The Conversation: How Is Gentrification Affecting Austin's Music Scene?

hippies.jpg
Where will we go when Austin stops being so weird?
Anyone who has visited Austin's South By Southwest music festival more than once over the last decade has noticed a huge evolution in Austin's music scene. Most of Austin's longtime music lovers repeat the same cry year after year -- that this one is always worse than the last.

This week's Observer cover story touches on that subject matter. It comes to us by way of longtime staff writer John Nova Lomax, over at our sister paper, the Houston Press, who contends that gentrification is destroying Austin's weirdness as well as its music scene.

He's got a point: The organic beginnings of SXSW have now been replaced with corporate sponsors that stretch as far as the eye can see.

We here at DC9 have long thought that the city would eventually reach a point of backlash, and the cover story sparked yet another conversation on the subject.

What follows is a round-table discussion held between music editor Pete Freedman, web editor Nick Rallo, and Yours Truly. Feel free to chime in with your own comments, too.

Daniel: To start off this discussion, what do you guys think of the Austin music scene in general? I think there's a lot of irony in that they consider themselves the Live Music Capital of the World, but there don't seem to be very many notable bands making any kind of a splash these days.

Nick: I'm not sure. There's a lot of music blog feedback for a range of Austin bands like The Sword and Brazos, and it's hard to look on any music-related site these days and not see Okkervil's new album. I think the scene brings people in. At a recent show, Joe Pug said he'd moved to Austin. That said, I'm not sure Austin is the "live music capital of the world." They certainly are the SXSW capital of the world.

Daniel: That's true. There are a handful acts coming out of Austin. Black Angels and And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have had impressive careers as well, thanks in part to the exposure they've gotten from SXSW. But taking into account just how massive SXSW has become and how saturated with music the city is, there are a relatively low amount of acts breaking through. Do you guys think that people who move to Austin for the so-called vibrant music scene are disappointed by this?

Nick: It would make sense. Maybe it's like film students gravitating to Hollywood. Filmmakers go hoping to have their voice heard, and all then get smashed by the business of The Smurfs and Mr. Popper's Penguins. Or maybe I'm just a bitter film major. At SXSW 2010, I talked briefly with a few bands at an Aquarium Drunkard showcase -- they seemed happy to be coming through a town buzzing with music. So there's that. But I imagine it'd be intimidating to live there as a musician.

Pete:
Naw, man. No way is Austin an intimidating town to be a musician in. Wholeheartedly disagree with you on that, Nick. Not in a town where everyone "loves music" and takes pride in being "so supportive." Ugh. From where I stand, Austin's supposed greatest music strength -- that music is everywhere -- is also its greatest weakness. Because there are so many venues, because there are so many people whose identities revolve around the fact that they "love music," and because the town's just a magnet for wannabe blog darlings, the music scene as a whole actually suffers. You've got shitty band after shitty band with followings. You've got venues clamoring for any of them to come in, play and round out a bill. It's probably the least intimidating music town that I can think of, in that regard; they want you to form a band. The flip side of all this, of course, is that so many people do. And, in turn, you've talentless hack after talentless hack trying his hand at making it in the scene. I've been saying it for years: Sure, Austin has some great bands; but can you name another city with a greater volume of completely terrible ones?

Nick:
Nashville -- isn't that where Kings of Leon is from? OK, maybe just Kings of Leon are the terrible ones.

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Austin Girl
Austin Girl

I was looking for articles on Gentrification of Austin for my research paper I am doing and I have to say this article has little to do with the topic. It mainly bashes the Austin music scene and it frankly pissed me off. We are all Texans and have a lot to be proud of as a whole. I also have to disagree with your comparing Austin to music as Hollywood is to film.. This isn't Nashville. Something I love about the scene here is we don't have a ton of "big names" run through, but what we do is give a lot of indie bands a chance to break out no matter where they are from, established or not. We do not have your run of the mill scene. Especially Red River, which might fall due to Emo's downtown closing. Ugh. You want to know about Austin music, the good shows, ATXSOUNDS.com They always post the shows of the moment and notable bands to see. Anyhow, I am not advertising for them I am just pissed off in general at the ignorance of this article.

Jimmy McArthur 2
Jimmy McArthur 2

Wow.  This might be the dumbest article about Austin I have ever read.  But for real Dallas, don't come here.  We like it that way.  

nick
nick

This is a terrible article, full of terrible arguments.

Terry Lickona
Terry Lickona

If Lomax's article wasn't so distorted, so biased, so poorly researched, and so poorly selective with regards to who he chose to quote, I might be willing to cut him some slack for making a few valid observations. Ain't gonna happen. Granted, as the executive producer for Austin City Limits going on 34 years and the guy who books all the talent, I could take umbrage at his "Indie City Limits" quip. How ironic that "indie" (as in "independent") music now has a negative connotation among defenders of the good old days. The truth of the matter is that some of the most unique and original music being created today comes from the indie artists - and that's always been the criteria that defines Austin City Limits. Frankly I was never much of a fan of the Austin scene or music of the 70's, although I lived through it. In retrospect and in comparison to the eclectic and diverse music being created today, the music of that time seems parochial if not trivial. I'm proud that we are still a vehicle and showcase for presenting some of the best that Austin has to offer (a la Patty Griffin, Alejandro, Sarah Jarosz, Spoon, Explosions in the Sky, Black Joe Lewis, et al). Let the naysayers naysay, and I sincerely hope they ARE able to foster unique and original music scenes, careers and lifestyles of their own wherever they may be. Enough already... 

Lisa Q Anderson
Lisa Q Anderson

Do the writers of this article even like music?  

Trail of Dead have put out an album every 3-4 years since they formed.    Have you tried Google?   It seems these jerks just quit tapping into new bands in '98 and have therefore lost touch with the scene.

Honestly, these bj-queens, sound like the b-holes that used to hang around the record store and complain all day.  "When I was your age, all the bands were great, now they suck and rent is too high in Austin".   Grow up and spend a week in Austin listening to music instead of trying to figure it out based on the hell that is SXSW or ACL.

Denton has some great acts, but at the end of the day, you still have to live in Denton.  

Jeez guys.   Jealous Much?

Mcorcoran
Mcorcoran

When I lived in Dallas from '92- '95, I was always going to Austin to see a great band that played in Dallas the night before- Oasis, Ween, Stereolab- to see how the show would go over with a crowd that had more respect for the music. In Dallas, half the audience was facing away from the band, looking to see if there was anyone cool or cute to talk to. In Austin they were there for the music. That's changing a bit with all the hip newcomers yapping away. But Austin audiences are still much better than in Dallas.

Jackhug
Jackhug

Austin's lousy with shitty bands 365 nights a year.  However, you guys apparently aren't aware of the many great Austin bands that could care less about "making it" or "doing really well" in the music industry.  Just like those hallowed days of yore, the truly cool stuff has to be sought out.  While complaining that SXSW and the pseudo-hipsterness of the music industry have turned Austin "Hollywood", you obviously rely on said industry to tell you what's cool in Austin.  How about leaving your cushy, Dallas couch and actually going out to find what's "cool"?

Patrick Doyle
Patrick Doyle

Local scenes are losing their relative value anyway.  A band used to "pay their dues" locally before branching out, but audiences and revenue streams are now global in scope. The Sword barely played in Austin before blowing up nationally.

Guest
Guest

Uhm, wrong.  The Sword played locally in Austin for 3 years before releasing their first record.  They didn't "blow up" until well after that.  I saw them countless times at places like Beerland and inside at Emo's back then.  Is that what you consider having "barely played"?

Denise
Denise

I think local scenes are losing their relative value in a way. I think in Austin, a lot of bands genuinely don't care about making it big. It does seem these days that if that is what a band is going for, they skip the local show part.

Kate X
Kate X

Yes, where will you go? Why don't you just stay put you sad little uninformed curmudgeons.

Shelley
Shelley

I have to agree. As someone who grew up in Dallas, moved to Austin 11 years ago (don't regret it for a second), and frequently visit Dallas friends and family - you come across as uninformed outsiders. Let me rephrase - blog-informed outsiders. You're spitting out the same stuff everyone else is, but that does not make it true. Coming here for SXSW does not an Austin music expert make.

I've been to these "DIY" venues you speak of in Dallas, and they come nowhere close to what we have here. I grew up in the Dallas music scene and have followed it since leaving and it can't even compare to Austin.

Point in case? You say, "There are tons of venues in all three of our pivotal music cities (Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth)..." Why do you need three cities?

We're doing just fine down here without a music scene even really existing in neighboring cities. You might have scattered venues in a giant metroplex, but I can walk to at least a dozen shows on any given night.

Now, please don't move here.

Alicia Sherrod
Alicia Sherrod

I was at the Black Angels show at The Loft and I have to say the love for them in that room was outrageous. It would be such a smart move for them to bring Psych Fest to Dallas, not to mention it's closer for fans in surrounding states. Dallas does have a lot of growing to do before they can ever be the place for music. Right now they are the place for big business and CEOs. I agree that Austin isn't so great any more, but mostly because of things like SXSW. The prices are outrageous and I don't believe that's how you get true music fans to come out and support. That's just how you make a ton of money. I've even heard from bands that SXSW is pointless now because there are no talent agents or producers looking for bands anymore. When Austin uses these big festivals to bring people in they become a casino. Everyone gives everything in there pockets, but get nothing in return. Austin is amazing in the fact that they do have great artist, comedy shows, and music venues. It's just a matter of time before it turns into Disney Land. I love Austin and I don't want it to go down, but with music scenes like South By it's starting turn that way.

Bigjondaniel
Bigjondaniel

I've been going to Austin since 1979, and no matter when I am there, I will have people tell me how much better it was 10 years before.

Cdcain73
Cdcain73

The writer of this article is an Austin Hater..... no wonder its in the Dallas Observer.  Embrace change my man and crawl out of that hole of an existence you live in.  Live the life, love the people and the town it has become.  It's called evolution....find something else to be angry on that doesn't exist in this great state we call home.  I'm sorry your dad didn't hug you more.

Gary
Gary

Fair or not, Dallas has a terrible reputation among most people who don't live here. You guys make good points about Austin's obesity, but it will be hard for Dallas to overcome its stereotype as the definition of bland. Maybe it's for the best, because the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality feeds the scene.

Bennyseigle
Bennyseigle

I know one really kickass band that is straight out of Austin, Texas!  The Bright Light Social Hour!!!

Erich S
Erich S

I remember when Dallas and Deep Ellum were cooler than anything going on in Austin. Three boulevards of original, live music compared to one shitty strip of cover bands. Well, Dallas fucked that one up and somehow (chiefly thru ACL and SXSW), Austin became a destination for thousands of tattooed, young "artists". I don't  see Austin bottoming out anytime soon, but as it was said earlier, these things are cyclical. Eventually Austin's infrastructure will collapse under the weight of the millions of residents piling on (something like 5000 new people a month) but we do need to step up the support system here in North Texas. We have the  spaces...we have the bands. Why can't we get more people involved? I think one of the problems is the area. We're so spread out. Folks in East Dallas  don't want to drive to Oak Cliff and vice versa. From Dallas to Denton? Ft. Worth? Forgetaboutit! Back in the day, Deep Ellum provided a central entertainment district that people from all over would come to...something we don't really have these days.

Jme
Jme

 

AWWW Pete, big ups for yourecognizing the significance of the Electric Daisy Carnival being here. Theshift of relevance in the Texas music scenes will undoubtedly come to Dallasfrom Austin as the Music world turns more electronic (Which is clearly apattern when you look at the massive scope of Electronic music these days, fromDeadmau5 to our very own Ishi). As EDM is characteristically an “underground”thing- few people really know that Dallas has been one of the most involved andinnovative cities in the world for EDM over the past 20 years. Insomniac choosing to have EDC here isnot only wicked cool, but absolutely appropriate. (shameless plug- Im throwingan afterparty for EDC in deep ellum that night- The Afterglow Sideshow- searchit on FB- sorry about that, I had to.)

 

Also- I work at a bookingagency in Fort Worth and am actively a part of this North Texas music scene. Isee DAILY how hard it is for bands in Austin. Working bands, solid bands- suchas American Graveyard, The Canvas Waiting, Lucky Tubb, (etc...) getpaid hundreds to thousands of dollars LESS for shows in Austin. They areexposed to fewer big crowds. The market there is horrifically saturated. THAT SAID-Is that bad? Is it better to be a small fish in a bigger pond, or a big fish ina smaller pond? Its harder to be the “best “ band in Austin than it is inArlington. Its harder to be the “best” actor in New York than to be that inFort Worth. For some, Austin is still worth it because their craft improvesbecause competition is healthy. For others, stage time, making a living justplaying music and having a better chance opening for large touring acts- DFW isTHE place to be. Sorry Houston. =)  

Showlush
Showlush

While I love me some North Texas artists - Doug Burr, Seryn, Sarah Jaffe & Telegraph Canyon to name just a few - here's just a few reasons why I'd still rather live in Austin:  Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry, Willie, Will Johnson, Monahans, The Pons, Leatherbag, ACL, ACL Fest, The Continental Club and Continental Gallery, The Elephant Room, The Saxon Pub and so on and so forth. 

If you only come here for SXSW, you really can't begin to know how amazing it is to live here year in and year out as a music fan.  I still love SXSW - when Austin fills up with concert goers the energy is simply amazing regardless of the corporate BS.  We're also effing spoiled by the number of great touring acts that come through here week after week.  But I also know there's no place I could love life as much as I do when I'm listening to the Ephraim Owens trio in the Continental Gallery at 1am on a random Tuesday.

parkay
parkay

your list confirms you've been utterly snowed in by whatever media you're slurping down.

MattL1
MattL1

I think you guys hit it on the head as far as the current state of the "Austin scene" and how it got there.  But these things tend to be cyclical.  A place develops an identity and scene, scene thrives within community, outsiders recognize "next big thing," money and recognition comes pouring in, and the scene gets co-opted, marketed and overexposed, making it uncool but attractive.  Not sure if that was a sentence, but it sure has a lot of commas.  

The important thing to remember is that this is not unique to Austin.  It has happened over and over in Lower Manhattan.  Seattle anyone?  Hell, Dallas has probably witnessed a few scenes spring up, get co-opted and overexposed, and die a slow death as well.  

Nick R.
Nick R.

Thanks Matt--so you'd say that Austin is on the downswing of the cycle? A deconstruction phase, or so?

MattL1
MattL1

Creatively it probably has, yes.  It's just been in the spotlight for too long to not have suffered from the overexposure, which you guys covered pretty well above.  However, Austin still seems highly regarded in a significant part of the public's consciousness, which might slow the PERCEPTION of the decline.  

Our neighbors to the south also have a fantastic creative infrastructure, so when they do hit bottom, it probably won't be for long.  Plus, it's still a fun place to visit and the food is fantastic, which never hurts.

Nick R.
Nick R.

Yeah, I agree that it won't be long. I'm torn because I love Austin. And don't want to think of it losing identity, if that's possible, but I certainly think it could be on a weird overexposed end of the cycle right now. Maybe Prince will play there and NOT cancel and bring it back.

Jonathan
Jonathan

I agree that NTX has a better burgeoning music scene than ATX.  I do have to say though that Denton and Dallas have a long way to go in appreciating what they have.  Too many arms-crossed/non-participatory crowds are a good way to keep your great local bands from playing around here.  Austin and Houston have so much better crowds than here.  Even if the music does suck, the crowd still has a great time.

David
David

Your right on the crowds.  Austin has a very large concert/festival going population to support their scene.  Dallas is still dominated by types who just aren't interested in music.  Case in point; LCD Soundsystem on the their last ever visit to Dallas played a half-full palladium.  At Stubbs they sold in advance.

Things like Homegrown and 35 Conferette are key to getting more people interested in the NTX music scene.

Coleman
Coleman

...maybe that's because LCD Soundsystem sucks?

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