For the first time in its 36-year history, creative arts festival South by Southwest (SXSW) is debuting outside of its home in Austin, Texas.
This year, the enormous event lands in Sydney, with a program of musical performances, film screenings, gaming competitions, tech showcases and industry talks running from October 15–22.
The city will have visits during this time from Chance the Rapper, Nicole Kidman and Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker, alongside exhibits of flying cars and robotics demos.
But as an industry-targeted event, the ticket prices for the inaugural Asia-Pacific iteration of this festival are out of reach for most.
So, what actually is SXSW? And how can you get involved without spending big?
What is SXSW?
“SXSW is the World’s Fair for creative content industries,” says Colin Daniels, managing director of SXSW Sydney.
Since its launch in 1987, the event has encompassed a range of creative fields, spanning music, film, gaming, tech and innovation, with a conference filled with big-name keynote speakers at its centrepiece.
“Someone else called it, ‘the Olympics of Festivals’,” Daniels says.
“It’s a festival of festivals — that allows you to experience all of them at once.”
Why is it a big deal?
This is the festival for big industry moments.
Girls and Handmaid’s Tale both premiered at SXSW.
An exiled Edward Snowden gave a keynote talk in 2014 via Skype (the year after he Wiki-Leaked) and Twitter was launched at the festival in 2007.
Many a famous musical career has been launched after early appearances at SXSW, from Amy Winehouse to James Blunt and Kid Cudi to Haim.
Prince, Johnny Cash, Kanye West and Jay-Z have all appeared and, one time, Bill Murray took up spontaneous bartending to keep festival-goers watered.
“Why not?” Daniels says.
“Sydney is a diverse city that’s full of creativity and innovation. We have a music industry, a film and television industry, a tech and innovation industry and a gaming industry that are all thriving.
“So it makes sense for Sydney to be a conduit between the Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world for seven days a year.”
The Sydney event will be a smaller, scaled-down version of the usual Texas fare, with a focus on platforming creators from a different part of the world.
“The focus on the Asia-Pacific region is a major difference,” Daniels says.
“Over 40 per cent of our talent is from outside of Australia and we are showcasing the creativity of the Asia-Pacific region.”
Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann will debut an extended version of his 2008 film Australia, adapted into a six-part TV series called Faraway Downs, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
Kidman will also give a talk alongside Per Saari, her partner in production company Blossom Films, to discuss some of their successes, such as HBO’s Big Little Lies.
The seven-day conference is the centrepiece of the event, with other headlining talks including Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker, Coachella chief executive Paul Tollett and Chance the Rapper in conversation, celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip hop.
Feature length documentary Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles will make its world premiere at the festival.
As will The Royal Hotel, starring Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick as backpackers at a desolate small-town Australian pub in a story inspired by the documentary Hotel Coolgardie and the experiences of women in the outback.
The event’s musical line-up includes TikTok stars Flyana Boss, Indonesia’s Feby Putri and homegrown artists including Ben Lee and Barkaa.
Can I go? Is it open to the public?
Yes and no. While it is targeted at the creative industries, tickets are open to the public — but not necessarily at accessible prices. A ‘platinum badge’, which allows you to attend every event, goes for $1,895. More affordable badges under $500 have been sold to individual streams such as gaming and film, but many have already sold out.
At this stage the most affordable ticket is the $40 Expo day pass, which will get you into the Tech and Innovation Expo at the International Convention Centre. The expo features exhibits from business and creators spanning tech, gaming, entertainment, health and wellness and promises a range of interactive and immersive experiences for attendees.
“What we’re showcasing in the tech and innovation expo, whether it be UTS’s flying car, or whether it be what CSIRO are up to, or whether it be the new cabin for the Qantas Sunrise project — which is the non-stop flight to London — there’s so much new and different,” Daniels says.
“There’s an AI vending machine that you need to reason with. That’s going to be exciting.”
What about free stuff?
Never fear! There are many free events that will be held around the city, with Tumbalong Park being taken over as a key location for the general public with stages, screens, pop-up bars and food trucks.
It will feature talks from UNICEF, Adam Spencer and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, the Real Housewives of Sydney, meditation workshops, breakdancing sets, live cooking classes, augmented reality and robotics demonstrations, an outdoor cinema screening classic films, an afternoon of esports and gaming presentations.
There will be a live play of the murder-mystery game, Blood on the Clocktower and one evening will play host to a Rock & Roll circus, where artists including Dan Sultan, Hayley Mary, Redhook and “secret acts” cover iconic rock songs — perhaps an opportunity for locals to rub shoulders with famous acts.
Where is it? How do I get around?
Organisers are big on encouraging people to get involved by simply wandering the streets.
With events always spread out around a walkable footprint, festival devotees say the general vibe that takes over downtown Austin every year leads to a high probability of simply stumbling across something interesting.
With surprise pop up gigs and brand activations on street corners and bars, you may just unexpectedly bump into a big star in a humble venue — such as Boygenius’s surprise gig at the Austin airport earlier this year.
Events are spread across Sydney’s CBD, encompassing Haymarket, Ultimo, Darling Harbour and Chippendale, but designed to be walkable and all within 25 minutes of each other on foot.
Venues include museums, such as the Powerhouse, parks and outdoor venues, such as the Darling Quarter, as well as pubs inlcuding the Lansdowne, which will be taken over by Spotify to showcase a range of artists, including a K-Pop night.
SXSW Sydney will run from from 15–22 October.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-12/what-is-sxsw-sydney-how-to-get-involved/102938006 What is South by Southwest Sydney and how can you get involved?