SXSW is not a music festival. From an outside perspective I had always thought that it was primarily a music festival based around up and coming talent but this is so far from the truth. SXSW is sensory overload. It is a film festival, a city taken over by concerts and showcases, a professional event with countless panels or talks going on at any given time, a corporate wet dream, and much more. If you don’t like lines or your not good at being on time SXSW is not for you. To get into any of the events in high demand you have to arrive at least an hour early usually just to wait in a line, this was very irritating.
Having options is good to a point but becomes detrimental when there are too many options. The “Paradox of Choice” theory states that having too many choices often leads to more anxiety and disappointment than happiness. When music really started up later in the week there was usually at least 10 showcases happening but at the peak there was over 20 showcases happening all at the same time. Imagine having 20 stages at a festival, all the inevitable conflicts. SXSW takes it one step further and these showcases can be up to a mile apart, and sometimes you would arrive just to find a line because the venue was at capacity. Over the course of the week despite 1500+ artists playing shows I think I saw just over 20 artists. This was also partially due to attending panels and other events and a lack of planning but either way the point stands.
This is not to say SXSW is a bad experience. I did learn a lot in panels. I saw a couple films in including “American Animals” but overall it was very difficult to get into films with a music badge because you have secondary access only after film or platinum badges go in. I didn’t see as many famous people as I had hoped but I did see Matthew McConaughey who came out during a talk by Roy Spence.
The one thing in no short supply was corporate sponsored events. I did not get to attend all of these events because some were 21+ but I know many did include free drinks or an open bar. From a marketing perspective, it was an interesting case study to see all the different tactics used by companies in an attempt to align their brand with a specific idea. Ready Player One took over a bar and included a VR experience (which the movie itself is basically based on), the Fox sports house was a cool event with a rooftop patio which the station broadcasted from on multiple occasions, and countless other brand activations took over the SXSW area of downtown.
Overall, SXSW can be used as a great tool in finding the best new artists coming up but just don't expect to actually see many of them. The research I did before in trying to plan introduced me to so many artists that I really like but also consequently added to my disappointment. Check out this playlist with all the artists I was hoping to see. Of the artists I did see below my top ten favorites with #1 being my favorite performance.
1. Nubya Garcia: Nubya was a part of a Jazz Re:freshed showcase and she absolutely killed her performance. I have never seen a crowd so energized and excited. I recorded the last 15 minutes of her performance because it was the most incredible jazz performance I had ever witnessed, take a listen and you will not be disappointed. Throughout the performance Nubya gave each performer space and creative liberty to shine, during which she would be on stage dancing. Her happiness and love of the music were so real and infectious.
3. Max Richter: The modern compositional pianist conducted his piece "SLEEP" from 12AM to 8AM surrounded by 100 beds. It was a truly beautiful performance.
4. JPEGMAFIA: Baltimore rapper started his set by jumping into the crowd and making a circle for himself to rap and mosh around. He practically screamed over his laser sharp trap beats.
5. U.S. Girls
6. Ezra Collective
7. Jeff Rosenstock
8. Princess Nokia: She came out 30 minutes late but performed an energetic set in a small intimate setting reaching out to grab the hands of the (predominantly female) fans in the front row at times.
9. Sunflower Bean