Sunday Confession: I hate SXSW

2011
03.06

I have a confession to make, and since it’s Sunday, it seems apropos:

I hate SXSW.

Yes, that bastion of Austin coolness, the only reason many people have ever even BEEN to Austin, and discovered its sexy secrets? I hate it.

More reasons to hate SXSW wankers, via Austin Pixels

Now, to be entirely up-front about my hate-on, I’ve never actually attended a single SXSW event. “But Laura!” you may be saying, in a shocked tone of voice, “How can you hate something you’ve never even tried?!”

Well, here’s the thing: I’m not made of money (as you may have guessed, based on the title of my blog), and SXSW really strikes me as a rich-person’s festival. Who else can afford to take 10 days off work to attend all the concerts, the parties, the film showings, the book readings, the speakers, the video game marathons, etc.? Who else can afford a $900+ badge? Or even a $200 wristband?

Actually, don’t even get me started on the wristbands. Why you’d shell out 200 clams for something that doesn’t even guarantee entry into these events is beyond my comprehension, especially when badge-holders are perpetually given priority over the wristband peeps (who are, BTW, the locals that support most of these bands, filmmakers and interactive media peeps the other 355 days of the year NOT devoted to SXSW).

So, number one: I can’t afford to get in.

Number two, lots of people decide to volunteer at the festival as a way of getting in for free. Fair enough, as it’s a good way to circumvent the system that seeks to keep poor people out, but honestly, if the fest is charging a minimum of $900 for a pass, don’t you think the organizers could afford to pay their volunteers—even a little?

Thirdly, why is it that this fest is so all-or-nothing? I mean, let’s say there is literally only one band I’m interested in seeing in the entire festival. Why can’t I go down to that venue and buy a ticket to see that show, and only that show? Why should I have to shell out $900 for a pass when I only want to see one concert?

Given the fact that most of us work for a living, I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe that the people who are buying those passes are even getting their money’s worth. If all the shows cost $10 a piece, you’d have to see 90 shows over 10 days, or 9 shows daily, in order to break even. Even if we said all the shows were worth $20 each, you’d still have to see 45 shows in 10 days, or 4.5 shows daily, to come out on top. Is that realistic? Hardly.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons that I hate SXSW is its exclusivity. It’s a playground for the wealthy, and its actual purpose is to enable corporate musical bigwigs to come to our town and preview the up-and-coming bands they’d like to sign to their labels. It’s kind of the NFL draft for the music world, if you will. So basically, the entire reason that the badges cost so much is because the people who run the fest know that these fat cats can pony up the fat cash.

In short: It’s not about exposing Austinites to new bands, it’s about an elite group grubbing money from a dying industry while they still can.

So although I would be interested in attending a number of the Interactive panels, I’m certainly not going to be buying an overpriced pass ($750) for the privilege. I’ve got a number of friends coming to the city to present at the Interactive portion of the fest, and I’m bummed that I can’t support them by being at their events, but frankly? I’d rather have drinks with them somewhere outside the SXSW bubble, in a bar where we might hear the next big thing playing at an anti-SXSW, totally un-corporate party.

And you know what? Real Austinites know that the best SXSW parties are the underground, word-of-mouth invites you get to bars you’ve never even heard of, that probably won’t even be around after the parties are over (“Typewriter Museum,” anyone?).

In summation: If you’re coming for SXSW and you’ve got a badge, have fun, enjoy our city, spend lots of money on souvenirs and local food that will feed our economy. But don’t think you’ve seen the “real” Austin by attending this fest, cus the bubble is NOT Austin.

Screenshot from Amplicate on "SXSW hate"

P.S. I’m not alone: Jolie O’Dell and Robot Heart also hate SXSW, as do a variety of people (including musicians!) featured on World Hum and in a thread on Amplicate (where the highest-rated opinion states “Louis [Black] sucks, and he makes the event suck”), and there’s even a song on YouTube called “I Hate SXSW” by a dude called Mojo Nixon. Oh, and let’s not forget the Passive Aggressive Notes and Awesome sour grapes excuses for not attending SXSW this year, not to mention TechCrunch’s article on why SXSW Interactive specifically sucks!

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12 Responses to “Sunday Confession: I hate SXSW”

  1. @sddialedin says:

    I appreciate your post. I’ll be coming out from San Diego, and I can’t afford it, but I’m coming anyway and look to use your site as a resource while in town. I can definitely empathize with the feeling that your city will be overrun by bigwigs and douchebags and can completely understand why you hate it; we experience the same feeling for comic-con (though it’s less cost prohibitive, it’s still crazy expensive), and it’s just a weekend, but as a blogger like you, I choose to accept it, embrace it, and now I’m invited back to cover all things Con on my site. I hope you’re able to enjoy yourself in your own hometown while me and thousands others temporarily invade your home.

  2. Hey @sddialedin, I think you’ve actually hit on another part of my problem with this fest: they don’t seem to want bloggers to cover it! I applied for a press pass for the Interactive portion and was denied; they then offered me a “discounted” badge for $450. Call me crazy, but that’s still way outta my league. Especially since I’m not going to make any money off of covering this event. It’s funny that a fest with an Interactive Media section doesn’t want their local bloggers involved, no?

  3. Louis Black says:

    Folks,
    Personally I do suck and to such an extent you can’t even begin to conceive. And your bitches about SXSW are on all the trivial stuff — what about our white slave ring, our kidnapping young children to sell abroad, our elementary school programs to hook kids on drugs — Now those are worth attacking!
    I apologize in advance because I realize no one is really interested in how things are, they just want to vent their wonderfully appropriate hatred of us and contempt for us.
    But still:
    The first 2000 wristbands, sold only to Austinites cost $139.
    There are 93 stages and over 2000 bands playing over basically 4 nights.
    Then the cost goes up to $165.
    It is not all or nothing. Almost every show sells a certain number of single tickets.
    There are three nights of free concerts at the Auditorium Shores Stage. This year bands playing include The Strokes, Bright Eyes, World Party, Blue October, Man Man and the Felice Brothers.
    Literally hundreds and hundreds of bloggers applied for press credentials so there was no way to credential all of them.

    Now, I want to make it very clear, that unlike you guys, I still suck and SXSW sucks and I suck so bad. The above are probably all lies as I try to sucker you.
    Even though there are hundreds of relatively new or unsigned or independent bands at SXSW plus hundreds more playing at parties all over town, it is not about music. It is not about film. It is not about media or creativity or anything good. It is about bad stuff that you are all far above.

  4. Nice of you to drop by, Louis. Honestly, we don’t care about how hard you, personally, may or may not suck. We just think you should try to form a festival that doesn’t cater to rich industry douchebags, but I guess that wouldn’t make you any money, would it? Have fun rolling in your millions. XO, Shoestring Austin

  5. April says:

    Movie passes for the SXSW film fest are only $70. I have gone to the film part for the last three years, and in that time I have only not gotten into one film that I wanted to see. You can see 4 to 5 movies a day and this part of the festival goes on for nine days thus, you could attend over 40 films. If you even go to 10 films you would have paid less then $10 per film. They also sell single move tickets for those that want to only see one or two specific films. Yes there are plenty of “fat cats” but there are also a lot of us average folk that enjoy attending. I have meet local students, school teachers, and working class people like myself at many of these venues. I have also meet some of these so called “fat cats”, and you know, some of them are actually pretty nice people.

  6. […] we may hate SXSW’s overpriced, overly corporate bull pucky, we also LOVE the events that piggyback on the fest’s success. Stick it to The Man with the […]

  7. […] this week I wrote a blog post entitled “I hate SXSW,” describing my annoyance with the ever-expanding music/film/interactive festival that […]

  8. Anonymous says:

    Assuming that is the real Louis Black, you come off as a real asshole in your response. I had all the same concerns Laura had, which i think are all valid, and you start your response with this seemingly “tongue in cheek” list of “bad things” the sxsw people do, all which were far fetched and stupid. It was like you wanted to come off as a “cool guy” but really just came off as a self-important asshole.

    Your “the first 2000 wristbands sell for 140 only to Austinites” thing is total crap. That’s more than a days work for most people in Austin (Most employers still pay around and under $10 an hour for non-professional work). Meanwhile those probably sell out pretty quickly, meaning your organization has $280,000 with only a base level of event planning. 25 years in I bet the preliminary stages of the event kind of plan themselves. IF it’s anything like AFF (where I worked), and by that I mean has a small office of maybe 6 full time employees running the whole thing while the rest of the work is done by unpaid interns and volunteers (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was) that means that you have almost paid all of your employees’ salaries (less yourself, you of course make way more than 50k) just off of those discounted wristbands. And unlike AFF, which is a 501 (c) tax exempt non-profit, SXSW is a for-profit enterprise. Statistically speaking 1 in about 400 people in austin will actually be able to get one of those wristbands, still leaving well over 700k people that do not have access to “discounted” wristbands. Meaning that if these are only sold at say, waterloo records and not online, you would have to wait in line for probably a week to ensure you were one of the first 2000, meaning you would have to use a week of vacation to even do that. This leads me to believe that those 2000 are going to trust fund hipsters who don’t have real responsibilities, and on top of that are probably transplants. People that moved here because of the fact that SXSW is here every year. So you’ve already paid your staff with the first 2000 “discounted” wrist bands. You still have film passes and badges to sell and months until the actual festival, before any of the hard planning comes up. Most of the bands that are performing are doing so for free. The venues are surely giving you discounts if not working for free based on how much they will make in alcohol sales that week. It’s a million dollar turn key operation at this point and you have the balls to be a dick because people don’t like it for very valid reasons.

  9. Another Anonymous says:

    Interesting post, especially since it comes from an Austin point of view. I work with a band from out of town, and we’ve played SXSW twice. Additionally, members of our band used to play SXSW with another band in the early 90s.

    We stopped going down a while back, because frankly it wasn’t really worth our while. We do good business in Austin and in San Antonio, but playing for half your normal crowd for $150 because you’re competing against Lucinda Williams or Elvis Costello across town…it just doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the festival was originally a good idea that has lost its path. Competing against artists who have long since had it made, and having them siphon off the crowd; it’s just frustrating. Additionally, you have to compete with hundreds of other bands for gigs on the way down and back.

    Our musician friends in Austin tend to lay low during the festival, unless they get drafted to play with an out-of-town band.

    If I was the typical out-of-town music fan, I dunno, maybe I’d take a different viewpoint. But for bands in our position, it’s just not much fun, and doesn’t make any business sense.

  10. SXSW Hater says:

    This post is just as relevant in 2012 as it was in 2011. A few things to add to the list:
    ATTN, SXSW douche bags-
    1. our neighborhoods are not your personal playgrounds to trash, poach parking, keep us up all night, etc….
    2. Promoters take advantage of the fact that East Austin has few restrictions/regulations at the total expense of the people who live & work in the neighborhood. While they benefit from the influx of cash into “the Austin economy” (i.e. clubs, restaurants & retail), it’s at the expense of the rest of us. There is no benefit to local Austinites. Free shows, you say? What if we don’t give a fuck & just want you assholes out of the neighborhood?
    3. If you are a guest, act like one- so many of these jerks will now lay claim to our city- oh, Austin’s sooooo cool, I want to move there- or at least keep a winter home. Well, guess what? The East side ‘aint no hipster vacation rental, bitches. GTFO. How I’d love to slash the tires of the car camper who’s been parked in front of my house for 48 hrs now, blocking my own access.
    4. Austin has NEVER been about industry elitism- in fact, its “coolness” evolved over the years out of the very antithesis of the kind of LA/NY bullshit that now invades our city, encroaching upon residents’ quality of life & livelihood.
    5. And finally: Louis Black, you industry whore, go suck a fat one. As SXSW bedfellows, Austin City Council can suck it too. A great example of why single member voting districts would benefit those of us who actually live & work here year round, supporting the Austin “economy” with hard earned tax dollars.

  11. Ray says:

    Kudos to Laura and Shoestring and allt he Austinites figthing the good fight and telling the truth about this BS industry fuckfest called SXSW. I am from the North East and I will not go to SXSW on principle, not only because, as Laura said it caters to music industry douches and assholes (of which I know a few and I have to tell you, they are ALL assholes who think they are the best thing since sliced bread). Indie music festivals are no longer that, “indie” and are intended only to accomplish two(2) things: GET LAID AND MAKE MONEY. It’s not about the music, it’s not about discovering bands, it’s not about digging the scene; it’s about GETTING LAID AND MAKING MONEY. So, enjoy the disgusting capitalist anal ride of your life and go to SXSW. I wish someone would go down to the nearest police station in Austin and find out if there is an increase int he number of rapes during those 10 days of the festival. I bet you all, there is. A couple of programming directors from up here where I live in the North East have told me that their while goal in going to SXSW is to “get laid every night” and one is 51 years old and the other 55. I’ve seen the 55 year old Kris Kristofferson wannabe dancing with 22 year old hippie chicks that think they’ll get a radio job from him if they let him fuck them. Poor girls don’t know shit. Oh well, ta da’ for now. Keep up the good fight and FUCK LOUIS BLACK and SXSW.