SXSW history: how did the biggest festival around culture, media and technology begin

    It turned out that for the second year in a row I am a member of the SXSW Pitch event advisors . Today I will tell you how the story of one of the biggest “geek” events began in the 70s and 80s.

    Photography: Brian Dooley | Flickr | CC BY ND

    SXSW (South by Southwest) passes every spring in Austin, Texas. Every year it is visited by hundreds of thousands of people, millions - follow the reports in social networks and the media. This is an event that managed to combine the interactive art, media, IT and music.

    To understand how such an unobvious festival appeared, one must understand the context.

    Austin in the 70s

    In the 1960s, like many student cities, Austin was liberal and progressive. In the 70s, large IT-companies opened their production here: IBM , Texas Instruments and AMD. They actively hired UTA graduates (University of Texas at Austin). On the other hand, the life of students was not limited solely to studies and work in the field of IT.

    In the 73rd year in the state of Texas lowered the age from which it is allowed to drink alcohol, to 18 years. This could not but influence the development of Austin’s bar culture and music scene. New places were opened everywhere, music was played everywhere.

    For example, in the club Armadillo World Headquarters ( AWHQ ) met representatives of different cultures and played a variety of music: from classical genres to the nascent “redneck-rock” and “progressive country”. Musicians experimented with instruments, vocals and lyrics. They were inspired by the hippie movement and the antagonism to commercialization.

    In 1976, a young television producer Bill Arhos decided that this culture of musical creativity, openness and freedom needed to be broadcast to the whole country. This is how the Austin City Limits musical program , the longest in the history of American television, appeared .

    Two pilot issues were filmed for just 13 thousand dollars - and even after decades on the air - the show was still filmed using the old camera of 1937, which was controlled by four people. This broadcast was an important element of Austin's identity.

    80s and SXSW start

    In 1980, a banking crisis began in Texas . In the same year, the Armadillo World Headquarters closed, and the Austin City Limits budget was cut. The government was Ronald Reagan. The age of alcohol use was raised to 21 years due to an increase in the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers. Growing unemployment. Then the future of Austin was influenced by two events related to music and entrepreneurship. First, the Ostinsky technological incubator opened .

    Secondly, the idea of ​​the festival SXSW. She was not born in a vacuum.

    Photography: Silicon Prairie News | Flickr | CC BY ND

    Then Ronald Swenson, the editor of the local alternative newspaper The Austin Chronicle, was approached by the team of New Music Seminar, a New York music festival.

    They planned to hold a small festival in Austin in the same format and under their own brand - New Music Seminar Southwest. It turned out that this project was not implemented, but the idea remained. Svenson and other editors organized a local music festival in 1987 with 177 artists performing. It was a clear success.

    This is how the South by Southwest musical vertical began to take shape - the festival grew from year to year. He opened new performers and was the place where they made big deals. It was at SXSW that the careers of John Mayer and Katy Perry began, and James Blunt met the producer of his debut album after performing in a half-empty hall in 2004.

    SXSW Interactive in the 90s

    Music is the first, but not the main direction of the festival. Already at the first festival in 1987, panel discussions and master classes were held, and the Austin Chronicle edited discussions about the future of interactive entertainment and media.

    This agenda has become one of the central issues at SXSW.

    The SXSW Film & Multimedia conference, which three years later will become a separate vector of the SXSW Interactive festival, was held in 1994. It was an important shift in the positioning of the festival - it was not just a musical, but also a media one. By the way, at the festival of the 94th year, a CD-ROM was presented. Therefore, technology has not done here.

    Photo: Ed Schipul | Flickr | CC BY ND

    Another notable exhibit at the time was the World Wide Web Theater - a room with several computers connected to the Internet. To get into it, people stood in lines for hours.

    The performance of composer and music producer Todd Rundgren in 1995 was also dedicated to the Internet. Then he predicted the spread of online media.

    The first SXSW Interactive was very small : only a few rooms at the Hyatt, a dozen panel discussions and speeches, plus a couple of hundred participants.

    Now it is more than 30 thousand visitors and participants.

    00s and SXSW Pitch event

    The SXSW festival helped with the promotion of a number of innovations: streaming video (1999), blogs (2000), wearable devices (2001) and Wi-Fi (2003). Then he was something of an exhibition of ideals: the participants wanted to change the world, rather than raise investments and resell business.

    Gradually the festival grew. Startups became larger, and participants presented not only technologies, but also products. These were Blogger, Friendster and Twitter.

    As a result, in 2007 appeared SXSW Accelerator. Hundreds of start-ups and young teams from around the world passed through it. The best of the best presented their projects to investors and journalists of technology publications in the format of SXSW Pitch. If you raise the statistics for 11 years, SXSW Accelerator has helped 403 young teams to raise almost $ 5 billion.

    16% of these startups were bought by Google, Huffington Post, Apple and Live Nation.

    Here you can submit your application for participation (unfortunately, participation is paid)

    Many products that we use in everyday life came to us precisely because of this accelerator. For example, in February 2010, former employees of the Stanford Research Institute released a free application for iOS, on which they worked for two years. The service required high processor power and worked too slowly on many iPhone models. The developers presented the application on SXSW, and a month later their company acquired Apple. This product was Siri digital assistant.

    Today - it is in every iPhone.

    Another success story on SXSW is Kabbage, an online credit platform. She closed the multimillion round with the support of the Japanese SoftBank.

    What now

    Today SXSW is an annual festival where IT people, entrepreneurs, musicians, directors, scientists and artists from different countries come. Here they hold music parties, launch startups, introduce new technologies and build art objects.

    With such scales, preserving the vector is not an easy task. However, the festival remains a good place to meet and socialize. People who are unlikely to meet in other conditions, meet in thematic lectures, go to film premieres and discuss problems.

    The festival is constantly growing - both in scale and in status. For example, in 2016, Barack Obama made a speech there , and in 2017, astronaut Buzz Aldrin and billionaire Mark Kyuban. In 2018, Ilon Musk appeared in front of the audience of the conference and made several loud statements - for example, Kanye West called his source of inspiration.

    Commercialization certainly changes the festival, but the spirit of the Austin 70s and its chaotic nature is still here. These are, first of all, people who are not ready to give up their beliefs. And for ten days a year, they get together on the "South by" to declare themselves.

    What else do I do on Habré and beyond:

    Also popular now: