Playing SXSW is a dicey proposition for most of the bands who make the journey to Austin. It can often be a money-losing endeavor, as bands must arrange for their own travel, lodging, food, beer, etc. Yet every year there are a handful of acts who succeed in gaining attention through some combination of luck, skill and buzz, making SXSW a sound investment. It's no exact science, but here are a few artists who turned heads this year and how they did it.
Photo courtesy of The David Letterman Show and Pitchfork.com
Despite having operated as a band for eight years, Baltimore synth-pop/indie rock outfit Future Islands is just starting to break through to the mainstream—granted, “the mainstream” is an increasingly nebulous concept in this era of mp3s and fragmented demographics—but the group did well at SXSW this year, packing out shows, both official and unofficial, that included NPR's highbrow showcase. This probably had something to do with their well-timed appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” during which singer Samuel Herring dazzled the nation with his note-worthy dance moves. It could also be the result of their having made the jump from Thrill Jockey to the slightly larger 4AD label for their forthcoming album, “Singles.” Either way, the combination of their well-timed pre-festival appearances plus pounding the pavement while in Austin (they seemed to be everywhere!) gave these guys quite a leg up.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/CreativeCommons
It seemed like Big Freedia and her team of gravity-defying dancers were ever-present at this year's SXSW. From pop-up performances to an official showcase, to her gutsy closing slot at Lady Gaga's impossible-to-get-into spectacle at Stubb's, the New Orleans Bounce Queen certainly made her mark. A reality show with Fuse TV further raised Big Freedia’s visibility after they had her perform several times at FUSEBOX.
This is years of hard work come to fruition, but it probably didn't hurt that Miley Cyrus raised the visibility of twerking—however dubiously—to new heights in 2013, inadvertently having a hand in getting it added to the Oxford Dictionary Online. But let’s not forget that it was Freedia who set the Guinness World Record for Most People Twerking Simultaneously in September of last year. Respect.
Photo courtesy of @guigouzz (via Instagram)
Despite much uncertainty over how to pronounce her name, Danish singer-songwriter MØ (a.k.a. Karen Marie Ørsted) garnered quite a bit of buzz this year for her slick electro-pop, eliciting comparisons to everyone from The Spice Girls to Lykke Li to The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. She did this partly by playing a bunch throughout the week and giving it her all each time—so much so that she had to cancel her final showcase because she'd lost her voice. A common misstep for younger SXSW acts, but she still came out on top thanks to the coordinated efforts from her international management team, which ensured proper placement and promotion. She was also coming off of a great 2013 during which her song "Pilgrim" peaked at #11 on the Danish singles chart. MØ was a stand-out this year for giving it her all AND making sure we knew about it, afterall, it doesn't matter how hard you kill it if no one is there to see.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Government
Tyler, the Creator
While some artists decided to turn up their limelight with great and frequent performances, proper placement and well-timed pre-festival press, Tyler, the Creator of Odd Future tapped into his already-established troublemaker persona at SXSW 2014. But the danger with acts that rely heavily on shock value, is that they often feel the need to keep upping the ante to remain “relevant.” Tyler, the Creator aimed for that this year by getting himself arrested for inciting an alleged riot at The Scoot Inn just one day after the tragic car accident that claimed three people's lives. Classy? Hardly. Effective at getting attention? Unfortunately, yes.