The music portion of South by Southwest is kicking into high gear and by now you’ve probably seen more than enough Twitter hashtags and Instagram shots of Austin to realize the festival is happening. Though SXSW’s industry influence has waned its name is inescapable, and if you keep tabs on new music there’s a good chance you notice the fest’s name worming its way into conversations as early as January, if not before. By February the fest is an essential part of small talk: “How are you? How about that weather? Are you going to SXSW?”
It’s the kind of name recognition money can’t buy, but that hasn’t stopped scores of brands from trying; companies with deep pockets descend on Austin and throw unofficial showcases featuring buzz bands and chart-topping acts in an attempt to catch some of the musicians’ cool cache, even if it’s for just a day. It can get quite extravagant—Doritos, for example, has erected a gigantic stage made to look like a vending machine. The chip company is throwing a free Lady Gaga concert on that stage-slash-ad, but as Fast Company reports fans have to do some work in order to snag tickets:
Doritos is taking the SXSW opportunity to launch its new “Bold Missions” campaign which will use Facebook, Twitter, and Vine to dare its fans to pull off a range of stunts and challenges in return for prizes. At SXSW, the prize is one of 2,000 tickets to see Gaga, and the missions include jumping from a 30-foot high platform to grab a dangling #BoldStage ticket, busk on the street using instruments Doritos provides to earn $10 in 10 minutes or less, and go up against roller derby pros while wearing an inflatable sumo wrestler suit.
It all sounds kinda gross, and Doritios isn’t alone in engaging in this kind of, um, bold branding exercise. Samsung is sponsoring a performance by Jay Z and Kanye West, aka the Throne, but only people who have the Samsung Galaxy and are using the phone company’s brand-new radio service, Milk Music, are eligible to get wristbands to enter the show. These examples are extreme but emblematic of the #SXSW marketing blitz, which makes downtown Austin look like Times Square.
I don’t blame bands for mixing it up with big companies for one-off SXSW events, especially when the events don’t require attendees to buy in to a brand. For some participants it can simply mean exposing their music to more people and playing bigger shows. Take the folks folks behind SPF420, an online festival run by some key players from the original vaporwave scene; this afternoon SPF420 and Brooklyn label Imaginary Friends are throwing an unofficial SXSW showcase headlined by Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, who played an SPF420 show back in November.
Unlike that show this one is IRL and it’s got corporate sponsorship from companies such as Sailor Jerry’s and Crap Eyewear. I’m not entirely sure why these companies decided to put their names on a small (normally) DIY festival that showcases underground electronic music and normally happens on Tinychat—a video conferencing and instant messaging site that, to put it mildly, doesn’t have the best audio or video quality—but it’s a great opportunity for the people behind SPF420 to rope in some lifers who’d otherwise be unaware of the fest’s nocturnal URL parties. And this is much bigger than a normal SPF420 event not only because it’s happening in Austin—more importantly it’ll be broadcast live on YouTube giving the festival a bigger reach than it ever had (or will have) on Tinychat. It all starts at 3 PM CST—head to spf420.com to get a glimpse of some SXSW action, no Samsung Galaxy required.