South by Southwest Music Festival will break with tradition this year, featuring multiple keynote speakers instead of one marquee, high-profile artist, as they have for the past 29 years. “It’s the 30th year for SXSW Music and we wanted to do something special this year,” festival reps said Tuesday.
The first music keynote, scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, will be producer Tony Visconti. Visconti is one of the great producers of rock and pop music and he’s worked with a broad and diverse roster of artists. He claims credits with Thin Lizzy, U2, Esperanza Spalding and Morrissey among many others. But his South by Southwest talk will likely be centered around his long relationship and collaborations with David Bowie. Visconti produced everything from Bowie’s genre-defining 1975 hit “Young Americans” to his stunning swan song “Blackstar”, an album that was released two days before his shocking death earlier this month.
“He always did what he wanted to do,” Visconti said on social media shortly after Bowie’s death. “And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life — a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift.”
It’s no surprise that SXSW moved to book Visconti, one of the few members of Bowie’s inner circle who were present for the pop star’s final chapter. The fest’s founder Roland Swenson was so moved he changed the street sign on Bowie Street, where SXSW is headquartered, to read David Bowie street in the days following the pop star’s death. Swenson initially denied responsibility for the switch, but later came forward with sign maker Jason Carter and signed a confession, claiming full responsibility to save the city the administrative cost of an investigation.
Visconti’s keynote speech will be open to all SXSW Music and Platinum badge-holders and all registered performing artists. The festival promises to announce more keynotes in the “near future.”