Should big artists be allowed to play at SXSW? That's the question we asked our writers this morning but we didn't just want to uncover a simple yes or no answer. We wanted to find out why exactly some tens of thousands of people make the trek to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest festival every year.

Is it to get a glimpse into music's future? Or is it just to enjoy music in all of its forms, heard and unheard, in a borderline lethal dose of showcases, secret sets, and exclusive appearances? Every word written in this post is from someone who loves music, so what do they want to see at SXSW? What's established or what's brand new? And how does focusing on just one of those affect the festival itself?


Yes, they should be allowed:

'Big artists' will have the weight of management, a label, an agent, a PR, pluggers and the like behind them, and can therefore enjoy a better profile and draw more gig-goers. I'd like to think the discerning music fan will still seek out the unsigned, the hidden and the unknown. - Lyle Bignon

As a music conference, it should also have some representation of established artists, to the extent that they have some contribution to make to the event other than just plugging a new product (so 'perform' should not necessarily be a live performance of new material but perhaps a talk on an issue relevant to the music industry, for example). The balance, however, should tip in favour of emerging acts so that the majority of performance time and slots are allocated to new artists. - Doron Vidavski

The question should really be whether they should get paid to do so. Big stars receiving even bigger pay checks to play at a festival where lesser known artists are slogging it out playing for free to get noticed seems a bit off par. Maybe they've worked ridiculously hard to get to where they are but in that case surely they can play this gig to support other artists rather than purely for their own profit? Big artists attract attention which, hopefully, then turns its gaze towards some of the talented new/lesser known artists playing but these big artists can earn top whack putting on a gig anywhere and SXSW is not Glastonbury or Coachella. It seems more fitting with the ethos of the event for big artists to play for publicity and good will instead of dollar. - Kerry Flint

The bigger acts pull the punters in and make sure the smaller acts have an audience. If it was only artists you'd never heard of playing the whole event, it'd be too much a risk to go to it, given they might all be pony. - Chris Lockie

Honestly, I don't care about SXSW, it's one of those events that exists to generate hype that has no real relevance to me. It costs too much for me to ever attend and I imagine that each venue is far too rammed to have any fun, more than that, it's going to be rammed with people who just need to be seen there - tweeting and instagramming through the music. Missing the point and making it impossible to have any actual fun. 'Have you done so and so yet? YOU HAVEN'T? Oh my gawd, you have to, you must, it's like, in an authentic slum, with real homeless people, and we like, set them on fire and put it on vine, who have you seen? oh, I saw them last year'. Amongst these self obsessed dickheads, I imagine, walk the brands. The ones you see in the side panels of all the music websites, sponsoring the 'cool', they fund the habits of these pricks who switched their parents money for corporate accounts without a hint of irony or self loathing. The brands always wear neutral colours, they walk amongst the crowds of waving apple products, slapping stickers onto the singers of bands. There's that guy from a nondescript indie band with a yellow 'mine' sticker made to look like a lexus logo, and there's some edm dude that no-one recognises without his stage props, and he's dressed as a can of red bull. A dinosaur walks past, kids that never heard it roar just worship the name, 'DINOSAUR', falling at its feet. It's selling something now, cashing in on the massive name it carries around on its back, and the children just eat it up, no questions. Amongst the brands, the dinosaurs and the self obsessed, there is the desperate. Begging for corporate money to be thrown over them like the idea of punk was never a thing, just jerking off exec's in back alleys and crying themselves to sleep. It's a real scene to behold and now I kinda wish I had gone. That this was 'the year'. We never really noticed it coming to this did we? ...and now it's too late, like if you visit a place and it's nice, so you want to go back but by the time you do they've built a hotel complex on it or a road through the middle of it. Should big bands be allowed to play SXSW? I guess everybody needs to stay on the right side of the people setting the agenda - the banks that finance the parties, the brands, the blogs, the bands... They're all just guys like me, trying to hawk an idea of cool to people like you, for money. Everybody is guilty. We're just friendly faces painted on the face of dirty money so who cares. - Wil Cook

I don't think more well known artists should be banished from SXSW. It's nice to see the odd "secret gig" announced particularly when it's a large, unexpected act. But SXSW is all about the smaller musicians and their showcases, so that element should try to be preserved the most. - Luke Allen

SXSW is without doubt one of the finest showcases of new, exciting music anywhere in the world. But should big established bands be discouraged, or even banned, from playing? In the spirit of inclusion, the answer must be no. For the festival to retain its current reputation, the onus should be on booking the upcoming artists whom are thought to be future trailblazers in their respect fields. However, hypothetically, if an artist makes their name at the festival, is launched to some kind of superstardom, and then wants to return years later to honour the festival that made them the success they now are, why would you stop them? It's not as simple as 'pleasing the masses' vs 'retaining brand integrity'. If new music is the mission, new music in the answer, no matter what. I would personally say that The Terror was a new musical chapter for the Flaming Lips (who played last year), and those guys are signed to Warner! Fucking sell-outs! - Tom Jowett



No, they shouldn't be allowed:

When does it stop? By having band's cash in on SXSW you're essentially voting 'yes' by enabling the grander issues like the wealth inequality and an impotent mainstream. It's our duty to be elitist when it comes to issues like this. - Oobah Arthur

Like CMJ, SXSW acts as a great showcase for music insiders, enthusiasts and gig-goers as to which new bands are about to break out, or are worth promoting and getting excited about. The number of shows that take place during the event is ridiculous and it's impossible for organisers to cover expenses for bands, instead unlike other festivals performers at SXSW have to cover everything themselves. With larger bands, who let's be honest don't need the attention SXSW provides, snapping up the larger venues and most of the media attention this level of cost is soon going to outweigh the actual benefits of appearing at the event. The film and tech sides of the festival restrict themselves to just the cutting edge, so it's about time the music festival did the same. Or else we'll get a repeat of last year's CMJ, where Arcade Fire's secret gigs resulted in barely any coverage for those who really needed it most. - Robert Whitfield

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't SXSW set up to showcase new and emerging acts? I can understand more established acts playing as a secondary draw, to get more people in to see new music, but surely the objective of the festival is to give wider exposure to new music. Otherwise it feels a bit like the big boys and girls are gazzumping the lesser-known acts. - Nicholas Glover

Isn't the premise of SXSW to expose those who are about to make catastrophic strides in the music game? - Isn't it better to keep the festival as a platform for that, rather than take that element away and be left with a carbon-copy. Music, like all arts is dynamic and generally the people who invest in it look to experience something new, (a sound, a song) which might reach them in a way that nothing else has done before. Keep SXSW nurturing the new, there's always the pyramid stage for the big boys. - Jake Wright

Of course we all want to see Springsteen play in a small room, or Arcade Fire headline a bar - who wouldn't? But major artists get to play on big stages all summer long, adored by thousands, while the up-and-coming acts have to play on the fringes in the middle of the afternoon. Surely the whole point of SXSW is as a showcase, to give bands the chance to play, garner new admirers, and demonstrate their talent? What chance have they got if everyone has fucked off somewhere to watch Springsteen play a bar? - Derek Robertson



Sitting on the Fence (for wussies):

I think it depends on the circumstances. If it is nicely fitted in with a new album release and there for a massive publicity stunt then No. But how do you stop that? The event used to be a showcase of new talent, there was a chance that an Indie would be able to break a new act there but now days, since the internet it's not the same. No one is going there to find the next big thing (really) because chances are everyone knows who the next big thing is and it's rather a case of bands wanting to play it to be seen to be playing it, like Glastonbury or the Great Escape over here. Labels/bands lose money to play there but the acts want to be seen to be playing them. So I guess when the whole thing has just become a massive industry piss up does it matter if bigger acts are there? Probably not. - Kris De Souza

From my point of view it can be both good and bad. Good in that it can take the crowds away from smaller, better shows that some of us want to see. Bad in that obviously it takes that attention away from what SXSW is supposed to be about. Everyone knows that the festival is what it is now, so should the big artists be allowed to play? Yes. But is that what people should really focus their energy on? No. - Alex Vickery



Verdict?

There's one thing we all seem to agree on; SXSW should primarily be about new artists. Even our writers who were ready to go to the mat for big artists at SXSW seemed to be concerned with how it can help out up and comers. No one wanted the big acts to be the festival's main treat; they wanted them to be the bait.

Dozens of SXSW imitations have popped up in light of its success, but none of them have come close to reaching the same levels of success and notoriety. You could credit that to SXSW being the original, but it seems hard to deny that the endless list of big artists willing to show up Austin didn't have at least something to do with SXSW's success. I bet if Lady Gaga stopped by The Great Escape Festival in Brighton this May a lot more people would be back in 2015 hoping to drop lucky.

While it's never quite outgrown its media event status, SXSW attracts people from all over the world. But if you took away those big acts, the festival might soon be in trouble. It could break the illusion and reveal it to be just another sampling of new talent, you don't exactly have to go far to see a bunch of acts you've never heard of after all.

Who are you more likely to drop an insane amount of money and travel half way across the world to see? Bruce Springsteen, or a band who were literally playing in dive bar basement two days before they touched down in Austin? Right now SXSW seems to have an eco-system that works, it has room for a bit of everything. Whether the big acts on the bill are a necessary evil or an added bonus is all a matter of perspective.

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