The scope and influence of SXSW -- the Austin, Texas-based tech, film and music festival happening as you read this -- has grown exponentially since the event first launched in the late 80s. While the music portion of SXSW officially runs March 12-17, anyone who's been a part of it can tell you that music permeates every moment of the buzz-creating festival.
Like everything at SXSW, the music scene has evolved in recent years. Once a festival showcasing only the newest and most promising unsigned bands, it has also become a mecca for music's biggest superstars who now flock to Austin annually -- and only partly for the BBQ. This year, Dave Grohl's Sound City Players, Depeche Mode, Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Passion Pit all have shows scheduled. But the cool kids will still tell you they're in town to see the best emerging acts you haven't heard of yet, like Haim, Jake Bugg, alt-J and Hanni El Khatib.
One name you'll hear more often after this year's festival is Innovative Leisure -- a standout label that's showcasing great new talent like Hanni El Khatib, Allah-Las, Tijuana Panthers, Superhumanoids and BADBADNOTGOOD at the Clive Bar this week. Hanni El Khatib, an L.A.-based singer-songwriter, is already getting plenty of attention for his next album, which was produced by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and comes out next month. Innovative Leisure also first signed the sultry duo Rhye, whose last record landed in the iTunes top 10 the minute it dropped. Rhye and Hanni El Khatib are both artists to watch in 2013. And while it's a little tough to say this since it's only March, KIIS FM music director Julie Pilat already says both of their albums could easily make her top five of the year when all is said and done.
SXSW is still a powerful force for launching new artists into mainstream success. Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers really broke out at SXSW, and Foster the People, Imagine Dragons, and Grouplove all saw their profiles and record sales skyrocket after performing at the festival. This has been fascinating -- and a lot of fun -- to watch because the alternative format is stronger than it has been in years and all of these bands have now crossed over to mainstream pop.
But SXSW is more eclectic than ever before -- in both the artists and audiences it attracts -- with a rapidly growing EDM and hip hop presence. Thanks to the interactive and highly social, live-streamed aspect of the event, SXSW provides a global spotlight that enables artists to emerge with instant and widespread credentials.
Austin and SXSW are inextricably linked and it's hard to say which has had a greater impact on the other. The Austin music scene has long been one of the best in the country, but SXSW has launched the city to new heights -- just as it's done with many startups and bands. Austin is home not only to SXSW but also C3, which puts on Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, which has grown enormously in the last few years. You can find music in every inch of Austin, not just in the live venues (of which the city claims to have more per capita than anywhere else in the nation). It's in the restaurants, the parking lots and the airport. SXSW somehow manages to be a city-wide festival while maintaining an intimate atmosphere that keeps fans coming back year after year. And with the power of social and interactive media, everything in Austin happens on the world stage.
For me and, I'm sure, many others, Dave Grohl's keynote address and performance are an enormous draw this week. This man has been in some of the most important rock bands of the last twenty years -- Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. Now he's one-upped himself with Sound City Players, a collection of legendary artists that only Grohl could bring together. Not many have the credibility in the music community to ask Sir Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Josh Homme and Rick Springfield to join their band -- and lucky for us they all said yes.
Julie Pilat, KYSR Program Director and KIIS FM Assistant Program Director & Music Director, also contributed to this article.