South by Southwest helped Austin pull itself up by its bootstraps after the financial crisis. A handful of German musicians are hoping the legendary music and media festival will rub off on them, too. But can it?
"That's 108 hours full of incredible fun," says Jody Carter, grinning. He did the math and figured out that's exactly how much music can be heard at this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. "I was to see as many artists as possible."
The night before, the mood couldn't have been better. Like Carter, crowds of music fans gathered at the SXSW happy hour event to enjoy a pre-party drink in the sun just around the corner from 6th Street, the site of the action in Austin.
SXSW helped Austin out of the financial crisis
Jody Carter has been to the festival nine times already. The 36-year-old Austin native initially got on board as a SXSW volunteer. The festival has quickly developed since then, he said - a good thing for the Texan capital, which was hit hard by the financial crisis in 2008. "Thanks to the festival, Austin has shown that it's strong enough to deal with something like that."
These days, there's no trace of an economic crisis. The SXSW has once again turned the city into a huge stage, and a sea of smiling people streams down 6th Street, drinking and moving to the omnipresent music.
Thirty years ago, SXSW began as a small, local festival, but has since developed into one of the most important events in the music and media branches, offering conferences, workshops, fairs - and of course, tons of music.
Speed dating for musicians
More than 30,000 people come from all over the world, including big names from the media. That's a prime opportunity for the over 2,000 performing musicians to show off their stuff and get noticed by international managers or bookers.
But the competition is stiff. The band Skyline is playing in Maggie Mae's, a bar on 6th Street with a stage and roof terrace. The young power rock group is fronted by singer Pearl Turner, a local from Austin, but only a small crowd of around 20 people has turned out tonight. It's just one of five performances Skyline has planned at SXSW - so things can only get better.
Twenty-one bands from Germany are among the more than 2,000 artists at the festival. Their trip was sponsored by Initiative Musik, a non-profit organization funded by the German government.
Some of them are performing in the so-called German House, just off of 6th Street, including electronic musician Robot Koch and his singer, Delhia. Even late into the night, Robot Koch manages to reenergize the sleepy audience with the energetic sounds of what he calls "organic electronic music."
Koch moved to LA two years ago, so he already has plenty of experience performing in the US, but this is his first time at SXSW. "We're hoping to make connections; this whole thing is like a dating service."
Like needles in a haystack, the chance of being discovered as a musician is extremely small. "I'm not worried about it," says Koch. "What should happen, will happen." Austin has a unique energy, he adds, and a very diverse audience. "You can find everything here from bluegrass to metal to electronic."
German music too 'self-absorbed'
Niklas Kramer from Berlin also appreciates this broad spectrum. He's in the US for the first time with his project Still Parade. Though he says he has "quite a few" fans, he's realistic about his chances in Austin and doesn't expect a breakthrough to happen here.
"If just a hundred people came to our concert, that would be a huge success," says Kramer.
The problem with German music, he says, runs deeper: "I still have the feeling that German music is very concerned with itself and is very self-absorbed." That's why he thinks it's very important for German arts to get international support.
The German "delegation" is just a small part of the feel-good party wave that's rushing through Austin. Though the festival officially closes on March 20, as Jody Carter put it, "the fun never stops."