21 Mar With Jiber at SXSW
I’m now back from my first South by Southwest festival in Austin. There’s so much to digest but a few lasting thoughts to take home.
Lessons for other tech cities: This isn’t Silicon Valley. This is in the middle of Texas and the meeting ground of not just what’s in Silicon Valley but in every tech hub around (mostly) North America. The #VegasTech bash was a great reminder of a fledgling tech centre doing the right things to get on the map: investment from successful exits (Zappos) into startups and new infrastructure (the Downtown Project), startup spaces mixed with art and music (all the bands playing were from Vegas and remarkably or somehow connected to the entrepreneurs at the party), and contagious optimism and support. The rest — a tech university, government support, local venture capital — is just gravy.
Keep Austin weird: What an incredible town. Who’d think such a progressive town would be in the heart of Texas. There’s music on every corner, people dancing, pride for local dripping good food and BBQ, a top university, beautiful buildings and landscape, and a helluva dollop of personal style. And plenty of newfound secrets for the next visit, either SXSW or not: BBQ without the tourist lines, the special local music venues and bars and restaurants, and new places to explore and run.
SXSW exists on so many levels for different people, and it’s changing so quickly. SXSW happens in the conference center presentations, on the downtown streets, in hotels, and around small dinner tables and bars, but also in hot tubs, running trails, rolling buses, and surprisingly also far away from downtown.
And it’s changing so quickly, especially with new abilities to document it, keep aware of everything going on on-the-fly, and connect with people. Is our documentation taking away from living it? Are we suffering from FOMO by always scheming the next stop? Is there too much noise between startups, bands, and big brands?
Then SXSW Music comes to town. And Austin goes up ten levels. The streets are crammed and buzzing, and there’s a party and shows everywhere. Musicians set up ad-hoc concerts on the street and on top of trucks, trying to get noticed, and maybe even pulled into a venue by a bar owner. But it’s not just struggling artists trying to get attention; SXSW is covered by signed bands with major label backing trying like everyone else get exposure. These established acts are, like everyone else and like they probably did years ago, given five minutes to set up, soundcheck in front of a live audience, and then getting thrust out into the audience. Everyone is hustling is this brutal market, one that still, 15 years later, has not nailed a business model since Napster turned it all upside down. You’ll also find some of the biggest musicians around just rolling from venue to venue checking out for themselves what’s out there.
Some of my favorite acts:
Everything is tech and everyone an entrepreneur. Watching deadmau5 geek out with Richie Hawtin on a couple couches in front of a full crowd — everything is becoming tech. Seeing every artist hustle alongside startups — everyone is an entrepreneur.
It’s all about the people. SXSW is fundamentally about the people with whom you interact. I recall fiercely battling as goalie with the HootSuite ball hockey team, diving into a meaningful chat with Stephen Wolfram at 2am, running into longtime friends, encouraging remarkable musicians on their quest for exposure, and unexpectedly making some deep connections with people.
Reminder: what is the Internet? It’s about people. It’s about connecting people. More on that in my next post here.