Dart Music: Bringing international indie music to Austin

Meet Dave Dart. This former astronaut trainer and Systems Analyst at the University of Texas started Dart Music International (DMI), an Austin Area nonprofit that works to bring small indie/rock/pop bands from around the world to Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, with the majority of their work centered around artists coming for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in downtown Austin.

DMI’s Backstage Pass to the World event and first annual International Icon Awards, which took place on Jan. 19, 2010, featured performances by Patricia Vonne, Stanley Samuelson from the Faroe Islands, and The Black and White Years. The four 2010 award recipients were Jim Butler, manager of Creative Industries Development for the City of Austin and staff of the Austin Music Commission, Roky Erickson, native Austin singer/songwriter and founding member of the influential group 13th Floor Elevators, Terry Lickona, executive producer of Austin City Limits on PBS and Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Honoree, and Rose Reyes, director of music marketing for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Still exhausted,but beaming from the success of last night’s event, Dart sat down with The Austin Times to chat and answer a few questions about the organization.

The Austin Times (TAT): Congratulations on the success of the event. Can you share your thoughts on how you think the event went?
Dave Dart (DD): Wonderful! To have all those people in that room was like royalty. It was something. The Black and White Years got to meet Terry Lacoma. Stanley from the Faroe islands got to meet Roky Erickson. It was really cool introducing people to each other. The people on our events committee that made stuff happen last night were great. The modesty and sweetness of the people who received the awards was almost overwhelming, such as Rose Reyes saying that she thought she was getting punked! They are role models, trail blazers. We want to be like that. It was like pulling the tribe together.

TAT: How did you choose the 2010 International Icon Award recipients?
DD: This was our launch party expressing our connection to our community. We wanted to honor the people who really have either brought the world to Austin or brought Austin to the world through music. What Jim and Rose do is fantastic. Although no one outside of the music industry really knows what they do, everyone in music knows them and loves them. Everyone who has seen live music owes a debt to them. Terry-duh! ACL has such a wide reach around the world. It puts Austin and Texas out to the world as a place of culture and music. Roky has great projects coming up. He really embodies what we are talking about. The 13th Floor Elevators has influenced everything in guitar in music today. Those are the people that blazed that trail before us and really did it well. Jim Butler stated that all he’s doing is pursing his passion, but he does it really well. Anyone can say they are following their passion, but to do it, and to actually do it well are pretty important.

TAT: How do you go from being an astronaut trainer to starting a nonprofit in Austin?
DD: It was my first job out of college. That was the real title of the job that was actually more like a cross between a camp counselor and diplomat for NASA. I worked at the Space Academy in Huntsville, AL, working with kids interested in becoming astronauts. My sister currently works for US Space Ops, which makes her a real rocket scientist.
Then, I moved to Germany, where I got my first real taste of the kinds of issues we resolve for our bands now and a taste of intercultural exchanges.
I came back to Texas in ’96 to work on my Doctorate. In 2001, I started volunteering for SXSW and gravitated towards the international housing program, where I saw the issues the bands went through. I forged personal connections with all these visiting bands. When you forge a relationship with bands from other countries, you erase stereotypes. Iran, for example. It’s no longer “those people”, but it becomes “my friends over there”.
Want to take that and spread that out to other groups to create those personal relationships to help people see the world outside of the box. There are great people everywhere.

TAT: How do you find the artists you assist, or do they come to you?
DD: They mostly come to us. People who like what we do spread the word. Most bands find us because they are coming over for SXSW and they realize that they need help. Occasionally, we reach out to bands that we really like.
We have specific criteria for bands that we support. They must be professional (music has to be a career), have some renoun/press behind them, and there is somewhat of a subjective level. We have a small group of people who evaluate the bands. Sometimes I do not personally get a band’s music, but we may take them on if they meet the other criteria.
Finally, we focus on music that may have mass appeal-not crappy mall radio stuff-but something that might appear on college radio or played at a rock club. We tend to steer away from world music/ethnic type of stuff.

TAT: What are the biggest challenges you have had in bringing artists over?
DD: Immigration. The beaucratic measures involved are incredible. Some things make sense, but there is no easy way around them. It is an incredibly onerous process that takes a lot of time and money. The artists that we work with don’t have a lot of money.
Overall, it would be the logistics involved in a tour. It is hard to commit to booking a tour unless the visa process is going through. It creates delays. The best solution is to have more time. We ask bands to apply six months ahead of time.

TAT: What do you have planned for SXSW?
DD: We are still booking SXSW. We have signed a contract with Mi Casa Tamales and Cantina, an official SXSW venue on Sixth Street, to host an international lunch series throughout the week. There will be a different band each day and we are looking to work with and highlight other music-related organizations that make Austin such a special place.
I will be moderating a panel called Global Rock Show to discuss some of the issues bands face. International borders are not solid walls anymore and navigating how to get around those borders is the challenge.
On Tuesday, Mar. 16 we are holding our third annual DMI night on Sixth Street. We hope to feature six bands from six continents. Another event featuring experimental and electronic music is also in the works for that same night.
Last night was the kickoff of the DMI Embassy Series of monthly Tuesday events at the Parish that highlight international bands. Next one will be on Feb. 16. Each one will have one or more local music organizations highlighted because these are our partners, our friends. There is a saying: “a tide that lifts all boats”. It may be touchy-feely, but it is realistic. If there is good stuff that we can bring in, we want to help everyone rise. Helping the arts helps us all in Austin.

TAT: What music do you listen to at home?
The bands we work with more than almost anything. Also, WOXY on internet radio. My tastes are all over the place. People make fun of me for liking Rusted Root and ZZ Top.

All answers by Dave Dart have been edited for brevity.

Article and photo by Vicky Garza

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