As South by Southwest officially enters its thirty-first year, I enter my twenty-first, and our paths finally collide. Growing up, my dad promised to take me to the Elysian musical free-for-all in Austin, Texas when I turned eighteen. When I turned eighteen, he changed it to twenty-one, due to the majority of the showcases taking place in bars across the city. Understandable? Yes. Worth the wait? Absolutely. Best birthday present ever? Unquestionably.
This festival has got everything–including several other festivals! However, I will be putting blinders on to focus on the music. As for the headliners, there will be the obligatory indie all-stars like The New Pornographers and Future Islands, along with classics like Cindy Wilson of the B-52s and Cheetah Chrome, legendary guitarist of The Dead Boys and core member of the original punk scene at New York music incubator CBGB’s (which also helped launch Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones and Talking Heads). They got Real Estate, one of my favorite bands of all time, whose mash-up of “Atlantic City” and “Beach Comber” on the steps of Doe Library during my first visit to Berkeley on Cal Day 2014 still gives me chills. My dad is really stoked for Weezer and the Wu-Tang Clan. Hell, they even booked Joe Biden to speak.
SXSW showcases artists from all corners of the world while also recognizing the talent in their own backyard. A plethora of exceptional Austin-based acts populate the lineup of over 1,700 artists: Hovvdy, Single Lash, Tamarron, Alex Napping, Lake of Fire, Boyfrndz, and newcomer Molly Burch, who just released her incredible debut LP last month. Established Austin acts, Night Beats and Spoon, are set to play as well.
I’m excited to see Hannah Joy of Middle Kids play a right-handed Telecaster left-handed (one of my favorite guitar phenomenons). I’m excited to see my two most beloved active bay area projects, Plush and Jay Som, in a different state. But I am most elated about the unending list of international talent, whom I would probably never have the immense privilege to see if not for this festival. Tijuana’s Mint Field, France’s VedeTT, Canada’s No Joy, and Chile’s Trementina are all on the lineup.
Recently, controversy emerged when musician Felix Walworth of Told Slant tweeted plans to cancel their appearance at the festival due to this clause in the artist contract:
Foreign Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or unofficial shows, DAY OR NIGHT, in Austin from March 10-19, 2017. Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry.
Although this is certainly alarming rhetoric, the whole debacle needs context. This is not a new addition to the contract and its addition, while appearing unsympathetic to international artists, is the festival attempting to cover itself legally. SXSW has never taken this extreme action against artists on their bill before. With the new administration’s unconstitutional stance on immigration, it’s easy to see how potential alignment with these harsh policies are taken seriously. However, SXSW has since issued an apology and removed the offensive clause from their contract.
I had to delete a sentence about my anticipation of Italian post-punk (amongst other tangential genres) trio Soviet Soviet. The band was scheduled for an American tour which included SXSW, but were detained, arrested, and deported upon arrival at the Seattle airport. This villainous act can be attributed to travel officials and has no association with the “deportation” clause, despite its eerie resonance. It is an awful situation, and I wish the band peace after experiencing such a traumatic incident. Despite the fact I won’t be able to see them this time around, I’ll be damned if I take them off my playlist of the best artists booked for SXSW.
To say the least, I’m overwhelmed. But I’ve emailed my professors vague excuses for my weeklong absence, made a tentative schedule, packed some caffeine pills and I’m ready for the madness.
Words and playlist by Ally Mason