This year I have been privileged to be part of the South by Southwest Festival 2008, the yearly music-slash-promotion fest which takes over the streets of Austin and gives aspiring musicians the opportunity to pitch, promote, and play their music for crowd after crowd over four days.
SXSW is the music-fest par excellence — this year, 1,580 bands registered to perform and hawk their tunes, and of course, this sets up a virtual sea of brand noise, with every band struggling to not only be heard, but noticed.
Enter Jewish ingenuity, and a quick trip to OfficeMax.
Armed with two billboards, DJ Handler/Diwon and I decided to hit the streets with the ultimate in in-your-face publicity: sticking our signs in people’s faces. And, baruch Hashem, we would definitely get noticed.
The downside to having a sign that says “bringing the revolution” were how many references people kept making to Ron Paul, and the assorted conspiracy theorists who would warn me about everything I could expect from the various species of extraterrestaliens in my neighborhood. But the beautiful experience of Austin SXSW could not be dimmed by the banter of eccentrics.
Our first set of shows on Thursday night involved me performing with Shunda K of Yo Majesty, an uncompromisingly pro-unity rapper who was denying rappers stage time if they had “divisive” lyrics or had a stage presence which would not “contribute to unity”. I fit right in — we would perform again the following day at a thrift store, Treasure City, where I would cipher with Shunda K again, as well as Rosetta Stone, who intellectually dwarf the competition with shout-outs to Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette.
After this we would go to the JellyNYC Garage rooftop party, where we would hang out with Riz MC, a British Muslim MC who makes positive political hiphop and is gaining attention for his song “Post 9/11 Blues”, which was banned on MTV Europe for its unabashed look at the war on terror and Islamophobia — one of the lines from his non-banned tracks was “I’m losing my religion to tomorrow’s headlines”.
Our signs would attract literally worldwide media attention. We did two interviews for “Portuguese TV” (why don’t foreign press ever say the name of their stations? Do they just assume no one cares?), and took pictures for Metromix.com (NY), SXSW’s official photographers, and, of course, a bevy of hip music fans armed with the newest digital cameras and iPhones.
Even the garbage guy was in on it.
One would think Shabbos would be a disadvantage — it turned out to be our only rest. Chabad at UT-Austin turned out to be the only environment chill enough to provide the respite we would need before Saturday night.
Saturday night was non-stop promo-fest. Our first show was at Barcelona, a club on East 6th Street in Austin, where we would perform with Riz MC, DJ King Britt, DJ Sun (who I remembered from the 90s mixtape era), and DC-area MCs Time Machine (who I began to pity as the club’s mixer died during their set). We cased street after street, holding up our signs in the faces of anyone who would notice — alternatively chanting “hiphop revolution!” or “positive revolution – peace, love, and unity”! By the end of the night I had myself wondering if I had become the “new Carlebach”, calling everyone “brothers” and “sisters”, and exhorting everyone to come together in unity.
And, now, two interviews, dozens of photos, five performances, and innumerable energy drinks later — DJ Handler and I go to do it all again tonight for the SXSW Finale events. Next stop: Houston’s Warehouse Live on Monday night!