For ten days every March, the population of Austin, Texas doubles in size. Industry professionals, film buffs, tech heads, music fans and curious spectators brave the incessant traffic, exorbitant prices and masses of crowds to scope out the Next Big Thing.
Up-and-coming musicians, filmmakers, creators and innovators sell their schtick to their audiences in the hopes of breaking into their chosen markets.
Austin, Texas doubles in size every March for the annual SXSW, where this year Australian acts reigned supreme on the international stage.
South By South West (SXSW), referred to as South By for those in the know, sees people flock from all corners of the globe to a small city in the south of Texas, not too far from the Mexican border. Austin’s reputation has garnered it the label of Live Music Capital of the World.
Perhaps it’s SXSW that helped the city secure its title; for the duration of the conference, every spare room in Austin moonlights as a makeshift venue. The whole city goes into an almost dystopian lockdown. The CBD is closed to cars so punters make do with electric scooters. People pack the streets like sardines; at 2 am, when all the venues close, the streets are so crowded it’s a struggle to see even a few metres in front.
It is warm and sunny here in Austin today. The weather isn’t too different from Australia; the persistent humidity and blaring sun are similar to that of Sydney. It’s the foot traffic and masses of people that bring the sweat.
SXSW is split into three types of events; there’s the interactive portion of the conference, reserved for educators, virtual reality whizzes, academics and tech nerds. The bulk of this year’s interactive lay in cryptocurrency and blockchains, sex technology and the future of cannabis in the United States.
When the interactive events begin to wrap up, the film festival takes centre stage. Independent filmmakers from the world over premiere their works on the big screen. Some films were interactive and saw the inclusion of VR technology for a more immersive experience. The SXSW red carpet saw the likes of Seth Rogen, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from Broad City, Woody Harrelson and Karley Sciortino.
This year, official SXSW music showcases kicked off on Monday, March 8. Because SXSW is an industry showcase and not a music festival, there are no headline acts. Some bands do, however, have more hype than others; Atlanta’s Deerhunter saw lines of over three hours into their showcase, and unless fans arrived early, they were almost guaranteed to miss out. Deerhunter’s performance was preceded by US act Priests and New Zealand’s The Beths.
Every day, every venue in the city’s CBD and over 100 venues in its surrounding areas host showcases of at least 5 or 6 bands. The Part Time Punks Showcase at Barracuda was the highlight of Day Two, with 10 bands playing over two stages from 7:45 pm to 2 am. LA dream-pop trio The Pantones kicked off the night, followed by Californian minimalist post-punk outfit numb.er, Italian shoegaze trio Be Forest, Flying Nun alumni The Chills and Sydney’s very own Kirin J Callinan. In Houston, The Pinheads, Noire, Moonlover and Quivers showcased their sets to the Australian American Chamber of Commerce at The Continental Club downtown. Another highlight of day two was Taiwanese dream pop team I Mean Us and Californian singer-songwriter, Jackie Cohen.
Japanese neo-kawaii punk band CHAI wowed audiences at Mohawk on Day Two, as did Melbourne’s very own King of Post Punk, Spike Vincent. Cult techno duo Justice played a secret show downtown, and Dutch garage punks Iguana Death Cult destroyed Hotel Vegas.
Today is Day Four of SXSW’s music showcases, and The Australian BBQ at Australia House on Rainey Street is currently taking place. This year is the 10th anniversary of Sounds Australia at SXSW, and the event feels more special than ever. The Australian BBQ showcases the best in new Australian music. Sydney duo Greenwave Beth, Melbourne’s Oh Pep!, Haiku Hands, FRITZ, Denise Le Menise and Body Type gave Australians a good name on the international stage.
With only three days left to go until this year’s SXSW has officially come to a close, feels like it’s gone both too quickly and so slowly. SXSW is crazy for spectators and performers alike. It is bittersweet to see the festival’s end but exciting to watch the plethora of acts shine through because of their time on an international stage.