The Conversation: How Is Gentrification Affecting Austin's Music Scene?

Anyone who has visited Austin's South By Southwest music festival more than once over the last decade has noticed a huge evolution in Austin's music scene. Most of Austin's longtime music lovers repeat the same cry year after year -- that this one is always worse than the last.

This week's Observer cover story touches on that subject matter. It comes to us by way of longtime staff writer John Nova Lomax, over at our sister paper, the Houston Press, who contends that gentrification is destroying Austin's weirdness as well as its music scene.

He's got a point: The organic beginnings of SXSW have now been replaced with corporate sponsors that stretch as far as the eye can see.

We here at DC9 have long thought that the city would eventually reach a point of backlash, and the cover story sparked yet another conversation on the subject.

What follows is a round-table discussion held between music editor Pete Freedman, web editor Nick Rallo, and Yours Truly. Feel free to chime in with your own comments, too.

Daniel: To start off this discussion, what do you guys think of the Austin music scene in general? I think there's a lot of irony in that they consider themselves the Live Music Capital of the World, but there don't seem to be very many notable bands making any kind of a splash these days.

Nick: I'm not sure. There's a lot of music blog feedback for a range of Austin bands like The Sword and Brazos, and it's hard to look on any music-related site these days and not see Okkervil's new album. I think the scene brings people in. At a recent show, Joe Pug said he'd moved to Austin. That said, I'm not sure Austin is the "live music capital of the world." They certainly are the SXSW capital of the world.

Daniel: That's true. There are a handful acts coming out of Austin. Black Angels and And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have had impressive careers as well, thanks in part to the exposure they've gotten from SXSW. But taking into account just how massive SXSW has become and how saturated with music the city is, there are a relatively low amount of acts breaking through. Do you guys think that people who move to Austin for the so-called vibrant music scene are disappointed by this?

Nick: It would make sense. Maybe it's like film students gravitating to Hollywood. Filmmakers go hoping to have their voice heard, and all then get smashed by the business of The Smurfs and Mr. Popper's Penguins. Or maybe I'm just a bitter film major. At SXSW 2010, I talked briefly with a few bands at an Aquarium Drunkard showcase -- they seemed happy to be coming through a town buzzing with music. So there's that. But I imagine it'd be intimidating to live there as a musician.

Naw, man. No way is Austin an intimidating town to be a musician in. Wholeheartedly disagree with you on that, Nick. Not in a town where everyone "loves music" and takes pride in being "so supportive." Ugh. From where I stand, Austin's supposed greatest music strength -- that music is everywhere -- is also its greatest weakness. Because there are so many venues, because there are so many people whose identities revolve around the fact that they "love music," and because the town's just a magnet for wannabe blog darlings, the music scene as a whole actually suffers. You've got shitty band after shitty band with followings. You've got venues clamoring for any of them to come in, play and round out a bill. It's probably the least intimidating music town that I can think of, in that regard; they want you to form a band. The flip side of all this, of course, is that so many people do. And, in turn, you've talentless hack after talentless hack trying his hand at making it in the scene. I've been saying it for years: Sure, Austin has some great bands; but can you name another city with a greater volume of completely terrible ones?

Nashville -- isn't that where Kings of Leon is from? OK, maybe just Kings of Leon are the terrible ones.

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Daniel Hopkins
Contact: Daniel Hopkins

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