A cleansing experience at SxSW
Every March, an enormous amount of commotion takes place in the beautiful city of Austin, Texas. The cause? The South By South West Music Festival.
As someone defined by the experience of listening to and performing music, it was inevitable that my knucklehead friends and I would throw ourselves into a vehicle crammed with our instruments and drive out to Austin. We didn’t necessarily go to be discovered—we just felt like we had to. Seeing videos of big names like Muse, Snoop Lion, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z abandoning stadiums to perform at tiny venues like Stubbs or Batbar introduces the astonishing idea of a level playing field between larger-than-life artists and the indie artists aspiring to join their ranks.
I’ve performed with my band Pillage & Plunder at seven different SxSW showcases (and multiple street corners in between) over the last two years. We’ve had an incredibly wide range of experiences at the festival. We were bought breakfast by complete strangers who wanted to show us some Austin hospitality. We were guilted into humoring religious fanatics, trying to explain to them that we were not too intimidated by the prospect of hell and eternal suffering, thank you very much. We encountered veteran Japanese rockers Electric Eel Shock performing naked on the outskirts of Austin to a bewildered audience.
The good times were plenty—but as the word “range” implies, we also ran into trouble. We woke up halfway through our second trip to find our trailer door open and all of our musical equipment stolen. The incident even made local news. We got the police involved, but unfortunately for now nothing seems to have turned up. That was $16,000 of guitars, amps, mics, drums, and memories that we probably won’t be getting back. Stings.
I don’t know what to make of SXSW. I was already confused about music and its place in my life, but I returned to Atlanta with more questions than answers. I came back knowing that my feelings for music and performance are strong, but the true nature of those feelings is still a mystery. Are they a want, a love, a need? I cannot tell. Some days I feel as though I’ve reached a point where music is like water or air to me—absolutely essential to my survival, yet gradually beginning to lack the allure and excitement of other distractions in my life.
However, I feel as though my trip to SxSW has given me solace and a new direction. I now have immediate obstacles and challenges to tackle. My new guitar—technically my old guitar, since I ordered the same one I lost—has just arrived, and when I hold it for the first time, I hope to see it as the first step in a rebuilding process. Perhaps the festival punished me for getting too comfortable, and for growing accustomed to things coming easily in my music and my life. Music has ways of putting individuals in their place, and rewarding those who work hard to improve their connection with it. I feel as though the festival has exposed my lack of belief in myself and in my music, and my secret hope that there were shortcuts to achieving that beautiful relationship with music that any songwriter, composer, or performer craves.
SxSW 2013 cleared me out, cleaned me up, and has made me want to take the time to properly reconnect with my music and my passion. Hopefully we’ll show ‘em next year.
(Gokul Parasuram, Intern)