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

On Food

If you only go to one place to eat make it the vegan spot where all the cute alt-kids hang out: Counter Culture. I mean, this here is a Green Mimosa with kale, ginger, and pineapple. I would show you a photo of my food but it was so incredible I inhaled it.

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Ok ok, Austin, home of the food truck, right?

Kinda. Too bad they mostly jacked up their prices. I wouldn’t care so much if my mind was blown but when I’m paying $5 for a taco & $4 for a cupcake out of a TRUCK I expect something amazing.

On that note, Hillside Farmacy, where you can sit down, was super yummy.

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Free food was mostly meh, but this one advertising agency did soak their soda gummies in bourbon.

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Pretty please eat deep fried oreos.

And I’m totally bias, but I found my first Persian food truck!

On Accommodation [aka the Magical Faerie Nostalgia Palace]

Everyone has to stay somewhere, right? I happened to land with a tarot-reading witchy beauty Angel, in her whimsical house of curiosities. I slept in a trailer, the bath didn’t work, and there were 12 people sharing one bathroom. However, everyone was gorgeous and naked a lot, and when I’d go to brush my teeth, I’d emerge showered with makeup and jewelry from a bevy of babes. The only downfall was I kept forgetting to actually brush my teeth.

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On Running Away

I’ve heard rumours that a major part of SXSW consists of a day trip where you and the people you’re so excited to see from all over the country drive away from the smelly masses you’re supposed to care about and go give yourselves a day of bliss. I’m pretty sure that’s in the official program, somewhere.

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We went to Krause Springs, but not before loading up on traditional finger-lickin’ BBQ. Even my mostly-vegan-self bought almost a pound of brisket and some creamed spicy corn.

As soon as we walked in, we ran into these folks who reminded us that we are, despite appearances, still in Texas.

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Go here. It costs $3. There’s a waterfall, a rainbow, and a rope swing. And no lines.

On Transport

Yabba Dabba Doo- Flinstones-style foot pedal power won SXSW, hands down. You could drunk-bike or jump in a pedicab (finding a real cab was a nightmare) to go anywhere. Bonus points if you got to ride with darth vader or speakers or glitter. PS. Parking and traffic were an expensive pain in the ass. Duh.

On Location

The majority of the action happens on a particular strip of 6th St. — akin to Bourbon St. in New Orleans — where walking feels like a videogame of avoiding drunken zombies. It’s where gutter-punks jam with tourists, buskers mingle with costumed wanderers, and spectacle spills out to street from all the bars.

Sonos Studio
It was hard to get into but there was free espresso patron, free doritos, and everything was pretty. Good enough.

Other Streets
Not all of Austin was invaded and colorful. There’s certainly some parts of the city that struggle. No lie.

Treasure City Thrift
Not only is it collectively organized with a safer spaces policy and regular 25 cent sales, it hosted a queer POC music showcase in its parking lot. ULTIMATE WIN.

Pussy Palace
Bust Magazine had a daytime party that was super fucking far away in the backyard of the Pussy Palace. I promised I’d shoot it, and so I did, and didn’t regret it (partially because I loved how sweet aka cute the bartenders were). I got to see Wampire, and there were copious amounts of Titos, a locally made Vodka. We may or may not have been gifted a few bottles that we transferred into water bottles to smuggle into all the nighttime parties. High school techniques can be surprisingly effective.

East Sixth
East 6th St is full of rad lighting, gay bars, hipster bars, punks, nicknack shops, and people on bikes. You should probably go there, even if it’s just for Cheer Up Charlie’s.

next: queer music and queer musicians and sxsw interactive

On Interactive

Interactive was the Tech/Geek section with lots of free drinks and app sponsored events and not as many skinny jeans.

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I squealed when I met Latoya Peterson, Editor-in-Chief of Racialicious.

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Molly Crabapple is a classic crotchety-old-genius-man-artist in a hot body surrounded by burlesque babes. Basically, Molly is everything.

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Kim Boekbinder & Molly Crabapple talked about Hacking the Crowd: Artists as Entrepeneurs.

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There were 3D printers that will probably take over the world.

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Yes, geeks do things like make extra-large jenga.

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When nerds take on tagging.

On Music

HOLY SHIT SO MUCH GAY MUSIC. Unlike Art Basel, where my search for gay fizzled, SXSW was too queer to handle. There’s more photos of Tegan & Sara because someone else from Autostraddle *cough* Taylor Hatmaker* got press access. Not that I’m jealous.

Music is like, what SXSW is famous for right? So here’s a roundup of queer music I got to see, so you can feel like you were right there sweating it out with me. Except you’d probably remember your earplugs.

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Tegan & Sara: The new album is feelings-pop, but they had no stage presence.

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Seriously, they used the word “great” three times in two sentences.

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Venus X: NYC based female DJ (there’s not enough of them) who spins everything from underground rap to Turkish techno.

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Abdu Ali: Banjee trap, Baltimore sounds, experimental ballroom gay-boy beats, sweetheart.

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Mal Blum: Folk-y, Swoon-y, hella gay with a guitar.

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Mykki Blanco: The queer punk drag queen of rap.

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Cultfever: I didn’t even listen because I was drunk and she was pretty but I was dancing, so.

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Brooke Candy: Watch this and make your own decision. NSFW, obvi.

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Zebra Katz & Njena Reddd Foxxx: Fun fact- I used to go-go dance with Zebra Katz but now he’s a big deal and I really like his beats. Watch this, and you will too.

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God Des & She: taught an entire rap showcase worth of hard looking men how to eat pussy.

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Little Ruckus: “Oh my god, when I look in your eyes, I know there’s nothing more beautiful than our weird lives” Direct quote.

Queer Music Part II

Sissy Bounce, a call and response genre of New Orleans dance music with a gay emcee, gets it’s own section because due to my pervy nature & an open bar, I OD-ed on photos. I am utterly mesmerized by asses bouncing. Performers included Katy Red, Nicky Da B’s dancers, and DJ Rusty Lazer (who also closed out GayBiGayGay by inspiring the entire stage to jump on stage, bend over, and shake it.)

next: more music and the best day ever, aka gaybigaygay

Other Music

So yea, there were like, non-gay musicians too. I guess.

I was super-into these girls — Lucy Love and Linkoban — who I’m pretty sure aren’t queer but I wish they were.

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Lucy Love is kind of a big deal, and she started her own label. Doin’ it!

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Linkoban is another fierce female urban grime rapper from Denmark.

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I danced in spite of myself. You will too.

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Juan Mclean: Kind-faced DJ but I only caught two songs.

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Ryan Leslie: I stumbled in by accident and stayed for an hour. This man can perform ANYTHING.

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Macklemore: If you don’t already know, educate yourself. Oh, and he’s incredible live.

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Kim Boekbinder: Dreamy sing-song space pop

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Lonesome Leash (of Dark Dark Dark): He plays sweet songs that makes you stand still and listen with multiple instruments including an accordian.

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Pictureplane: DJ with live beats, rumoured to date Grimes, I was too drunk to listen (again) but I danced, hard.

On Notable Folks

So SXSW is full of celebrities mingling with you in the muck (or kinda above the muck in penthouses or balconies or VIP sections) but there’s tons of fancy people in one place at one time. Which means I got to meet some of them.

Buck Angel, Trans-man porn star, was premiering a documentary about him, Mr. Angel. He and I chatted for over an hour over tea and finally I had to take a few shots but goddamn that man has brawn and brain.

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Half the cast of The New Girl. Am I the only one who watches that show? Should I be embarrassed?

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First black lady astronaut, Mae Jemison

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Conquistador, Musician & Journalist

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Elizabeth Valleau, Founder of Empire Mayo

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Crap. Lost my notes. He’s Jay-Z’s business partner or something.

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Cindy Gallop, business women & founder of Makelovenotporn.tv

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Jenny Owen Youngs drinking whiskey. Sigh.

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Everyone amazing in this incredible lineup for an event called “Women of Letters“: Neil Gaiman, Kim Boekbinder, Amanda Palmer, Emma Swift, Jenny, Buck 65, John Sayles, and Michaela McGuire.

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Shana Fried, Queer lady entertainment lawyer & partner at Smog Records (a dubstep label)- phew!

On GayBiGayGay

GayBiGayGay was the one day where everything was awesome. Seriously. I woke up and brunched, headed to a huge open lot full of good-lookin’ & friendly gays in their dandiest finery, and listened to music, picnicked anddrank till midnight. No badges, no lines, free parking, and camera candy galore.

Most importantly, this pretty young thing found me in crowd. I think she’s yours, Autostraddle. Ladies & germs, Taylor Hatmaker.

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As for the rest of it, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

On GayBiGayBabes

Self-explanatory.

On the Last Hurrah

When the last song of GBGG was over, two carloads of queers headed home past a road full of bike punks (they had a huge event too, and I’m pretty sure they lit something on fire or exploded something, whatever. There were fire-trucks.) While I packed, everyone cooked up some kale tacos, and around 2 AM, three hours away from my airport deadline, we were invited to the neighbor’s house.

The neighbor’s house turned out to be a sprawling domain of merriment: it had a full-size hand-built movie theatre complete with antique concession stand, an emptied out school bus-turned-lounge with pristine vintage furniture, a mostly-built house using all antique parts from New Orleans, and… a hand-made hot tub big enough to fit 10 people. We all stripped down and slipped in (that sounds naughtier than it was) and I felt all the stress of the week (and the filth of the last few days, ew) melt into the water. I felt totally blissed out: just in time to face the crush of SXSW exit-ers at the airport while running for my 6AM flight.

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Najva has written 2 articles for us.

69 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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…

  3. 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!

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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. 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.

    • “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.

      • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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*

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    • 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…

  13. 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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