My SXSW 2011 Recap

If you don’t know what SXSW (South By South West) is…you’re probably not a nerd, film or music person.

It’s also the reason I didn’t release the HouseOfRave Behind The Scenes product earlier…since I got only 1 day of work done in two weeks.

Onwards…

It’s a gigantic festival/conference here in Austin with an economic impact of over $120 million per year….so it’s pretty damn big.

There is one part of the festival called the “Interactive” portion.  It essentially means “anything technology related.”

Every year I go to SXSW activities for all the free stuff, but have never bought the badge.  This year I bought a $700 badge that’s good for just the Interactive portion

I had such a blast!!  …but I also have a bad memory….so in order to remember this experience I’ll document parts of it here:

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First of all I had to go pickup my badge for the event.  You can always spot a fellow SXSW’er by the large badge around their neck.  This badge cost me $675 at the time I bought it:

Since this is the Interactive event, it’s all internet dorks like me…so all the people you follow on Twitter or read their blogs…are most likely at SXSW also.

To illustrate this point, Adam who has a blog called Magical Penny reads my blog.  He actually emailed me a few days in advance saying he’d like to meetup.  Surely enough, as I’m registering to get my badge (along with THOUSANDS of other people), the guy next to me asks, “Are you Neville?” ….turns out it was Adam!

I randomly get the “Hey-are-you-Neville-I-read-your-blog” thing pretty often, but it was funny that it happened RIGHT as I got there (not gonna lie…it felt a little celebrity-ish) :-)

This was on Thursday before SXSW started.

That same Thursday a good friend of mine who owns Smiley Media was throwing a “little” pre-SXSW party which was part of a long list of “SXSW Pub Crawl” parties.  They named the party “The Smiley Media Penthouse Party” which sounded pretty cool compared to the other parties at small bars.  Theirs was being held in their 28,000 sq. ft. office at the very top of the Omni hotel in the heart of downtown.

Originally they called it the “Penthouse Party at Smiley Media” but figured that might draw the wrong crowd (aka strippers and douchebags) because of the Penthouse Magazine association.

Somehow this little party went viral from a small Facebook invite they sent out to employees.  Soon there were 1,200 RSVP’s and 1,500 people that showed up!

Here’s some of us playing one of those dancing games on the WII at the office:

My friend Michael Cummings took this photo when I was standing by one of the painting at the office….I am:
1.) Wearing glasses  for the first time in months
2.) Looking like an Indian IT professional

This is one of the Smiley Media conference rooms called “The Nest”.  Their office had this cool time-lapse video made of their build out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQnVakCSJRE

In terms of the sheer number off people who showed up, this was possibly one of the largest SXSW parties behind a few of the REALLY big guys like Microsoft.

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The next day SXSW actually started, including all the sessions.  There were sometime up to 25 talks going on at THE SAME TIME every hour.  It’s sometimes difficult to choose one with that many options.  Fortunately a lot of the small ones suck, so that makes it easier.

One of the cool parts about walking around the SXSW Convention Center is randomly meeting REALLY cool people only tech nerds would know.  For example, I wouldn’t REALLY care if I got to see and meet Angelina Jolie (although I sure as hell would take a picture to prove it!)…but I was very excited to bump into people like Tony Hsieh, the Zappos.com guy:

You are simply walking around with cool people…..and then when the parties start, EVERYONE there is generally cool, interesting and slightly nerdy (all of which I like).

That was one of the BEST parts of SXSW.  Simply turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself….almost every time you’re having a great conversation immediately!

A lot of the sessions were hosted by people who’s blogs I read.  For example, Tynan was speaking about how he travels the world without holding down a job…cool to finally see him in person (even though we’ve always had lots of mutual friends we both know really well).

There was sitting room only in the back (and then they wouldn’t let anymore people in because it was too crowded).

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Another thing that goes on at the convention center is the SXSW booths where people can advertise their stuff.  A lot of big players like Google, Microsoft, Monster etc show up to promote.

There was even that Matthew Lesko guy with the question marks suit on those infomercials I so vividly remember as a kid!  I love this picture!

A lot of companies were simply promoting stuff….for example, the new Chevrolet car “The Volt” was being hardcore promoted through the whole convention center.  They BY FAR had the absolute coolest “booth attraction” of them all.

They had this giant round rig setup with 30 cameras positioned around it.  When they press the button, all the cameras click in unison and take a picture.  Here’s mine….but this is only one frame:

Click the image above to see the full 360-degree “Bullet Time” Matrix-style picture!

The rig looked pretty impressive on it’s own…and you stand inside and take a picture.  They have all sorts of props you can use, and even if you stand still, the end result still looks EPIC because of the Bullet-Time effect:

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Even though there’s parties going on all day, most of the really big parties start happening sometime around or after 6pm.  One of the most elaborately decorated (and I’d say by FAR most expensive) parties was the Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 party.

They rented out the ACL Live venue in the W Hotel which can hold upwards of 3,000 people….they DECKED IT OUT and had all sorts of great bands including Passion Pit playing.  Open bar the whole time, any drink you want, as much as you want….plus all the cool nerds you can talk to!  (actually…pretty much EVERY SXSW party has free open bar…but Microsoft allowed you to get ANYTHING, not just well drinks):

This was the very-surreal setup they had…it was all moving with virtual birds flying around it, it looked INCREDIBLE!  This event was actually at fire-capacity, so they weren’t even letting Microsoft employees in. Fortunately we found a route through the W Hotel to go backstage and pop out the front (with some clever name-dropping peppered in of course) ;-)

That 80 foot column thingy was AWESOME looking….two of us hopped on stage right as the band was finishing to get a picture.  As expected, we got kicked off immediately :-)

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Another noteworthy event was the Nikon and Vimeo party which was held at an abandoned power plant close to downtown.  When we got there, the line had several hundred people in it….so of course we pretended like our asses BELONGED there and barged through the VIP entrance.

…it worked beautifully ;-)

They gave us earplugs (we soon found out why) and walked in.  We could hear the booming bass from far away.  The whole power plant looked awesome from far!

My buddy got a picture at the front:

Mine didn’t turn out quite as well…I look like an obnoxious drunk guy:

Turns I may have been obnoxious for hopping the line…oh yea…and possibly drunk!

P.S. checkout the camera-shirt I was wearing in honor of Nikon!  It LOOKS like camera around my neck :-)

Inside the lighting looked AWESOME and music was THUMPING:

The music was so loud they handed out earplugs to everyone that walked in!  I don’t know why they just didn’t turn the volume down a little instead…

Anyhow, checkout the sound system, and realize the sound is contained within a giant concrete bunker.  THAT’s how loud it was.

Even though I own a rave company, I’ve never been to a rave….THIS might have been the closest thing so far!

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In typical SXSW fashion we’d go to great parties with great people all night, then wake up early in the morning to hit up the convention center and speeches.

There’s always all sorts of promotions, free food, free drinks, free swag being given out left and right over there.  I even saw my friend Phil Dhingra taking 3D Pictures of people.  This one is a stereoscopic 3d image (meaning it’s a 2D image that wiggles to look 3d):

One of the more memorable talks for me was definitely Tim Sykes and Andrew Warners speech about “Building a Tribe”.  I think they BOTH had much better topics to speak about, but the SXSW people only wanted some certain yadda yadda….

Anyhow, I met Tim up earlier in the week, and he wanted to do his whole speech dressed as a Jewish Indian…or as he called it, a “Jindian”

I think he wanted to be “the cheapest combination of people possible” or a Jew + Programmer….some ridiculous thing like that you’d except out of Tim :-)

He brought some fake Hasidic Jew hair curls and hat, and I brought him a full Indian kurtha to wear:

Credit: I stole this particular picture from Chris Dunn’s Facebook

The Jindian outfit did several things:

  1. Immediately offended or pissed off the more conservative people in the crowd.
  2. Looked pretty ridiculous.
  3. Made the talk a hell of a lot more entertaining!

The speech was great, and Tim’s crazy and brutally honest style played well off Andrew’s more conservative and genuine style.  After the speech Andrew said, “Since Tim keeps bragging about how much money he makes, let’s go to the lobby and get drinks on his tab!”

About 15 or 20 people came and all had drinks on Tim and Andrew (this venue was slightly further than the SXSW convention area…so no free bars here).

I’d already met Tim, but never Andrew.

Andrew Warner runs a pretty big (and growing fast) website called Mixergy.com.  I personally watch all the business interviews he does with successful people….quite often actually.  They’re GREAT inspiration and he’s a kick ass interviewer.

I completely forgot to get a picture with him, so I’ll just post a picture of my friend with him:

actually….screw that!  I want a picture with him, so here’s me and Andrew Warner (well, at least my Facebook profile picture) ;-)

And finally here’s Andrew and Tim with one of their adoring fans lovingly staring at them (both of them actually have really sizable followings):

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I forgot to mention that for about 6 full days I didn’t pay for ANYTHING.

There are so many people during SXSW Interactive that want to give you FREE music, FREE drinks, FREE parties, FREE shirts, FREE swag, FREE this, FREE that, FREE samples…it’s insane!  …and I took full advantage of it.

I’d eat breakfast at the convention center because some booths had free food.  I’d have free lunch because sponsors were giving away BBQ and other stuff left and right.  Alcohol?  There’s PLENTY of parties (about 30 each night) that will gladly load you up for free.

Speaking of free…I saw a very clever form of advertising that someone thought of.  Remember that Car2Go Austin service I spoke about a little while ago?  You can just pick up any car and…well…GO!  The maximum they can charge you per day is $65, you can park in any parking spot even if it’s metered.

So some clever person decided to rent a bunch of them, park them in highly-trafficked-by-SXSW’ers areas and slap advertising all over them.  BRILLIANT!

The company was HeyWire…I think it’s an app or something, no idea, but it was a GREAT idea.  Unfortunately I have only one picture of the car, and it’s being blocked by two jackasses John and Tarun pretending to arrest each other or something:

You can see the big sticker over the door and the QR code sticker.  I’ll let them slide because those two also happen to own the largest iPhone app development company in the nation.

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So now there’s a very big SHIFT that happens.  Towards the end of SXSW Interactive, the MUSIC part starts.  In fact, my friend told me this:

“There’s an iconic scene every March 15th when hoards of sleep-deprived and physically exhausted nerds start leaving the Hilton (closest hotel to the convention center) and a bunch of pimped-out cool-looking people with mohawks, chains and shiny shirts start coming in…READY to party.”

It’s a perfect demonstration of what’s happening!

SXSW is still going on, but all the cool nerds I love hanging out with start leaving, and all these grungy/cooler-than-me musician types start showing up from every country on the planet.

The music part gets Austin into an even crazier state.  Almost all roads anywhere near the center of Downtown get closed, full of traffic and tens of thousands of people who are NOT at SXSW start showing up to enjoy all the free music.

It’s great for the city, and quite a sight to see….although the crowds would suck if you were driving, thankfully I have a scooter and bicycle (and I live 3 blocks away) :-)

6th Street (Austin’s main party area) turns very grungy and hipster-ish…and it’s pretty significant.  The people watching during SXSW Music is incredible!  You see all types of freaks everywhere!  It’s great!

Anyhow, if you can’t beat em, join em….so we started going to a lot of SXSW Music stuff (after a day of recovery from Interactive).  Exactly 30 steps from my door is the French Ligation Museum Grounds which had a constant massive party with free music, so outside my window (where I’m typing this right now) was a constant stream of people walking by.

Then the famous “Fader Fort” started, which is this giant tent city that gets built in a field only 3 blocks from my apartment.  We walked or scootered there nearly everyday.  They have free music, free drinks, free snacks, free arcade games and all sorts of fun little things.

One of my FAVORITE things there was the Guitar Center Booth:

I noticed inside it said, “Guitar Tune Ups” and two guys fixing guitars.  Presuming everything is FREE at SXSW, I inquired who they were fixing guitars for.  Their reply:

“Anyone!”

I thought this was so cool!  You bring in any of your guitars and they’ll re-string, fix-up, polish and tune-up the thing for FREE!

They had a little “lounge” area you can just pickup guitars and jam:

I live just a few blocks away, so I scootered back home, strapped on my bass guitar (which is an old and no-name-brand cheapo guitar) and had them fix it up:

The threw away all my old strings, polished the HELL out of the neck and tune-up the electronics.  He even replaced one of my janky-ass tuning pegs!

They really went to town…and I thought it was such a cool service.  Great job @GuitarCenter !

Funny side story:
As I was waiting for my bass to be finished up, I was playing some bass guitar on a REAL bass amp they had laying down.  It was the first time I’d played bass on such a powerful amp…it felt like a different instrument compared to my baby-amp I use at home.

Another guy next to me strapped on a guitar and started improvising something in an E7 scale (which I happen to know), so I started backing him up.  Then someone else kicked in on the guitar, and before you know it we were playing in our own little “band”.  Then people standing outside started gathering around like we were playing a set!

So technically so far I’ve had two live performances ;-)

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Speaking of live performances….

My brother was over during SXSW and me and him were practicing for our upcoming performance together at a friends wedding.  After some drinks and other friends coming over, we decided to have our very own SXSW Music performance and form a little “band” on our balcony.

I remember it being pretty crowded on our balcony with all the instruments, amps and people, so my roommate was hanging out like a cat on the railing:

Then we got the idea to take this awesome color changing light bar from HouseOfRave that I bought and put it outside…to all the people walking by it looked like a real concert (except on a balcony) :-)

That was actually a BLAST!

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Then the very next day when I woke up, I thought my roommate was playing music in the morning.  No big deal since I could barely hear it, but then I walked in the living room and noticed out my desk window THIS:

Even though there’s the French Ligation 30 steps away, there was an even CLOSER band playing 5 steps out my window!

Apparently it was a band where all the members live in our apartment complex, so some of hopped outside and started watching them….with drinks in hand of course..it’s not like I had to drive home :-)

It was a great start to the morning hanging out in the road with all our fellow apartment people watching a good band on a beautiful day over an AWESOME backdrop!  Plus people brought their dogs out to play also:

Hahaha, that’s one photogenic Pomeranian!

During the band changes (there were FOUR bands playing outside my door) we would hop on the instruments and play until the bands kicked us off. Here’s a cool shot of my brother playing the drums (yes, his hair is “slightly” longer than mine):

This unexpected band was the PERFECT way to end the absolutely craziness known as SXSW.

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So people who aren’t familiar with SXSW have asked me if I’ll buy an Interactive badge again next year.  The answer is:

HELL…..YES!

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    Blog posted on: March 25, 2011

    12 comments on “My SXSW 2011 Recap

    1. Jason L

      Wow Nev, I think that’s the most in-depth SXSW blog post I’ve seen so far… and I’ve read a *lot*. It actually looks really cool… I think your pictures have inspired me to go next year.

      But, I have to admit, that I think the most interesting part of that post is that you own a rave supply company and have never been to a rave :)

      Reply
      1. Neville

        Thanks man!

        SXSW Interactive was ABSOLUTELY worth it if you’re a techie nerd like me or do anything with the internet.

        As for the post, it took me like 3-4 hours per day for about 3 days to format all the images, write the text, decide which pics to post etc….so yea, this was a LONG blog post.

        However I quickly forget events, and I didn’t want to lose this memory, so this is my way of writing it in stone :-)

        Seeya there next year!

        Reply
    2. Eddys Velasquez

      Wow!!

      I really missed a good one…

      I was about to go and then didn’t..now I wished I would have gone but I will definitely go next time…I stumbled upon your blog and have been stuck on reading it :)…

      Your just interesting to me lol…I think what kept me on was the timeline..it’s awesome to see your progression..

      Talk soon!

      Your friend,
      Eddys Velasquez

      Reply
      1. Neville

        Glad you like that timeline…I think it’s a feature I’d love to see on more blogs (it’s time consuming to browse through archives of a blog)!

        Definitely make it out for Interactive next year!

        Reply

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