Like moths drawn to a flame, hordes of unsigned acts blitzkrieg Austin, Texas, annually for the South by Southwest music festival, with the hope that somewhere in the maddening crowd a major-label scout is lurking in the shadows, contract in hand, ready to sign the next big thing.
It could happen.
But during a 10-day festival with an estimated 1,500 bands performing, competition is thick, to say the least.
It hardly sounds like the path to the golden goose for three homespun record labels whose alliance stems from a spirit of insurrection and punk rock ideology.
"We sell 7-inches to 20-year-old kids and 40-year-old fat guys who go see touring bands anyway," says Bryan Rackley, co-owner of Atlanta-based Douchemaster Records, explaining why the kind of people who would spend $1,200 on a SXSW festival pass don't fit his label's target demographic.
So why would he get together with the owners of Rob's House and Die Slaughterhaus to organize a showcase featuring local bands the Coathangers, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Beat Beat Beat and other like-minded pop-, punk- and garage-rock underdogs who aren't driven by major-label ambitions?
To stick it to the man, of course, and have some fun while doing it.
A relaxed, hangover vibe dwells in the air at 1318 Stokeswood Ave. Rodney Dangerfield spins on the turntable, while a small gray cat patrols the living room, sauntering from one lap to the next.
It's an average Sunday afternoon at the East Atlanta base of operations for Rob's House Records, the indie label that has dominated the city's punk- and garage-rock vinyl business since launching in 2005.
Despite the languid atmosphere, fellow DIY label heads Rackley, Greg King and Jesse Smith (Douchemaster), and Mark Naumann (Die Slaughterhaus) have convened with Rob's House owners Trey Lindsay and Travis Flagel to discuss their collective pilgrimage to Austin.
"We don't care about the bigwigs coming to our party," Flagel says. "For us, Rob's House, Die Slaughterhaus and Douchemaster are the bigwigs. We could spend a lot of money on a showcase or we could take the money and put out a bunch of records. ... We're going to put out a bunch of records and go to Austin guerilla-style."
SXSW began in 1987 as Austin's battle of the bands, but over the years music-industry titans have shaped the event to function as music's fertile crescent. Each year, every coffee shop, bar and available square inch of retail space turns into a music venue.
But the real action at SXSW springs up at the parasitic, unofficial shows that go down all around the city. Scheduled to take place at Beerland Saturday, March 15, the Rob's House/Die Slaughterhaus/Douchemaster showcase is one of those unofficial shows.
Even though these label owners are willfully working outside the system, they're using the system to sell records and gain a lot of exposure.
"We have friends from all over the world that are going to be there, and this showcase is for them," Flagel says. "It's a chance for us to hang out with everyone at the same time and place, and put on a kick-ass show. There won't be any major-label folks at our showcase, and that's fine."
According to the rules, bands that play official SXSW shows aren't allowed to play or promote any unofficial events during the conference. Anyone caught breaking the rules can be banned from SXSW. Since Beerland sits in the heart of downtown Austin amid the SXSW hustle and bustle, the stakes are somewhat high. But no one in the living room at Rob's House bats an eye at the mention of repercussions.
"We're breaking all sorts of rules and shit, but we don't care," Flagel says. "They can shut us down if they want to. If they do we'll just move everything over to the Austin city bridge and have the show there.
"They can shut us down, but they can't stop us."
For more details on local bands performing at SXSW, visit www.clcribnotes.com.
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