By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Let's face it: At its core, the annual South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival is a numbers game. Well, once you get down there, at least.
In Austin this week, it's all about how many bands you'll see and how many parties you'll hit (saying nothing of how many blisters you'll get, or how many free energy drinks you'll drink or how long it will take you to walk from one end of downtown to the other).
This year's no different. And as we prepare for another year of constant coverage of the festival on our blog in real-time (plug!) and in next week's paper (another plug!), we've got to keep these things in mind. Our lives aren't all power chords and break beats, you know. There's some actual thought and planning happening in our minds from time to time.
Which brings us to the topic of the pre-SXSW numbers. Is there anything to be gleaned from the ones we have heading into the event? Let's find out...
First and foremost, here's what we know at press time: Forty-four acts from North Texas have been invited to play the festival's official showcases. Originally, the number was 41, but with festival dropouts and adds, here we are.
Either way, that's not too shabby, metroplex! In fact, that's five more acts than the region boasted at last year's festival. And this says nothing of the dozens of area talents headed southward this week to play the unsanctioned showcases, day parties and house gigs surrounding the massive beast of SXSW.
For discussion's sake, though, let's stick to the sanctioned events here. Of the 44 bands from North Texas heading to Austin this week, 27 of those acts are from Dallas, eight of them are from Denton, seven are from Fort Worth, one is from Arlington and one is from Sulphur Springs.
Anything to learn from these figures? Well, as far as inter-'plex competition goes, probably nothing other than that Dallas has a larger population than both Fort Worth and Denton. I hope no one would try to argue that, because Dallas has more than triple the number of bands playing the festival than either Fort Worth or Denton, Dallas' scene is three times better than either of those two cities'. That argument wouldn't hold much water, given the state of some of Dallas' once-storied musical neighborhoods—and it certainly wouldn't stand this week, after Denton's own NX35 Conferette kicked some serious ass, despite the fact that it was largely carried on the strength of the local acts who performed at it.
If anything, those numbers conjure up an old cliché: That the whole of the region is greater than the sum of its parts. Without Denton and Fort Worth being added to the equation (or Arlington and Sulphur Springs, for that matter), Dallas would find itself as the third-most represented Texas city at SXSW, nestled in behind Austin (with a whopping, if unsurprising, 252 invitees) and Houston (which checks in with 32 invitees). Not to knock Houston, but when was the last time you heard something truly original or worthwhile emanate from that city's beleaguered scene? And, without Dallas' numbers, both Denton and Fort Worth find themselves behind even San Antonio in the ranks.
See, here's the deal, folks: The minor competition and arguments we have over which of the three cities in our little triangle has the best scene? It's all kind of moot. Fact is, the best part of each of these towns' scenes is that it boasts the others nearby, allowing audiences in each city to have a wealth of new acts to see on any given weekend. NX35 needed Dallas and Fort Worth acts to fill out its schedule. The O's needed Fort Worth and Denton in order to get away with playing 9 million CD release shows. It's all intertwined, allowing for the bands to play their fair share of gigs and for the fans to see their fair share of varied shows. This week, as all these bands head to Austin, keep that in mind. If any of these bands do catch an ear or an eye of an out-of-towner looking to be impressed, it's gonna be largely because of the way they've been forced to cut their teeth in the local scene.
And that's another thing: Last week, we called out five acts (Bosque Brown, Fat Pimp, Sarah Jaffe, Matthew and the Arrogant Sea, and True Widow) poised to do well at this year's SXSW—but there are many, many others this year with a decent chance. Dallas' aforementioned The O's could do well playing their bluegrass pop to a crowd of outsiders. So too could Denton's Fight Bite—especially if the two new songs the band debuted at Dan's Silverleaf opening for Bosque Brown a few weeks back are any indication of what's to come from the dream pop duo. Denton's Robert Gomez, who's got his share of Austin supporters, could also find himself with a bump if the right ears catch him performing some of the new tracks from his upcoming Pine Sticks and Phosphorus disc. And Fort Worth's Telegraph Canyon, having just completed recording its Will Johnson of Centro-matic-produced next record, could finally catch some ears with its Texan take on Arcade Fire-esque crescendo.