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Where buzz is born

Nearly 900 bands in 10 days. It's a techno/funk/ surf/lounge/pop/metal/ grunge/hip-hop/salsa/ roots music showcase like no other.

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Though government-funded agencies – or record labels – often finance a group's trip, not all have such backing. Grulke estimates it can cost $10,000 to $20,000 for a foreign band to get its members and equipment to Austin, promote itself, and stay around long enough to "actually work the event."

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Toni Pedecine, who represents SXSW Asia and Japan Nite, says Asian bands, like all "baby bands," have paid the demanding rock 'n' roll dues of cramming hotel rooms and skipping meals. She says they might receive some help from a record label, but raise much of the cash themselves.

Coming to SXSW helps them gain confidence, she notes. They also have been heavily influenced by American rock music, "[So] it's like coming to find your roots."

Grulke's not sure that's a good thing.

"The music that they're performing is really American music," he observes. "And they want to promote that at South By Southwest." He's sympathetic, but says he believes music that reflects an act's homeland resonates more with audiences and is more interesting artistically.

"As consumers, I don't think Americans are particularly going to want to seek out a rock band just because [it's] from abroad," he says.

Grulke doesn't advocate government support for American bands. He says he's seen many cases in which such support translates into mediocrity because an artist has to worry about being inoffensive and politically correct.

"Part of the reason why American music, in particular, has been so successful across the world is because it's been created in an atmosphere that wasn't a state-friendly environment for this kind of thing."

In other words, without the stamp of government approval, the music can be more daring and therefore more exciting.

Along with Petty Booka and Kinky, several other international bands generated serious buzz at SXSW, including Britain's Elbow and Sweden's The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Australia's Kasey Chambers was a huge hit last year, and Grulke lists Ireland's David Gray and England's Bush and Elastica as acts that have used SXSW "as part of an overall promotional effort."

A good showing at SXSW won't make an artist famous, he notes. But it certainly can help.

Just like their American counterparts, foreign artists try to perform at as many SXSW showcases as possible. Also like their US counterparts, they represent a broad spectrum of musical categories – rock, pop, hip-hop, heavy metal, and electronica.

Among the 11 bands listed on Export Music Sweden's SXSW showcase schedule were the Jack Brothers, who describe their music as "sax-based folk-punk rock with a smattering of tender jazz ballads."

British acid-house DJs Oxide & Neutrino are called "ambassadors of the new garage underground" in a booklet titled "UKsxsw2002," a compendium of information about every British delegate, artist, company, and showcase at SXSW.

Ed Harcourt, a Briton signed to Capitol Records who made his American debut at this year's SXSW, says he went because "it's a promotional thing. Hopefully, it made a few people sit up and take notice ... that there's a songwriter who's from England who's a bit different from everyone else.

"Also," he added, "it's just this amazing festival.... If someone says, 'You're going to Austin to have four days of wonderful experiences,' then I'm definitely not going to turn it down. I had a great time."

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