Sydney is getting its own South by South West festival, bringing together the best and brightest creative minds from around the world for a celebration of music, screen, gaming, technology and innovation in October 2023.
SXSW is not just your average event and I have to explain its significance in a Sydney context. This is a major problem for our beloved port city.
Sydney is already home to many great global events – including Vivid, the Sydney Film Festival and Sydney Festival – and these events are critical to our local creative industries. SXSW is an unparalleled creative industry convergence, and the Sydney version has the potential to become the largest creative industry gathering in the Asia-Pacific. The addition of SXSW Sydney to the events calendar heralds a new era for the city’s creative industries and will be a much-needed seismic shift in the right direction.
So, what can Sydneysiders expect? I’ve only been there once, but it was the five wildest days of my life. It was 2017 and I booked a last minute ticket, jumped on a plane, frantically searched for accommodation and found myself landing at the Austin airport tired and with little sleep. But the sound of live music in the airport terminal – and I don’t mean just one band, but several – was a pretty clear indication that this was going to be a fun few days. What happened next touched me.
The streets of Austin during SXSW have an electric energy, with thousands of people everywhere, live music on every street corner and storefront, and so many different things to see and do. No matter how much time you spend, or how many streets you walk, you know you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. While you may spend hours planning your perfect schedule, going with the flow is key. It’s about where you are at any given moment and chances are something great is happening close by. I remember walking down one of the streets to an open parking lot where about a thousand people were walking around – and three minutes later Lizzo, who was about to break it worldwide, was playing one of the best live sets I’ve ever played seen.
At SXSW, there’s the official program, and then there’s the parties. The official program is hearty and stunning with showcases from some of the best new global talents, to keynotes featuring the likes of Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marie Kondo and the Obamas.
The parties are when the local scene hosts a huge range of showcases and events. I came across a Kasey Chambers show at a small country bar, stood on the street and ate tacos while watching a Mexican pop band, and learned how to dance the two-step dance of some kind and patient Texan cowboys. I also met many people, many of whom I am still connected through my work.