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Manchester and Austin forge connections through music and innovation at SXSW 2023

By Laura Kobylecky, Special Contribution to Silicon Hills News

During SXSW 2023, The Courtyard on 4th Street was transformed into an official SXSW venue hosting various events focused on British innovation, culture and music. One of these events brought Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, on stage to talk about what is happening in Manchester.

Burnham made connections between patterns of growth and innovation in Manchester and Austin. I also spoke to a Manchester citizen to get his perspective and saw a Manchester band perform at a SXSW show.

I sat down with Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to talk more about this connection. Burnham explained: “To be honest, the cities are very similar.” After “first coming to Austin in 2018 to go to South By,” he was “immediately struck by the similarities: a fast-growing city, a young city, a music city.”

He was also impressed by Austin FC, a soccer club that was founded in 2018, saying he “loved it.” He described Manchester as “an old football town” and said: “There’s not much about English football that I don’t know.” This adds a particular layer of depth to his emphatic statement: “They’ve built something new, something exciting…it’s got all the right values ​​built into it.” He believes the “new fan culture” building in Austin is something “England will start to look at.”

He connects Manchester’s “passion” for football and live music culture with Manchester culture, stating that it is “something about Manchester’s working-class roots. The workers have difficult lives and they needed something on the weekend.”

He explains: “Manchester is like Austin; we have an ecosystem of smaller places.” Like Austin, these venues are supported by “a lot of people who go and see the new bands that are open-minded about music.” According to Burnham, “if you go out on any given night of the week in Manchester, you’ll find hundreds of people watching a new band.”

Burnham talks about the historical connections between Manchester, Austin and SXSW. He said that “the founders of South By were regularly in Manchester in that period in the 90s and early 2000s” and believes they were inspired by the Manchester conference called “In the City”, which he describes as “similar” to SXSW. Burnham describes this as a kind of crossbreeding and “not just by chance” but more of a kind of “cross fertilization”.

Manchester is also concerned with some of the same issues as Austin. Affordability threatens the survival of the scene in both Austin and Manchester. Burnham believes that Manchester “has a concern actually” because it is still “a working-class city”, but some of the working-class may not be part of the music scene.

He states, “These days if you want to make it in the music industry, you have to have money or be from a family that has money because it’s getting a lot harder to break through.” He thinks that this is something that “should concern all of us…because sometimes it is those young people who come from those circumstances who become the biggest personality, the character, and if that is lost, then the music is much poorer. ”.

It also discusses “the risk” that Manchester perceives itself to “change with past glories: The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, New Order, Joy Division.” This can lead to situations where Burnham believes that “we have looked too far back and need to look further ahead”.

Burnham’s most personal contribution to this is “a new initiative called Mayors Artist of the Month.” On “the last week of every month”, he has an open application and, from it, he chooses “’artist of the month’ and they get radio airtime”. He says, “I promise you, I go for a run and then I listen to everyone.”

Another similarity between Austin and Manchester is that Manchester will launch its own “new global music conference,” according to Burnham. He describes it as “not meant to be a rival to South By”, but draws comparisons between the two. This conference, he says, “is a forum for debate and resolution of some of these problems in the industry.” He sees it as something that “counters South by in so many ways,” including timing. Beyond the Music will take place in October.

On Saturday March 18th I returned to The Courtyard for the British Music Embassy. I spoke to Rob Brown, managing partner of a PR agency at Manchester’s MediaCityUK, to see how one non-governmental official feels about the Manchester/Austin connection. Brown has spent time in both Austin and Manchester and sees a kinship between the cities, saying “both are thriving cities.”

He explains, “you can see in the skyline of both cities that they have changed enormously in the last ten years.” Brown says that skyscrapers may be typical in the US, “it’s quite unusual in the UK; actually, only London and Manchester have tall buildings.”

He also sees a cultural connection between the cities: “both are very vibrant music capitals.” Despite the fact that “Austin has more live venues than Manchester”, Brown still believes that “you can see a great band every night of the week in Manchester”.

Brown is excited to be here at SXSW. He is a passionate music fan, so enthusiastic that he has already seen “The Golden Dregs”, a UK rock band, twice. This is his 10th SXSW and he already plans to return next year.

On Friday March 17th, I saw Ist Ist, a Manchester based band play at The Velveeta Room, an official SXSW venue. They played a show full of post-punk energy with tones ranging from heavy rock to soft soulful. The lead singer, Adam Houghton, informed the audience that this band is from Manchester.

Manchester culture has made a connection to Austin at SXSW.


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