I was talking to my friend Luke on the phone, and when I told him that Kanye West was going to be at SXSW on Saturday, he asked me if I, as a long SXSW goer, resented these big bands coming into town and co-opting a festival that used to be for up and comers and unknowns trying to get a leg up in the business. No, I told him, because despite the headlines that will inevitably be grabbed by brand names such as Kanye and Duran Duran and Yoko Ono and the Wu Tang Clan and TV on the Radio and Cee Lo Green (if he hadn't cancelled his show Thursday night at La Zona Rosa), it's still about a mad scramble made up mostly of bands you never heard of and probably never will. It's not too big, I said, it's still a managable situation.
But that was before I went to see the Strokes.
I chose those words carefully, because I didn't actually see the Strokes, except off in the distance on the big video screen that looks really tiny off in the background at the Auditorium Shores free show by the New York city band whose fourth album, Angles, comes out on Tuesday.
What I saw on Thursday night a lot more of were advertisements, such as the walking one above for the Texas lottery, who were one of the sponsors of the massively overcrowded presented-by-Levi's show, which was also brought off with a major presence by Monster Energy drinks and Sam's Club. Sam's Club? Really? "The Strokes, brought to you by Wal-Mart."
With the growth of the Interactive festival that precedes it and the ongoing makeover of the music business as we know it, SXSW is increasingly about musicians finding alternative revenues streams from TV and film placements and commercials, and companies that use the power of music to draw a crowd and virtually market to it every which way which way they can.
Since (almost) nobody's making music from selling records anymore, the alliance of musicians and marketers is inevitable, and not the least bit new. Sneaker companies are the new record labels, etc. etc., and its been over a decade since Moby licensed every song on Play. But sometimes, when you can't walk down the street without being handed a flyer from a cell phone provider or allegedly life changing mobile app, you get to feeling like a tool of the man. That free Greek yogurt from Sam's Club sure hit the spot, but suddenly i feel kind of dirty. And the Strokes' Julian Casablancas sneering rebelliously when he sang "New York City Cops," sounded hollow, to say the least.
Previously: SXSW: Roky Erickson and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top