NYC gets a new pre-SXSW Festival “The New Colossus”; we meet one of the founders

For bands coming to America for SXSW, to say it’s a massive cost and a huge effort is an understatement. And few bands arrive in Austin as their first port of call. Many come through Los Angeles and New York. So why not try and play some shows before . Well this is the exact thinking behind a brand new festival in New York city called The New Colossus, which gives artists from around the world (including Australia) a showcase opportunity in New York City the weekend before SXSW. And it all kicks off next month.

We caught up with one of the event founders, Mike Bell (pictured on the right alongside fellow co-founders Steven Mattrick of iconic NY music venue Piano’s and Lio Kanine of Kanine Records), to learn more about the origins of the event, and what performers and punters alike can expect from its first incarnation.

Let’s talk about the origin story of this event – firstly, how did the three of you decide to collaborate in the first place?

The idea came about a few years ago when I was working with Music Norway consulting the Norwegian music industry in the US. Over the years, I had seen many international bands travel through NYC on their way to SXSW. Often, they would play random shows around the city or skip playing here and head straight to Austin. It occurred to me that there was nothing happening in NYC for international bands to get involved in during this time of year and that just seemed crazy. So there was definitely a hole to fill and a great opportunity to give artists something else in North America in March to justify the investment of flights/hotels/visas/promo/etc.

What did you feel was lacking in the NYC conference / festival calendar that something like TNC would fill?

To be clear, we’re not really interested in being a conference. Although we have added a series of industry panels, it’s mainly for the bands and their reps to learn and network. Our main focus is on showcasing great live music from new artists. That’s what’s really important overall, right? These bands need to be seen and heard. I don’t get the feeling that there’s anything like this happening in NYC at the moment. There are some great industry gatherings and some good showcasing opportunities during other parts of the year, but absolutely nothing in March.

The timing is right before SXSW – giving artists an opportunity to showcase in NYC before heading to Austin. But what do you think The New Colossus will be able to offer artists that SXSW can’t?

We are much smaller and intend to stay that way. With just over 100 bands playing at 6 easily walkable venues, it’s possible to see nearly everything in the 4 days. This is intentional as we wanted to make it possible for artists to connect with NYC music industry while they’re here. Perhaps take some meetings? SXSW is such a great time and we hope to enhance the artists’ experience in the US by giving them a great launching point here.

What are the origins of the name of the event, “The New Colossus”?

The New Colossus is the name of the 1883 sonnet by Emma Lazarus featured on the Statue of Liberty. It’s a bold and welcoming message for people from around the world. Historically, NYC has been supportive for immigrants and served as a starting point for them in the US. We felt naming the festival, The New Colossus was just too perfect especially given the current political climate.

What is different about The New Colossus compared to similar events that run / have run in NYC, like the iconic (but now defunct) CMJ.

I don’t know if you’d say this is different. We are simply focused on getting back to the basics which is showcasing live music and supporting the goals of the artists who are performing. We want people to come to this festival because they’re going to see amazing bands from around the world and discover some new favorites.

What Aussie artists do you have playing the event, and what should Aussie bands know about the event in terms of applying – be it for this year or next?

We have Body Type and Tia Gostellow playing and I’m excited to see both of them. Aussie bands and managers who I know are some of the best planners because they have the disadvantage of geography. Everything is far away especially NYC. Artists who want to apply should consider it sooner than later and look to tour from NYC to Austin. Bands also need to get a proper work visa to play any shows in the US outside of SXSW which can be a process and costly.

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The New Colossus Festival takes over the Lower East Side of NYC from March 7th to the 10th. Badges are just $50. For more details, head to their official website.