Contrary to what you may have heard, SXSW is in fact an instrument show.
Sure, it's not the sprawling mega collection of all new gear and musical instrument manufacturers contained under one roof like a NAMM show, but there's still plenty of music gear to gawk at. You can get your instrument fix a the Austin Convention Center's Gear Alley exhibit, which is, admittedly, infinitesimal compared to NAMM, but features booths and demos by manufacturer like Ableton, Audio-Technica, Dean Markley, Fender, Korg, Moog, Taylor, T.C. Electronic and more.
To really get into the gear scene at SXSW, however, you need to get into the action outside the Austin Convention Center, in the clubs and outdoor venues of the festival. From the outdoor stages at The Scoot Inn, The Mowhawk and Emo's Annex to the club stages at Soho, The Headhunter, The Independent, the Red 7 and every place in between, we saw some very solid trends in the equipment bands are using these days, with a few curve balls.
Electro pop and key-driven pop-rock were big at SXSW this year, and we saw a decent range of keyboards and controllers, all pretty much what we expected, from Roland to Nord to Moog, but we also spotted a couple of Dave Smith Instruments Prophet synths, a Rhodes or two, and even a Zendrum wielded by Gordon Voidwell band member Guillermo E. Brown, who was using it to trigger sounds from his laptop on stage. Infinite Response was also at the show, not only showing in Gear Alley, but they had an awesome showcase. All of the hip-hop groups we saw were using Techniques 1200 turntables in tandem with laptops loaded with Serato, and we saw some guys with Akai controllers like the MPK25 and the MPD24 to enhance the musicality of the sound.
In nearly every venue where people were dancing (as opposed to moshing, headbanging or shoe-gazing), the bands were built around the keyboards.