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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 10:00 GMT
NI bands seeking stateside success
Snow Patrol
Snow Patrol played the US festival in 2001
Seven NI bands are heading off to a major US music event which has been the springboard for some of the world's top acts.

The South By Southwest festival has been going since 1987 and has launched the careers of UK and Irish bands including Snow Patrol, The Darkness and Franz Ferdinand.

Ross Graham, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Music Industry Commission, said it was preparing for a mass exodus of musicians.

"This is a conference and showcase event in Austin, Texas, called South By Southwest," he said.

The commission obtained an Arts Council grant to take several NI bands to Texas for this year's festival.

"This year, we have a bit of a golden crop. In previous years, we have had two Northern Ireland artists, sometimes three, and this year we have seven different bands and artists going out," said Mr Graham.

"Japanese, Pacific Rim, Australians, Canadian, Europeans of every description - the business is there."

One of those bands going is The Answer from Downpatrick in County Down.

The group has already been signed locally, but is hoping for a chance to break into the US market.

Lead singer with The Answer, Cormac Neeson, said: "We are straight down the line rock and roll - a good time rock and roll band with no frills, but plenty of thrills.

Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand were launched at South By South West

"I think there are about 1,200 bands playing at this festival.

"We will have to play the show of our lives to get noticed, I suppose, but that's what we intend to do - so it shouldn't be a problem."

The other bands showcasing their talent to thousands of industry professionals are Coleraine's Amazing Pilots, singer-songwriters Foy Vance and Iain Archer, Duke Special and Belfast band Oppenheimer.

If they can stand out among the thousand-odd bands in Austin from the 15-17 March, NI's local heroes could follow in the footsteps of luminaries like Snow Patrol.

Headline appearance

Ross Graham said Snow Patrol attended the US event in 2001.

"Arguably, that was the tipping moment that took them from being a good Northern Irish act on the way up to being an act that the American industry was fascinated by and wanted to invest in - and look at what has happened since," he said.

Snow Patrol's Nathan Connolly for one is determined to enjoy the atmosphere.

"It is an amazing festival. There are so many bands playing, and we had an absolute ball when we played.

The Darkness owe much success to the US event
The Darkness owe much success to the US event

"Anywhere where we have been to, people are just fantastic and that way they pull the festival off there is just incredible."

Snow Patrol will be making a headline appearance at the festival as part of their American tour and ahead of their new album Eyes Open.

Shaun Robinson and Rocky O'Reilly, who make up Oppenheimer, have already been signed in America.

Ironically, they are heading to the US in the hope of being snapped up by the European music industry.

"You can just walk down the street and there is another band, then another band, you recognise people and then you go and play a gig - on street after street, every bar turns into a live venue," said Rocky.

"You could have a bar at every other door with six bands in it."

Keynote speakers at this year's event include Neil Young, Morrissey and KD Lang.

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