FILTER Creative Group as Cultural Liaisons at SXSW 2013

filter 150And next thing we knew we were interviewing Alan Miller, co-Founder of FILTER Creative Group and co-Publisher for FILTER Magazine on that very conversation.

Maclemore
Macklemore, photo: C. Daniel
see the complete photo gallery at the end of this article

How is your SXSW going?” a local Austinite was asked, “you must not be from Aus-” “IT’S THE BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE!!!” interrupted another, Sarah, an aspiring singer from Colorado who overheard the question and excitingly blurted her answer. Turns out people who came to SXSW with agendas bothered the local. Many confuse South By Southwest with open-field music festivals such as Coachella or Woodstock where hundreds of bands perform over a few days – one ticket for all performances. While a free spirit and love for music is welcomed and flourished, what generates the volume at SXSW internationally is the business behind what we love so much.  Lovers of music may see an overwhelming amount of marketing verticals in Austin during the week and cringe while thinking corporate bad…. indie good, however, by digging a little deeper, without the efforts of those marketers and agencies we would not have the means to discover incredible music.

Early 2007, before attending my first SXSW, a friend sent an email that simply read: “RSVP for FILTER.” Without knowing what to expect, the RSVP was casted and by Wednesday night of SXSW our FILTER wristbands were picked up from Cedar Street in Austin, TX. FILTER showcased a handful of the best bands and definitely where you wanted to be during the week. I have stood in every possible place of Cedar Street to catch bands; way in the back, practically on the street, inside the bar with only a tiny view of the stage, in the middle of the crowd seeing over heads and most recently up on the balcony as press.

Alan Miller and Alan Sartirana founded FILTER Magazine in 2002, yet their parent Creative Group, which existed before then, started doing showcases in Austin for SXSW shortly after the release of their first issue. Also around this time was beginning of the shift from major labels as artist developers and big sources of funding for bands, which opened up a new financial source; brands. Although other agencies jumped onboard, FILTER reinvented the game by seeking branding partners that are relevant to users of music and working closely with them and their market to create strong synergy between music, events, culture and their product, thus an incredible event that further developed the careers of the band in conjunction with the product they were paired with; both the brand and the band finding equable successes.

A long time friend of mine and owner at Big Hassle Media, Jim Merlis, once said to me “in the 90s, {record} labels had personalities.”   If you were a band you would want to be signed by a certain label based on their personality. Today, each label is a hodgepodge of acts because they are in the business of signing acts that will sell, regardless of their style (luckily indies enveloped within that realm). FILTER events at SXSW create just that kind of nostalgic yet ever-lasting progressive experience. 

This year, FILTER stepped into groundbreaking SXSW territory by co-presenting “Filter on Rainey” Powered by Tumblr, introducing the first-ever branded street officially sanctioned by SXSW, including spaces for marketing partners such as Dr. Martens, Dickies, Macy’s, American Rag, Slacker Radio, and Absolut. Each partner set up individualized pop up hubs on the street and within each show. Some of the headlining acts included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Cold War Kids, Talib Kweli, Fitz and the Tantrums, The Joy Formidable and others.

The massive block party on Rainey Street extended to four days and into four different venues all within a few blocks from each other (with the exception of Cedar Street): 

WEDNESDAY

Bar 96 – Kim Janssen, Pace-Shifters, The Black Atlantic, Bombay Show Pig, Trauma-Helikopter, Jacco Gardner, Blaudzun with Dutch Impact Dutch Performing Arts, Eurosonic, Noorderslag, Amsterdam Dance Event, Filter Magazine and Planetary Group, Powered by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Buma Cultuur
Clive Bar – The Neighbourhood, Blondfire, Guards, Akron/Family, Lord Huron, K.I.D.S, Willy Moon, Michael Kiwanuka, Cold War Kids with dts and Slacker
Lustre Pearl – The Wild Feathers, Solid Gold, In the Valley Below,!!! with Macbeth Footwear

THURSDAY

Bar 96 – Airplane Boys, Gemini Club, The Thermals, Surfer Blood, Caveman, Hunters, Flat Bush Zombies, A$AP Ferg, Killer Mike with Dr. Martens 
Cedar Street – Sóley, Ásgeir Trausti, Ólafur Arnalds, Bastille, Charli XCX, Willy Moon, Shout Out Louds, Local Natives with American Rag
Clive Bar – Allah-Lahs, Tijuana Panthers, Superhumanoids, Badbadnotgood, Bass Drum of Death, Hanni El Khatib, Icky Blossoms (right), Sinkane, Delorean, !!! with dts and Slacker
Lustre Pearl – Generationals, Diamond Rings, St. Lucia, Icona Pop, Big K.R.I.T, Big Black Delta, Toro Y Moi with DickiesIcky Blossoms2

FRIDAY

Bar 96 – No, Bleeding Rainbow, White Lung, Bleached, Phosphorescent, Metz, King Tuff, Wavves with Dr. Martens
Cedar Street – NP, Kamp! Brodka, Haerts, St. Lucia, Ms Mr, Wild Belle, The Neighbourhood, Haim with American Rag
Clive Bar – Ra Ra Riot, Shout Out Louds, Peace, Ducktails, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Andrew W.K. Vacationer, Fidlar, Kitten with GAP & Tumblr
Lustre Pearl – No Ceremony, Gold Fields, Young Galaxy, Frightened Rabbit, Small Black, DiiV, The Joy Formidable, Fitz and the Tantrums with Dickies

SATURDAY

Cedar Street – Mikhael Paskalev, Heyerdahl, Young Dreams, IO Echo, San Cisco, K.I.D.S, Wildcat! Wildcat! Surfer Blood with American Rag
Clive Bar – Thee Oh Sees, Natural Child, Nobunny, Papa, Summer Twins with Brixton
Lustre Pearl – Bear Mountain, Toy, Poolside, Talib Kweli with Dickies

Thursday night on the back porch of Lustre Pearl, a conversation between a buzzed dude and a very informed Holly Gray, marketing for FILTER, was overheard, “it seems these are all corporate parties…. where are the indie bands?” (Wondering where he got that notion considering a handful of bands performing were in fact independent) and after a few more questions he claimed, “really I’m just a writer too and want to do what you do.” Gray was gracious enough to answer his questions, in which we listened, introduced ourselves, and next thing we knew we were interviewing Alan Miller, co-Founder of FILTER Creative Group and co-Publisher for FILTER Magazine on that very conversation; bands, brands, culture and how FILTER is right in the middle of it all.

Interview between Alan Miller of FILTER and Nicole Taher, Chris Renteria on behalf of PLAYBACK:stl at Clive Bar in Austin, TX (March 16, 2013). 

NT: I remember when the event used to be just FILTER at Cedar Street, and now it’s four venues, over one-hundred bands, your own block party, it’s really awesome to see what you guys are doing, can you talk about that?

AM: I think it’s really important because, I personally don’t want to be on 6th street anymore, I don’t want to fight drunk people to get to the shows I want to see, I’m not here to see the biggest bands in the world, I think the beauty of South By (SXSW) and what we do here, and our events around the year is about discovering new bands and having opportunities to see things in environments that are comfortable and friendly, and not on the biggest stage with the most people. By working with SXSW and the brands, we have created some strong experiences.

NT: I’ve also been out to Culture Collide in LA, which is really exciting

AM: Culture collide is a labor of love, we’ve been going to SXSW for 20 years, where you canfilter 225 stumble into a place and see a band from Ireland and love and you’ve never heard of them…that’s what we wanted culture collide to be, what SXSW was originally for us, the countries have been very supportive, we had 20 countries come out last year and a lot of those bands are really big now and their first show was at Culture Collide, so that’s been great to see. 

CR: When we walk up to Rainey Street there is a vibe, it’s a different world than on 6th, we want to stay here, how do you create that? 

AM: Thank you, that’s really nice to hear.  The culture of our company from top down is to work with people, artists and other industry that are passionate about what they do, work really hard, who are super honest and treat people with respect. We don’t believe in working with disrespectful people who aren’t in it for the right reasons. It’s music, it should be fun, exciting, passionate, and everything should be inspiring, if it’s not inspiring we’re doing something wrong.

NT: Good music will prevail, right? 

AM: Good music will always prevail. That seems to be coming true.  As we started the magazine 11 years ago at that time, every magazine cover had Britney Spears, boy bands, it was like whoa, what happened to the good music, it was a scary time. There really wasn’t a place, or culture or an outlet that was catering to talented artists and musicians, that’s where we came with the slogan because over the years we’ve seen good artists and musicians prevailing because it is true; good music always prevails

NT: I believe that FILTER is responsible for making music accessible again, I come from a major label background, from a time that music was so far away and untouchable for fans, and users of music are now able to touch it again with print, and your events, you can be close to the bands, touch the products, be photographed, tweet it to yourself, you have made everything accessible again

AM: Well we certainly try, and because we are not owned by anybody, we have the opportunity to do what we like, we put the really weird abstract images or choose what our next cover will be, because we don’t care if we sell an extra million magazines, there isn’t a corporate pressure to do that, and hopefully that integrity, carries out to people and they like what we like, but it is a challenging market right now, we hope people will respect what we do, read through it and be inspired by what we put out. 

CR: We both have a very different dynamic, I like to read on my iPad and Nicole likes to read physical magazines, how do tap into the digital market while maintaining the soul of print?

AM: This year we have a much bigger focus on digital, new site, redesigned newsletter, this whole week is presented by Tumblr, our Tumblr audience is through the roof, hopefully we can speak to digital and bring more audiences around…it’s a good medium. 

NT: What are you the most excited about for the future of FILTER?

AM: I love Culture Collide, it’s sort of the anti-festival, we see a ton of festivals and for us it’s like ‘oh cool another big stage to see a million bands,’ to me that’s a nightmare, with Culture Collide we offer 85 incredible bands from around the world for twenty-dollar wristbands, at small venues like The Echo in Echo Park, CA.

NT: I would imagine then, that all these bands are developing relationships and asking each other to tour together and FILTER is kind of the link between creating relationships and culture and art

AM: That’s the goal and that is awesome to see it actually happening I love being able to open people’s eyes and ears to new things, and allow them to experience culture. We are travel geeks, we love going to other countries and when we see a great band we tell them they must come to LA to play Culture Collide, and next thing you know you see that happening, you really see a lot of art being created at SXSW and Culture Collide.

CR: The best shows we’ve seen have been on Rainey Street at the FILTER shows.  How do you guys select the acts for each show? 

AM: It’s important to us to find artists that reflect our sponsors’ aesthetic, so, for Brixton today, we say “who do you want to perform your show, who’s your dream list, what are you about?” and we work with them on getting as many of those bands to make that possible, some brands are like aren’t as knowledgeable so we help them, some brands are like ‘oh my god it would be amazing to get Killer Mike for our show, it’s like a puzzle and when it works it’s GREAT. We had 128 bands this week, when the bands and sponsors are happy and seeing it happen it’s really cool

CR: Sponsors stepped up &  in where Labels dropped off, right?

AM: As an agency it’s very important for us to create strategy for brands, we see them as labels, to take what they have and support real artists and give that back to them, that’s the best thing we can do. The goal is to bring bands to them and it aligns with who they are, and helps artists take their career to a new level. I think we see that a lot now, and we see that brands are open to that now, it’s not about ‘I want to sponsor your show’ and walk away, it’s about creating a relationship and seeing what everyone’s goals are and how everyone can help each other. We never hear bands say ‘I don’t want to play that show,’ we hear ‘I love what they’re doing, we love them, how can we make that happen,’ when an artist and brands have communities come together, it’s awesome.

NT: Kind of reminds me how {record} labels used to have personalities and you guys are creating that, here the Brixton showcase has more beach friendly acts

AM: Yeah and it’s like I want to go work for Geffen Records because they have Peter Gabriel….it is true they had personalities and you bought into them because of those personalities in the same way you buy Dickies, or Dr. Martens because their brand has a personality. You love what they’re about, and in that sense they should have a very strong opinion about music much like labels do, it’s their say, they tell us who they want and we it’s our job to make that happen by finding incredible bands. And because they have strong opinions, it’s what makes these events so successful.

Alan Miller informed us, as an agency, FILTER ties the gap between bands, fans and relevant products; each artist is hand selected by FILTER or the sponsor to create an incredible event. What you experience is culture, art, and communities coming together to offer attendees something special aside from live music – photo booths staged with Dr. Martens, a screen printing station offering free posters from the events, t-shirts, and other treats.  The synergy yet continues beyond the event; two bands, Gemini Club (who performed at SXSW) and School of Seven Bells (at Culture Collide) are featured in Dr. Marten’s A Band is Born web series brought to life by FILTER Creative group, which “celebrates and supports those who creatively embrace individual style and united spirit” says publicist for FILTER Creative Group & Magazine Alyssa Jones.  Additionally, the campaign continued to the grand opening of a Dr. Martens store in which School of Seven Bells headlined.

What our buzzed buddy did not realize is the relationship between these brands and artists is almost identical to the relationships between major record labels and bands in the 60s-early 90s; labels were committed to seeing bands flourish; acts were invested in, developed, tested within their market, allowing artists to mature their craft naturally without added pressure. In fact, marketers with a music strategy consider SXSW a prime destination for exposure.   
Corporate (brands) when they’re cool, are very very cool to indie bands, without them it would be hard to discover great new bands.

A Tweeter for @SPINsxsw said after the week, “Rainey Street is awesome. Much prefer it to 6th Street” as an ode to the SXSW sanctioned FILTER block party on Rainey powered by Tumblr. It is true, and while the bands that performed at Cedar Street were must-sees, upon arriving at Rainey Street, there is an immediate comforting vibe that overwhelms you, it’s chill, it’s cool, it’s fun, it’s peaceful, and it’s creative. When you leave a FILTER event you are more culturally aware and your perspective of music is widened because nearly every genre of music is represented at a showcase. And most shows do not require a SXSW badge or wristband (of course they are always given priority).

As a creative team, Chris and I came to SXSW open to absorb everything, we saw a ton of incredible bands, hung out with super awesome people, devoured mouth-watering street tacos, celebrated our last day with beautiful hats from Brixton, jumped onto a random ‘Jambulance’ (a Van Halen themed party ambulance, only in Austin, right?), left with huge smiles on our faces and an overwhelmed imagery & ringing sound of art, culture, music, film and love, for us SXSW is about leaving a better person.  Can’t wait for next year.

Nicole Taher is a freelance writer, film editor and music supervisor based in Los Angeles, CA. Christopher Renteria (C Daniel Photog) is a freelance photographer and filmmaker based in Saint Louis, MO. Both collaborate on various music coverage.  

Photos by C Daniel

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