The changing face of hipster heaven

Austin, Texas, recently played host to SXSW (South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals) Music Festival, the annual hipster extravaganza drawing in tastemakers and trendsetters to see the tastiest and trendiest of the music world.

If you really needed the above description, though, clearly SXSW is not for you. You are not a hipster. Head straight to un-hip jail, do not pass go and do not collect $200. Since its inception twenty-one years ago, SXSW has continued to grow into its current monstrous size, drawing more than 2,000 bands to Austin; the mid-sized, blue diamond in the rough of oh-so-red Texas; in both officially-sanctioned and unofficial, spin-off showcases in front of over 12,000 attendees. In addition to the fans, the attendees include many booking agents, managers and venue owners, allowing smaller bands to gain much needed exposure in the industry of reduced record sales and increased opportunities for music piracy via file-sharing networks.

As the festival has grown, however, it has become increasingly more difficult to grab the attention of the above powers-that-be. Each year, SXSW attracts many acts that already have a name for themselves and had a great deal of commercial success — such as 2008 performers Talib Kweli, Moby and My Morning Jacket — in addition to many more recent blog sensations on the tip of every hipster’s tongue, such as Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Jens Lekman. Even if these acts help draw in music fans that in turn check out a number of other shows, there is only so much that any given human being (even extra special, extra hip ones) can take in over the course of five days and the bigger acts are sure to outdraw smaller, up-and-coming acts. That is, of course, unless they have the stamp of approval from their “indie” music blogger of choice, who contributes to society by breaking through the clutter and aiding less musically-inclined listeners in identifying the artists and tunes worth listening to without the influence of society’s “haves.”

Blog-approved Vampire Weekend, coming to town on April 4.

As any given music blogger gains notoriety, however, one has to wonder just how “indie” they truly can be classified as. Record labels, in particular, have begun to pay closer attention to the blogosphere, pulling in bloggers with a trusting base of readers to help find promising talent in exchange for helping to tout some of theirs. According to a recent Associated Press article, gossip blogger Perez Hilton is being snapped up by Warners Bros. Records as an executive, and was given control over the talent for a showcase at this year’s SXSW.

In response to criticism over the potential blending of the corporate and the independent, Hilton stated, “I only post things on there that I really enjoy and love and support — there’s no payola Perez … [T]here’s an authenticity there and they really respond to that.”

Bloggers being pulled under the wing of record labels is just one example of corporate influence increasingly playing a role in the defining of what’s worthy of an 8. or 9.something on Pitchfork and what isn’t. Companies outside of the realm of music — such as Urban Outfitters — have also adapted the culture of blog-approved goodness with their selections of in-store music playlists, aiding to profits that head in iffy directions: UO Owner Richard Hayne has reportedly donated thousands of dollars to rabidly anti-gay and anti-abortion politician Rick Santorum. One has to wonder how long it will be before the hipster-blogger-tastemaker role is further commodified and whether it will begin to impact the music itself. Only time will tell.

— Joe Erbentraut, True Endeavors Communications and Public Relations Intern

One Response

  1. Here’s an interesting (and related) article from Pollstar: http://www.pollstarpro.com/NewsContent.aspx?cat=3&ArticleID=4023

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