South by Southwest

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This article is about the annual festival. For other uses, see South by Southwest (disambiguation).
South by Southwest
SXSW 2013 Logo.png
The official logo for SXSW 2013
Dates March (dates vary)
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Austin, Texas, U.S.
Years active 28
Inaugurated 1987
Next event March 13–22, 2015[1]
Attendance SXSW Music: 28,119
SXSW Interactive: 30,621
SXSW Film: 16,297
SXSWEdu: 4,260
Other Exhibits/Parties: 152,000
Organized by SXSW Inc.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences that take place early each year in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. It began in 1987, and has continued to grow in both scope and size every year. In 2011, the conference lasted for 10 days with SXSW Interactive lasting for 5 days, Music for 6 days, and Film running concurrently for 9 days.

South by Southwest is run by the company SXSW, Inc. which plans and executes conferences, trade shows, festivals, and other events.[2] In addition to the three main South by Southwest festivals, the company runs three other conferences, two in Austin: SXSWedu, a conference on educational innovation,[3] and SXSW Eco, an environmental conference;[4] and one in Las Vegas: SXSW V2V, a conference focused on innovative startups.[5]


A view of 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas, during SXSW 2013

SXSW Music Festival[edit]

SXSW Music is the largest music festival of its kind in the world, with more than 2,200 official performers and bands playing in more than 100 venues.[citation needed] SXSW Music offers artist-provided music and video samples of featured artists at each festival via their official YouTube channel.[6][7]

The music event has grown from 700 registrants in 1987 to over 28,000 registrants. SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive events have grown every year, most recently bringing over 51,000 registrants to Austin every March.[8]

Bands must cover their own expenses for travel and lodging at the event. All performers are offered a cash payment ($100 for solo acts or $250 for bands) or a wristband package that allows access to all music events.[9]

SXSW Film Festival[edit]

SXSW Film is a film festival, focusing on new directing talent.[10]

SXSW Interactive Festival[edit]

SXSW Interactive is focused on emerging technology, a focus which has earned the festival a reputation as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies.[11] The festival includes a trade show, speakers, parties, and a startup accelerator.[12] According to a festival organizer Louis Black, SXSW Interactive "has probably been the biggest of its kind in the world" since 2007.[13]



In July 1986, the organizers of the New York City music festival New Music Seminar contacted Roland Swenson, a staffer at the alternative weekly The Austin Chronicle, about organizing an extension of that festival into Austin after having announced that they were going to hold a "New Music Seminar Southwest".[14] The plans did not materialize, so Swenson decided to instead co-organize a local music festival, with the help of two other people at the Chronicle: editor and co-founder Louis Black, and publisher Nick Barbaro. Louis Meyers, a booking agent and musician, was also brought on board.[15] Black came up with the name, as a play on the name of the Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest. The event was first held in March 1987. The organizers considered it a regional event and expected around 150 attendees to show up, but over 700 came, and according to Black "it was national almost immediately."[13]

Meyers left Austin and the festival in the early 1990s, but Black, Barbaro and Swenson remained the festival's key organizers as of 2010.[13]


Singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked was the keynote speaker at the 1992 South by Southwest. She caused controversy by delivering a speech, written by her then-husband Bart Bull, criticizing white musicians for stealing music from African American artists; and then later during the same conference when she tried to kick the band Two Nice Girls off of a benefit concert, a move that some called anti-gay, due to Two Nice Girls' overtly lesbian image.[16]

In 1993, SXSW moved into the Austin Convention Center, where it is still held.[17]

In 1994, SXSW added a component for film and other media, named the "SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference".[13] Johnny Cash was the keynote speaker.[18]

That year, the three brothers of the band Hanson were brought to SXSW by their father in order to perform impromptu auditions for music executives, in the hopes of getting industry attention. Among the people who heard them was A&R executive Christopher Sabec, who became their manager, and would soon afterward get them signed to Mercury Records.[19]

In 1995, the SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference was split into two separate events, "SXSW Film" and "SXSW Multimedia".[13]

Comedian and actor Fred Armisen began his comic career with the short film Fred Armisen's Guide to Music and SXSW, released in 1998, in which he poses as various characters, asking silly questions of musicians and other attendees at that year's SXSW Music Conference.[20][21]

In 1999, SXSW Multimedia was renamed "SXSW Interactive".[13]


Singer-songwriter John Mayer's performance at the 2000 SXSW Music festival led to his signing soon thereafter with Aware Records, his first record label.

A performance by the band The Polyphonic Spree at the 2002 SXSW Music festival helped bring them to national attention before they had signed with a major label.[22]

At the 2002 SXSW Film Festival, the film Manito won the jury award for narrative feature, while the documentary Spellbound won the jury award for documentary feature.

British singer James Blunt was discovered by producer Linda Perry while playing a small show at the 2004 SXSW Music festival, and was signed to Perry's Custard Records soon thereafter,[23] where he would go on to release all three of his subsequent albums.

The 2005 SXSW Film is considered by some to be the origin of the mumblecore film genre. A number of films now classified as mumblecore, including The Puffy Chair and Mutual Appreciation, were screened, and Eric Masunaga, a musician and the sound editor on Mutual Appreciation, is credited with coining the term "mumblecore" at a bar while at the festival.[24]

The film Hooligans won both the Feature Film Jury Award and the Feature Film Audience Award for narrative feature, while The Puffy Chair won the Feature Film Audience Award in the "Emerging Visions" category. The documentary film Cowboy del Amor won the SXSW Competition Award and the Audience Award.

A secret concert at the 2006 SXSW Music by the band The Flaming Lips was called one of the "Top 10 Music-Festival Moments" of all time by Time magazine in 2010.[25]

The 2006 SXSW Interactive featured a keynote panel of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.[26]

That year, "Screenburn at SXSW", a component for video games, was added to SXSW Interactive.[13]

The 2007 music festival took place from March 14 to 18, and more than 1,400 acts performed.

Two of the top film premieres that year were Elvis and Anabelle and Skills Like This.

The singer Katy Perry performed at the first time to publicize her first album as a pop singer, One Of The Boys, in the 2007 SXSW Music Festival.

The social media platform Twitter notably gained a good deal of early traction and buzz at the 2007 SXSW Interactive,[27] though it did not launch at SXSW 2007 as is sometimes reported.[13]

The 2008 SXSW Interactive got media attention due to a keynote interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by technology journalist Sarah Lacy that was considered by some observers to be a "train wreck" due to an audience perception that Lacy was asking uninteresting questions, as well as mocking or terse answers in response from Zuckerberg.[28]

In 2008, a comedy element was added to SXSW; it was held for one night. (By 2012, comedy performances occurred on all nights of the festival.)[29]

The 2009 festival was held March 13–22. The Interactive section of SXSW in particular drew larger attendance levels; the influx strained the networks of providers such as AT&T (primarily due to heavy iPhone usage).[30] Also new was the founding of an international organization for those not attending, dubbed NotAtSXSW. Coordinating through Twitter and other online tools, notatsxsw events were held in London, New York, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon and Miami.[31]

The mobile app, Foursquare, was launched at SXSW 2009.

The 2009 SXSW Interactive saw the launch of the Foursquare application, which was called "the breakout mobile app" of the event by the Mashable blog.[32]

The 2009 SXSW Film screened 250 films, including 54 world premieres. The event was notable for having the United States premiere of the film The Hurt Locker, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010.[13] The winners of the feature jury awards were, for documentary feature, 45365, and for narrative feature, Made in China.[33]


The 2010 music festival, which took place March 12–21, was dedicated to Alex Chilton, who died shortly before he was to perform with Big Star.[34] A tribute concert was performed in his honor on March 20, 2010.[35]

At the 2010 festival, nearly 2,000 bands were officially scheduled to perform,[36] and festival reps estimated that over 13,000 industry representatives attended.[37] Though traditionally the Austin Music Awards kick off the festival, that year organizers slated it as the closing act. Local musician Bob Schneider earned 6 awards, including Song of the Year, Singer of the Year, and Band of the Year (with Lonelyland.)[36] The 2010 festival was also notable for appearances by the surviving members of the band Moby Grape.[38]

At the 2010 Film festival, Magnolia Pictures bought the film rights to the science-fiction film Monsters on the night it screened, in what was the first-ever "overnight acquisition" at SXSW. Journalist Meredith Melnick of Time magazine called this purchase a turning point for SXSW, leading to a greater interest among film studio executives in attending the festival in person.[39] That year also saw the premiere of the indie favorite Tiny Furniture, which won the award for Best Narrative Feature.

The 2010 Interactive festival had an estimated 12–13,000 paying attendees, which represented a 40% jump over the previous year.[40] This was the first year in which the interactive festival's attendance surpassed the music festival's.[40] The keynote presentation was an interview of then-Twitter CEO Evan Williams by Umair Haque, an interview that many in the audience found disappointingly superficial.[41] Also during the interactive festival, the first-ever (and so far only) "Hive Awards For the Unsung Heroes of the Internet" were held.


Conan O'Brien promoting Conan O'Brien Can't Stop at SXSW 2011

The 2011 SXSW festival ran from March 11 to 20.

The keynote presenter for SXSW Interactive was Seth Priebatsch, founder and CEO of the mobile-gaming platform SCVNGR.[42] The 2011 Interactive festival was by far the largest it had ever been, with an estimated 20,000 attendees.[43]

Also in attendance at SXSW was boxing legend Mike Tyson, promoting his new iPhone game with RockLive at the Screenburn Arcade.[44]

At least two films screened at the SXSW Film festival gained distribution deals: the documentary Undefeated (which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature) and the thriller The Divide. As a result, film critic Christopher Kelly wrote that in 2011, SXSW Film went from being "a well-regarded but fundamentally regional event" to having "joined the big leagues of film festivals around the world."[45] That festival was also notable for having the premiere of the film Bridesmaids.[46]

The March 15th screening of the Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth was followed by a surprise live performance by the band itself, with a setlist that included the entirety of the then-upcoming album Wasting Light.[47]

The appearance of the Canadian band Said the Whale at the 2011 SXSW Music Festival was the main subject of a documentary film about the band, Winning America.


SXSW 2012 ran from March 9 to 18.

The standout technology of the 2012 SXSW Interactive was generally stated to be "social discovery" mobile apps, which let users locate other nearby users. Social discovery apps that had a presence at SXSW included Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and Kismet.[48][49]

SXSW Film saw the premiere of two major Hollywood films: The Cabin in the Woods[50] and 21 Jump Street.[46] Two films obtained distribution deals: Girls Against Boys and The Tall Man.[51] Another film, Gimme the Loot, which won the SXSW Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize, got a distribution deal a week after the festival.[52] Bay of All Saints received the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary.[53]

2012 was also the first year the music portion was expanded to Tuesday. The musical festival included rappers such as Talib Kweli and Lil' Wayne, along with surprise appearances by Big Sean and Kanye West; indie bands that appeared included MENEW and The Shins. Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker for the music festival.[54]


SXSW 2013 ran from March 8 to 17.

The big-budget films The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Evil Dead premiered at the 2013 SXSW Film, and Spring Breakers had its U.S. premiere.[55] The film Short Term 12 won the grand jury award for Best Narrative Feature. The films Cheap Thrills and Haunter received distribution deals,[56] and Drinking Buddies obtained a distribution deal several days later.[57]

The 2013 SXSW Interactive saw another huge jump in registration, now with 30,621 paying attendees.[58] This was over three times the number that had attended in 2008 (9,000), just five years previously.[59] The keynote talk for the 2013 SXSW Interactive was given by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.[60] The "Screenburn" and "Arcade" components were renamed to "SXSW Gaming" and "SXSW Gaming Expo", respectively.[61] The Interactive conference was noted for its increased corporate presence, featuring major participation by Samsung, 3M, Target, American Airlines, Adobe Systems and AT&T, among others.[60][62] CNN, CBS and CNET called Grumpy Cat the undisputed "biggest star" of SXSW Interactive over Musk, Al Gore and Neil Gaiman.[63][64][65]


SXSW 2014 ran from March 7 to 16.

SXSW Film had premieres of the big-budget films Neighbors, Veronica Mars and Chef, and Cesar Chavez had its North American premiere.[66][67] A clip for the big-budget film Godzilla was also screened. The films Space Station 76[68] and Exists got distribution deals at the festival,[67] while Open Windows got a distribution deal several weeks later.[69]

A new section was introduced to SXSW Film: "Episodic", which covers television programming. Television series that previewed at the festival include Silicon Valley and From Dusk till Dawn: The Series. The talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! was taped for a week at the festival; it joined the talk show Watch What Happens: Live, which began taping at SXSW in 2013.[70]

SXSW Interactive featured a keynote speech by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, via streaming video, about privacy rights. The festival also featured a talk from another famous leaker, Julian Assange, also speaking remotely.[71] Besides privacy issues, another major focus of the Interactive festival was wearable technology, including devices for augmented reality, activity tracking, identity authentication, charging cell phones and others.[72] Computerworld magazine called the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality gaming headset, the "sleeper hit" of the festival, although ironically it was displayed not at the Interactive but at the Film portion, as part of a Game of Thrones exhibit.[73]

The keynote presenter and headline act this year for Stubb's was Lady Gaga.[74][75] To promote her upcoming album, Food, Kelis cooked and served barbecue-style food from a food truck to festival attendees.[76][77]

On March 13, 2014, a drunk driver, Rashad Charjuan Owens, drove his car into a crowd of festival attendees while trying to evade a traffic stop.[78] Two people were killed immediately, another two died later from their injuries and another 21 were injured but survived.[79] Owens was charged with capital murder and aggravated assault with a motor vehicle.[80]

On March 15, 2014, Rapper Tyler, The Creator was arrested for inciting a riot after having yelled to fans to push their way past security guards at a sold-out show on March 13, 2014.[81]


SXSW 2015 took place from March 13 to 22.

SXSW Film screened 145 feature films, an all-time high for the festival.[82] The big-budget films Furious 7 (which was a last-minute addition to the lineup),[83] Get Hard, Spy, Trainwreck, The Final Girls[84] and Moonwalkers had their world premieres, as did the documentaries Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and Brand: A Second Coming.[85] Ex Machina had its North American premiere.

The 2015 festival hosted the swearing-in ceremony of Michelle K. Lee as the new head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker administered the oath of office to Lee at the festival on Friday, March 13.[86]

Various sources called Meerkat, an iOS app that had launched two weeks earlier that lets users livestream video via Twitter, the breakout technology of SXSW Interactive.[87][88] Another product that got significant buzz was a prototype of the roadable aircraft AeroMobil, which its makers, the company AeroMobil s.r.o., said would be ready for operation by 2017.[87][88]

Economic impact[edit]

SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $190.3 million in 2012 [89] increasing to $218 million in 2013.[90]


Growth of the festival has brought concerns of violence and safety.[91][92]

The 2014 drunk driving incident prompted discussion about whether the festival had grown too large and raucous.[93] The organizers of the SXSW festival SXSW Holdings LLC and SXSW Holdings Inc were sued by families of the four victims.[94]

In May 2014, partially motivated by the 2014 crash, Austin's Urban Transportation Commission announced that it was seeking to enhance safety at the festival, with an initial focus on implementing transportation measures to resolve issues linked to the festival. The Austin Music Commission also met to discuss music venues and sound problems linked to the festival.[95] The city voted to limit the number of special events which would be approved to 114, a 32 percent decrease from the number of approved events during the 2014 festival.[96]

Another frequent criticism of the SXSW festival is that it has became overly commercialized. In 2013, NPR writer Andrea Swensson wrote that she had decided to stop attending the festival, writing, "I can't help but feel that it has strayed far away from its original premise as a grassroots gathering place for new, undiscovered talent and increasingly feels like a big ol' Times Square billboard-sized commercial."[97]

Similar festivals[edit]

The creators of South by Southwest co-created two similar festivals in 1995: North by Northwest (NXNW) in Portland, Oregon (co-founded by the Willamette Week), and North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto (co-founded by Now).[98] North by Northwest ended in 2001, and was replaced by MusicfestNW (MFNW), an event run entirely by the Willamette Week.[99] In 2006, SXSW organizers created West by Southwest (WXSW) in Tucson, Arizona, a music festival which occurs directly before South by Southwest and mostly features bands that are scheduled to play at SXSW.[100]

Other festivals inspired by SXSW include the following:

South by So What?!, a music festival held twice annually in the Dallas, Texas area is also named after South by Southwest.

Festivals inspired by South by Southwest have been collectively nicknamed "four-letter festivals". Metro Silicon Valley, which founded C2SV, wrote that such festivals have become important revenue sources for the alternative weekly newspapers that have founded them.[98]


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External links[edit]