Tragic news this morning for the music industry, as Brent Grulke, the creative director behind perhaps the world’s most prestigious music conference, SXSW, has passed away at the age of 52.
According to the Houston Press, Grulke had spent the last few weeks in London for the Olympics and had only just returned to Austin. Reports indicate that Grulke went into cardiac arrest while at a dentist surgery, and was pronounced dead two hours later.
Grulke was a man of many talents throughout his career in the music industry, having started out as a sound engineer and tour manager in the 1980s, before joining the marketing division of Sprindletop Records in the 1990s, and was a former writer for the Austin Chronicle.
He had been with SXSW it was founded in 1987, starting off as a stage manager before rising to creative director in 1994, where he was then in charge of booking acts for the conference.
Under his leadership and booking savvy, SXSW grew from a few hundred local and regional acts into the conference we see today, where thousands of performers from around the globe descend on Austin, Texas each year to perform in front of industry heavyweights and fans alike.
According to EventWire.com, a music-industry trade site, SXSW now contributes over $150 million to the local economy each year, and lately has been used as the launchpad for some of music’s brightest new stars, such as Foster The People and Alabama Shakes.
Phil Tripp, Australia’s SXSW representative, told Noise11 this morning that he was deeply saddened by the loss of his good friend. “My heart is heavy, my cheeks soaked,” he said.
“I got a call from Millie Millgate at 8 this morning thinking that I knew about Brent but thank God I got the word from her and was not alone opening an email,” he added. “We cried together, and I’m crying now just thinking about it. I feel so useless, what can I say or do.”
“So I look out on the bright sun of a gorgeous breeze-kissed morning, remembering the great times we shared, especially the night before the music conference in Sydney at Tetsuya’s that we had planned for months with fellow raconteurs and connoisseurs of vinous and distilled spirits-Jeff Price of Tunecore and Ted Cohen.”
“Each of us brought a special bottle of wine, we ploughed through 14 courses and finished off the night without casualty. Brent, as always, was a wry wit, a perfect gentleman and all around great guy to be with.”
“Those qualities are the ones I will remember, not the sadness of today discovering that I lost a ‘family member’ from my team of tight comrades who I have grown over a decade to fondly work with. He can’t be replaced but he wil always be remembered in my life”.
“A lot of Brent’s personality was in SXSW,” added SXSW director and co-founder Roland Swenson. “He was adventurous and knowledgeable and excited about creative people and endeavors. He didn’t like the usual and mundane. He was open-minded enough to know that his taste wasn’t always the most important thing, so he was open to new things.”
Grulke is survived by his wife Kristen and son Graham. Officials say that questions of what’s next for SXSW Music are expected – but their focus now is on the loss of a friend. Our thoughts go out to his friends, family, and loved ones in this difficult time.