SXSW Is a Great Launching Pad, but Is it Unnecessary After Liftoff?
Two years ago, up-and-coming indie pop band Bear Mountain had just released their debut EP XO, a kaleidoscopic blend of electro-pop, African rhythms and disco-style vocals that flew too far below the radar. The Canadian group had just started playing shows in the U.S. and when I interviewed them in March 2013, frontman Ian Bevis was thrilled about the opportunity to perform at SXSW for the first time.
“I just want to put it out in front of people, man,” Bevis said. “We just want to play our show for people and have people see it, have people hear it. We just want to get in front of people and have people see us live, you know? I think it’s been kind of a mystery up until now.”
The benefit of meaningful exposure is one of the main catalysts that drives hopeful performers to Texas in droves every year, but some believe the experience might not be worth it for emerging groups.
Before the interview with Bevis, I came across a story titled "SXSW: Is It Worth It?" in which the financials behind the festival were broken down. So, when I asked him about it, he talked about what he believed makes the experience worthwhile: “It’s the dream, man. [...] I know SXSW is one of those things where people say, ‘Maybe it’s not worth it, maybe there’s nobody there,’ but I think for us, if you can get the right shows, if you can play with the right people, it’s all what you make of it, you know? If the right people see you or people come see you live and want to hear the record, we’re happy about it.”
His disenchantment with “the dream” was an unexpected shift in point of view from a musician who seemed so excited to perform at SXSW, so I arranged a follow-up conversation with Bevis in which he clarified that his initial experience there was great, but repeat visits may not be beneficial for those who got enough out of SXSW the first time. The email exchange is presented below and has been edited for grammar and clarity:
When we last talked two years ago, Bear Mountain were preparing to head to Texas for their first SXSW. Recently, you told me on Twitter that you guys haven’t been back there since and the experience perhaps wasn’t everything you hoped for. So how did it go?
SXSW was awesome for us when we did it, and a lot of good opportunities came from it. I think we haven't been back since because we haven’t felt we needed to. When we have a new record out, we will definitely go back, but I think just going to say you did is a waste of time and money. Unless you’re looking for the experience, then party on.
When you said two years ago that SXSW is about “the dream,” was that rightful optimism or youthful naiveté?
I think it was both. I’ve been slugging it out in the indie trenches since then and I know how much work has to go into keeping a band afloat, and now I think our dreams are bigger -- not that I can’t wait to play three shows in crammed BBQ restaurants in one day again soon.
Do you have advice for young bands thinking about giving SXSW a shot? Looking back, would you do it again?
Absolutely. If you have the showcases lined up and can work a good network, then let it rip. I’ve talked to people who felt like it wasn’t worth it for them, but if you have the good showcases and you’ve already built a buzz around your band, then it's a great place to launch and get people talking about you.
How’s the follow-up to XO coming along and what else is ahead for Bear Mountain?
It’s coming ... we’ve finished nine songs and just decided to do one or two more. It’s been a really hard album to make, but we’ve put so much energy into it and we can’t wait to put it out and keep building.
Anything else SXSW-related I should know?
Austin is f---ing rad.