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- Posted on Mar 19th 2013 5:00PM by Cameron Matthews
SXSW in 2013 looks very much the same, but with many companies opting for lower-profile and more exclusive parties. According to an insider at Bloomberg, brands are shelling out at least $100,000 to host a shindig at SXSW. That's big bucks for festival promoters, but it also means that the indie ship has sailed for a music festival that used to define the term.
With the high cost of even being involved with SXSW, many start-ups, blogs and labels have opted to throw shadow parties. But there's a catch: No mention can be made of SXSW, lest they risk a lawsuit from the festival. Alternative, unofficial festivals like RedGorilla, South by San Jose, The Road to South By, Fuck by Fuck You and others have made waves in recent years, both for music fans and young bands that are still scruffing it on the road.
Even prominent music blogs like Consequence of Sound (CoSigns) and SPIN (SPIN House) stray away from mentioning SXSW in any or their concert literature, opting for "Austin's spring music tradition" instead. Out-of-towners will continue to invade the liberal Texas town for many years to come, but we wanted to know how local bands were using SXSW to their advantage.
Enter Justin Grunow, a member of Austin pop act Ribbonhead and cofounder of Circus on the Moon, a six-band collective that's revving up the hometown scene. They've teamed up with a new sushi restaurant (WUWU Sushi) to start a counter festival (WUWUFEST), promoting local business and local bands simultaneously.
"With all the corporations taking over SXSW, we thought we should do something very local but sprinkle in some national bands and it's worked out very well for us," Grunow tells Spinner. Among the national acts, WUWU managed to grab WHY? for a totally packed show at the festival's second location, Russian House.
Having only been together for a year, Ribbonhead's leadership at WUWUFEST is a testament to the knowledge and ability of local Austin bands.
Ribbonhead synth player Will Beilharz says it's a challenge for Austin acts to land a spot on a SXSW bill: "It's really difficult as a local band because [SXSW] has to book a certain number of national acts. Here, we're throwing our own festival and we've done all the backbone work, so we get to book our own shows."
"That's a lot of what the Austin energy is about," Grunow adds. "We have the weird thing going, but it's also just a big community. We want to help each other out. We can all bundle under this name, Circus on the Moon, and whenever we do a show, fans from all of our bands come out."
Beilharz also lamented that SXSW isn't nearly what it used to be, saying "I remember as a younger kid, 15 or 16, coming to South By and you'd get in and see every show you wanted, you never needed a wristband. Pretty much everything was free. And now, you're going to pay $40 to $50 a day just to park downtown."
SXSW has threatened alternative festivals in the past with trademark infringement. There's no denying that brands and artists are piggybacking on its success, but Circus on the Moon say that their showcase isn't taking anything away from the music monolith.
"I don't think we're really taking anything from South By's ability to make money. We're just picking up these bands that are already coming to town for South By official shows and we're giving them the opportunity to play more showcases if they want to. We're adding to the overall music experience at South By."
The band's emphasis on local is keeping the indie mentality of Austin alive, while tens of thousands of people flock to the city. Hopefully they'll return in 2014 with another excellent alternative to the big festival.