While the SXSW Music Festival is traditionally seen as something of a Mecca for rising indie artists from across the globe, to many it goes far beyond any one genre. “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our newer and developing hip-hop and R&B clients,” says ICM Partners’ Zach Iser, a concert agent who helps put on the agency’s yearly SXSW showcase and sees the confab as an essential part of his strategic planning.
This Saturday (March 18), ICM wll host its 6th Annual SXSW hip-hop and R&B showcase at The Mohawk featuring headliners Lil Yachty, Mike Will Made-It and DJ Esco atop a bill of more than 30 artists including Ari Lennox, Chaz French, Jay IDK, and Topaz Jones. For Iser, the event gives him a chance to put the agency’s artists in front of festival bookers, brands and others in the industry.
“We’ve been able to watch the artists grow from year one and they don’t necessarily have a record label or even a single out yet,” says Iser who represents Migos, Future and Rae Sremmurd. “We can put them on our show, give them 10-15 minutes, make sure they have a good set time, pay attention to who will be in the room and who else is playing around town, get some tastemakers and make sure there’s festival buyers out to see them.”
Iser mentions a number of bands on this year’s bill who he believes will have breakout years. “Two-9 just dropped their album, their part of Mike Wills Made-it’s Ear Drummers group. The Skins have been having a great time out here and this year are playing multiple festival events.”
But it’s not only developing artists who play the ICM SXSW showcase, there are often unannounced “special guests”—i.e. major artists who aren’t promoted in part due to the fest’s controversial restrictions on artists playing shows.
“Our first year in 2012 Kanye West was a surprise guest,” Iser says. “Last year we had Anderson .Paak perform and it was a really, really incredible show. In 2014 Future was a surprise guest with Mike Will and Dom Kennedy and he brought out Rae Sremmund. That year they filmed the music video for “No Flex Zone” outside of our showcase.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Iser says he notices a difference when lesser-known artists perform at SXSW for two consecutive years. “When no one seems to care and there’s little interest or money for them, we really spend time developing them and see that in year two there’s much more demand. They go from just playing one show or two shows to having two shows a night for five nights, we’ve seen that with a lot of our acts.”
Rounding out this year’s ICM SXSW bill are: Adrian Daniel, Andrea, Bobo Swae, Cyhi the Prynce, Chynna Rogers, DJ Noc, Don Q, Duckwrth, Eearz, Earthgang, Elhae, Impxct, Jay 305, J.I.D., Kent Jones, Kyle Dion, Little Simz, Lute, Nef the Pharaoh, Ohana Bam, Omen, Quin, Raposdy, Rozes and Wifisfuneral — some of whom just may break out this year.