Contrary to prior belief, South By Southwest (SXSW) is NOT the end-all, be-all concert experience for every Austinite and live music aficionado.
By Bryan Rolli
To be fair, it is one of the largest and most interactive music and film festivals in the world, during which thousands of artists flock to Austin to showcase their talents for a week and a half, appealing to music lovers of all backgrounds and breathing new life into a city already characterized by its uniqueness and vitality.
But for SXSW veterans and fans of subculture music with some bite, it’s easy to view the conference as a conglomeration of yuppie elitists and bad drivers suffocating an already-congested city, one that has seen the festival swell from 700 registrants in its inaugural year of 1987 to more than 16,000 strong in the coming weeks.
For those that are jaded by the increasing corporate culture and shiny façade, a moment of respite awaits with the Death By Southwest (DXSW) festival to be held this Saturday, March 8 at the Music Ranch in Austin.
DXSW is the brainchild of 18-year-old Carlos Vasquez of Death District Media, who founded his company upon moving to Austin about eight months ago in an attempt to shine a light on the city’s metal and hardcore scene. “It first started out as Death District Booking when I moved to Austin to bring more of the do-it-yourself tour packages that don’t really get a lot of notoriety around here, or for most promoters, kind of low-end bands that people don’t really pay attention to,” he says.
Vasquez eventually expanded to managing bands and booking entire tours, and thus Death District Media was born. Armed with only his determination in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” he began laying the groundwork for an all-day metal festival.
After the first incarnation, Death Across Tex Fest, failed to gather steam, Vasquez revived the idea about three months ago under the moniker Death By Southwest. With the help of clothing company and festival co-founders Illumignarly, along with other promotion companies, such as Pig Squeals and Breakdowns and Pedal to the Metal, he began building it from the ground up. “You come up with the idea for the name, and then you get the venue, and then you start booking the bands, and you get sponsors, and you get the vendors, and it’s kind of just a step-by-step thing. You take it as it is, and you can’t really stress yourself out about it or else it becomes too much for you to handle,” he says.
Now boasting a diverse lineup of 36 bands spread across two stages (headlined by the blisteringly angry Kingmaker from Lake County, Illinois), MMA fights sponsored by Illumignarly, live art, photo shoots, food vendors and plenty of free beer courtesy of Rebecca Creek Distillery, Death By Southwest will celebrate the lively and free-spirited nature of heavy metal.
Vasquez feels the Music Ranch, located about 10 miles outside of downtown Austin, personifies the attitude of the festival. “There are no limitations: you mosh, you drink, you party, you can crash there. You don’t need to go anywhere, you just need to love the land and respect it for how it is, and I feel like a lot of people will be able to appreciate that,” he says.
Austin hardcore band Insvrgence thinks DXSW will be a refreshing escape and a more affordable alternative to its high-profile counterpart, where many metal showcases now require badges to attend. “If you’ve been in Austin for a minute, South By kind of becomes a hassle because a lot of the free shows that used to happen, they’ve become bad shows or you have to pay to get in,” guitarist Rafe Holmes says. “Badge-only metal? That is against the spirit of metal itself,” vocalist James Wendt adds.
Festivalgoers are also encouraged to camp out at the Music Ranch the night prior to the show, giving them an opportunity to bond with other attendees and meet some of the bands performing. The campout will hopefully combat the cliquey nature of some of the city’s metal fan base, which Wendt says has grown “über-prevalent. They look at the set time on the bill [for the band they want to see], they know to show up maybe five or 10 minutes before that, and then when that band is over they will bail.”
Holmes believes the festival’s location outside of downtown Austin will also ensure that only dedicated fans go out of their way to attend. “The people who are gonna go are gonna be genuinely about it, not just people strolling in off of Sixth Street, because you can’t just stroll into the Music Ranch. I mean, you could, but what the f–k are you doing wandering around out there?” he says.
Still, despite some fickle fans, all parties agree that the genre is gaining momentum. “I think metal in Austin is on the upswing because there is a new crop of kids incredibly interested in the local talent that’s around, and they’re wanting to get more involved,” Wendt says. “I’m seeing zines, I’m seeing all kinds of new stuff popping up on the Internet all the time. These kids are buzzing about every show, not just one, not just this and that, not just when the big bands are in town, but all local bills. Wasn’t like that a year ago.”
Death By Southwest has already generated substantial Internet buzz, with over 400 people attending on Facebook. Still, this hype isn’t indicative of success, and all Vasquez wants now is for the festival to successfully represent the talent and camaraderie of the Austin metal scene. “Everybody [is] coming together for one single cause, which is how a show should be. Everybody should be there for the music and just to have a good time,” he says.
Holmes echoes this sentiment, and is particularly excited to play some extreme music, watch other excellent bands with his friends and enjoy the barbecue offered at the festival. “It’s really saucy, and Death By Southwest is gonna be very saucy, so come hang out,” he urges.