SXSW 2012: Meet the busiest man in Austin, Texas
Yes, South by Southwest is overwhelming. The stats are mentioned in nearly every post on this blog. There are more than 2,000 bands in Austin, Texas, this week, and they're playing at more than 90 venues. And that's just the officially sanctioned events. Plotting and sticking to any sort of schedule with this much happening is nearly impossible. Yet no one, perhaps, has it harder than recent L.A. transplant Tom Windish.
Owner of the Chicago-based namesake booking firm the Windish Agency, the man suggested seeing hotly tipped local band the Electric Guest early Friday afternoon. The group's debut was produced by Danger Mouse and will be released in April on Downtown Records. It's a jangly mix of indie-pop and soul, and singer Asa Taccone graces the songs with a romantic falsetto.
"I've never actually seen them," Windish said.
Forgive him, though, as the Windish Agency has somewhere between 500 and 1,000 shows at SXSW. Off the top of his head, Windish didn't have a more exact figure. He knew only that he saw more than 20 bands on Thursday night between the hours of 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., all of them Windish Agency groups, and most of them ones he had never seen before.
He's frank in his assessments. He even talked this writer out of seeing one or two of the acts on his wish list. The Windish Agency, with multiple hundreds of acts and 15 agents in its stable, takes risks on bands "very early." Often, the hope is that they will eventually become good, if not already.
"What am I gonna do?" Windish asked. "Let someone else pick them up?"
The Windish Agency has a mix of the established and the unknown. Atmospheric electronic artist Grimes has one of the most critically lauded albums of 2012, and she's booked through Windish, as are a number of SXSW buzz acts, from the sly retro-pop of L.A.'s Nick Waterhouse to breathless punk rockers Cloud Nothings. Friday marked the first SXSW show from Tanlines, a dancey duo with a world beat. Windish had seen them before -- a few years ago.
Shortly after catching Electric Guest, Windish led the way to Brooklyn's Friends. He also hadn't seen them yet. I had caught a little of Friends last night but was more impressed on the second go-around. The mix of funk-leaning rhythms and scraped, punky guitars was more cohesive on Friday. I told Windish that I probably wouldn't have recommended them if I had only seen them on Thursday night.
It's dangerous, Windish said, to pass judgement on a band at SXSW. Sets are short, there often isn't a sound check and bands are performing multiple times per day and running from club to club. SXSW, in fact, may be losing a little of its luster when it comes to finding the hot new act. All day and all night sponsored parties increasingly dominate the event, from the well-established Fader Fort to a stage in 2012 fashioned out of a giant snack chip vending machine.
The shift in label-focused showcases to sponsored events has had multiple effects on SXSW. One, said Windish, is that bands are starting to get paid.
"There's more money being spent to pay bands than before," Windish said. "Used to be there was none. Then there was some. Now there's more." Windish acts such as Zola Jesus and Washed Out, who were playing a Rhapsody party on Friday, can command a pretty penny in Austin. "People want them for their parties so they can build a roster. It's becoming more like a regular festival."
The trade-off is that finding that can't-miss, must-see act is becoming tougher and tougher. So far in Austin, there are plenty of bands earning praise, but there has been no act to break out in the manner of SXSW veterans such as Foster the People, Best Coast, Odd Future or, going back further, M.I.A.
To Windish, that's a good thing.
"You don't have everyone rushing to see just 10 acts," he said.
Asked who he recommended seeing, Windish grabbed one of his agency's fliers. Among the acts he suggested was Caveman, who were playing in a couple hours. "They're really good," he said. "I haven't seen them."
-- Todd Martens from Austin, Texas
Image: Tanlines. Credit: Todd Martens