SXSFAIL: A Queer Takes on The Madness of Austin

all images © Najva Sol

I’ll tell you the truth: I’ve avoided writing this article. Why? Because I’m still recovering from South By Southwest (aka #SXSW). How is that possible? I’m a seasoned traveler. I’ve shaken my booty in music festivals across the country, diligently attended poetry conferences and shot the kinkiest of summer camps — basically, this ordeal should have been a piece of babely warm-weather cake. A musician bought me a plane ticket in exchange for a photoshoot, but my actual job there cancelled* (see: Mercury retrograde) three days before my departure. I decided I’d go regardless, heart and suitcase full of optimism. Instead, SXSW kicked my ass, and laughed while walking away.

Day 7, Copyright Amy Malone

Day 7

SXSW, if you don’t know, is a two-week music, film, and tech conference/festival/shitshow that has happened in Austin since 1987 (we’re the same age!). It’s got over 40,000 registrants, over 100 venues, and upwards of 2000 bands, which basically rounds up to a million things to do at every moment (just thought I’d help you with the math).

Day 7

Day 7

Somehow though, when you look at the photos, you can’t tell that I made every mistake possible! (Ok, maybe not all the mistakes — just many, many mistakes that caused undue anxiety that led to teary calls to my friends back in Brooklyn who all dismissed me and were like, “You’re in 80 degree weather? Surrounded by free music? Oh, yeah, tell me how hard your life is. Not.”)

This self-portrait is full of lies

This self-portrait is full of lies

 

SXSW Life Lessons

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I learned some life lessons immediately:

-Everyone was right, you don’t need a badge. The stupid long long long long long impossible lines will still exist with them. Even the VIP $1600 platinum bage holders have a line.

-Carry snacks. And cash. SXSW is Austin’s largest source of event based revenue, which means ATM fees can go up to $7. Even roadside coffee (not a latte, mind you) is $3.

-Teenyboppers will threaten to cut you if you shove ahead of them. If you’re press, attempt to get a press pass instead of pushing to the front of a sold out cant-breathe show with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara.

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I offer the reflection of these sunglasses as proof.

-Don’t let #FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) get to you. Don’t fixate on the shows you can’t get into *cough* Justin Timberlake’s secret show for Myspace *cough* Prince’s exclusive showcase for Samsung *cough* and instead think about how great it is that you can see the DJ from down the block spinning all the way in Austin! (Just kidding. But chances are that neighborhood DJ can get you in & you can stick around long enough to see someone you aren’t already friends with, too.)

If you can avoid all those things, you can probably avoid my fate: hungry, defeated and alone for hours charging my phone in a random bar, begging my internet to work so I could come up with alternate plans after a show I’d wanted to see had a line that was four blocks long. #Fail

On FOMO

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Some people don’t have to miss out because they have private roof access. I am not one of those. My view is often this:

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But when you get stuck outside, sometimes you stumble upon a midnight retro yard sale, or generous stranger to share a smoke & wait for the next adventure.

On Mercury Retrograde

Can you believe this tarot reading was in a crowded queer dive bar? I can. Queers love their woo, even in Texas.

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Admission: Until this go-round, I underestimated Mercury retrograde. My flight into Austin was cancelled and I almost had to spend 24 hours in the Dallas airport. My phone mysteriously stopped working for three hours. During SXSW, I had one possible commercial and one photoshoot cancel. One night I sat in a warehouse alone because it was too dark to shoot the girl emcee, Zuzuka Poderosa, and all of my buddies had cancelled. Finally I got a text to come to a bar a few blocks away, where a guy friend was debating going to another event in search of a hot girl from earlier in the day. Utterly exhausted and with nothing else to do, I decide to tag along. It’s only after we arrive, and I decide to enter even though I’m not allowed to take photos, that I realize one of my favorite DJ’s (Gaslamp Killer) is playing an extended set! THIS is how Mercury retrograde breaks you, like some crazy zen lose-all-your-hope-and-desires-before-you-seek-the-truth shit.

Everything sucked until retrograde ended on my last day, which was GayBiGayGay (more on this later,) and I actually dropped my phone in toilet and it DIDN’T DIE (totes MIRACLE.) Point being: plans will fall through. Just stop trying so hard and chill the fuck out.

next: food, accommodations, running away and austin

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69 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Loving the follow up and as an Austinite I can safely say we are glad when everyone leaves. Also, check the Barton Springs reference, the place has been closed for renovations, looks to me like you are at Krause Springs which is indeed another magical and awesome place. Come back and see us sometime when shit isnt crazy, it’s better that way!

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    we don’t refer to it as South by So What for no reason and try to get the hell out of town…I’ve even known some judges that deliberately do not schedule a docket those last few days so that they don’t have to deal with the nonsense downtown.

    It used to be a decent event, not unlike ACL-fest was once decent (last one of those I went to was the dust bowl of ’05- turned down station passes every year after)…but those days are long gone. The couple of truly good shows that might exist just are not worth the other hassles…

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    CAN WE TALK ABOUT HOW GOOD TAYLOR LOOKS IN THOSE PHOTOS?!
    like okay everyone is gorgeous and this photo essay made me really happy (also happy that i wasn’t there because let’s be real i would die in a crowded situation like this, i need to be at home on my sofa in my pajamas to truly be at ease) but taylor you look SO FLY. purple glitter omg.

    thanks for doing the awesome festival traveling for us, najva, so us homebodies can marvel from afar!

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    Agreed. The traffic this year almost killed me. My friend wore a shirt all week that said “Welcome to Austin. Please don’t move here. I hear Dallas is nice.” I’m thinking more of those shirts should be printed…

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    OH MY GAWD, PERSIAN FOOD TRUCK, ALL MY DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE. (I am biased as well). There’s kookoo sabzi & salad shirazi in a take-out container, I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF. And it’s called WHOLLY KEBAB, it’s perfect!

    Looking at these photos just solidifies my impression that I am no way cool enough to go to SXSW or any variation of.

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    Yo can I just say, ATx meetup? Also why isn’t there a gay picnic every month?????

    Ferreal nice write up. My SXSW was so grody and ridic, it’s going to be even more disgusting next year I hope.

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      i also feel like Najva and I deserve some kind of medal of honor for actually living through both tech and music… GayBi was the Day 9 (10?!) finish line.

      mercury in retrograde or what have you explains why my flight was also canceled, i lost my phone in the las vegas airport on the way there, i never found a wifi signal ever, and i think i got my period like twice

  7. Thumb up 1

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    Fantastic photography and commentary. Makes me simultaneously envious and relieved that I will probably never get to go to SXSW, even if I do end up moving to the Austin area. But maybe one day I’ll sneak into GBGG.

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      “Makes me simultaneously envious and relieved that I will probably never get to go to SXSW, even if I do end up moving to the Austin area.”

      AMEN.

      also now feeling like an embarrassing cliche because i keep threatening my gf that i’m gonna make us move to austin…and i’ve never even visited. but don’t worry texas, the likelihood of me leaving brooklyn (or, for that matter, my living room on some days) is very very very slim…but y’all make it look damn tempting.

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        I had the great fortune of visiting Austin back in the summer of ’06 and had friends that made it probably more awesome than it would have seemed had I been on my own.

        Totally feel you about not leaving your living room some days. Hell, I’m accomplished if I put on real clothing and not pajamas.

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          Guys, I didn’t leave my house (in brooklyn) all day.

          That’s what happens to me when I travel too much. Also started watching Bomb Girls ( I blame Autostraddle.)

          But do go to GBGG if you ever have the opportunity. 100%

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    so, so much fashion inspiration in this excellent (and super personally validating wrt festival experiences!) post. feel like i could make a tumblr dedicated solely to your trip to krause springs, in a non-creepy way. and then like, style my life after it and other related ephemera / songs / paint colors. i think this is totally normal.

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    I am so sorry that you were at that Tegan and Sara/ Macklemore concert. I was there and the crowd (*cough*cough*itwasprettymuchjustMacklemorefans*cough*)was the most horrifying display of entitled white kids with more money and weed than they know what to do with that I have ever seen. Ugh! I know that not everyone is a Tegan and Sara fan, but jumping on unsuspecting fans pretending to “crowd surf” because you’re bored is NOT funny. And that venue was WAY too small to push. And if you’re going to smoke weed at a free concert, do it before you get in, or at least before everyone is packed in like sardines so that you aren’t blowing it rudely and directly into others’ faces. I had a friend tell me “that’s just concerts,” but I don’t care. In my opinion, if you are pushing people towards the stage, jumping on people, blowing smoke in other people’s faces, or engaging in any other unsafe behavior, you should be REMOVED from the concert. So. Many. Feelings. But Tegan walked RIGHT by me on her way to the signing and I almost DIED. *swoon*

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    1) Ah, it was nice to read a SXSW write-up from a queer lady perspective. All the ones I’ve read thus far have been annoying post-ironic dudebro accounts, and that shit gets old fast.
    2) Maybe I’ll make next year the year I’ll finally give in and go. It just seems so overwhelming. But as this post proves, perhaps if you just stick closer to the queer spaces the experience is more tolerable. Plus there’s a Midcoast Takeover stage every year where bands from my city play, so I could go support them I guess.
    3) Everyone in these photos is attractive to the point of being offensive and I’m afraid I would just walk around feeling invisible around them. :| Ah well, I’ve got a year to step up my game!

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    I’ve been to SXSW three times for the interactive portion of the festival, and it’s gotten very hard to navigate. Busy, crowded and not much fun. The last time I was there I caught a cold on the plane going to, and by the end of the festival had walking pneumonia. It was pretty awful. I felt like I didn’t get much out of it.

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    Dang. Love the pictures! Krause Springs is so awesome, but your photographs make it look even more magical! P.S. Is that Salt Lick BBQ?

    And kudos to you for waking up and getting to GBGG at a decent hour! I felt like superman all week without a hangover and then I woke up Sunday and thought I was going to die.

    This was my third SXSW and honestly, I don’t think I’m going to do it again next year. But then again…I think I said that last year too.

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      Oh my gosh, Mal Blum is the most amazing! Her songs encapsulate all the feelings, but actually. I found out about her 3 years ago and I’m single-handedly trying to make her famous by making all my friends listen to her.

      Ok, I’ll stop fan-girling now…

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    The photos are beautiful! Look at all those fine people in my town!

    This recap makes me a little sad, tho. It was my first SXSW (I moved here right after 2012) and for me it was fucking magical. The city had this amazing energy and there were so many beautiful, smart, curious people everywhere you looked. I made new friends and found new bands and had a lot of drunken adventures and generally had a great experience. Yeah the traffic sucked, but it’s just one week a year. Doesn’t seem like a huge trade-off to me. I’d rather be grateful for the unique experience that shows up at my doorstep once a year and the chance to step out of my routine.

    Also, I was wondering why Autostraddle didn’t have an official thing at all? I know everyoneisgay did a panel, I’m sure y’all have something to share, too…

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