“The reason why we’ve chosen to support Listen Global, Act Local during SXSW is because of its mission to bring some of the community element back to this annual gathering of artists from around the world…”
It’s that time of year again – time for the tech, music, and film industries’ spring break to the U.S.’s 3rd coast – time for SXSW. This year Dutty Artz is not participating officially, however we are throwing all of our support behind the unofficial Listen Global, Act Local event, and will be represented in the flesh by the one and only Atropolis, and designer extraordinaire Talacha.
The showcase will take place on Friday March 14th at Kenny Dorman’s Back Yard, a neighborhood venue that bears the name of a local Jazz legend who used to live nearby. The venue is run by local non-profit DiverseArts Culture Works, which is an organization “dedicated to the long-term development of the Austin African American Cultural Heritage District.” The Listen Global, Act Local event is being organized by another non-profit organization based in Sacramento called the Sol Collective, in partnership with Natalia “Conrazon” Linares. The meeting of grassroots organizations aims to be…
more than just another party. A celebration of all things art, culture, and activism, Listen Global, Act Local aims to provide a grassroots, all day music experience that brings together international and local artists, musicians, community organizers, cultural curators and creatives to connect and build in a backyard Texas setting complete with some legendary BBQ and a vegan food truck.
All of this is to say that the event is all about the reunion of creative and activist communities from around the world, and especially about the visibility of Austin’s diverse local communities in the midst of the corporate heavy treading that has become SXSW. If you would like to RSVP on the Facebook do it here. But more importantly this is a free event run by volunteers, so they need resources to keep going. You can make a donation, and become a non-corporate sponsor here!
The reason why we’ve chosen to support Listen Global, Act Local during SXSW is because of its mission to bring some of the community element back to this annual gathering of artists from around the world. Many Dutty Artz members who have participated in SXSW in the past, myself included, have become disillusioned by the conference and the accompanying onslaught of corporate sponsored events. In order to illustrate why, let me briefly share with you my personal story and experience with SXSW:
My first time going to SXSW was in 2010 for the Tormenta Tropical unofficial showcase co-hosted by the local Peligrosa crew. I had heard about SXSW as an amazing place to catch new music, and bring your little corner of the music world to the masses. What I ended up experiencing at the Iron Gate that year was an amazing two day event that felt like a family reunion of long lost internet brothers and sisters. It was the first time many of us burgeoning globalistas, who had been interacting on the Internet for years, had ever been in a room together. The legend of the party grew so much that by the last night several industry heavyweights took a break from their own (heavily subsidized) showcases to see what all the buzz was about.
The vibes were so nice that when the two day party ended, the rest of SXSW was a massive let down for me. The next year I very much looked forward to what everyone by the end of the week was calling summer camp.
In 2011, I would go as an official artist, and as part of the Dutty Artz delegation. We all still wanted to participate in summer camp so we asked Orion if we could also play his event – that year held at Frank’s restaurant. However, the stresses of dealing with SXSW bureaucracy hit us before we even arrived in Austin. Seeing Orion’s flyer for his unofficial Peligrosa party, SXSW contacted everyone individually and threatened to take them off of their official showcase. Not wanting to miss out on the first ever union of Dutty Artz members outside of New York, many of us withdrew our names from Orion’s event.
When it came to the day of our official event, SXSW told us they were charging a cover for those without conference badges, and that we wouldn’t see any profits from the door. With dozens of other free things going on that night, it seemed impossible to entice passersby on the street into our venue. We finally convinced the organizers to let anyone in for free, and revelers eventually flooded in. However, while our official showcase ended up being a lot of fun, it was full off more stress than we deemed it was worth.
Frank’s was still summer camp that year, and many of us were still able to represent, albeit with altered names. And all the impromptu gatherings of friends and family in the informal and unofficial spaces surrounding the conference ended up becoming some of the best DJ memories I’ve had.
My third year going to SXSW I went down on the bill of a corporate sponsor. It was a mess. I was due to DJ two showcases organized by said sponsor, and would be compensated as an official SXSW performer. The sponsor’s contact promised flights that didn’t come until 8 hours before my scheduled arrival. I was told I had a hotel room, but was never told where it was (not until after the third night of the festival did someone ask me if I was taking the designated van back to the hotel.) Luckily, I had a place to stay as Orion had taken me under his wing long ago, proof of the strength of the bonds that had formed in the previous years.
The official event I was scheduled to play was still enjoyable, but it felt like work, and the community vibe was tenuous at best. Adding “industry professionals” into the mix who seemed more concerned about looking each other up and down than interacting with artists and fans, seemed to ruin the conviviality I had experienced at events in previous years. By the second night the entire operation had collapsed under its own weight.
Besides my personal experiece, I noticed that the community that had come together two years before had been fully incorporated into the official SXSW apparatus, and had splintered off into several competing nights. Now instead of being unified in one central location, DJs playing similar music were playing to sometimes empty rooms at different locations in the city at the same time. It seemed to me that since 2010, SXSW had started to single out Orion as a successful local force, and aimed to individually pick-off the international community that was coalescing around him. What’s more, with the arrival of so-called EDM that year, it seemed like a lot of the racial, cultural, linguistic, economic, and gender diversity inherent to the communities that were forming years before had become sidelined or not existent at all.
SXSW has been around for a long time. I only attended for a brief three year period. So I can only speculate as to what it was like in the early years. However I can’t help but feel that the dismantling of a unified community in the tropical whatever you want to call it scene, wasn’t completely unrelated to a noticeable boom of corporate attention paid to the annual event in Austin (and a general increase in non-music related brands competing for young people’s attention.) Our peripheral space of horizontally inclusive interaction between like-minded but struggling artists had become popular enough to threaten SXSW. And they chose to dismantle that grassroots community instead of invest in it. I believe that this community – born on the Internet, raised in local clubs around the world, and having brief romantic encounters at our figurative summer camps every year – was the precursor to the corporate invention of EDM. And today, with no acknowledgement afforded to the ground breakers, EDM acts are a major draw for the conference and the corporate sponsored events that surround it.
This year Orion’s Peligrosa partnerships continue in the shadow of all the corporate noise that is SXSW. He’s doing all he can to hold down the grassroots welcome mat for aspiring globalistas and DJs from around the world. While none of us are participating, Dutty Artz firmly supports Orion’s efforts, and if you’re in Austin we wouldn’t be mad if you only spent your time at his party and at Listen Global, Act Local. As an additional nod to all the hard work Orion has put in for Austin in the past years, he is also performing at the Listen Global, Act Local event on Friday. Because after all, community support is about collaboration, not competition!
That’s why in the end, I actually feel for SXSW. Their attempt to control competition from grassroots, underground, and independent artists is symptomatic of a bigger problem that has engulfed the conference. It shows that they have become overwhelmed and threatened, not by the small events thrown by independent artists, but by the corporate onslaught that takes over the city of Austin during the weeks of the conference. In order to deal with this competition, they set up blanket rules to regulate artists participation in events that don’t differentiate between corporate sponsored ones and independent ones. By doing this, they end up alienating the independent spirit that gave SXSW its cool in the first place. I know SXSW brings a lot of money to Austin, however it seems to have gone down the path to become a typical neoliberal mega event – inflated by corporate money, and catering to corporate interests that trample on local communities.
If SXSW just becomes an excuse for corporations to set up stages and tents, blast their logos all over the city, and find corporate backed nationally established acts to pull the biggest crowds, they’ll repel independent ones who don’t see the value professionally in joining the official conference, and don’t feel the personal camaraderie of community that can exist in its unofficial spaces. The actual conference will become an empty shell of the innovative initiative it set out to be. And that’s exactly why if you’re in Austin – when you get tired of all the bulla – head straight down to Peligrosa and Kenny Dorman’s backyard, and Listen Global, Act Local.