SXSW certainly took on a more corporate tinge this year. That's largely due to the fact that so many magazines and labels couldn't afford to stage major events, and entities like soft drink manufacturers, relatively immune to economic downturns, are always looking to reach cultural tastemakers. So we got, for instance, a showcase sponsored by food criminal Rachael Ray and featuring no less than the New York Dolls and the Hold Steady.
"Smokin' Music" was an event sponsored by a cigarette company, which gave out free samples; hipster faves Matt & Kim played the party for Green Label Sound, the "indie" label bankrolled by childhood obesity promoters Mountain Dew. Feminist icon Playboy magazine also leapt into the breach, hosting a private show featuring the latest Jane's Addiction reunion, which makes a little more sense, given guitarist Dave Navarro's well publicized, um, romantic life.
But the foremost corporate bash was the Fader/Levi's Fort, a sprawling impromptu outdoor venue located a few blocks from downtown. It was basically a three-dimensional, walk-in commercial targeted at a very specific demographic: hipsters. The place pelted visitors with marketing at every turn; to get in, you had to walk through a large temporary Levi's store, then endure more product placement every step of the way inside the makeshift walled garrison, just so you could catch buzzy bands like Micachu & the Shapes, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, or Lissy Trullie, not to mention bigger names like Tricky, Peter, Bjorn & John and even Kanye West, who took care to give Levi's a shout-out during his "unannounced" set. Judging by the half-hour-plus lines to get in, few seemed to mind that underground music and its community had been so baldly co-opted by a large corporation; seeing bands for free trumped the humiliation of being a captive audience for an infomercial.
The Rachael Ray party was the most dubious of them all, though. A lot of people were surprised that bands like the Dolls and the Hold Steady wanted to be linked to such a notorious purveyor of mainstream mediocrity. But it's fairly obvious that the money was just too good to turn down. The indie community's attitude toward this kind of thing has evolved since the '80s, when there was such thing as selling out. In fact, "evolved" is putting it mildly, since it's pulled a 180. The rationale seems to be that since nobody makes money from record sales anymore, then it's OK to do whatever you can to make money — these days, it's every band for itself. The apocalyptic results of that mentality are all around us right now. All I can do is shake my increasingly grey head. And write crotchety blog posts.