts would arrive in Texas from around the world, play a bunch of gigs, and the people who saw them would scatter to the winds to talk them up. If you were lucky enough to live in Texas, this was likely your first chance to see some of these acts, and in small venues up close and personal, before their careers took the next big jump. Now it mostly just feels like Spring Break without the beach. There's nothing wrong with that, of course; if enough bands you dig are in Austin and you don't mind waiting in the occasional line, there's a lot of free music out there for you to experience. And yeah, maybe you'll come across a new band that you fall in love with, but that doesn't really feel like the point anymore.
There are likely a lot of reasons one could point out that caused this change, but the truth is everything cool eventually becomes co-opted. You can really only fly under the radar so long before things explode. In that way, SXSW is a great mirror for the city of Austin itself, which continues to grow while not being able to quite keep up with that growth. Once you started having Kanye and Justin and Eminem showing up for SXSW, it wasn't about the festival anymore; it was just brands flexing to the masses. And there's nothing wrong with that, but it is weird to think of SXSW as something of a side note. But, be honest: When was the last time an act really “won” at SXSW that wasn't already a darling of the Pitchfork/greater blog set? CORY GARCIA