SXSW 2019: Mission Reports
VMDO staff members, Katie Stewart and Neil Morris, recently attended SXSW in Austin, Texas. At the centre of the trip was VMDO’s first international event, Melbourne Hub at Australia House, a collaboration with Global Victoria, G’day USA and Sounds Australia. Extending a special thanks to Creative Victoria for their ongoing support.
Read on for insight into Katie and Neil’s time at SXSW 2019 as told to Brodie Lancaster.
Melbourne Hub at SXSW 2019
VMDO and Global Victoria presented a day-long celebration of the best in Melbourne music, tech and film at Melbourne Hub, a venue takeover at AUSTRALIA House during SXSW 2019. Featuring performances by Oh Pep!, Two People, Angie McMahon, Mojo Juju, Amyl and the Sniffers (DJ set) and DRMNGNOW (DJ set). Her Sound Her Story featured as a late night film session, with filmmaker Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore present.
Filmed and edited by Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore.
Mission report: Neil Morris at SXSW (Music Business Manager – First Peoples for the VMDO)
Planning for Neil Morris’s trip to SXSW began long before he arrived in Austin. “The way I like to do business is by taking a culture-first approach, and getting the right permissions to do things,” Neil explains.
Priority number one for Neil, who is VMDO’s Music Business Manager – First Peoples, was conferring with indigenous people in Austin to create connections first, and ensuring he proceeded to work on the land of Austin’s first people with their blessing.
“Austin is quite an impacted community in terms of indigenous people,” he explains. “There’s not really a strong traditional custodian group that sits over Austin. There’s different peoples who have come from different communities who now are located there and they’ve got a blessing to be able to do work there.”
Before the Melbourne Hub event commenced, an acknowledgement of country from local first peoples group Great Promise set a powerful tone for the evening. “It was really stunning and beautiful,” Neil remembers. “It was very special to be able to connect with that community of people.”
Land acknowledgements, while gaining in usage across music events in Australia, are far less common in America. “We were the only people that did one at South-by for an event that wasn’t an indigenous-specific event,” Neil says, noting that the welcome to country from Great Promise wound up being his highlight of the event. “So on the one hand it was beautiful for me to experience that, but on the other hand it was sad because it was quite evident that land acknowledgement wasn’t common.”
Great Promise organise a large-scale powwow each year, and offered Neil a warm invite to attend that event, as well as South-by in 2020 and beyond. “Building up all of those networks across Turtle Island is really crucial if we’re going to make it a habit of sending indigenous artists over there,” Neil – who also performs music under the name DRMNGNOW, and DJ’ed at the Melbourne Hub event – explains, using the name indigenous rights activists and many Native Americans and First Nations people use for the land settled as North America.
Neil’s focus during his four days in Austin was on supporting Mojo Juju on her first run of US shows, and analysing the way her work was received far from home. “Mojo had six shows and they were all great. She performed in the central hub of South-by, and at The Jazz Club there which is a really great venue.” At the showcases, Neil says, it was evident that many attendees had, before witnessing Mojo’s unique blend of storytelling and songwriting, never been exposed to stories from indigenous Australia told through music. “I thought that was quite invaluable. These stories are so fascinating and important, not just like a fetished cool thing to hear.”
Neil says he is always on the lookout for the key moments that begin a revolution, and having an artist like Mojo in a space like SXSW has the potential to be the “pebbles thrown in the water that possible begin some sort of revolution in terms of indigenous centrality in the music world. And it means we need to keep sending indigenous artists to these places.”
As his first international mission since taking on the role of Music Business Manager – First Peoples, this trip gave Neil the strong indigenous connections he hoped to bring back, but also reinforced the need to begin forging connections with first nations people at least six months before arriving on their land. “We’re building models for best business practice in how to do this stuff and it’s about setting up the longevity from an ethical standpoint. Without those relationships with First Nations people I don’t see how we can do business in those areas in a way that makes sense, let along on a long-term basis.”
Fine-tuning and sharing a greater ethical way of operating feels like something that can be achieved within the work at the VMDO, Neil offers. “That’s one thing we can do to try to make the music world better as a whole towards indigenous people globally. We have the power to do that with some of the artists we have coming out of this state at the moment.”
Mission report: Katie Stewart at SXSW (Music Business Manager for the VMDO)
With a couple of past trips to Austin for SXSW under her belt, VMDO’s Music Business Manager, Katie Stewart, knew going into her 2019 trip that it was impossible predict what would happen.
The top priority for Katie was to be a source of support for VMDO’s delegates, artist Mojo Juju and manager Mo Komba, who also heads up the label Alt Music Group. “The thing about South-by is that it’s hard to get to really get your head around unless you’ve seen it on the ground,” she says. “When we can give music businesses a bit of a leg up internationally we certainly will do so.” Now that he’s experienced it in-person, Mo will be better served to plan future trips to the conference with his management artists, like rising soul singer Kaiit.
Katie and VMDO’s Music Business Manager – First Peoples, Neil Morris, approached the conference as somewhat of a discovery mission: a way to connect with international peers and see what they could bring back to the VMDO to assist the Victorian music industry so locals can benefit from the networks and knowledge of a global conference like SXSW, without the financial pressure to attend.
“We went to an event put on by Reeperbahn Festival in Germany. Australia is the focus country for this year’s conference in Hamburg,” Katie explains. “I also made a really great connection with someone based in Thailand who is launching a new music conference in Bangkok later this year. And he, like many music professionals these days, wears many hats: he runs a streaming service for Thai-language artists and works across management as well.” Contacts like these are essential, considering connecting with the ASEAN region (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is a key priority for VMDO.
“We attended a bunch of networking events while in Austin. Sounds Australia hosted a luncheon at Australia House, where they brought in primarily American music industry contacts and tried to get ensure everyone really got out of their comfort zones and make new connections there.”
Throughout the chatting and business card-exchanging, Katie says she was keeping track of international guests whose insights and experience could feature on Australian conferences, like CHANGES which enters its second year in July. She also took a lot away from the conference’s keynotes, which included Passport to Music Cities: Music Tourism, a discussion that offered insight on how individuals with great ideas for bringing music tourism to their cities can pitch effectively to their tourism boards. “That was pretty thought-provoking and also a nice timely reminder about all the great things that Melbourne is currently doing.”
At the heart of the trip, though, was VMDO’s first international event, Melbourne Hub at Australia House, a collaboration with Global Victoria, G’day USA and Sounds Australia. In addition to her SXSW showcases, Mojo Juju performed to a rapt crowd at the event. “These were Mojo’s first performances in North America, which was really exciting and we were really proud to support that initial trip over.”
Alongside the music program at Melbourne Hub was a showcase of innovative tech displays, produced by delegates from Global Victoria. “I think more and more SXSW is trying to make connections between the music and tech sides of the conference. We were fortunate to be a part of the story that Melbourne tells on that international stage,” Katie says. “Australia as a whole is certainly starting to tell a lot of a clearer story about who our talent is and where they’re coming from, but I think it was great to have Melbourne as a music city at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of the large portion of creativity coming out of this country.”
The documentary Her Sound Her Story screened internationally for the first time at the Melbourne Hub event, with one of its two filmmakers, Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore, in attendance. “Not only did she show her film overseas for the first time, but she also created some new connections. She ended up doing the screening of Her Sound Her Story in the Live Nation offices in LA after the Southby trip, which was great.”
Watching VMDO’s delegates and the contingent of Victorians at SXSW make strides showed Katie the power in assisting her music community forge those connections. “I’ve been blown away seeing people just do their thing and run their own race. In 6 – 12 months’ time, when we’re finding out what’s come out of these trips that we’ve helped support, I think that will be the real teller of what we achieved.”