With Vinyl Chapters looking forward to covering this year’s South By Southwest festival in March, we take a look at the event’s history and what to expect from 2021’s revolutionary, online focus.
The last year has been a tumultuous time for festivals of any sort. Due to the global pandemic and the fact that large gatherings are just not possible right now, this has caused chaos for the live industries.
But instead of being downbeat and defeatist about it, many intelligent and forward-thinking people decided to look for ways around this. Ways we could still enjoy live music, live events, and human interaction without actually being at the same place.
We’re thankfully at a time and place of human evolution where connectivity isn’t just possible in person, but also through a plethora of electronic wizardry. It would have been much harder to deal with the pandemic if, for example, we were still in the 1980s when we had no internet, only cabled telephones, and four TV channels to choose from.
But with our electronically connected world, there are always ways to adapt. The pandemic swiftly forced advancements and innovations for ‘live’ industries in a very short space of time. It was something that was needed in order for them to survive.
How Live Music Has Changed
From a live music perspective, the industry adapted. It learned. It had to. Live gigs were streamed with high production values and sweeping camera angles from empty venues. They were broadcast to thousands of people all over the world. Laura Marling created a memorable stream from London’s Union Chapel. Katie Melua did the same from the Rivoli Ballroom. Concerts were even held within video games (see Travis Scott’s astronomical Fortnight performance).
Yes, we’ve had live music streaming before, but it was always a second thought to performing in public. The thought that now goes into online events along with streaming capabilities and innovations in the industry has increased ten-fold, as well as the number of artists willing to give them a try.
SXSW At The Forefront Of Innovation
This, however, is small-scale compared to what SXSW have been planning. The event organisers are perhaps ahead of the game for this digital ‘live’ revolution. Next month they will be hosting their entire festival, spread over 5 jam-packed days, completely online.
It’s a mammoth undertaking, and one not lost on the event organisers. Roland Swenson, CEO and co-founder stated “The challenge of building a new future is one that we’re excited to tackle. This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect.”
Putting Austin On The Creatives Map
Before we get into how SXSW will be doing this, let’s have a little look back at the event over the years, for those of you not in the know.
Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, The South By Southwest Conference & Festival (SXSW) has grown to become one of the premier events to celebrate the coming together of the music, interactive, and film industries. It’s a place for artists to showcase their talents, somewhere for creatives to network and learn, and a time for filmmakers to show off and discuss their latest visions. It really is a destination of discovery.
Starting off, as most of these things do, from humble roots, it was originally planned as a place for locals of the area in creative and music industries to showcase their talents to a wider audience, outside of Austin. The organisers felt local talent was as good as anywhere on the planet and wanted to show this to the world.
Music was the industry that ignited the project back in the day, but over the years the founders were keen to add and introduce other industries and expertise to help the idea grow. It welcomed in people from other creative places including film, business, education, and even gaming. It’s become an event envied by the entire world. Born in Austin and an integral part of Austin.
And it really does involve the whole of the city – when it’s in its ‘real life’ form, anyway. Bars and venues all around Austin are utilised for gigs, conferences, film viewings, and parties. You can be at a talk about a new and intriguing tech startup one minute, be watching a compelling Korean movie the next, and finish off the day by moshing in a beer-soaked venue to the latest up-and-coming indie band.
Music Leads The Way For SXSW
When music is concerned, SXSW truly is the place to be. Highlighted as a place to discover new and exciting bands and musicians from around the world, you also get the chance to check out some of the world’s biggest artists, often in tiny venues. At the 2014 event, Jay Z and Kanye West performed Watch the Throne to a crowd of 3000 fans and in the same year, Lady Gaga sang her heart out whilst riding a mechanical bull.
1994 was an evolutionary year where the event expanded outwards from the music industry. Johnny Cash was the keynote speaker, and the event introduced its interactive and film sections to the bill. Both have been exponentially added to and expanded on over the years with big names and big focuses on current issues and talking points. They are now as much a part of the festival as the music.
This helped SXSW grow. Grow in a massive way. Just to get your head around the size of the festival nowadays, the first event in 1987 had around 700 registrants. The 2019 event was attended by around 400,000 people.
The Effect Of The Pandemic
Due to the pandemic, SXSW 2020 had to be cancelled. No one could have planned for Covid 19 and the world was not designed to cope with it right away. Festivals and events all around the world were cancelled and abandoned. Some will likely never return due to lost revenue, businesses collapsing, and other factors.
But some were not going to be beat. SXSW was one of them and one of the first live events to bite the bullet and confirm that their 2021 festival would be completely online. A brave move.
SXSW 2021: An Online Creative Utopia
So, “How in the hell are they going to turn this city-wide, immersive and venue-laden event into an online showcase” you may be wondering? With a lot of hard work and planning is the answer.
Due to the foresight that the city of Austin – and most cities around the world – would still be incapacitated by 2021, the organisers of SXSW decided early on to make their festival a completely online event for the year.
Artists will be performing music from their homes and empty venues around the world. These special performances will be broadcast live and straight to your computer, mobile device, or television. Conferences with industry creatives will be performed over conferencing apps, swapping and sharing information that could one day change the world. Filmmakers will be showcasing their latest works via the power of the internet. It will be business as usual but in an online environment.
Yes, the atmosphere will be different. There will be no wandering the streets and falling into a gig by your next favourite band, but at least we have a SXSW this year. The excitement is still there and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic event. It also has the potential to make the festival even better and accessible to even more people in the future.
What Can We Expect from SXSW 2021?
Everything you’ve come to expect from previous years and more.
Looking at the music side of things, some highlights include the folk-laden beauty of Australian Indigo Sparke, the neo-soul compositions of Britain’s, Ego Ella May, and the pop stylings of Chile’s Francisca Valenzuela. On top of this, you have country music legend Willie Nelson on keynote speaker duties, Demi Lovato premiering her new hard-hitting documentary, Dancing with the Devil, and Wyclef Jean collaborating with the Heads music label to present a special showcase of new talent.
This is just a small glimpse of what to expect. You can check out the full lineup so far and also find out what to expect from the film and creative industries over at the SXSW website. The event is also known for last-minute additions so I’m sure they’ll be a couple more big names nearer the time.
SXSW 2021 Will Be Unlike Anything Else
SXSW is not likely to be without glitches and surreal moments ( a staple of any SXSW to be fair), but it’s a huge undertaking to move a city-wide live event completely online in a short space of time. The organisers have dealt with it in a fantastic way, but to them, it’s really nothing new. It’s what SXSW is all about. Being on the precipice of the new, introducing the world to bold ideas, and continuously searching out new experiences. Being online this year is just continuing its bold tradition of innovation and progress.
SXSW 2021 will be running from Tuesday 16th March to Saturday 20th March. The event will be completely online. You can order your tickets and find out more about the artists, events, and conferences taking place over at the official SXSW website.
In the coming weeks, Vinyl Chapters will be releasing more news and features about the event, including some of the music acts to watch out for and best moments from past SXSW festivals. Also, keep an eye out for our coverage of SXSW 2021 during March.