DVA – aka the husband-and-wife duo Bára and Honza Kratochvíls – are one of the hottest Czech music exports around. Captivating audiences with their idiosyncratic audio world, they weave a magical sound which they’ve dubbed “folklore of nonexistent nations” and “pop from nonexistent radios”. Their sonic accompaniment to the video game Botanicula has been awarded the prestigious Independent Games Award in San Francisco. En route – and on the road driving from Frisco through Arizona to Texas – back to the Czech Republic, they popped by Austin to play the sprawling music showcase SXSW.
Bára: There are three ways bands get to the festival. They either have to cover their own expenses and in addition ‘pay to play’. Then there are bands who went through some sort of programming selection and don’t have to pay to be able to play there – only the expenses – which was our case. The last group is invited by the festival. We were supposed to attend the awards ceremony in San Francisco so we thought we might as well play 2,500 miles away on the same continent, no?
Honza: Officially, about 3,000 bands play at the SXSW and unofficially in the many bars and hangouts the numbers swell. The program is as thick as a phone book and bands which share the first letter in their names spread on two A4 pages. Thus there are also three ways to get noticed:
1. You’re an American and live in the States, or you are European and are good with contacts and lucky enough to invite some music industry people before they put you in their spam folders.
2. You hire a PR agency who invites these people and hopes that they will like the gig and write about it.
3. A PR agency won’t get involved but instead, the cultural institute of the country of your origin will. For instance, after our gig an Austrian band played. Everything was sorted out for them by somebody from the Austrian cultural institute who also paid for their flights, as well as the flights for the label and manager. Most of the European countries had a promotion stand there. A Czech band could get a Danish bandmember, for instance, and try to promote themselves through Denmark.
4. If you are going there without making use of any of the above, it’s probably best to consider it a sort of a holiday. We were lucky that we primarily flew to San Francisco and SXSW was more or less a bonus.
We stayed with some hippies on the outskirts of Austin who made perfect margaritas. We arrived in the evening. In the morning, somebody from a Texas radio station took us to the registration spot and interviewed us in the car. After having spent several hours in the registration process, we checked out and met Longital (a Slovak band) by chance. This was great, since they had already been at SXSW before and explained everything to us. Hideout, the venue, was a nice place, a former theatre perhaps. We realized they didn’t have some of the things we had asked for but we could luckily borrow these from other bands.
Bára: A local project played before us. He had about eight people in the audience – three of whom played with their iPhones throughout the gig. After witnessing this, we thought it was pointless, that we’d have nobody at our concert. Our worries didn’t materialize and we had quite a lot of people at the gig who stayed until the end. Usually people go in and out of shows there. On big festivals one experience is overshadowed by the next one each hour. It’s like the Internet. In a way SXSW reminded us of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter all in one place.
SXSW is a valuable experience for every band. To get out of the familiarity of the clubs where the audience adores you is the only way to find out whether its allure only works in a safe environment. I’m looking forward to the time when bands from planet Earth will play at the Spacevision on Mars and witness what the aliens find rad and drab.
Honza: We experienced a road movie surrounded by amazing nature, slept in a motel straight out of a Coen Brothers film by the Mexican border, learnt to make margaritas, and won an award. America is a big country that doesn’t really need Europe. Still, all the musicians told us how great it is for them to play in Europe, as the entire infrastructure at clubs and festivals is much better here. So actually it’s okay to be European.