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Fair Pay at SXSW: Please Pay These Brilliant Brits!!

Despite the fact that it’s held in March, SXSW is still on a lot of minds–especially right now. Before I dive into a recap of the incredible artists I saw live in Texas, I want to bring your attention to something important that is happening today: a protest outside of the Penske Media Corporation NYC Offices that is demanding fair pay for artists at SXSW

This protest is led by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, and is made up of a coalition of music workers organizations, music industry unions, local organizing groups, and more. Protesters are gathering in front of Penske HQ because the media conglomerate is the festival’s largest stakeholder, as of 2021; after similar protests were held in Austin during SXSW this year, the festival made a pledge to reassess the situation, but the committee pushed the decision until June 26th

Read more about their demands here

“Wait, I’m Lost: What’s Going on With Artist Pay at SXSW?”

Great question–as I headed into my first SXSW this year, I didn’t know anything about this either. 

All I knew was that a certain Mancunian rock band was making their American debut, and I had to get to Austin if I wanted to be there to support them. That’s about it. After I got home, one of the things I learned about SXSW is that it has a very strange payment system for the artists who perform during the festival. 

How you get paid depends on where you live:

US-based artists get a choice between a small stipend ($100 for solo artists, $250 for bands), or they can receive a wristband that grants them access to the festival that they are performing at. 

International artists don’t get a choice; they only get access to the festival (a wristband) in exchange for their performance. 

What the fuck, right? 

Between the application fees for SXSW itself–as well as rising visa fees, travel and accommodation costs, and just the general state of today’s global economy–it feels absolutely insane to expect artists to basically give free performances, especially if they’re coming from abroad.

Admittedly, SXSW’s panels and networking opportunities are valuable to artists and their teams… but seriously, what other festival offers the ability to attend the event itself as payment for performing during it?! 

It’s absolutely absurd, if you ask me.

A New Approach to this SXSW Recap:

While drafting the original iteration of this piece, I realized something about my SXSW experience: all but maybe two of the artists I saw during the week were international talents. 

In other words, nearly every artist I saw perform during SXSW was not paid (in money) for their performance. 

So, in honor of this protest in NYC today, instead of simply telling you about the cool artists I saw at SXSW, I will also be listing an approximate distance (in miles) that each of these artists likely traveled in order to play SXSW–

Because anyone willing to come all this way just to perform in Texas absolutely deserves to be paid for it. No questions asked. 

With all that said…

Let’s dive in.

In ascending order by miles traveled, here are four international artists whose (unpaid) performances stood out to me during my time in Texas: 

THE HARA (~4,775 mi)

I got to see THE HARA twice while at SXSW. Their set was a rambunctious mix of their usual bangers, as well as previews of material from their new album, SURVIVAL MODE. The new material translated to the live stage perfectly. It was honestly such a gift.

However, if I had to pick one major takeaway from their SXSW sets, it would be this–I have never seen so many terrified, dress shirt-wearing dads change their minds about jumping into a mosh pit in my life. They usually just, y’know…hide?

But not at THE HARA’s show. Oh, no–not an option.

Instead, I got to witness these corporate banker-looking dads go from exchanging facial expressions that can be best translated as oh god, what the fuck? (or literally admitting aloud that it’s been decades since they’ve been in a pit)… to walking out of that very same mosh pit they intended to stay away from, with HUGE childlike grins on their faces. It was as if I got to witness others experiencing what I did at my first HARA show in 2021–a renewed love for rock ‘n’ roll.

And let me tell you– it was like magic.

Maybe it’s time to renew your own love for rock ‘n’ roll, too:

girli (~4,912 mi)

girli is the one artist I wish I could’ve listened to as a teenager. (If you grew up on bands like Icon For Hire, Flyleaf, or Paramore… just skip to the Spotify link. You don’t need to read anything else.)

To be perfectly honest, girli’s performance was everything that my younger self needed to witness, and I think I left the venue that night a more complete person because of it. No, I’m not joking.

The first word I’d use to describe her is “authentic”; the second is “inspiring”. Her music is honestly quite fun, too, even if a lot of it is about various struggles–there was only one point during her set (“More Than a Friend”) where my feels got the better of me (read: I cried in public).

But, her music soothed the still-wounded parts of myself that I didn’t realize still hurt, and I am forever grateful for it.

Do yourself a favor, and take a listen:

Albertine Sarges (~5,376 mi)

Albertine Sarges was the first artist I saw during SXSW–and honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. She put on one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. It really inspired me to remain as open-minded as possible while in Texas.

Presenting a mix of social commentary, snarky comedic relief, and confessional-like storytelling that is perfectly complimented by her unique blend of folksy, avant-garde pop, Albertine Sarges offers a little bit of something for everybody.

I especially loved the way that the performers all bounced the vocals back and forth between themselves…

And, y’know, these insane, magical flute bits.

Check her out on Spotify:

Ashy (~7,396 mi)

During the dreariest day of the whole week, Ashy brought the sparkle back to Austin that Saturday afternoon. Her voice was absolutely captivating as it filled the air, floating among the skyscrapers that surrounded the rooftop she performed on. 

Ashy offers pop without the Euphoria lens–

Her music is reminiscent of late summer nights and rose-tinged daydreams, but without the distortion or naivety that comes with actual adolescence. Ashy’s music also has a timelessness to it that makes it appealing to listeners of all backgrounds–even those who don’t usually listen to pop, like myself. Ashy surprised me–and I surprised myself by how many times I’ve gone back to listen to her since I saw her set.

To put it succinctly, this the pop star that families will want to go see in concert together, no begging or bargaining needed. 

See for yourself:

Special Mentions:

(click for Spotify)

Dutch Criminal Record (4,895 mi), whose immaculate, nostalgic vibes inspired several non-attending pedestrians to stop in their tracks on the sidewalk, and listen… for their whole set.

Kid Bookie (4,912 mi), whose hypnotic vocal delivery (and incredible breath control) made for my favorite rap-rock set of all time.

NOISY (4,923 mi), whose energy is simply unmatched–I had no idea what to expect from the “band that sounds nothing like a band”, but after SXSW, I am desperate to catch them live again soon.

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