A Quintessential Postmortem on SXSW 2010
The quintessential South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) happening came at the tail end of the festivities on Saturday, March 20th when Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosted and curated an evening of music, film and live performance at the G-Tech Theater located at the Austin Convention Center for hitRecord.org. The music, film and interactive event featured live performances by Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl of The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. This event was “quintessential” as it mixed the three pillars of the festival with a super-cool indie film actor. This is what SXSW is all about. It has one foot in the past, with sights set on what is yet to come.
The music portion of SXSW boasts almost 2,000 bands, booked into more than 85 venues, with parties hosted by radio stations like WFMU, WOXY, KUT, KGSR, and even NPR; The interactive bit had panels from social justice to social networking; and the movies include everything from animated shorts, experimental shorts, documentaries, narrative features, and the world première of “Kick-Ass”. Even the first look at the new Predator flick was shown. Too much happens at SXSW for one person to catch everything, too much happens at SXSW for organization to catch everything, but I will highlight the most impressive aspects I found at the festival.
There were several noteworthy films, but the one that has haunted me for days is a documentary called “Life 2.0” which follows four people and their interactions in the online game Second life. Shockingly human, this documentary about a video game drips with emotion as we see the players struggle with challenges in the virtual and real world. Refreshingly, the filmmakers make rock solid choices on how to present each player from moment to moment, from avatar to person. This is the kind of documentary film school professors’ hope their students will make.
Although SXSW encompasses the entire city of Austin, AOL setup shop on the ground floor of the Austin Convention Center, ground zero for the festival, to plant SEED.com, a new localized, viral journalism branch of AOL rooted in the media giant’s subsidiaries. With SEED, writers and photographers can accept and be paid for various assignments. Although I’ve seen ideas like this in the past, AOL is much more organized with SEED then other ventures. With the incentive for payment, and team of editors accepting and rejecting work, could SEED be the face of new journalism?
On a personal note, I really enjoyed the “Zone Perfect live.create.lounge”, which featured an open bar, free peanut butter and dark chocolate Zone Perfect bars (which taste acceptable after six gin and tonics), live music, and a wall you could collaboratively paint. People who downloaded the Zone Perfect “MyTown” application for the iPhone got a free $15 iTunes gift card.
In fairness to my new friends at Zone Perfect, every “lounge” and party features a free bar. If you’re sober at SXSW you’re doing something wrong or you’re in grade school. The best parties this year included the Paste Magazine party at the Galaxy Room, and the Blurt Magazine party at the infamous Irish pub B. D. Riley’s the afternoon after St. Patrick’s Day. A band that stuck at Paste was The Givers-a group of crowd-pleasing melody makers from Louisiana. However, the best music at SXSW always comes out of the “unofficial” SXSW events. An unofficial event can be found in every corner, but four good bands including New York’s Jupiter 1 and Nashville’s Heypenny at a house party hosted by this guy and his fantastic wife. Both bands are worth your attention, and this really was the best music I heard at SXSW.
With roots and an emphasis on music the death of Alex Chilton hung over the festival. The Big Star front man was a legend in Austin, and was to play the festival. Chilton was in the 2.0 phase in his life and his death on Wednesday night reverberated across the festival and controlled twitter feeds. His passing even made CNN Headline News. Chilton’s death was a quintessential one for the 2010 festival with one foot in the past and its eyes on what is yet to come.