I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my recent trip to SXSW. Many involve just a fleeting “How was it?”, while others invest a little more with “What’s the coolest tech you saw?”, while others get quite pointed “Did you find BBQ?”.
It’s tricky to give a decent response to these types of questions over the coffee machine. So, here is me breaking it down to be about the questions I wish I got asked about my trip to SXSW 2018 (self-tailored to be about my favourite sessions, gigs, comedy acts or masterclasses).
What was the idea that you wish you’d thought of?
Sickboy. It’s a podcast by three Canadian mates, one of whom looks like the lead singer of Maroon 5. That guy has cystic fibrosis. That guy is also very funny. So, he thought it would be a great idea to breakdown the complexities of serious illness and all the complex foreign terms that are thrusted at you when you’re diagnosed using humour and by removing all pretentiousness. On this day of recording they were interviewing the strongman Andrew Palmer who was suddenly diagnosed with very acute Leukemia. This recording was aptly names Leukemia Sucks: http://sickboypodcast.com/blog/2018/3/12/sickboy-does-sxsw
Sickboy is just a really good idea stemmed from the insight to break taboos, raise hope and build a sense of community via the power of positive thinking.
What was the question(s) you wish you’d asked?
Sometimes a conversation, sometimes a talk, sometimes with presentations, sometimes without. Every time though, there was question time at the end. It’s incredible for these speakers to answer questions on the fly. Some hard hitting, some people just wanting to share their appreciation.
I snuck into the Spike Lee masterclass about appropriating film for a Netflix series. It was so interesting to hear from a community that had been so touched and influenced by his 1988 film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’. The most interesting Q&A was how he’s tweaking his original script to reflect today’s current dating/love/sex and young adult culture to ensure it is relevant, if not as provocative as his original was.
Esther Perel, the relationship therapist and successful podcaster of ‘Where shall we start’ was asked “how do I make sure I don’t lose my identity in a relationship?” A question that was instantly rewarded with an applause before Esther could even respond. SHe then referred back to what she had said all along, that “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” These days we seem to put so much pressure on our partner to provide the emotional and physical resources that we actually need a community to provide. That community should include friends, colleagues, sports, arts, music ets so that we don’t need to rely solely on one.
Then there was a bright spark after a NASA panel (of 3 boss female scientists) who asked “Is there a risk that when you send anything to space that you are in fact contaminating the area in which you land?”. *Mind blown* why had I never thought of that? Of course the answer is that there is a very very slight risk that they may have free loading microorganisms that hitch-hike their way but to date they have not. It’s definitely something that they’re cautious of and very wary to avoid as best they possibly can before launching.
As you can imagine, no-one leaves when the questions begin as there’s potentially still so much to learn (or snigger at).
What was the wankiest term you heard over there?
LOCALVIST. It was on day one, in the first session I heard. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what this whole thing was about. This term is not only painful to say, read and use… but most painful is that we should all become familiar with it.
The localvist is a community warrior. They believe in local activism, possess a distrust in large institutions, buy local goods and services because they want to make an impact in their world. They don’t believe in storytelling, want brands to stand-up for something and love (the idea of) cryptocurrencies because they can track the beginning to end of every transaction.
For me the advertiser, this audience is such a great challenge and makes us ask so many new questions like how can we create a genuine brand that stands-up for issues that affect them? How can we serve their community? How can we work with BitPay?
What was the most surprising talk?
To my surprise it wasn’t a NASA talk, or Spike Lee masterclass or hearing from the head of activations at Louis Vuitton or the Irish PM. For me, my mission for the trip was to not go to anything that I would find familiar. So I went along to hear Janet Echelman, an artist who I had never heard of. Janet specialises in turning public spaces into desirable places because “a public space is only a space without an engaging experience.” What is so interesting about her techniques are the materials she utilises which are the same fibres of NASA spacesuits which are weaved and knotted like Balinese fishing nets and are formed off data from within the local area for example on the movements of the wind or clouds or timely sunsets or foot traffic.
Plus, have you ever heard of a piece of art being able to withstand a tornado? She has one in Phoenix that can do just that and it’s called “Her Secret is Patience”. It was tested in a gravity and wind simulator! Of course it’s not just Janet, she works closely with a team of engineers, aeronautical engineers, sculptures, designers, steel engineers and more to create her visions. It was so inspiring to see data come to life in such a beautiful as well as tried & tested way.
What’s some new music I should listen to?
Definitely Shamir. Try and get the live version because the intro’s to each song makes it so much better because of the angst. The few that I remember went a little something like “This song is about the friend you never want to introduce to your mother because you know your Mum will hate them”, “This one is called dead inside, it’s an autobiography” and “This one is called straight guys because if you’re straight and a man we don’t trust you”.
All my favourite gigs were at Mohawks. If you’re ever in Austin be sure to catch a gig there.
After a whole day in sessions, a few hours at Mohawk’s, and a burger stop-off we found ourselves heading to an amazing theatre just outside of downtown Austin. Here we queued, as you do, for Max Richter. A modern composer. I was about 4 people from the front when one of the volunteers stopped the line to say “sorry folks you’ve missed out the beds”. At the time, I thought I was okay with that. That was until I realised I had walked into an 8-hour overnight performance called “Sleep”. This must be how the filthy rich sleep, with Max Richter playing them about 6 chords on repeat for 8 hours straight. Whilst the performance wasn’t for me, I’m impressed with the dedication to his art.
What was the security like?
The most dialled-up security I saw was for the politicians. The Irish PM and Senator Bernie Sanders. Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach, is one of the most progressive leaders in the European Union, if not the world. He’s a 39 year-old, half-Indian half-Irish Catholic man who is openly gay and is a medical doctor, with experience in that field. He thinks that career politicians are in trouble because of ongoing distrust from communities. Bernie Sanders touched on that too. Bernie’s number one mission ahead of the 2018 election is to get more people registered to vote because he believes that Americans are disgusted with the current political climate. Thankfully each time, the high level security wasn’t needed.
Can you riff some tidbits for me?
- 17% of the Irish population were not born in Ireland.
- Twitter isn’t dead.
- Matte black,vegetarian meat, multitasking mirrors, animal alternatives (pineapple leather) will all be trending within the next 6-12 months.
- The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.
- Ireland will stop using coal by 2025.
Would you go to SXSW again, and again?
Absolutely. This is the most inspiring and exciting festival I have been to. It brings people from all over the world who are so excited to be part of something with such scale and that is reflective of those that speak, present, act, perform and cook for all the attendees. The whole event is what you make of it and I think me and my crew (Zoe, Lee, Kenny, Antuong and the ring-ins along the way) covered some ground that helped fulfil my mind, soothe my itchy feet and renew my level of excitement to be #mostinterested.
By Chrissie Malloch and Chrissie Malloch.