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SXSW Director On The Dogma Of Aussie Bands

Brett Grulke
Nov 10th 2011 | Scott Fitzsimons

SXSW head honcho Brent Grulke on the dogma of Australian bands and why other showcases don’t work.

Holding the Festival Creative Director title at the world-leading music industry conference and showcase South By South West, Grulke is a coup for the Victorian conference – to be held Friday 18 and Saturday 19 November at Melbourne's Art Centre. He'll be giving a key-note speech for the event, but spoke to Your Daily SPA in the lead up to the event.

Being behind one of the highest regarded music showcases and conferences in the world, what's your opinion of similar events? What are they doing right, what are they doing wrong?

I'm impressed whenever anyone produces a music conference with showcases. It's harder to do than it looks! You have to present the event in an interesting place people would want to come to regardless if there was an event there or not.

Ideally, it should spring from an indigenous, healthy music scene that offers other unique cultural amenities – like food. It need to have a business and governmental climate that supports the effort. It also needs the appropriate infrastructure, meaning, it needs enough hotels, people need to be able to move from venues, hotels, restaurants, and meeting spaces quickly and easily, and the city services (police, fire, medical) need to be in place to support this sort of activity.

The showcase also need to run on time, and the professionals should be reasonably certain of getting into the majority of shows. When events are able to combine all of these things, they have a better chance of sticking around.

Is there really an 'Australian dogma' for bands?

Sure, Americans love Aussie bands – they're seen as familiar, but exotic. Australian bands (and Australians) are seen as being tough but friendly, independent, hard-working and self-reliant, but generous and willing to lend a hand. These are qualities that Americans respect and like to think of as ones Americans embody. Plus, we all know that Australian bands can really rock!

SXSW is unique in having absolute support of the council and government, how did you get the authorities on side and how do you keep them there?

I don't know that SXSW is unique in having the support of the council and government. I do know that that hasn't always been the case, and that the efforts to secure that support have been made easier by the fact that we're Austinites, not people who are coming in from the outside. We're part of the community, community support has been critical to the success of SXSW.

It costs a lot for Australians to get over to Austin, is the best way to just cough up the cash and make the jump?

Sometimes it makes sense for Australians to come to Austin, sometimes not. When artists and business people have a specific plan, and prepare that plan well in advance, that's the scenario that's most likely to yield the sort of results that justify the expense of attending SXSW.

Acts that use SXSW as part of an overall promotional effort are most likely to see gains from performing at the event, and if an act is able to route SXSW as part of a U.S. tour, they're more likely to be able to off-set some of the costs of their promotional effort. But one size never fits all.

I often suggest to artists and their representatives that it's a good idea to have one person attend the event and see what works (and doesn't) before they commit serious money to showcasing and bringing an entire act over.

Are you familiar with Face The Music and its set-up? What do you think you bring as a keynote speaker?

I'm not familiar with Face The Music in any real sense; that's why I'm so excited about attending. As for what I bring as a keynote speaker… well, that's really not who you should be asking that question to! I do like to meet people and speak with them.

There have been over-crowding and traffic issues in recent years – it's obviously a sign of a hugely successful event. Is there such a thing as too big, or do you try and tackle these problems?

There may be such a thing as an event being too big, but we have been working hard with lots of people in the city and elsewhere to try to manage SXSW's growth, to ensure that people are able to safely enjoy the event and continue to find it useful for them to attend. It isn't as if we could just tell people not to come and expect that they wouldn't, anyway. Thousands of musicians, fans, and companies come to Austin during SXSW that aren't officially part of the event already!

How often do you get asked by people for free rides at SXSW?
Why? Who wants one?

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