Without question, 2013 marked dance music's biggest year at SXSW. Richie Hawtin lamented the rise of EDM with deadmau5, newcomers like Baauer, Disclosure and Bondax were seemingly everywhere, the latter acts leading a veritable UK invasion flanked by Scottish legends Optimo, Glaswegian label NMBRS, London's Night Slugs, Resident Advisor and a Boiler Room lineup starring Skream, Mount Kimbie and more.
Electronic music was relatively ubiquitous this year, from lunchtime boat cruises and after-hours mansion parties thrown by Skrillex's OWSLA label, to acid house raves set in a squat under the interstate. The sheer number of dance-related events last week spoke both to the music's popularity and relevance at SXSW. The question remains as to whether SXSW cares.
In 2007, virtually every unofficial late night SXSW event was shut down by the fire marshal due to permit issues, inspiring a whirlwind of conspiracy rumors about last-minute regulation changes. And, while there have certainly been considerable improvements since then, 2013 still left much to be desired.
"I think that SXSW has, since the mess of 2007, been trying to figure out exactly what to do with dance music and its placement at the festival," Austin promoter and DJ/producer Ian Orth tells Spinner. "For so long, the dance music world has been viewed as the rogue group, hellbent on throwing unofficial late night events, and trying to buck the SXSW system, while in return, people within the dance music world viewed SXSW as having a totalitarian strong hold on Austin."
Watch Richie Hawtin and deadmau5 Perform Together at SXSW 2013
Austin is a rock city. Heavy pours, beards, tattoos -- it looks like a metal show, sounds like a dive bar. However, given EDM's current stature, it can be expected that electronic music's presence at SXSW will only continue to increase, so how can dance be successfully incorporated into a framework that historically favors bands?
Orth suggests that the deep pockets of the tech firms at Interactive should unite with Music's rabid fanbase to create a division of SXSW dedicated solely to dance and electronic events.
"What eventually will need to happen is that SXSW [must] evolve into creating something like SXSW Dance, which will be the perfect bridge between the SXSW Interactive and Music portions of the festival," Orth suggests. "It could be a really amazing moment when that happens. The foresight is there, the interest is there, the fans definitely want it -- it's just a matter of the two sides working together, putting egos, overblown fees, artist limitations, and traditions to the side."
The responsibility to improve SXSW's electronic events, according to Orth, appears to lie on both sides of the dance floor, however.
"To make this work, the up-and-coming electronic/dance DJ/Producer -- and more to the fact their booking agents -- need to understand they're not going to get their normal fees, and that's OK because they will get a chance to play in front of thousands of U.S. fans," he explains.
"That said, SXSW needs to then realize that to make this work, official artists need to have the ability to play more than one official showcase during their time in Austin, and they need the freedom to play at whatever time. That didn't seem to be as much of an issue this year as in years past, and hopefully this is the beginning of a new trend with the way they handle their bookings. This year definitely proves that there are enough fans around to guarantee multiple official plays will have decent attendance numbers."
Orth's suggestion sounds promising, as would a dedicated dance "area," with nightly showcases by various labels, brands and sites, as we began to see emerge this year.
In order to win over new fans, which is what SXSW is about to a large degree, the acts deserve an opportunity to represent their talents in the correct light. It is difficult to impress on dance skeptics why DJs like Carl Craig, Harvey or Ben Klock are so revered for their (vastly different) selections and ability to build and extend a vibe, when venues, set times, sound systems and performance lengths at the dance events they do attend are dicey.
"If it's done right, something like SXSW Dance could really become a huge thing for everybody," Orth concludes. "It seems like it's on its way, and I'm confident that it's only going to get bigger. Whether it gets better is up to SXSW, the artists, the agents and the fans."
Watch Classixx Perform at SXSW 2013
Check Out Spinner's SXSW Instagram Takeovers