Denver’s music scene making a splash at SXSW
Denver Post Pop Music Critic
A city’s music movement doesn’t arrive on the national scene drop by drop. When it happens, and that is rare and remembered, it comes with a big splash.
In that way, Colorado’s independent musicians are doing a cannonball into this year’s South by Southwest music festival, which starts in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday.
Nothing predicts the tides of American pop music better than the annual Texas cavalcade of up- and-coming acts. And this year, the festival will be drowning in Denver sounds.
“It’s the definitive music festival in the United States, maybe even the whole world,” said Justin Green, better-known as DJ Low Key, a Denver artist who has five scheduled shows in Austin next week. “It’s one of those things you have to see to believe.”
Nearly 15 mile-high bands and DJs will play official (and highly coveted) SXSW-sanctioned showcases. Another 25-plus will be heading down by the vanful to perform in the unsanctioned renegade parties that surround the festival – catching buzz and winning attention from the record labels, talent scouts and publishing houses that do their business with a worldwide audience every March.
“We notice over time that certain places, for a variety of reasons, become musical hot spots,” Brent Grulke, creative director at SXSW, said from his Austin office. More than 1,000 bands play the festival, though the number is spread out internationally, and Grulke notes: “It’s quite obvious now that there’s a real resurgence going on in Denver and Boulder.”
Denver’s emergence is not based on a specific sound, like, say, Seattle’s grunge music in the 1990s. But it is rooted in a certain energy that has bubbled up from the success of regional bands like the Fray, 3OH!3, Flobots and Pretty Lights. All four acts wear their local ties on their sleeves.
“Coming from Colorado is something I’m extremely proud of,” said Derek Vincent Smith, the Fort Collins DJ who is suddenly selling out concerts under the name Pretty Lights. He plays his official SXSW show Saturday. “We announce it all the time when we’re on tour, and it’s creating something of a reputation for the state as an awesome place to live – and an incredible music scene.”
While SXSW is really about smaller acts – the Fray and their ilk are platinum and multiplatinum – the big record sales have opened doors. This year’s local presence blows away previous Colorado involvement at SXSW, according to festival officials. It’s telling that the festival received more submissions from Colorado than it did Oregon, with its hipster-heavy Portland contingent.
The roots for this change have been planted by such folks as Adam Lancaster, who has hosted an unsanctioned “Mile Hi-Fidelity” party at SXSW for five years trying to gain traction. The parties are grassroots complements to the official showcases set up by SXSW’s management, but they can be taken almost as seriously depending on who is paying.