The Brits are here and they have a visa to party
For 51 weeks out of the year, Latitude 30 is a fairly typical downtown bar near the corner of East Sixth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard that caters to the beautiful and untested, with DJs pumping out the dance hits. But this week it will see a spike in skinny-leg black jeans as the club is transformed into the British Music Embassy, with live music almost around the clock from 66 acts from the British Isles.
England alone is bringing 119 acts to SXSW, the most by any foreign country.
Organized and funded by the British Music Partnership, whose core organizations include the United Kingdom Trade and Investment department of the British government, the Embassy is a favorite stop for SXSW badgeholders who want to see, hear and meet musicians and business professionals from across the pond in one stop.
"We realized early on that to achieve our goals of helping to develop the U.K. music industry internationally we had to keep one step ahead of the competition," says Phil Patterson of UKTI, who leads the British delegation to SXSW. "Every detail from the design of the brochure, posters, convention stand and venue (inside and out), tech crew and production, artists and presenters are all delivered with this in mind."
This year, Canada, which will bring 111 acts to SXSW, will host a similar headquarters above the Paradise restaurant at Sixth and Trinity streets. Canada House, partially underwritten as a cultural export tool by the Canadian government, will pump out the live music every day from noon to 6 p.m. Like the Embassy, it's open only to those who sent in their RSVPs.
Patterson says work on the Embassy, now in its third year at SXSW, began nine months ago when sponsor partners were brought aboard. The British government, which counts more than 157,000 businesses related to music in the U.K., subsidizes the efforts through such funding partners as the Association of Independent Music and the Performing Rights Society. The Embassy also gets money from nations within the U.K., including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
"Many of the artists appearing over the week have received support in different ways," Patterson says. Some receive government funding to defray expenses, but all receive advice and guidance from the professionals involved, "to make the most of the great opportunity that SXSW gives them," Patterson says.
The transformation began last week when the white exterior was painted black, silver and blue.
The sound system, provided by sponsors Capitol Sound and Cato Music, was lugged in Sunday . Music at the Embassy kicked off last night with scheduled performances by Billy Bragg and others.
"The artists receive the best equipment and crew," Patterson says, "because we believe that if they are happy they tend to give a better performance and then the audience enjoys the experience more and so it goes on."
Since the nascent days of the Beatles and Stones, rock music has been Britain's barrels of crude oil, and the government understands that and nurtures its up-and-coming talent at SXSW.
Latitude 30 owner Ahmad Kalantar, who hosted several day parties for the Brits in the years before the embassy, said he and his staff look forward to having their club taken over by the pale patrol.
"For our small club, with under 300 capacity, to be a part of such a huge event is very exciting," said Kalantar, who deals with SXSW's official production company High Beam, and not the British Music Partnership. "It's all so professionally done and it's fun to see a different clientele than we're used to."
This is the week "Omigod!" is replaced by "Oi!" as the most-heard exclamation.
A global SXSW
England is sending more acts, 119, to SXSW than any of the other 54 foreign countries. Here's where the rest of the 560 plus international acts are from:
New Zealand 11
China (including Hong Kong) 7
Northern Ireland 3
With two acts:Faroe Islands, Finland, Latvia, Malaysia, Singapore, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Venezuela
Sending one act:Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Greenland, Hungary, Jamaica, South Korea, Lebanon, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Uganda, Uruguay, Zimbabwe