I am still receiving very encouraging dispatches from all over the globe in response to my call for artists not attending SXSW. A few longtime Visitation Rites favorites with a slightly higher profile have also sent along some special videos and unreleased material. I took the time to briefly ask those artists about their thoughts on South by Southwest.
Trouble Books: “Dead Bee in a Golden Bowl” (Previously unreleased track from upcoming album Concatenating Fields)
Visitation Rites: Have you considered attending SXSW in the past?
Keith Freund, Trouble Books: Actually, I’ve already played SXSW. I was there with another band in 2007, I think? I watched a middle-aged industry dude try to get two wasted teenage girls to go back to his hotel with him while some twee band played and the next morning I saw one of those girls as a completely annihilated zombie trying to hand out flyers to people walking by who threw them on the ground. Scorched Earth, TX.
VR: Do you believe at this point in your career “showcase” or industry events can help expose your band to a wider audience?
It really takes an over-the-top gimmicky live set to grab any attention at those things, so that wouldn’t work for Linda and I when we’re staring at our ‘tronics and mumbling into the mic in an empty tent at 2 PM.
Rivulets: “I Was Once A Handsome Man”
Visitation Rites: Have you thought about or made plans to attend SXSW in the past?
Nathan Amundson, Rivulets: Once, in 2002. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t have the sort of personality to schmooze people and I hate crowds. I can see how for a certain type of band or music fan it could be a pretty intense and concentrated blast, but it’s not for me.
VR: What are the options, besides CMJ or SXSW, for artists to promote their work on their own?
NA: Get on the road and in front of people who’ve never heard of you. I think that’s still the best, if not easiest, way to win new fans. Go places where no-one else bothers to go. I have a great bunch of fans deep in south-central Spain – not because I’m special, but because I care enough about them to travel all the way out there where most bands don’t. It’s rewarding to see these same faces time after time.
VR: Are there any particularly worthwhile or rewarding events that you’ve been a part of in your career – a moment where the dreamed about “breakthrough” or “connection” happens?
NA: The little personal connections– becoming friends with artists whose work you admire– that sort of stuff. Right now I’m stoked to be opening for Codeine in July. They were hugely important to me and I never thought I’d get to see them live, much less be playing shows with them.
VR: You’ve toured pretty extensively in Europe and all over the states. What are alternative networks that you have found to disperse your music and book tours, etc.?
NA: In Europe, I’ve worked with booking agents for most of this time, but I’ve been doing it long enough now that I know a lot of the promoters personally, so it’s not hard to drop them a line if I’m booking a run of shows on my own. I’ve never really had a booking agent in the US so I tend to do more one-off shows here than full tours. Much easier for me to wrangle than a US tour, which is logistical bananas to me.
For dispersal of music I dig Bandcamp, but I hope they keep it simple and don’t get too cluttered with it. It’s good to have your stuff up on iTunes and Amazon, too. People seem to like small handmade editions of things, too– and will still buy physical product if you make it unique.
Every band should have their OWN website. Not Facebook or whatever, but yourbandname.com (or .net, .org etc). All of these services come and go over time, but if you plan to stick around you should have your own home that you are 100% in charge of.
Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier – “The First Forest (Edit)” (from upcoming LP A New Age of Wonder on Shelter Press)
Visitation Rites: Have you thought about or made plans to attend South by Southwest in the past?
Félicia Atkinson, Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier: SXSW is not that famous in Belgium or in France. Frankly, I heard about it only 2 years ago and it seemed like an exciting place to go! What makes it exciting is that It seems so far away from Belgium! I mean, Texas! It would be fun to take a little van from Belgium with some friends, take the boat in Antwerp until New York and then hit the road! We would bring Belgian beers!
VR: What does South by Southwest mean to artists outside America?
FA: I think it is a bit of a myth because we can’t just “go” to hang out. It is way too far! I imagine it is very crowded and there are a lot of kids there. So it might be a bit scary also: so much indie crowd! So many loners gathered, seems a bit like a paradox in a way! My friend High Wolf went to play there last year, driving with friends, and we were all very impressed, like, “How was it?!” The drive was impressive, too.
VR: Do you have a personal philosophy or plan related to your artistic work, and does something like SXSW fit into this or not? How?
FA: My philosophy in my artistic work is that I will always do what I want, never trying to fit especially to something ” a la mode”. I need to be free. I released 22 cassettes and records over the past two years. Some editions were only 18 copies, some were 500. In my artwork it’s the same, I don’t care of doing gigantic pieces that would suit perfectly for collectors. If I want to do small and complicated to understand, I will do so.
Does a festival has a philosophy? I don’t know…maybe we could just say that festivals have “tastes”. I like the ideas that they have a lot of different scenes and curators for the shows.
Also, I want my music shows to be unpredictable, not in terms of energy or seriousness but in terms of sound and type of vibes. Sometimes it is very noisy, sometimes very calm, it changes often. My concern is also the experience as a listener: do people go to SXSW just to have fun– or do they go to listen to music? I guess both? Are you allowed to do music that is not fun there? Maybe if I would go to SXSW, I would expect a feeling of positive uncertainty, a kind of thrill, from the musicians and from the audience.
Words: Max Burke