Every spring, a chaotic frenzy of musicians flock to Austin to share their art with the South By Southwest masses. As bands overflow from the festival’s official venues, smaller ones set up shop anywhere they can — from parking lots to living rooms.
Though many of these artists aren’t on the official lineup, they’ve come to Austin to share their music in a do-it-yourself fashion. The local DIY scene revolves around a local network of artists and music enthusiasts that organize shows independently of labels.
“In the 15 years I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve seen the unofficial side of the festival grow immensely,” said Brian Chamblee, co-owner of local DIY venue Shirley’s Temple. “Now, it seems like SXSW has become a sideshow to the unofficial part.”
Blake Given, a bass player for local band Lyed and an organizer for DIY shows in Austin, said these shows help provide musicians like himself the platform they need to thrive.
“If you go down to Austin for this time period there’s gonna be a lot of people in town, so there’s the opportunity to play for a lot of new faces,” Given said.
Guitarist Sam Emery is making the trip to Austin from Brooklyn with his band Too Far for SXSW. Though he’s excited to network with other bands and meet new artists, he said the real allure of DIY shows is that they’re just less political.
“Really established promoters and venues don’t want anything to do with you unless you’re someone,” Emery said. “The DIY thing is nice because you don’t have to deal with buyouts for bands.”
Even though these shows aren’t always the most financially lucrative opportunity for lesser-known bands, Given said they give bands a fun option for networking.
“One of the bands that I consider really good friends now were in town one year playing an official show,” Given said. “They later played another unofficial show at a house, where we met and started to hit it off. Eventually, we came to release a split record together.”
However, Given said the recent crackdown by SXSW on unofficial shows could destroy the creative environment that their own festival has helped foster.
“The community their event has helped to build goes way beyond just the official shows that bands would get to play,” Given said.
Emery said the artists who play these shows would lose far more than just the chance to get their names out in the world — they’d lose a community of friends who support their music unconditionally.
“Even if they don’t know the songs,” Emery said. “They’re just here because they love these kinds of shows and having a good time.”