Burmese Band Side Effect to Attend US Festival

By Samantha Michaels 3 March 2014

RANGOON — Burmese indie rock band Side Effect has raised enough money to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in the United States, according to its lead singer.

Side Effect will be the first Burmese band to ever perform at SXSW, a major international music festival in Austin, Texas, which also features films and other multimedia. The festival kicks off on Friday and music events begin the following Tuesday, with over 2,000 bands from around the world expected to play at more than 80 venues.

As of last week, the independent Burmese band was not sure whether it would be able to afford the trip. But Darko C, the 32-year-old lead singer and guitarist, said a fund-raising concert on Saturday night in Rangoon brought in about US$2,000, just enough to cover airfare expenses for the four members.

“Now I think we can go to South by Southwest with this money. We can buy the plane tickets,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “This is such a big chance for us, to play in the United States.”

Side Effect made its international debut in 2011 in Indonesia, and has since performed in Germany, Denmark and Malaysia. But funding has always been a concern, in part due to economic sanctions imposed against Burma’s former military regime.

In 2012 the band turned to a US-based crowdfunding website to raise money to self-release their first album, “Rainy Night Dreams.” But the website, Indiegogo, canceled the band’s campaign and refunded the donors, citing concerns about possibly violating US sanctions if the funds were transferred.

“That was just before they suspended sanctions. I still feel that the US government owes me $3,000,” Darko joked, referring to the lost donations.

In addition to SXSW, Side Effect had hoped to play side gigs in Los Angeles or New York while visiting the United States. “But now we don’t have the money yet to travel so far, so we can just go to Austin, play there, and then come back to Yangon [Rangoon],” Darko said, adding that the band was considering the option of borrowing money from friends to travel beyond Texas, and paying back the debt later with earnings from another online crowdfunding campaign.

Through pledgemusic.com, Side Effect is trying to raise $12,500 to finish their next album and offset some of the travel costs in the United States. So far they have reached about 45 percent of their goal, but the money will not be available until the online campaign ends on March 22.

Even if they don’t make it to Los Angeles or New York, the festival will be a good opportunity, Darko said.

“We want to launch our music in front of people from the world music industry,” he said. “We’ve been playing for 10 years, but we are still in the independent, underground scene. We are doing everything on our own.

“Plus there’s not a market for us in Myanmar [Burma]. We don’t fit into the normal music scene here. We want to build up our own market,” he added. Heavy metal is popular in the local underground music scene, while Side Effect’s sound is more alternative.

He said the band hopes to meet and collaborate with other international musicians at the festival.

“Maybe we can bring them to Myanmar in the future, or maybe they can bring us to their country. This kind of thing can happen,” he said.

SXSW is an annual festival that features new and up-and-coming musicians, as well as some bigger names. This year’s lineup includes Soundgarden, Coldplay, Talib Kweli, Foster the People, Willie Nelson and possibly Lady Gaga.