Hearing the news of Lady Gaga being vomited upon by a ‘vomit painter’ during her live show at SXSW this year, you can’t help but ponder the notion that South By Southwest, the ten days of music, film, and interactive mayhem that descends upon ‘too-cool’ Austin each year, maybe has changed a bit.
In 1987, SXSW, as it’s commonly written, 700 registrants were on hand to watch bands in the first incarnation of the festival. SXSW quickly grew, becoming the spot to be if you were an up-and-coming artist and wanted to ‘get noticed.’ Today, the festival features over 2,200 musical acts alone, and that’s not including the tens of thousands that jet in from ‘all points hip’ to listen, watch films, or shake a Twitter founder’s hand.
Going to high school in Austin, SXSW was where I found my love of film. The festival atmosphere is infectious, and inspiring. Little-known docs, narratives, and seminars are a daily occurrence, and as a sixteen year old, being able to talk to Billy Bob Thorton just because he’s there for the same film was pretty cool.
Today, SXSW is all about #brands and #buzz. It seemed that this year, my first visit to SXSW in five years, the festival is a different animal. Every corporate entity seems to have felt the need to be here. Doritos sponsored the Lady Gaga Vomit Fest, Chevy had dozens of free car rides through town, and Jimmy Kimmel shot a week’s worth of shows here. All the increased noise has diluted the festival’s uniqueness, and is no longer a place you can get noticed. You have to have the money to get noticed now.
And, the same phrase can be heard up and down 6th Street- ‘Austin is so cool.’ With open bars and free food for 10 straight days, you would eventually come to that conclusion.
Yeah, but it used to be so much cooler. I doubt many teenagers are talking to Oscar-winning actors anymore. But, feel free to tweet or instagram how great it was hanging out in the Cottonelle Refresh Lounge, because you might win some Kimmel tickets if you do.