As an audio production house, we tend to spend most of our time in front of a mixer, mastering, creating and designing the next big sound to hit your screens… occasionally (just occasionally) when the workload allows, we step outside the realms of The Gin Factory and this year when South By South West (SXSW) came round, we decided to hastily pack a bag and venture off to Texas. We went in search of the best of the best of new talent coming over from Britain and to look for future collaborators at the festival's veritable who's who of new tech (and let's not lie, to generally consume an obscene amount of tacos and carefully measured tequilas).
Austin is the self-proclaiming ‘live music capital of the world’ and as soon as you step off the plane you can’t really argue with them. The entire airport is aesthetically designed around instruments and sound. Welcome to Austin. We like this.
We jump in a Lyft (actually cheaper than an Uber somehow) and head central to downtown Austin. As the cab takes the short ride the SXSW hedonism becomes clearer. Austin is a little (for America) hub nestled in the centre of Texas. Unlike the rest of Texas, Austin is now THE place to go to make it in music and tech. Hubs dotted around this creative city are clear as day, every corner is littered with new tech start-ups and each bar is paved with musicians impressing their taco munching audiences.
SXSW is a huge festival for technology, maybe even more so than music. Putting a tech festival in Austin is a genius idea, tech centre of the world, new kids on the block for kids with genius ideas. We came across a very clever, brazen idea: ‘Lets sneak internet into North Korea.’ Good luck mate, we thought, you will need it but when you hear the manifestation of that idea you think actually this could work. Using USB drives loaded with internet hot-spots, they aim to randomly drop them into the country. If they achieve 1 million drive drops, it will effectively bring the internet to the masses of North Korea. Very clever idea, worth a punt and anything to annoy Kim is a winner with us.
This is an example of the left field ethos SXSW offers which really excites us. At The Futz Butler we pride ourselves not only delivering something truly exceptional to the tech industries, but moreover, something truly unexpected. Sound is a crucial constituent in any tech and in a lot of instances, all too easily forgotten. We met some incredibly talented folks here, with some equally jaw-dropping ideas. Watch this space!
As you walk through Austin during tech week the crowd is vastly different from the realms of music. Everyone mingles and divulges through the tech stands to find the latest trend and gadget taking over the world, and like the music, SXSW gives the creator/artist the platform to showcase their work.
SXSW started 30 years ago as a non-traditional festival designed to nurture talent, to give them a platform to perform and showcase it. It shunned the celebs, the big names who will easily draw a crowd and focussed on the up and coming bods. This was its aim for 30 years and to be fair for a long time it kept its word, but today it has fallen for the big sponsorships and with big sponsorships comes big money which allows for big artists to perform. This year it was Iggy Pop and Drake. They are however restricted to one stage and the rest of the festival is reserved for the next Drake.
To sum SXSW up, it's like Notting Hill Carnival mixed with three Glastonburys. Only in America can you do this, close 6 blocks permanently for 4 weeks so people can line the streets and party like its 1999. We're talking 40,000 people descending on downtown to either perform, showcase, mingle, sell themselves or simple dance til they dribble tequila. Thanks to Austin it has a bohemian style vibe, very free to dot from bar to bar to catch a glimpse of the next Adele. The drinks are cheap compared to our London spots, and the weather (touch wood), is always warm. Time to get those knobbly knees out.
At SXSW you are forced to shift through the try-hard bands to find the gems and luckily enough PRS and the BBC host an event every night for a week over at the British Embassy on 6th street. This makes life a lot easier. They showcase the best of Britain in one place. British music in the US is huge, with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele to thank for opening the US perceptions to our music, our new young kids are finding it easier and more receptive to make a lasting impression on our US counterparts. American music is going through a new wave at the moment. Hip-Hop is always going to be top in the States but Grime and in particular British Grime is taking over in the US (Stormzy has even headlined a few gigs here already). We noticed the whatever band was on stage the bar was packed. People queuing outside, peering through windows, standing on shoulders to get a glimpse of the talent.
We could talk for weeks about the huge talent we came across, but we also appreciate you might not want to hear it all… So here's our top three from SXSW16. They couldn't be more different from each other but in equal measure, you will know them by the end of 2016.
JONES A youthful beautiful young lady with a sound that resonates with your soul. She stands tall on stage. She sings with ease, never belts a tune out but instead takes you on a journey.
Declan McKenna Now this young chap has the potential to be the next ED Sheeran (whether we need another one or not). He is only 17, but his maturity surpasses his age. He controls the audience with ease and looking his age on stage he certainly doesn’t sound it.
Honne A creative male duo who in fair are already taking the US by storm. They've yet to really capture the British imagination, but it's only a matter of time. They have a penchant for analog hardware synths coupled with a lazy melodic soul nostalgia. That ticks our boxes.
As you step outside the door of the British Embassy their sounds resonate onto the claustrophobic proportions of 6th street. Their music seemed to warm even the harshest critics' Cockles and going on punters crammed in, took on and won battles with hip-hop, heavy rock and metal heavyweights. People actually stopped in their tracks as they walked past and peered through the windows to see who was making the music.
This was our very first year in Austin and without a doubt we will be returning next year. Well prepared, well stocked and itching to find the next thing that sonically re-arranges our brain. SXSW is in our opinion full of greatness. Imagination and creativity. It's a minefield of madness and joy. You will come back with your ears ringing, a bitter Tequila taste in your throat but armed with a new sense of purpose. Just 340 days left to go. Get actual involved...