The scene: Last week, at the the 25th annual South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, 30,000 of the hippest, most forward-thinking music fans, sought out new music from fresh-faced upstarts hoping to make it big like the Strokes, Duran Duran, TV on the Radio, P. Diddy, Kanye West and Jay-Z. Who would make a name for themselves? Who would be the most talked and Tweeted about? Doesn’t matter. The thousands of bands playing SXSW each year are nearly always instantly forgotten. So instead of telling you about the fabulous sets I caught by the likes of New Orleans’ Big Freedia or Houston, country stud Robert Ellis, I’m going to flex my long-atrophied 1990s self-righteous indie purest muscle and tell you about the most in-your-face brands that made a substantial impact. These are the companies your most in-the-know friends will be crowing about.
Chiobani Greek Yogurt
It’s inevitable. You’re standing in a dusty open field while the hot, unforgiving Texas sun beats down on your precious, silky skin, and you begin to crave Greek yogurt. Luckily, the marketing gurus at Chiobani were there to meet the demand at Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, handing out free samples of thick, dairy goodness to the some 10,000 daily eager concertgoers who passed through the gates of Auditorium Shores to see acts like Kurt Vile, Man Man, the Strokes, Blue October and Bright Eyes. In turn, they’ve now no doubt captured the much coveted yogurt-eating youth market. Fuck you in the face, Fage!
Hot coffee. In the scorching sun. You know, to help wash down the Greek yogurt. If you wanted it (and you did), only one industrious coffee maker brave enough to think outside the box was giving it away for free, and that was Community, who set up shop right inside the gates at Auditorium Shores to provide some much-needed liquid pep to fans who had the unspeakable task of sitting through back-to-back sets of the Felice Brothers and Middle Brother.
Speaking of The Sun, it had an incredible year. Everyone was talking about it, as big-time shows at outdoor venues like Stubb’s, the aforementioned Auditorium Shores and Mess With Texas Showcase all took place during the day and outside, where The Sun made its presence known to all who stood before it. Many of them, naturally, were trying to escape it, seeking any and all respite from its daunting rays, talking about it in less-than-glowing, negative terms. The point is, they were talking about it, which—as Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen can attest—is as good as writing a check. The Sun. Keep an eye out for it. It’s gonna be huge.
“Real fruit. Whole soy. Freshly baked.” Lots of street team hand-to-hand action going on around Soy Joy, the strawberry, blueberry and just berry soy bar that is basically rock ’n’ roll in a wrapper. A lady sitting a row in front of me on the flight back from Austin pulled about a dozen Soy Joy bars she’d collected during the week from her purse and excitedly exclaimed, “I have breakfast planned for the next two weeks!” Way to kill it, Soy Joy.
Monster energy drink
Woah the impressive, ubiquitous presence this year of Monster energy drink, which was handed out by the arm full from the backs of trucks all over the city by girls in tiny shirts and even tinier shorts. I actually heard a guy say he thought the Monster Java Irish Blend was “Not half bad,” which is truly a coup for the brand because it tasted like straight corn syrup being taken from behind by a medicinally synthetic coffee flavoring. Monster also sponsored a private tent area at Auditorium Shores, where you could have any one of their assorted flavors mixed in a cocktail with Austin’s own Tito’s Handmade vodka. Savvy nod to the locals, Monster. Kudos.
As expected, #SXSW was HUGE on Twitter this year—many of the Tweets about it excitedly announcing they’d just seen Kanye at a Pizza Hut or in a hotel lobby.
You’ll remember, just a few short years ago, there was an alcohol and energy drink banned before Four Loko hit big. It was called Sparks, and lo, it tasted like orange Spree candies with an undeniable aftertaste of battery acid, which turned out to be appropriate considering the can looked like a giant battery anyway. Well, Sparks is back, and in a big way at this year’s SXSW. Street teams with megaphones handed out sunglasses to squinting passers-by, and gave away free cans of the stuff at various day parties. At times it seemed you couldn’t turn around without a big-boobed girl in a tight-fitting Sparks half-shirt shoving swag in your face and telling you to try some of the new-and-improved tantalizing flavors. I did. And though the can has been redesigned, the battery acid aftertaste remains.
Peanut butter and jelly. Pork chops and applesauce. Frat boys and Ed Hardy. Free beer and SXSW. It’s totally a thing. Miller gave away the most. Hear that, PBR? It's the sound of High Life stealing your market.
PW's Music Issue 2014