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.
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.
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!