SXSW: What they mean when they say weird
pictures & words from scenes at this year’s festival
I don’t know if anyone even wants to talk about SXSW at this point. The industry people see the festival as a chore that is now complete and the bands who slept in Airbnb tents for five nights are “all set too, thanks.” As for those in between — the celebrities (who were there for fun?) — who knows what is going on in their heads ever. I was there to take pictures. But SXSW is particularly hectic due to the structural lack of an overarching organization of the whole situation (for those that haven’t been, think the complete opposite of things happening in order, in a single location, in the name of a single entity). So all my official jobs ended up falling through and I was just there as a girlfriend of some guy in some band running around in a crop top as if I was there for fun or moral support or something.
It was fun though and it was definitely weird. When they say “Austin is weird,” I always thought they meant weird like kitschy, like hand-painted wood signs outside of vape cafes with above-ground pools that say “AuStiN RoCks” and stuff. They have that, yes, but the weirdness to which people refer is actually more of a spookiness, a strangeness. They have those cute stores with the succulents and the distressed wood and “cool” kitchen utensils but these feel superimposed. It wants to be a trendy weird but the vibe is more of a great, truly strange weird. I think maybe the swampiness has something to do with it.
For example, as soon as we arrive in town, we head to a Tex Mex restaurant because there is nothing better to do with people you have been in a car with for 18 hours than eat a bunch of beans and ground beef in the name of a proper bowel movement and just let your hair down. We put in our order and the waitress asks us if we want any appetizers and we report that we are “cool, thanks” and she says well do you want the queso and we say ehhh and she says We Are Famous For Our Queso, capital W capital A capital F capital F capital O capital Q. It was weird and aggressive and now I’m like shit she’s mad at us. So the next time she comes back I’m like Ok we will have the queso. And then turns out, it is amazing. I’m sort of a queso aficionado (because, like, warm cheese….) and I was blown away. But what struck me about the exchange was how awkward and strange it was, it was dumbfounded disbelief at how ignorant we were of something so great. That is how Austin feels: an awkwardly-presented but special place. Like a boy (or she!) that you should like & should want to kiss but don’t realize how great they are (a hidden gem) and they kiss you and you are like what no but then it’s great and you are like oh! Austin wants you to like it so bad but only because it knows it is truly special and has something great to offer.
It was also strange because SXSW feels like the ne0-MTV spring break destination. I saw a lot of viral content happening in real time: lots of people snapchatting the/next-to-the police cars that blockade each block, the all-black outfits & brim hats that seem to be the self-fulfilling prophecy of Tumblr fashion.
Most notably was the uber-stark contrast between the DIY events I went to with my boyfriend’s band (editor’s note: The Walters) and the corporate industry events I went to with work friends. At the Vice party I drank free mimosas by day and then I do not even remember what I drank by night, I ate hella egg pizza by a pool that was obviously only for looking at, I watched Charli XCX make an “official” Snapchat by said pool, I talked to Trinidad James about Netflix for way longer than he cared to listen.
At the DIY shows I drank warm vodka in warm Sprite, I talked to Joe Bordenaro about a quote from a book we had both never read, I sweat a lot, I saw pretty much everyone that I see in Chicago every Saturday anyway, I boogied, and people screamed their heads off. At both events I told people they were my best friends. Neither worlds have an awareness of each other, yet here they are, for the same reason, in the same place…Texas. Pretty weird.
Here are some photos I took of Austin, The Walters, Daddy Issues, Milo Rapsmith, other people, and SXSW proper.
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