SxSW continues to be the meeting point of cinema, music and art, and remains a pertinent cultural phenomenon, 30 years since its inception.
Music and film festivals are aplenty. But few can boast the cultural influence such as SxSW, easily independent culture’s flag-bearing representation. By featuring the most qualitative acts of the year, becoming a festival and an industry-affecting conference, it sees the coming together of the brightest creators from the world art scene. In more ways than one, America’s independent arts find comeuppance at SxSW, which carries Austin’s indie sensitivity with unpretentious vigour.
The New York Times has in fact called it –
“…the domestic pop and rock music industry’s most important annual event.”
This year’s edition marks SxSW’s 30th Anniversary, as the festival continues to remain a most prevalent art festival – a truly cohesive event that amalgamates America’s creative ingenuity in all forms. The Sherp looks at the festival, its history and its bright future, as it continues to be the most promising platform for up and coming creators.
30 years back
Several things were commanding American’s consciousness in 1986. It was the time when technology was still at its nascent stages, the Berlin Wall was still standing, there existed no Euro, Apple was selling a Macintosh Computer with 128 kilobytes of RAM, CDs were the norm and Ronald Reagan was American President. A need where superlative art from outside could be brought to Austin, brought together some sharp, entrepreneurial minds of Austin, who brainstormed an event that would satisfy this possibility.
SxSW was hence initiated in an attempt to bring the world to Austin. Its first edition, held in March, 1987 saw the number of registrants grow from a mere 150 to 700. What started out as a music based event, it grew to incorporate interactive media and film. With contemporary media advancing to more developed terms, art at SxSW has expanded to be inclusive of digital media. The festival, with performances and screenings of music and film, remains a confluence where creative minds can come together, discuss and collaborate.
The famed Austin Chronicle then described it as –
“All in all, an impressive beginning for SXSW and a sturdy groundwork on which to build a balanced conference tradition – level-headed, sober discussion countered with six or seven hours worth of the real live thing.”
Today, it has seen speakers such as as Lena Dunham, Dave Grohl, Snoop Dogg, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Steve Carrell, Neil Degrasse Tyson and Seth Rogen, among other industry regulars, with performances by musicians such as Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Toro y Moi and Kendrick Lamar.
The Interactive sessions at SxSW
Some of the most acclaimed talent from the industry, from creators to financiers, have come to be the Keynote speakers at SxSW. This is done, so young, wistful creators can learn from what the established talent have to say, and take away inspiration from their experience. Some impassioned stories of talent, perseverance and effort have been told at these sessions, making for some truly candid confessions.
Over the years, prominent keynote speakers include Elon Musk of Tesla, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, Chelsea Clinton of the Clinton Foundation, author Bruce Sterling, Mark Zuckerberg, among several others.
Music at SxSW
It started out as a musical event, so there is no denying that despite the many activities that take centre stage at the festival, music still remains its most pertinent art form. The festival’s musical offshot is notorious for hosting some of music’s biggest icons at their nascent stages, who, after their performance at the festival, have gone to he award winning, chart topping stars. Acts such as John Mayer, Alabama Shakes, Imagine Dragons, James Blunt, The White Stripes and The Strokes, all major genre-leading musicians performed at SxSW when they were relatively not as popular.
On its 30th edition, SxSW will return to Austin from March 11 to 19.
The Interactive Festival will be organised from March 11 to 15, and will be marked by several sessions that bear information about the many industries summarised by the festival. This year will be graced by speakers such as Kerry Washington, J.J Abrams and Andrew Jarecki, fresh off Star Wars, Anthony Bourdain, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Medium and Jelly, Richard Linklater, Sam Esmail and Rami Malek of Mr. Robot, among several others.
The Film Festival can be attended from March 11 to 19, and will be opened with Richard Linklater’s new feature, Everybody Wants Some, the sequel to his cult classic Dazed and Confused. The Austin Filmmaker is a SxSW favourite, given his extremely individual, artistic style of filmmaking, and can be seen as a part of several sessions throughout the festival. In addition to that, the festival features some stellar films as part of its lineup, from the industries of America, France, Israel, UK, Ireland, Canada, and India.
The SxSW Music Festival will be held from March 15 to 19. This year’s keynote speaker for the Music Festival will be James Prince, founder of Houston-based label Rap-A-Lot Records, a legend in the hip hop industry, and Tony Visconti, veteran music producer. In addition to that will be performances by several independent acts worth the check.