by Elke Mermis
We sat down over the weekend with Josh Martinez, the main organizer of Kansas City's newest SXSW showcase: Midwasteland Takeover.
The project is the brainchild of Martinez (who runs the Gusto Lounge), Czar Bar's Billy Smith and Steve Tulipana of the RecordBar, working with the Midwest Music Foundation and various other musicians and music heads. For its maiden voyage, Midwasteland Takeover hits Austin this week with 32 local acts. Over a cup of coffee, Martinez talked about his vision for Midwasteland Takeover as well as his encounters with Outkast's Big Boi and how to scrape by SXSW on almost no cash.
The Pitch: What are your expectations for the Midwasteland Takeover?
Martinez: I hope that one of these bands will break out this year, and that good things will come for them. I don't want to show favoritism to anyone, but two bands that I am in total love with -- and would push so hard for them to do good things -- are Capybara and Olympic Size. I will do everything in my power to put them in front of people. Capybara has four showcases that they're playing down there, and they're hoping for a fifth. They'll play anywhere. They'll play in somebody's basement. They'll play on the street. They'll play on top of a car, whatever it takes to get somebody to notice them. They have a very can-do attitude. Olympic Size -- it showcases everybody amazing in this town in a sort-of super group of sorts from Kansas City. It's beautiful music. It's music to make love to, to break up to. It's good stuff. I'm trying my hardest to make sure that certain people will be there, at certain times, to make sure that people hear this stuff. Ultimately this is giving us a little bit of validity, and we hope that South By Southwest will invite us next year as an official showcase. It's guerilla marketing. It's getting out there and pushing yourself. You make people notice you, and they have no choice but to invite you in. If you can't knock on the front door, go ahead and smash the front door in.
That's a good philosophy.
A lot of people that have never listened to Kansas City bands -- nor would they want to. You know, 'Kansas City -- it's a cow town.' But they'll get to see what we really are.
How many hours do you think you've spent organizing this?
Countless. Too many. Immediately after we finished our event last year, I was on the phone, starting to organize this year, knowing that I would pretty much be on my own without the help of my friends in New York, L.A., Chicago -- knowing that they were going to go on with what they were doing: focusing on electronic music. I knew that if I was going to do it on my own, I would have to get on it faster. In the last three months, I've been constantly non-stop on the phone. Phone, emails, killed a computer, bought another computer. Have called in favors all over the world. We're wrapping the whole outside of the bar with a large vinyl banner that has the showcase logo, the time, the date, all the sponsors. I did it because I want people to notice that building. You look at the building, it's nondescript -- it's a brick building, like all the other buildings. Once that vinyl goes over it, people are going to go, what in the world is that? I have to find out. It should be a spectacle. Gnarly Enterprises is doing that for us. They're also putting together a very large videotaping of what goes on down there. We all hope to produce it and put it into a small documentary. We do a lot with little money. This event looks like it should have cost tens of thousands of dollars. In reality, it costs what little pocket change we've had in our pockets. We just have really good friends to slick it up.
So you've really been doing this by calling in favors. You guys have sponsors though, right?
We have. There's no money -- it's all really products. We hope that with this, we will get the people seeing us, and people watching us. We're pulling out all the shenanigans this year. We'll do anything.
If you were to summarize your role in organizing this, what would you say it is?
Um, the nutbag? I don't know. I had all the parts, I just didn't know how to put them together. I just organized every last piece, and I just put them all in a bag, and out of that bag we just built this great thing. Without every individual person, nothing would have happened. Or we would have done it at a really sub-par level. Billy, Steve, Adell from Metropalife -- he helped us with the hip-hop acts, to get them behind doing this. Also, the Midwestern Music Foundation -- really, honestly, without them, we would have been on pieces of paper, just pen-scratching stuff. They really got the word out.
Have you seen SXSW explode, since you started going in 1998?
Oh, yeah. Seventeen hundred bands are playing this year, officially; unofficially, probably close to 3,500 bands are down there. Hotels are scarce. Everybody's staying on someone's couch; in somebody's backyard; on the street; wherever. That city -- it gets crazy this time of year. A lot of these bands are already on somebody's radar, and South-By just gives them a chance to play in front of a lot of people. Rolling Stone, Spin, Alt-Press -- all these people are at these shows, watching them, and then they're writing good reviews. Or bad reviews. And they're like, "Yes, everybody is right, this is the next big band. Yes, Vampire Weekend is for real, no, the XX sucks." Who knows. Like for example, the XX was going to play our event. They pulled out.
The XX? Really?
It wasn't big enough for them. They got offers from everyone else. There are ten different places they're playing this year. I wasn't too worried about it. We still have a week and a half. Last year, I booked the biggest acts three weeks in advance. We didn't have money, but if I had an extra thousand dollars, I could have had Kanye West play my show. That's the kind of stuff that shows up at your door. This year, we have three bar owners going. People think we're all full of money -- we live day to day. But I'll pay for that, just for the experience of watching it in my face.
So you're sort of waiting for those acts to show up.
Yeah, Monday morning we'll send an email out to agencies saying that we may or may not have an opening, and see what shows up.
What are you looking forward to?
Another thing I love to do with my friends: crash parties at South-By. It's all about party crashing. I have full access passes -- I like to put 'em away, and see if I can crash the party anyway. Last year was magic. We met Big Boi from OutKast. I was in the V.I.P. section, and the doorman wouldn't let him in. I just kind of played like I was his manager...I whispered in his ear, can I get a sound bite from you, for Gnarly Enterprises? And he was like, "Whatever." I crashed that party. I wasn't even supposed to be in there. I heard this year that Jay-Z was gonna be at that party. I'm looking forward to crashing that party and meeting this guy, face-to-face. I do it for the fun, for sure. I'm hoping that we can really put Kansas City back on the map, and show people that we're for real, and that we've got real talented people that are worthy of being on labels, and worthy of being in your ear, all the time. And all sorts of music-- not just electronic or pop. We've got it all. We've got a great smattering of this town, and some great talent.
I just look forward to seeing what we do. We're going to be posting as quick as we can, small videos and posting on the site. I hope that the stories that come back from that are incredible.
I look forward to seeing what happens.
Trying to get 32 Kansas City bands that are traveling -- bands are all in one car -- we're doing everything we can to help them. C&C drums has been very kind to give us a drum set to use down there. All people have to do is bring their guitars, and bring their cymbals. I've posted and sent emails explaining to them to register for every party there is, because there's free beer, free food, free booze. You may have to forget about being a vegetarian, unless you're going to be eating a lot of beans and potato salad. There's a lot of barbeque everywhere for free. Three years ago, I put up a blog on how to do SXSW with 50 dollars. I had five friends come with me. I got them all to RSVP for all these parties. We ate everyday--ate breakfast at different places--drank a lot. We were fed well. We got swag from everybody. Decided to pretend to become a band, so then we got into band-only access freebie stuff. We got into the Penguin House, and got all these free clothes and watches. Went to Puma, and got free shoes. We ended up walking out -- I think in a total between all five people that went--they tallied with their alcohol consumption, with their food, with their free clothing consumption, it was about $6,000 they came back with.
You and five friends, huh?
We all went in an RV.
What did you call yourselves, when you pretended to be a band?
I don't know. I think we just made things up as we went. And people were just, "Oh, yeah, OK." We made up things, and people believed it. We also had friends of ours who were photographers who were around, so we'd have them make a frenzy in front of us snapping our photos. We'd walk in and be like, "Where's this free stuff at?" and they were like, "Oh, over here. Who are you?" And we'd be like, "Oh, we're so-and-so. We don't have much time. We've got a gig down the street, in forty-five minutes. Can we get this done?" And they'd be like, "Oh, yeah." And we'd leave. And we laughed, the whole time. It was funny. We never checked to see if we got pictures on any of the websites. Because that's all they want -- they want bands to be pictured with their product. I should've checked, but never did. I don't have time for that this year. I'm just watching over, making sure everything goes on time. And we have a great group of volunteers there, to make sure that everything is stage-managed. We'll see.
Are you going to be secretly glad when it's over?
Oh, god, yes. I'm staying there till Tuesday night, maybe Wednesday morning. Just so I don't have to worry about the craziness of everybody driving back at the same time. There's buzz around a lot of these bands. I hope this wasn't all in vain. I know it isn't. If anything, these bands got a chance to get out of here, go somewhere totally different, enjoy themselves and play to their heart's content. And that, to me, is enough. I'm happy with that.
Do you think this is going to happen again, next year?
Oh, yeah, no doubt. I think we've finally found our mark.