Rachael Ray, right, greets CeeLo Green onstage at her Feedback Party during the SXSW Music Festival on March 15, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Jack Plunkett / Invision / AP
Rachael Ray, right, greets CeeLo Green onstage at her Feedback Party during the SXSW Music Festival on March 15, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Jack Plunkett / Invision / AP

Corporate capital, a new South by Southwest paradigm



Rapper ScHoolboy Q had a great time at his first South By Southwest a few years ago, but found himself getting angry this year as he played a series of shows at the annual music conference and festival.

Everywhere he turned, his fans were standing outside venues festooned with corporate branding, unable to enter because they didn’t have a formal invite.

“It’s stupid. They changed it all up. It’s corporate,” he said as he prepared for a show. “I don’t ever want to come back unless they change it to where the fans are in. I’m tired of performing and seeing my fans outside the gate. ... That’s not fair. It’s not about the fans no more, it’s all about money, who can give you the best look.”

As South By Southwest shuttered its 28th year, participants debated the growing corporate influence on the conference. Critics say SXSW has evolved past its core mission: to help new bands get discovered. Instead, they say, the media focus has shifted to already-established stars such as Jay Z, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, CeeLo Green, Rick Ross, Keith Urban and many more whose heavily promoted appearances are underwritten by international brands.

It’s poor vs. the 1 per cent in miniature, and this change in vibe is relatively new. Even those who’ve found the spotlight before say it’s getting harder to break through.

“This South By feels different for us,” said Adam Thompson, singer-guitarist for Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks, which made its fourth appearance at the festival. “It does feel like the first two were amazing to help us play shows and get people to notice us. Even stupid stuff like our name was funny, so people would come see us.

“We just came off the back of a really nice tour with some nice venues, and now we’re sort of thrown off the deep end. Sometimes you’re thinking, ‘I’d like to play in a nice club with a soundcheck instead of not being able to hear ... on stage.”’

An hour later, the band had technical and sound troubles after hastily assembling its gear, but left the venue with a few more fans by powering through their fourth of five sets in three days.

We Were Promised Jetpacks’ experience was far different from the major pop stars, who starred at some of Austin’s nicest venues with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

James Minor, general manager of the music portion of the festival, says he still thinks the focus is aimed at discovery, and that organisers are sensitive to groups most music fans have yet to hear about.

“I feel incredibly responsible for all these acts that we invite because it costs a lot of money to get here,” Minor said. “If somebody’s going to travel to Austin, you want to make sure that they’re playing in front of people, that they’re going to get something out of South By Southwest. We invite acts we feel have already gained some kind of momentum that could kind of use the festival as a platform to help them up to the next level.”

The initial hurdle is the festival’s sheer popularity. It has grown exponentially since it first started in 1987 with 177 acts appearing on 15 stages. This year more than 2,300 acts performed on 111 stages.

Where should a journalist put the emphasis: On bands that generate thousands of clicks or a little bit of buzz?

“That’s an easy choice to make,” Minor said. “It’s a journalist’s responsibility to do what needs to be done, to go see those young bands and help them out.”

Lady Gaga, who played a Doritos-sponsored event that required entrants to perform certain acts and post them to social media, bristled at the idea that corporate sponsorship is a bad thing, dismissing the complaints with an expletive. She said critics were ignorant of the current state of the music business.

“The truth is without sponsorship, without these companies coming together to help us, we won’t have any more artists in Austin, we won’t have any festivals because record labels don’t have any (expletive) money,” she said.

The new, corporate-fuelled reality at SXSW has many rethinking the approach. Jim Merlis, a publicist who represents several bands in attendance, counsels managers to skip the conference unless they have something worth paying attention to.

“My advice is what you can’t do is start a spark at South By Southwest,” he said. “You better have the spark already there, and if you pour a little gasoline on it the spark will make a fire. If you have nothing going on, if you’re between albums, if you’re about to release an album and you’re a brand new band and you’ve never really been written up anywhere, then don’t go.”

Even with something to pitch it can be risky: “You could be playing against some really big stars and you’re just not going to be heard. It’s always a risk, there’s very few absolute slam dunks.”

Aloe Blacc, who sings the hit “The Man,” had one of those slam-dunk experiences this year, but he’s been on the other side of the equation, too.

“South By Southwest is boom or bust, and you can be on either side of the moon, seriously,” Blacc said. “I’ve seen it and I don’t envy the bands who spend their last dollar to get here and play for no one.

“At the same time, everybody’s got to take a chance to get exposure and if you come to South By, come with a plan about how you’re going to be noticed. Otherwise you can be noticed at home.”

The line up

Friday: Giggs, Sho Madjozi and Masego  

Saturday: Nas, Lion Bbae, Roxanne Shante and DaniLeigh  

Sole DXB runs from December 6 to 8 at Dubai Design District. Weekend pass is Dh295 while a one day pass is Dh195. Tickets are available from www.soledxb.com

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

SPECS

Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbo
Power: 630hp
Torque: 850Nm
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic
Price: From Dh599,000
On sale: Now

Bullet Train

Director: David Leitch
Stars: Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Sandra Bullock
Rating: 3/5

THE FLASH

Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Sasha Calle, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller
Rating: 3/5

The bio:

Favourite film:

Declan: It was The Commitments but now it’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Heidi: The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Favourite holiday destination:

Declan: Las Vegas but I also love getting home to Ireland and seeing everyone back home.

Heidi: Australia but my dream destination would be to go to Cuba.

Favourite pastime:

Declan: I love brunching and socializing. Just basically having the craic.

Heidi: Paddleboarding and swimming.

Personal motto:

Declan: Take chances.

Heidi: Live, love, laugh and have no regrets.

 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

As You Were

Liam Gallagher

(Warner Bros)

Some of Darwish's last words

"They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope." - Mahmoud Darwish, to attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature, 2008

His life in brief: Born in a village near Galilee, he lived in exile for most of his life and started writing poetry after high school. He was arrested several times by Israel for what were deemed to be inciteful poems. Most of his work focused on the love and yearning for his homeland, and he was regarded the Palestinian poet of resistance. Over the course of his life, he published more than 30 poetry collections and books of prose, with his work translated into more than 20 languages. Many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers, most significantly Marcel Khalife. Darwish died on August 9, 2008 after undergoing heart surgery in the United States. He was later buried in Ramallah where a shrine was erected in his honour.

WWE Super ShowDown results

Seth Rollins beat Baron Corbin to retain his WWE Universal title

Finn Balor defeated Andrade to stay WWE Intercontinental Championship

Shane McMahon defeated Roman Reigns

Lars Sullivan won by disqualification against Lucha House Party

Randy Orton beats Triple H

Braun Strowman beats Bobby Lashley

Kofi Kingston wins against Dolph Zigggler to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Mansoor Al Shehail won the 50-man Battle Royal

The Undertaker beat Goldberg

 

Sweet Tooth

Creator: Jim Mickle
Starring: Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Stefania LaVie Owen
Rating: 2.5/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

The Roundup

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Ma Dong-seok, Sukku Son, Choi Gwi-hwa
Rating: 4/5

57 Seconds

Director: Rusty Cundieff
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Morgan Freeman, Greg Germann, Lovie Simone
Rating: 2/5

Company Profile

Name: Raha
Started: 2022
Based: Kuwait/Saudi
Industry: Tech Logistics
Funding: $14 million
Investors: Soor Capital, eWTP Arabia Capital, Aujan Enterprises, Nox Management, Cedar Mundi Ventures
Number of employees: 166

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Essentials

The flights
Emirates, Etihad and Malaysia Airlines all fly direct from the UAE to Kuala Lumpur and on to Penang from about Dh2,300 return, including taxes. 
 

Where to stay
In Kuala Lumpur, Element is a recently opened, futuristic hotel high up in a Norman Foster-designed skyscraper. Rooms cost from Dh400 per night, including taxes. Hotel Stripes, also in KL, is a great value design hotel, with an infinity rooftop pool. Rooms cost from Dh310, including taxes. 


In Penang, Ren i Tang is a boutique b&b in what was once an ancient Chinese Medicine Hall in the centre of Little India. Rooms cost from Dh220, including taxes.
23 Love Lane in Penang is a luxury boutique heritage hotel in a converted mansion, with private tropical gardens. Rooms cost from Dh400, including taxes. 
In Langkawi, Temple Tree is a unique architectural villa hotel consisting of antique houses from all across Malaysia. Rooms cost from Dh350, including taxes.

Pakistanis at the ILT20

The new UAE league has been boosted this season by the arrival of five Pakistanis, who were not released to play last year.

Shaheen Afridi (Desert Vipers)
Set for at least four matches, having arrived from New Zealand where he captained Pakistan in a series loss.

Shadab Khan (Desert Vipers)
The leg-spin bowling allrounder missed the tour of New Zealand after injuring an ankle when stepping on a ball.

Azam Khan (Desert Vipers)
Powerhouse wicketkeeper played three games for Pakistan on tour in New Zealand. He was the first Pakistani recruited to the ILT20.

Mohammed Amir (Desert Vipers)
Has made himself unavailable for national duty, meaning he will be available for the entire ILT20 campaign.

Imad Wasim (Abu Dhabi Knight Riders)
The left-handed allrounder, 35, retired from international cricket in November and was subsequently recruited by the Knight Riders.

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2


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