LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
The 24th annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas comes to a close today with the sound of music. The music portion is always the finale of the festival, which began a week-and-a-half ago with film and interactive panels, parties and networking opportunities.
Coming up, Diggnation and a conversation with the CEO of Digg. But first, to the nearly 2,000 bands who were booked into more than 85 venues during the music festival's four-day run. This year, 549 bands came from outside the United States. NPR's Felix Contreras is at South by Southwest. He's been checking out some of those bands and he joins us from the Driscoll Hotel, overlooking the hot corner of Sixth and Brazos in Austin. Hey there, Felix.
FELIX CONTRERAS: Good morning.
HANSEN: Tell me a little bit about these 549 bands. Where do they all come from?
CONTRERAS: Well, you know, they come from all over the world. Yesterday, I saw a band from Slovakia called Longital, and they were - I thought they were awesome. The band is a husband-wife duo - the wife plays bass and the husband plays electric guitar. And he manipulates an electronic gizmo that plays prerecorded beats that range from an African feel to hip-hop to good old fashioned rock and roll. Now, they gave me a CD and this is what they sound like...
(Soundbite of music)
LONGITAL: (Singing in foreign language)
HANSEN: Felix, I have to say, I feel so sorry for you doing this gig. I mean, having to go to the bars and the nightclubs and, you know, listen to a lot of interesting music you want us to hear.
CONTRERAS: Well, I'm taking one for the team, Liane.
Actually, you know, we have a whole team here from NPR Music, and we've been pretty busy presenting shows this week. But I have been able to get out and hear some music and meet a few musicians, like Megan Washington. She's Australian and she had a very unique perspective on how South by Southwest works for musicians.
Ms. MEGAN WASHINGTON (Musician): Someone said to me that, like, you know, South by Southwest is like getting pregnant. You don't find out until a month later if anything actually happened. So, like, we just come over and we have a good time and then a month later, everyone, like, recovers from their hangover, and they shuffle through their business cards, and they might see you or they might not. And that's okay. Better luck next year.
HANSEN: So, who finds all these bands?
CONTRERAS: There is a team of six bookers and they each cover a specific region of the world. The woman who scours Latin America for music told me that collectively they listen to over 10,000 CDs. Matt Sonzala is in charge of those bookers, and he told me that while these bands may do everything they can do to get here, there's still no guarantee that they can sidestep the indie-rock reputation that South by Southwest is known for. And he says it's hard to get festival attendees to overcome that reputation and take a chance on something different.
Mr. MATT SONZALA (Booking Agent): I would like to see more of the people who come to attend South by Southwest really take that seriously and think about, you know, where can I see something I've never heard before, something I've never seen before, a band from China? We have a showcase with Maybe Mars Records out of China all very diverse, kind of indie-rock, weird electronic stuff that when I heard the bands, I was like, this is from China? You know, and that blew me away and I can't wait to see them live.
And I hope more people feel that way or are interested in, like, you know, not just chasing the next big thing and the big hype, but finding out what's really going on on the other side of the world. Because there is some really, really interesting and incredible music being made all over this planet.
HANSEN: This music festival has been going on for quite a while, Felix. Did you come across any international bands that actually got a career boost from a previous visit to Austin?
CONTRERAS: Yeah, Liane. I saw a band from Colombia called Bomba Estereo on Wednesday night. Now, the record label rep told me that they had a very good 2009. They had tours, CD sales, radio play, largely because of the impression they made on record execs and agents during their showcase last year. This year, they had a very plum spot, opening for a very popular Mexican rock band.
HANSEN: How would you describe Bomba Estereo's music?
CONTRERAS: You know, they're doing interesting things with electronica, hip-hop and traditional Colombian cumbia. You know, psychedelic outer space urban cumbia? I don't know what to call it but it was a lot of dancing fun.
(Soundbite of music)
BOMBA ESTEREO: (Singing in Spanish)
HANSEN: Our dancing fool, NPR's Felix Contreras, talking to us from the heart of this year's South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Thanks, Felix.
CONTRERAS: Thank you.
HANSEN: And you can find links to the bands Felix talked about and some of their music on our Web site, NPR.org/Music.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.