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Music

SXSW showcases music made in Germany

Cologne electro-pop duo Vimes have spent the last two years honing their ethereal sounds and working towards a debut album. Next up: the music industry's most influential showcase event, South by Southwest in Texas.

The austere and concrete backstage warrens of Berlin's notorious Berghain nightclub are far from angelic. Yet deep in the rear of the cavernous building - a former East German power plant now synonymous with Berlin's hedonistic club scene - Vimes are sound-checking their soaring and sublime licks in preparation for tonight's show; one of their last in Germany before leaving for the United States.

Multi-instrumentalist Julian Stetter is visibly anxious, darting around the room and fiddling with the band's impressive technical arsenal. Eventually Stetter and vocalist Azhar Syed bundle into a side room where a tray of sandwiches is laid out and energy drinks are stacked in tubs.

The duo - backed by drummer Johannes Klingebiel - have been the toast of Cologne's electronic scene for two years now, gradually building both repertoire and repute with a well-honed sound and a run of singles that has been compared with titans such as The Postal Service and Radiohead. The band recently completed work on their still untitled debut album with German producer Jochen Naaf, but are remaining tight-lipped about release dates or details.

They're clearly waiting to assess potential outcomes from their upcoming appearance at the prestigious festival South by Southwest (SXSW), held annually in Austin, Texas.

"We both come from different directions musically, so bring different ideas," Stetter says of the band's sound and what we can expect from the record. "I would call my background more dance music orientated and Azhar's background as more 80s pop, or pop in general - which doesn't mean that I don't like all of the great artists in that genre and it doesn't mean that he doesn't like tracks that I present to him. But it's just melting all of these genres together."

Banding together

Vimes are one of 23 German acts making their way to this year's SXSW, which runs from March 18-22. First staged in 1987, SXSW is the most influential music industry conference and showcase event in the world, and in recent years has expanded to include film and interactive streams.

While the conference element aims at both educating industry representatives and investigating solutions to global music issues - whether it be music synchronization or complex issues regarding the mechanicals of royalties - bands themselves have one aim at SXSW: being heard.

More than 2,000 performers take to more than 100 stages throughout Austin in the hope of attracting the attention of global music representatives from across the field - from publishers to promoters, and live bookers to record labels. For many acts, it's a once-in-a-lifetime shot at breaking through to the world's largest music market - currently valued at around $4.5 billion (4 billion euros) - and a unique chance to shake hands, and of course share a beer, with the industry's kingmakers in an increasingly virtual world.

"You can never know what can lead to something else," Syed opines, reflecting on the event's 25,000 registered trade delegates. "You can't really put it in words what something like South by Southwest can bring or, also, not bring. But getting to know people from the industry and getting to shake hands, like in all aspects of life, is very important."

Live in the moment

"To be honest," Stetter continues, "when I think of South by Southwest I am just anxious that we won't play a good show. If you play music which involves a lot of fiddling knobs in the studio, transposing that to the stage can be quite complicated. When you travel so far and you are limited in what equipment you can bring, you need to reinvent yourself in a sense. But I am just excited and hope we play a good show."

A few nerves aren't necessarily a bad thing, though, continues Stetter. "Generally speaking, when you are never really fully confident in your art that is actually the best approach as it pushes you further and harder. I am pretty happy with it but not completely confident. […] You always have in mind ways you can make it better."

German band Milky Chance, who are playing the SXSW Festival. Copyright: James Kendall.

German duo Milky Chance will also be traveling to SXSW to capitalize on growing international hype surrounding the group

2015 will see the largest ever contingent of German artists descend on SXSW, and also it's most diverse selection - traversing electronic, indie, metal, psychedelic rock and more. Kassel folk/beat duo Milky Chance are the biggest German buzz-band on the bill, fresh from conquering much of Europe and now Australasia. SXSW will kick off a 40-odd date North American tour for Milky Chance as they try to consolidate the continuing hype surrounding their 2013 album "Sadnecessary."

One chance in a million

"Certainly there is a buzz around German acts this year," Michael Wallies from Interactive Musik offers, a funding body established by the German government to promote German contemporary music. "Germany continues to be a market leader in electronic music - for two decades now - and Berlin is one of the places to be for rising musicians. Milky Chance is capitalizing on their SXSW appearance…[but] this isn't always the case, because bands and their supporting entities need to take advantage of the opportunities presented at SXSW. If a band and their partners - management, record company - do a proper job, SXSW can really help connect the right people to get your foot in the door of the US market, the biggest music market."

Despite the tight economic realities of being a musician today, however, the Vimes are determined to not let music industry pressures get in the way of their key task - writing music.

The band Ωracles from Cologne. Copyright: L. Meinen.

Championed by indie legend Pete Doherty, Cologne's Ωracles will also showcase at SXSW

"To be honest, I myself try to not think about the music industry," Stetter says. "When we were recording the album we were obviously thinking about where it could be released, and then you realize you always have that in mind when you write the music. So it's so relieving to stop thinking about it and just write the music without such goals and aims about who you write it for."

"If you stretch yourself too thinly then you can't really operate to your full potential, where it matters," Syed concludes. "We want to focus on the music. That's our job."

Vimes play the German Haus Berlin Showcase at SXSW on Thursday, March 19. The full program of German acts appearing at SXSW is available at www.german-haus.biz.

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