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SXSW starts today here in Austin. As expected, it is bigger than ever. Yesterday, I saw three stages being built, and someone has installed two giant domes just off of Congress Avenue, to be filled with who knows what sort of branded advertainment experience. This is the first year that I’ve seen stages being put up for the interactive portion of the festival - most people in Austin don’t even consider SXSWi to be part of the real SXSW, which doesn’t start until next Thursday.
For the first time in 12 years, I’m not attending. In my quest to always have a new and different SXSW experience, this year, I will be helping my wife have a baby instead.
My first SXSW in 2000, my startup threw what was then considered a ridiculously lavish and expensive party. We spent, if I recall correctly, about $10,000 on an open bar that lasted til the bar closed at 2. It was a huge deal.
In 2006, when I ran Consumating, we threw a party at one of the best bars in town.
This year, Jay-Z will play a party sponsored by American Express in a private party tent built for SXSW badge holders who are also AmEx customers. It will probably be one of the most exclusive parties of the year, marked by what will almost certainly be the worst line SXSW has ever seen. That party will probably cost a few million dollars to throw.
I like SXSW. I might go as far as saying I love SXSW, the festival, the people, and everything it does for Austin. But you know what’s nuts?
I woke up to an email from a distant acquaintance from San Francisco. An excerpt, below:
I hopped on a bus about three days ago with 25 strangers - this doesn’t surprise you. Our goal was to pitch ideas, form small companies and build a start-up before we landed in Austin for SxSW.
There are 10 other buses like ours coming from other cities, and each bus has at least 3 teams on them and we’re all competing to define an idea and bring it to market.
The email went on to explain that the 30 new “products” that were created on these buses would be judged by how much “social currency” they earned. There is a celebrity judging panel. You can subscribe to video updates.
So to be clear, the point of these buses is to see how much of your attention they can suck up with tweets about hastily conceived apps that will ultimately go nowhere, burn through a bunch of investor money while adding to the ridiculous spectacle of tech startup culture.
I love a good party. I am in this to make party. But I think we might be getting a bit confused about what it means to launch a product or start a company, and what it means to be on a reality game show.
I am still excited, and I still marvel at what a weird thing we have all built together. I worry about how all of this money seems to corrupt it, turning a festival originally about independent creators into a branded hellscape of VIP-only, RSVP-only partypocalypse.
The world’s biggest hip-hop superstar is playing a concert at the same event where, a few years ago, my friend Dakota was the biggest name act.
I’m not complaining. Laissez les bon temps rouler! But I’m glad I’m not going this year.
PS. I just got back from pixel bombing the SXSW convention center. It was a bit terrifying, but we succeeded. Keep your eyes peeled for my pixel art portraits up on the big concrete pillars, and make your own pixel portrait with my free iPhone app, Pixel Pix. I have created a special SXSW pixel pack for you to use that will be available soon!