“You had to be there”: SXSW festival debuts in Sydney

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Bye Noah daCosta and Marzi

When we heard about SXSW Sydney, we knew it was going to be a big deal.

The first thing we felt upon arrival was the energy of the event: the epitome of “you had to be there”.

Arriving at the International Convention & Exhibition Centre (ICC) was both a thrill and honour for everybody in attendance; it was exhilarating to be around so many likeminded individuals, creators and innovators of the Australian music industry.

We were in no way prepared for the magnitude of musicianship they’d have in store for us.

The line-up of acts was phenomenal, rivalling that of many of Australia’s leading festivals, and the level of performance displayed through each and every set was a testament to the curation of music that SXSW Sydney achieved.

It’s also imperative to note that a noticeably large portion of acts were locally sourced, with some of the best performances coming from these artists.

What made SXSW Sydney’s curation so overwhelmingly positive was its commitment to displaying homegrown talent, especially as this was its first foray to a location outside of Austin, Texas in the festival’s original form, with a few spin-offs appearing within the United States and in Europe.

SXSW booked out many of the best music venues in the city, so there was never a dull moment for gigs, and the quality of the acts themselves was mesmerising.

However, we felt getting from location to location proved occasionally difficult, with quite a large geographic spread of 25 venues to accommodate the more than 300 artists.

The venues themselves were mostly great – barring a lack of accessibility at some – but to put it frankly, we definitely got our ‘steps’ up. Difficulty ensuring accessibility at music venues isn’t unique to Sydney, but has been a leading topic for some arts and event managers, notably Groove Tunes festival.

If one were to miss an act at SXSW, it would ideally be because another act was playing, not because they couldn’t be reached due to distance.

Overall, SXSW was an incredible experience. While our focus is primarily music, it proved to be a ‘must’ new space in our arts scene for all things creative and tech related.

From the music aspect alone we were exposed to some of the country’s best, and the interconnected nature of the conference made interacting with them a positive experience as well.

In short- this is the place to network! That said, to go there with that as your exclusive motivation would be a waste considering the quality of performers, panels and parties available to you.