Todd Patrick, or Todd P, is an NYC-based promoter. His festival, MtyMx, takes place in Monterrey, Mexico March 20-22.
What's the underlying idea behind MtyMx. Why take on something this huge?
For four years, we’ve been going to Austin during SxSW week, and throwing a fest behind Ms Bea's bar - which itself started out really informal, just something we did on the fly, last minute. Fiona Campbell and I threw it together. The first year it was just a really laid-back thing in conjunction with this crew from San Francisco called The Rambler. It grew from there; we had a really good time. There were a lot of things that were hilarious the first year, like we actually thought we were booking for a different venue than it turned out when we drove up to it... thanks to some really high quality on the ground help from Austin people! The first year was like, 50 bands and then the next year it grew into 75 and then it was 100 and then this last year it was like 120 bands.
Fiona: Lots of late night afterparties were added. Acoustic BBQ...
Last year's big afterparty was on Tuesday night before SxSW started, and it was at a sort of a stoner co-op, like a hippie frat in the West Campus. As I like to describe it, it wasn’t a college party, it was a COL-LEGE! party with like kegs on the front lawn and people passed out face down in the grass. People dancing barefoot on broken glass, jumping on a broken trampoline. Vivian Girls and Strange Boys and Beets and Air Waves played. That was fun as hell. We try to do one of those every year.
Last year was just big all around. A couple years ago someone made a documentary about what we do in Austin, and so the year following that, 2009, was just huge, definitely the best lineups, biggest turnout we had of all four years.
The place that we've aways done the festival at is on the patio behind this bar called Ms Bea’s, which was sort of a super low-key middle-aged tejana gay bar. You couldn’t quite tell, and I’m not sure the owners even knew. But if you look at the clientele and you hang out there late enough, you'd start to see some affection a little outside of the norm. It was sweet. But... that bar basically changed hands. That property sold last year and the tenants, which were Ms Bea and her kids, they cleared out halfway through the year, so that space isn’t what it used to be. Also last year we hit a high watermark for how many people came, how big an impact we had on the festival that happens down the street. It came to our knowledge that they weren’t very happy with our festival and I got word that SxSW was essentially brainstorming ways to shut us down. I, for one, really didn't want to go out that way.
So why develop your own festival?
I think of doing this festival as being an alternative to SxSW, not because I have any particular issue with SxSW as it compares to other festivals or whatever, but I do have an issue with the way that the music industry is run and I see a lot of the way SxSW is run being the epitome of the music industry. Ultimately it's a trade convention, and I don't see drunk conventioneers as the ideal audience for someone performing their artistic music, not to mention the thousand and one corporate sponsorship logos, people mingling and networking in the front and hitting the open bar while showing off their badges.
How do you perceive SxSW? What is SxSW to you?
SxSW really is an industry convention. And even though it’s a music industry convention, it’s really just another convention. Like any convention for any industry, whether it’s for people that make fluorescent lightbulbs or people who make music or people who make porn, it’s essentially an excuse for all those people who spend the whole year in cubicles sending email to each other, to just come together in one place, rent hotel rooms on the expense account, get really wasted, fuck each other, and mingle, maybe not in that order. It’s not, in my opinion, particularly respectful of the art form, even if it’s a necessary evil. I just don’t want to be a part of it. I think that bands who take themselves seriously as artists also probably ought to steer clear.
Basically I started to feel that, because we were starting to pull as many people as we were… last time we had about 2,500 people at Ms Bea’s, which is a really informal space, outdoors with a foot high stage... it just got to the point where it was just getting so big that we couldn’t do it without making a noticeable impact on their festival, and my feeling was that they were going to shut us down. They're not into competition, those guys.
But my other feeling was that because we were doing something real and well curated, and fun, and free; this was actually becoming a reason for some people to go to Austin and SxSW, at least among the people and bands who give a crap about the bands that I give a shit about. I felt that maybe we'd become the needle that breaks the camel’s back when certain people decide if they’re going to go to SxSW or not. I don't want to be another reason why SxSW is unavoidable, I'd rather people didn't bother with it. It’s not like I’m aggressive about this, I just don’t care for it. It’s run in a way that’s pretty far from how a regular for-real rock show is run, and far from its own founding ideals, and I don’t want to, at any point, encourage people to go.
Fiona: A lot of bands have found it’s less relevant for them to go.
For the people that are in our world, it became one element (of many) as to why they would want to take the trip and go to SxSW. And I just don’t want to be an element in that decision. And then there's the nightmare scenario situation... They shut us down. This would suck not only because our own work would be wasted, but because maybe people would book a tour or a vacation to come to Austin this year because of Ms Bea's, and then - we get there first night and they shut us down, they shut us down for the week. All those bands and all those fans are then there already, with us shut down, and they've won them, so SXSW wins in that scenario where they get the best of both worlds. They get whatever help I give them encouraging cool kids and cool bands to go, but then we’re not an issue anymore, they’ve manipulated the authorities in Austin enough to shut us down. And they really do shut people down, and do it unapologetically. They've spoken openly about it in the Austin Chronicle and other publications, so this isn’t pie in the sky conspiracy theory that they will supply the Austin Fire Department with a list of what they consider to be illegal parties. "Illegal," of course, being very much in the eye of the beholder.
Getting away from the music industry politics of it, I've just been doing Ms Bea's in Austin for four long years. I'm kind of over it. It occurred to me: I've been traveling to Latin America for years, I’ve been going to South America and Central America for a pretty long time and I’ve gotten a good sense of what those places are and aren't. One of the things that has become very clear to me is that my fellow U.S. countrymen have a largely ignorant, warped opinion of what life is like in a lot of those places, if not everywhere else in the world. Particularly our neighbors to the South. Most recently, I’ve been going to Mexico and spending time with like-minded folks, people who make music and people who are involved in indie circles down there. It’s not a direct translation, there are differences about how scenes work there versus here, but it’s there and it’s a vibrant scene because Mexico has this surging middle class which gets lost in the demographics, when people look at it, because all populations in Mexico are surging. But there didn’t used to be a middle class, or at least one of any consequence, a professional class of people who have the education and leisure time to pay attention to contemporary avant music and contemporary art. It’s growing, and that’s a really inspirational thing. No one up here has any knowledge of this.
And also, our U.S. government has these really restrictive laws designed to keep out dishwashers and people who mow lawns and people who lay sheetrock; laws which don’t even begin to work. We have these laws designed to keep out low-wage workers dysfunctionally; it doesn’t accomplish that on even a basic level, those determined to work here just cross illegally. And we never go after the employers, just the laborers.
What our immigration laws do manage to do is to keep out people from Mexico who aren’t willing to cross illegally. The educated middle class people who wouldn’t jump the border can’t cross at all, because our visa requirements are very stringent and frankly, they’re arbitrary. I've done a lot of research into this subject because we we wanted to talk about this issue in an educated informed way. I called all these different consulates in Mexico, these U.S. consulates in Mexico, and asked them what the rules are for Mexican citizens who want to visit the U.S. for tourism. For the most part they couldn’t tell me, they put me on hold, hung up on me. I was like, don’t you just have a straightforward list of guidelines for what it takes for a Mexican to get a tourist visa to enter our nation? I'm a citizen, tell me what my country's laws are. No. So what I was able to piece together is a sort of a hodgepodge of information that was told to me by people who barely even know, secretaries at the consulates. And most of them refused to talk, they wouldn’t disclose. What straight answers I finally learned, I found out by calling immigration lawyers here in New York.
So imagine you’re a middle-class Mexican interested in indie rock or avant-art and culture and there’s a good concert going on in Austin or a big festival called South by Southwest. You want to go participate like people from the rest of the world. Well first, good luck applying for the visa, it ain't easy to get in the door or to get someone on the phone. If you can even get in to file your forms; then expect to have to prove you have a guaranteed job for the foreseeable future and you've stayed in one address for an inordinate amount of time. And prove you own substantial property or have money in the bank. Otherwise, visiting the U.S.A. is not an option. Unless you can jump through all these crazy hoops that are mostly about money and lawyers, you won’t get the visa and they’re not going to let you in. Even if you're an upstanding Mexican citizen and you fit the requirements they can still deny you, and they don't have to tell you why.
In the end, this means a lot of Mexican bands and music fans, and visual artists too, just can't cross that border. It might as well be the Berlin Wall. Unless U.S. bands cross the border and come to Mexico themselves, there is just never any commingling of the scenes, outside of the internet. And for a lot of close-minded reasons, U.S. bands mostly won't cross the border. To drive into Mexico you have to be brave enough to defy the conventional wisdom in the States about Mexico. We've been taught all our lives that Mexico is supposed to be this dangerous, violent, poor, backwards place. It's all about the college kid trip to Tijiuana in the movies, and it's about as accurate as Spongebob is for marine biology. The caricature scares a lot of U.S. people away from overland travel across the border.
If people from the U.S. do go to Mexico, they go to ridiculous tourist traps like Cancun, Puerta Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, blah blah blah. Meanwhile most parts of Mexico actually have lower rates of violent crime than U.S. cities do, because Mexico doesn't allow guns like we do. When there is homicide in Mexico it's largely international drug trade organisations killing each other's henchmen... in order to smuggle cocaine into our country. And you know how they get their guns? They smuggle them from Texas. If people are concerned that the much sensationalized "drug war" is going to affect them as tourists in Mexico, I'd remind them that SxSW is happening in Austin, TX, which is the site of the most recent terrorist attack on U.S. soil, when a U.S. citizen rightwinger crashed his plane into the IRS building. Should we be worried things aren't safe in Texas?
All politics aside, MtyMx was really just a practical idea. I wanted to do something different and more of a challenge, and I realized we had this great opportunity. All these bands are in Austin at SxSW already, expecting to lose money all week to further their careers. It's a write off for them, which is why Ms Bea’s always worked. All the bands are gathered in one place and are willing to play for little or nothing because they’ve got nothing to lose.They're down to do something fun while they're there. Ms Bea's was about taking advantage of that situation.
What occured to me is that the situation of all those bands being in one region of the continent, and willing to play for less or cheap, is still true for a few days after SxSW. This is because every band has to drive somewhere else on their way back to wherever they're from. And the problem for a lot of these bands is that those three or four days that bands spend touring away from SxSW invariably suck. I’ve gone on a lot of tours that were to and from South By and they were always just miserable, because you’re playing in Oklahoma City on a Sunday night, or you’re playing in Fayetteville, Arkansas on a Monday. Nobody comes out, because it’s a Sunday or Monday or Tuesday, and not to mention some other band that’s bigger than you is probably playing the same town you are - a town neither of you would bother with if it weren't driving distance from Austin. It's also spring break, so the college towns are out. It’s such a bummer. You’re hauling ass to get back to New York or Chicago or LA or Portland or wherever you’re from, and it just sucks.
My thought was, obviously all of these bands are taking a loss. They’re already writing off the three days after SxSW, they've resigned themselves that this just isn't going to be profitable. So... why not actually find a way to pay them? Make it attractive, exciting, different, and make it still just a short drive from Austin. Monterrey is just in the perfect geographical position to solve the problem. We get to encourage bands to go in a direction they never thought of, which is to cross that border and drive south just five or six hours down the road. And they get to play in front of an audience that’s really psyched to see them. Because of Myspace and the Internet, there’s a large audience for indie rock music from the U.S.A. and everywhere. People know the bands down there. People listen to that all over the world. Fiona was just in New Zealand. Brooklyn bands, people know who they are. People in New Zealand and Mexico all know who bands like Javelin are, but they never get to see them. Why not give them an opportunity?
What kind of goals do you hope to achieve with MtyMx?
This is a festival in Mexico, it is largely intended for Mexicans. We're not banking on a huge influx of gringos. If Americans want to come down, that’s great. But this is not envisioned as a festival for daytripping hipsters from the States. If you search Twitter for MtyMx, 95% of the posts are in Spanish and they're going up like six an hour. People in Mexico are psyched, and I'm super psyched about that.
It's a fascinating venue, this drive-in theater on the side of a mountain. Why did you chose that location?
We chose the venue because it was just perfect for what we were looking for. Basically I had a rubric of what I wanted: outdoors, beautiful vista, had done loud shit before and hadn’t been shut down. I told all these factors to my business partner Ricardo and he thought about it and came back to me with a space called Autocinema Las Torres. He said that, although they’ve never done rock stuff there, he knew this place had done huge raves till early in the morning, was on the side of a mountain, and not far from the center of town. He didn't mention it was a drive in movie theater, he kept saying “autocinema”, and I had no idea what an autocinema is. I didn’t spell it out in my head. So he drove us out there and we got out of the car, all my crew that was there, we looked around and just gasped. It was just so obviously the place. It’s massive, gorgeous, and they’ve done raves there, so you know you can get away with loud ass noise there. We’re getting permits and all that, but you have to choose your location well. You piss the wrong person off and you get shut down. We wanted a gorgeous spot that has proven itself, and Autocinema Las Torres is the spot..
Would you still entertain the idea of doing a large-scale festival in the US?
We’d like to follow this up with a New York festival at some point, of some stature. Something ambitious and affordable. I believe that you can actually change the marketplace. The rock show scene in New York is just ridiculously overpriced. The marketplace for all things should not skew to the upper class. Music is everybody’s culture. Indie rock and rock ‘n’ roll in general is a unique form that came out of the middle class of our country. It should not be commodified and smothered with branding and used for lifestyle marketing campaigns. Nor should it be prohibitively expensive for regular people.
Fiona: The Ms Bea’s shows were free.
That's what I loved about Bea's. There was no way to control access. It's a vacant lot fronting two streets and an alley. Anybody who wanted to walk up could walk up, we couldn't keep people out if we wanted to. We couldn’t even stop you from bringing your own beer. It was just a fun , free, laid back time, open to all ages.
As much as we have to charge admission in order to not lose thousands of dollars, we’re trying to keep that same Ms Bea's free festival spirit alive in MtyMx.
—Todd P Interview