St Patrick’s Day started early and bleary-eyed with the most important thing of day: trying to secure a decent seat at a sports bar in Austin to watch the Ireland v England game, the final game of the Six Nations Rugby Championship. After numerous texts between our panel, we found the ‘nearly’ perfect venue: Star Bar – I say ‘nearly’ as the channel they could show had a one hour time delay on the broadcast – so a news and social media ban was agreed.
In the afternoon one of the panels I attended was: ‘The World is a Stage: Concerts in VR’. If you enjoy VR and AR then SXSW is the place for you, and this panel discussed the possibilities of what is to come relating to concerts. Tom Gimbel (General Manager of Austin City Limits) and Kevin Custer (Google) agreed that one of the main selling points of VR for a concert experience is that it should offer viewers at home things that an attendee can’t experience. These might be an artist speaking to camera in the green room before the show, setting up for the concert, sound checking, right up to leaving the venue and post-show pieces to camera. They agreed that some artists are going to be more engaged in this new medium than others.
There are whole exhibition halls at SXSW with the latest gear to try, or you can just wander around and enjoy watching everyone in their own world: with their headsets on, swiping madly at giant insects or whatever else is coming their way. We were also told that the price of VR headsets and 360 degree cameras will be coming down this year.
I was on my own in the afternoon and thought I would try just walking into venues without knowing what was playing – no preconceptions. The platinum pass I had means there is never a cover charge, and in fact most of the afternoon sessions are free to anyone anyway. It was also getting hot in Austin that day (30C) so stepping into AC felt good. I stumbled across a brand new venue called Parker Jazz Club and got chatting with the manager. The club wasn’t ready for this year’s SXSW but I am sure it will become a popular space in future years. The look of the stage area with acoustic panelling was beautiful.
Friday and Saturday nights bring an additional huge crowd into downtown Austin (apart from the SXSW delegates). 6th Street, where many of the SXSW music venues and bars are situated, takes on quite a carnival atmosphere, with a lot of street food and vendors. It is quite a surreal feeling walking between venues: there is as much to see out on the street as there is indoors. There was also a huge police presence downtown looking on at the whole spectacle.
At Swan Dive there was a seriously heavy and loud four piece band playing. Fortunately they had an outdoor patio at the back that had been converted into another performance space, unfortunately there was another even louder and more seriously heavy band playing. At this point (as an ambassador of the British Tinnitus Association), it seems the perfect opportunity to plug (no pun intended), my custom moulded ACS PRO 17 silicon earplugs with their 17dB attenuation that I always carry around when going to gigs. Available in the UK from all larger Boots stores (with a hearing department) – you need to make an appointment for a wax moulding of your ears – and about 2 weeks later the ear plugs are ready for collection. They have a flat frequency response so it is just like turning the sound down on the world.
We ended the evening at another venue, which again had two performance spaces – I honestly think it would be hard to visit all the venues at SXSW in one week let alone see all the bands and artists – there are just so many music venues. I have never been to a city quite like this. Highlights of the day were Lucy Rose & Superorganism at the British Music Embassy.
Sadly (happily for me!) we ran out of time for the ‘setting Sheridan on fire stunt’ that Dr Danger had promised (much to the disappointment of my fellow panel members, they were getting rather too excited about this for my liking). And on that note a big thank you to Pete, Mark G, Teri and Mark…we had a blast, we survived SXSW18, and yes…Ireland won.
Huge thank you to Dr Danger who has been my fantastic host, tour guide and general partner in crime for my week in Austin. And very special thanks to Cathie S!
I hope you enjoyed my blogs from SXSW18. Who knows…my next trip to South By SouthWest may end in ‘Don’t try this at home kids!’
What is SXSW?
South by Southwest is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. It began in 1987, and has continued to grow in both scope and size every year. Every year around 18000 artists and bands apply to play at the festival. There are panels and presentations throughout the day and exhibition halls demonstrating the latest technologies. Individuals and companies attend from all around the world.