SXSW 2015: Through the Eyes of a Local

Austin Silent Disco
Sxsw Austin Silent Disco @ Container Bar for The Guardian newspaper
Austin Silent Disco
Sxsw Austin Silent Disco @ Container Bar for The Guardian, Photo by: George Grogan

Every year thousands and thousands of people pile into downtown Austin, TX for the South by Southwest Interactive, Film, and Music Conference. Living in Austin, one hears people say all kinds of things regarding the fest. Some don’t like the sudden influx of tourists and the craziness of traffic, but I very much enjoy it.

SXSW is comprised of three portions, the Interactive, Film, and Music portions. Each host different events, and each draw a different crowd. Every portion has one thing in common: excess. Buying the right SXSW badge will get you an all access pass to everything from panels featuring technology’s brightest minds to the most famous names in music. It can be an amazing place to network, interact with celebrities and top industry professionals, or meet likeminded people. Different badges or wristbands allow different levels of access, from platinum badges to music-only wristbands. The ticketing hierarchy ranges in price from over $1,500 to $150, which is a lot considering…

With 55,000 people holding badges, and more holding wristbands, there is no way that everyone will get to see everything they want. The venues capacity simply won’t allow it! Depending on the panel, film, or concert one wants to see, they may still have to wait in lines of up to several hours! Yes, badgeholders get priority, but it’s still no guarantee. Now, depending on their reason for attending SXSW this may or may not be worth the money. Sure, a badge will allow you more opportunities to network, but a non-badge holder could meet the same contact over a taco at Torchy’s.

SXSW 2015
Photo by: Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

That being said, one of the things many people I know in Austin like to do is skip the pricey badges and wristbands and enjoy the hundreds of free parties offered all over town. If you play your cards right you can get into swanky parties with free food, drinks, and activities, as well as catch uber-talented musical acts all week! So whether you romp around enjoying the free parties, or prefer the certainty of a badge or wristband you can have an amazing time at SXSW. Here were some of the favorites I attended badge and wristband free (don’t forget to RSVP!)

The Thumbtack Ultimate Pool Party at the W Hotel Pool: The W Hotel is a fancy hotel downtown that is adjacent to the Moody Theater (where Austin City Limits is filmed). One of the first things I heard as I was waiting in line to enter the pool was, “Lookout, mermaid coming through!” I turned around to see several men carrying what looked like a mermaid into the pool area. Yes, it was one of those super realistic looking mermaid tails on a model, but still, it was pretty impressive. Upon entering we were treated to free delicious food, an open bar, and all the networking we could handle! Soothed by the sounds of the local DJ QuaLeh, it was a super relaxing start to the insane week to follow.

Thumbtack Pool Party at the W
Thumbtack Pool Party at the W

FireChat party at the 360 Condominiums: Also held on a pool deck, but this time at night, FireChats party stood out in my mind. Complete with tasty treats, open bar, chill tunes and free swag, they definitely made you feel like a VIP. What was great about this party is that it was energetic, but not wild enough that you couldn’t network. We met a lot of cool people, and actually got to sit or stand and have conversations rather than worry about dodging crowds or talking over music. Oh yah, and if you haven’t heard of FireChat – they are an amazing app that lets people chat without an Internet connection. Perfect for festivals! Check them out here.

Dim Mak’s SXSW Takeover @Austin Party Weekend: Kicking off the music portion of the festival, one of my favorite parties was Dim Mak’s SXSW takeover! Dim Mak, celebrating their 20th anniversary, is Steve Aoki’s record label, and has broken various artists including The Bloody Beetroots, Bloc Party, The Kills, and Battles, The Gossip, Andy’s iLL, Klaxons, MSTRKRFT, Felix Cartal, Datsik, and many more. I got there early, and got to chat with Will Brennan, one of the artists playing the showcase. He gave me a little peak into what it’s like to be a performer at SX saying, “One thing I’ve learned about Southby is that there’s no such thing as a real schedule, so people throw you in the show… and the next thing you know you’re performing.” Will’s been with Dim Mak for about two years and has been perfecting his album for about as long. Hear our full interview >>HERE<<. Other amazing artists that caught my attention were Little Boots, SBCR (of Bloody Beetroots), and Watch the Duck!

Steve Aoki at Dim Mak SXSW Takeover
Steve Aoki at Dim Mak SXSW Takeover, Photo by: Neil Favila

Pandora Discovery Den: The Pandora Discovery Den, sponsored by Pandora (obviously), is one of those places you have to stop by at least once during SX. They opened their doors on Wednesday and kept the party going until Saturday night. Pandora took over the Gatsby, which is a venue on 6th street as well as the parking lot beside it. After waiting in a fairly long line I was granted entrance. I would say it was worth the wait because of the food, drink, and activities offered all day everyday inside. I caught Odesza before they closed the doors to allow badge and wristband holders exclusive access to acts like Gorgon City and GriZ (one of the perks of having a badge/wristband, I suppose). Either way, it was fun every time I made it in, and I would recommend going!

Gravitas Music Showcase at Barcelona: Being a local Austenite, I had to support one of my favorite record labels, Gravitas Recordings! Held at Barcelona, a dark, underground club whose name is synonymous with heavy bass in Austin, the vibe was chill and the beats were awesome. One of my favorites at the showcase was D.V.S., a guitarist and producer hybrid who wails on the guitar while dropping highly danceable beats. His dreamy fusion of electronic and rock is always a treat for the earholes. Of course, I was definitely looking forward to hearing Liquid Stranger who did not disappoint! Originally from Sweden, Liquid Stranger is a unique fusion of bass heavy electronic goodness. His intimate set left me feeling satisfied, yet ready to take on the rest of the week!

UTopiafest Sessions Party
UTopiafest Sessions Party

UTOPiAfest Sessions: UTOPiAfest is one of my favorite local festivals, so I wasn’t surprised when their SXSW party rocked my socks off. Held 42 floors up in a penthouse downtown, guests were greeted with an ethereal looking stage, stunning views of the lake and South Austin, and of course an open bar. There was an incredible array of talented musicians including Civil Twilight and Insects vs. Robots. Basically the penthouse was bursting at the seams with great music and intelligent conversation that was reminiscent of Utopiafest itself. The actual event happens in September of this year, and I highly recommend you attend!

Hype Hotel: Hype Hotel is one of the more popular venues at SXSW and it lasts the majority of the music portion. Held in a huge warehouse down on east 5th, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an incredibly short line for wristbands. Once they were granted access, attendees were given a few free hype hotel memorabilia pieces and 4 free drink tickets. Inside the warehouse you could find a stage, 2 bars and lots of activities including a free photo booth. Outside was a grassy area and pavilion for eating and drinking with picnic tables. Taco Bell sponsored the event so that was the only food offered, and hungry festivalgoers munched down. The best part about it was the amazing music from the likes of Twin Shadow, King Tuff, Natalie Prass, and The Districts. Genres ranged from acoustic singer-songwriter to garage punk.

Downtown SXSW at Austin Party Weekend
Downtown SXSW at Austin Party Weekend, Photo by: Neil Favila

These just represent a small, very small, portion of the epic parties, concerts, showcases, talks, panels, films, and events that took place this SXSW. There is literally no way you can make them all. Everything I went to was free (with RSVP), but there were also so many things exclusively for badge and wristband holders. Either way you play it, just make sure you enjoy some delicious tacos and food trailers while soaking up the unique ambiance that only Austin can provide.


Pro Tips:

  • Decide on one or two must-do’s for the day, but go with the no-plan-plan the rest of the time. It’s no fun trying to run around and catch everything, just go with the flow!
  • Along the same lines as above: pick a couple friends to stick with throughout the day, but don’t travel in a large group. You won’t be able to please everyone.
  • RSVP ahead of time to the big parties. Anything like the Pandora Discovery Den, Hype Hotel or Fader Fort are going to be pretty strict with the RSVP’s. The smaller events are easier to get into without RSVP’s, but if you think you might be going, I would RSVP just in case!
  • Eat at the delicious food trucks all over town. There are so many awesome food trailer parks and you can find some gourmet gems.
  • Brunch. Brunch. Re-fuel for your day with brunch and a mimosa… it’s so fun!
  • Uber or Lyft are your friends. Don’t drink and drive, and don’t pay for outrageous parking. Just split an Uber home with your friends, or park outside of down town and Uber there after. Just be careful of their peak-time rates… they’ll get ya!
  • Dress to impress, but functional. Everyone there dons their best hipster-festie style, but they all look comfy as hell! There’s a balance…
  • Lastly, don’t go too hard at the beginning of the week. You will need rest and miss out on cool stuff! But do rest at some point.


Written by FestPop Head of Communications

Karli Jaenike

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