Detroit was rockin’ in Austin for this year’s South By Southwest- Oakland Press
Detroiter Lin-say sings at a performance in My Hotel Room. Courtesy Make Science Sexy/North Star MediaCourtesy Make Science Sexy/North Star Media
By Gary Graff, The Oakland Press
AUSTIN, Texas >> Music is everywhere at the annual South By Southwest conferences.
Thousands of troubadours and bands play on street corners, in parks and parking lots, atop buildings, even in public restrooms. Traditional venues, too, including small bars, the large-scale Auditorium Shores outside park and even churches in downtown Austin host shows.
Yorg Kerasiotis’ chosen venue, however, was a hotel room.
The Royal Oak leader of the Detroit band Flashclash and owner of the Make Science Sexy record label partnered with Bloomfield Hills-based North Star Media to set up at a Radisson hotel, near the Austin Convention Center — SXSW’s nerve center — where he spent four days filming about 15 acts and streaming their performances. They’re now on the new MyHotelRoom.rocks website.
“It seemed like all the deals and everything that ever happened at SXSW usually happened in hotel rooms,” Kerasiotis explains. “There’d be meetings or artists would have their acoustic (guitar) or something and playing for big wigs in the hotel rooms, just a couple songs to show they could sing.
“And at SXSW, everything’s so frantic people never really see your set. It seems like there’s never any real time for a band to show off what they have. So I thought wouldn’t it be nice in the middle of all that chaos if we could get a band in the (hotel room), give them three hours to chill, hang out, do business calls and film them … and do it right.”
My Hotel Room co-sponsor Dragon Frontboards created a custom backdrop for the performances, which, along with state-of-the-art audio-visual gear, gave the videos a professional look. “When people walk in they felt like they were in this beautiful, awesome venue,” Kerasiotis says. “It made all of these groups look like they were THE band, the biggest band at South By.
“There was an overwhelming feel of, ‘This sounds amazing. It looks so beautiful.’ The feeling was so chill. It felt like this is why we do music in the first place, and we haven’t felt like this in a long time.”
In exchange for their performances and rights to show them on the site, the bands — which included Flashclash and fellow Detroiters Lin-say, Ali Flo and Jerome Joyce from Dubphonics, as well as groups from as far away as Greece (My Excuse) and Australia (Goodbye Motel) — also get copies of the videos to use for their own purposes. Meanwhile, North Star Media, which specializes in music rights management for films, TV shows and ads, is adding the groups to its talent pool for future placements.
“We’re always looking for new music and new artists,” says David Brisbois, North Star’s chief information officer. “We work with every style, every genre, the more the merrier. This lets us hear and find bands and music that might not come to us otherwise, just because everybody’s down here at South By Southwest.”
Kerasiotis hopes My Hotel Room will thrive beyond the SXSW sessions. Next year in Austin, certainly, perhaps even showcasing acts in front of audiences. But Kerasiotis hopes for more hotel room performances to add to the site before that.
“We’re thinking we could go to all these different festivals, like Bonnaroo and Coachella and Lollapalooza, and do this,” he says. “Or why don’t we do this at home, too? We can find a loft space or something and have people play there. There are lots of possibilities we’re exploring now.”
My Hotel Room was just one part of the Michigan presence at SXSW. Other notable initiatives included:
• A consortium of 12 sponsors banded together for the Creative Many Michigan House, an installation in bucolic East Austin, far from the center of SXSW, designed to promote the state’s arts, culture, food and products.
“It became a place where conversations could happen between people from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing who might not otherwise connect,” says Ted Velie, co-founder of Middle West, which helped curate and organize Michigan House.
Decked out with Michigan furniture and art and serving Faygo soft drinks and beer from Atwater and Founders breweries, the Michigan House hosted a variety of event for four days. Opportunity Detroit presented a concert featuring Detroit acts Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Charity and MPV on March 16, while the law firm Clark Hill PLC hosted a panel discussion and the Grand Rapids jukebox company AMI Entertainment had a happy hour. Ryan Gosling stopped by one day to talk about “Lost River,” which he filmed in Detroit and debuted at the SXSW Film Festival.
“The cool thing about South By is you get a crowd down there of creative people from all over the place, all located in one spot, so it gave us a chance to exchange a lot of ideas and put Michigan’s best foot forward on that stage,” explains Velie, who drove a 26-foot truck filled with Michigan items to Austin — and says he’ll likely do the same next year.
The sponsors, including Southfield-based Doner advertising agency, Meijer and Mophie, “were really, really happy with the way things went,” Velie says, adding, “Someone said it felt like it was summertime and we were in Northern Michigan at a house party. It’ll be a challenge to keep that kind of feel and maybe grow a little bit at the same time.”
• West Bloomfield-based rapper Big Sean — still buzzing after the No. 1 debut of his third album, “Dark Sky Paradise” — flew the Detroit flag at Roc Nation’s Raptor House, the mtvU Woodie Awards and a surprise show at the Fader Fort, where he was joined by rap legend E-40. His buddy and Birmingham Groves High School grad Mike Posner previewed songs slated for his next album — including one called “Buried in Detroit” — during an official showcase and a mid-day brunch sponsored by his new label, Island Records.
Also on hand were DeJ Loaf, Black Milk and Boldy James, Jamaican Queens, Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers and another Groves grad, electronic artist GRiZ.
• The mostly Macomb County-based Flint Eastwood played five times in Austin, including special sessions for Daytrotter and for ArtPrize at the Michigan House. But none was an official SXSW showcase.
After being invited to appear at a March 15 festival in Lufkin, Texas, the rock group decided to head to Austin as well and make a little noise with the SXSW crowd. They were Flint Eastwood’s first performances south of Ohio, and manager Nate Dorough says it was a productive trip.
“We’ve had a lot of people wanting to see this band, industrywise, for a long time,” Dorough says. “We had some great meetings, met a lot of cool people, ate a lot of great barbecue.”