by James Stratton
When SXSW started back in 1987, the wristband for the weekend cost $10; 2017’s walk-up rate for the music wristband—the lowest cost if you missed the September 9th deadline—came in at $1325. This growth in cost shows not only how large the festival has become but who attends. SXSW has become an event to see and to be seen at. After all, if Barack Obama can come and give a keynote, the focus isn’t on the place where the keynote is hosted.
Austin became a backdrop; its walls house the festival, but it isn’t a home. During these past two weeks the city was a playground of big-label musicians, Silicon Valley cash, and cinematographic celebrities. These forces hover over Austin and threaten to diminish the funky vibes that brought this festival here.
SXSW in and of itself is not a bad actor. Its massive presence, however, overwhelms. It comes as no surprise, then, that there are Austinites pushing back. Over the past week I met some of them: They include Roxanne Zech, the organizer of “That’s What She Said”, a showcase for female and non-binary artists. I also got to know Amber Harris, founder of Aheadintheherd, along with Vero Hermosa and Christine Gonzales, her two partners at the organization.
Altogether, these four are working in the shadow of SXSW to provide a space for artists and grow the next generation of funky, groovy culture in Austin.
"That's What She Said Showcase"
According to the Austin Musician Census of 2015, only 20% of working musicians in the city are female. Roxanne Zech, the organizer of the “That’s What She Said” showcase at the French House Co-Op cited this fact as the inspiration for the event. This small number, she said, denies representation and risks denying inspiration and role models for aspiring female artists and the larger Austin community.
James: Hi Roxanne, what’s the goal of the “That’s What She Said Showcase’?
Roxanne: ‘That’s What She Said’ is an unofficial showcase for female and non-binary artists. We’re providing a place for them during SXSW.
J: Why is this a needed space?
R: Well, first, the 2015 Austin Music Census reported that only 20% of working musicians in Austin were female. We also want to give a space that we feel the scene has not provided. There are just not enough spaces that value what we value as women. There’s also a perception that female = vocalist. Guitar is considered a ‘technical’ skill. So people will tell a female artist when she plays guitar: ‘Wow, you play good. You must practice guitar a lot!’ It’s like, duh, of course she does.
J: What is the role of the Co-Ops in developing a better scene?
R: Our venue is our home. This allows us to connect to our community, and we don’t have to beg venues to meet our needs. And having the co-op as a venue separates us from the craziness of SXSW.
Roxanne had to tend to her responsibilities at the door, so we ended our chat there. I entered into the backyard, the stage for the evening. Lanky punks, tatted queers, all the alternative sort milled around. The kinds that would bring curious glances and ritual gasps of ‘Wow! Keep Austin Weird, amiright?’ from the Downtown SXSW crowd.
I stood by Supermoon - a pop-punk quartet composed of Adrienne LaBelle, Selina Crammond, Alie Lynch, and Katie Gravestock - out of Vancouver, Canada. We had spoken earlier outside of French House . As they waited for soundcheck I decided to ask them about their experiences, with SXSW and with the importance of the “That’s What She Said” showcase.
James: Welcome down from Canada. How’s Austin? Is this y’all’s first time at SXSW?
Adrienne: Everyone’s super nice here. This is our first time in Austin!
J: How did you here about this event?
A: They contacted us.
Katie: We are super-stoked to play!
J: What’s the importance of this event? Do you see the same problem (the 20% rate in Austin) in Canada?
Supermoon: Oh yeah. That’s why we appreciate this show. It’s a place that specifically welcomes you, and no dude will tell you what to do.
K: Yeah, no one asks you if you are a groupie (the rest of the band groans in sympathy)
A: It’s way more relaxing to know that this space exists. Little pockets like this that are life-affirming, you know? It’s so nice to have a reprieve from the festival and a safe space amid all that’s going on in the outside world.
LOCAL AND VOCAL
While I was dancing along with Supermoon, my mind returned to Local and Vocal, a show I attended the day before. It was another showcase, hosted by Aheadintheherd (one word), this time for highlighting local Austin acts. Zen Fit Studios was transformed into an intimate venue - soft lights, welcoming shadows, low ceilings - to showcase local talent.
I met up with Amber Harris, Vero Hermosa, and Christine Gonzalez, the show’s organizers. Harris started the organization this past January. Its mission is to curate music from Austin-based bands and connect people through concerts and sharing good tunes. We met a few days after the to chat about the inspiration for the show and for starting Aheadintheherd.
The following has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview here.
James: Hi, Amber.
J: How did Aheadintheherd (AH) come about?
A: I went on that trip to LA and I saw everyone around me doing the thing they wanted to do
J: What do you mean by that?
A: Like they were pursuing their creative endeavors, which was really inspiring, and you know, I’m 25, which isn’t old but it isn’t… young. And If I’m going to start doing the thing I love to do, I need to do it now, because, why not now?
J: And what is that thing you want to do?
A: So, thats the thing I had to ask myself, and it’s always been music but in what form? Because I’ve been in bands and I write music occasionally and I enjoy it! But I don’t know if that’s what I’m best at. And when I really thought about it, I thought observing music and being a consumer of music is something I love and often times I’ll give people suggestions and a lot of the people I know the music that they hear comes from me sometimes and I’m always searching for, I always want to find something new.
J: So it would be fair to say that you are a connector of music?
A: Yes. Yeah, and it’s kind of how the website became a review site because I feel like that music makes me feel a lot and I wanted to write about how I feel because other people might have the same experiences where they listen to an album and… it just makes them think! It changes their perspective. It changes their lifestyle. And so I feel like there’s so much people out there that people don’t know just because they don’t have time to look for it and I’m one of those people obsessed with looking for new music and I just want those bands that are good and want recognition to come to the forefront so that people can find out about them. There’s so much good music out there, just because it is not mainstream or marketable it just falls to the wayside.
J: You had mentioned earlier that you were part of a band here in Austin. And you’re from Austin, so how does AH find this new music to show to other people?
A: Well, I’ve always searched for music, I used to go to Barnes and Nobles and sit there for hours and look at stuff. Then, going to shows in town. I have friends who are musicians and they post their music all the time. So I always try to listen to that. But I while I think that AH is focused on local music, there is a focus on music, in general, and how it affects our lives. So, finding music is something I do anyways, so I’m doing it for people, theoretically.
J: What challenges have you met in making this website a reality? Making this community of music a thing?
A: Honestly, a lot of the technical things, setting up the website, has been really challenging…
At this point, Vero and Christine arrive and sit with Amber and me at the booth:
JR: I think your friends are here. Hello friends! Hi, I’m James. Squeeze on in. We’re just talking with Amber, about she… y’all created AH. What you are all about. [To Vero] How did you come to be with AH?
Vero: We’ve all known each other for quite a long time. Seven years with Amber. [Points to Christine] Her, I lived with since I was eighteen.
Christine: We’re it in the long-haul!
V: So, pretty much, all of our friends, we’ve known each other through music…
J: That’s what Amber was saying.
V: That’s always been the forefront of our friendship. It was always wanting to go to shows, we have other people who are interested in the same things that we are.
J: I was talking with Amber about how the site operates, so I want to hear from y’all. [To Christine] You mentioned you were in the content curation, how do you find that next hit Austin band or music video?
C: I think it has a lot to do with our friend group. bringing that all together, discussing it, and being open to something new with an interesting sound. Like I said, music has been the focal point of our friendships, so we’re always going out to shows anyway, SXSW has been an amazing opportunity… but content gets provided and we generate a whole list. It’s really up to the reviewers and writers what they want to submit. Because that is the whole point: providing a personal anecdote to music that we like.
J: I want to ask y’all about SXSW… To me, it seems that there is a big split between the official and the ‘unofficial’ shows. So, where do you see AH in relation to SXSW?
A: I think we need to have showcases. Bring people to the up to the front. We were talking about how there’s a big disconnect. The corporate shows and then our show is so local and so raw in a sense that I think we need to keep bring that element in to it. Really focusing on what’s happening here more.
V: We’re from here. We were all born and raised here. We want to keep the culture alive. We want to keep it for the artists who are the only reason why we come together. So, they deserve it.
C: I think it’s important for Southby, because there are so many people coming from all over the place, to showcase what Austin has to offer. Whether the official or the unofficial I love it either way. The environment. There’s so much talent in town. So you might as well take advantage.
V: I personally don’t have anything against the official stuff. I always volunteer. So, we’re in it. We’re in the thick of it either way. Whether it be an official showcase or an unofficial one, it’s for the love of music, you know? That we can appreciate it in any context we can.
J: What’s the future hold for AH?
V: Good stuff [laughs] I hope good stuff! Everyone has said good things about the show. That’s what we want. People having fun, hanging out, and enjoying music.
C: More reviews, definitely. More events. With this being the launch party. We would have enjoyed it either way. So just as I said, continue sharing music and showcasing all the talent in Austin.
A: I also want AH to be a site that people go to because they trust the recommendations: ‘If AH is putting their stamp on it, I want to check it out. That’s going to be good.’ I think a part of it is curating something for people to consume and that we believe in and we thing are good and putting it up there for people to see. Because as I said, it’s kinda hard because people don’t always want to put in the work to find new stuff. So, I think that we are going to put in the work for ‘em.
V: Once you find a trusted source, you go back to them. So, to create that, that would be cool.
Behind our booth a band started its set. A showcase at Spiderhouse. For smaller bands who couldn’t play the big SXSW gigs. Fast, heavy beats. Guitar. Synth. Those sounds took me back to the shows that I had seen earlier in the week.
For the rest of the day, the weather is great. Pleasant heat. Moderate clouds. Just a touch of wind. If I were a superstitious man, I’d read this the sky as a good omen. After talking with Roxanne, Supermoon, and Aheadintheherd, though, I’m willing to believe in the signs. These are people who care about the culture in their city. Though it is going through growing pains, I have no doubt that the future of local Austin music rests in good hands. Small-batch creativity is here to stay and will co-exist and thrive alongside the boisterousness of SXSW for years to come.
The Austin Musician Census: austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Austin_Music_Census_Interactive_PDF_53115.pdf
SXSW growth over the years: reportingtexas.com/sxsw-gets-bigger-richer-hipper-and-evermore-pricey/
Southby statistics: sxsw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-SXSW-Statistics.pdf
James Stratton (@jrwrite1) is Human Influence's Digital Content Editor.