The first SXSW Sydney delivered as the Olympics of festivals with an overwhelming amount of talks and concerts. Completely different from your regular weekend music festival, SXSW Sydney boasted over 1,000+ experiences: 700+ speakers, 300+ performers, 170+ game demos, 200+ screen events, and 5 gala premieres across streams of gaming, tech, music and film.
The week kicked off with a speech from The Hon. John Graham, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, and Minister for Jobs and Tourism, who discussed his role in overcoming the hangover of Sydney’s lockout laws, which were imposed in 2014 and lifted in 2021. There is still work to be done to elevate Sydney’s nightlife but hosting SXSW was a great way to show how things should improve into the future.
The first keynote, Futurist Amy Webb, is a regular keynote at SXSW Texas. She discussed the potential pitfalls of AI – a key theme of the week’s tech talks. She touched on how AI could homogenize options, especially when suggesting music or products to users. Turning from tech talks to trauma, I made my way to the Powerhouse Museum to listen to a panel of survivors, including Grace Tame, discuss how survivor-led solutions can heal trauma. The session was very eye-opening and a sad reminder of how common abuse is. Amongst the traumatic subject matter were messages of hope, support and community.
The number of music events increased as the week went on, but there were some industry parties and mixers throughout the beginning of the week. One highlight was Young Henry’s Rock and Roll Circus, which saw Sydney musicians rock covers such as Emmy Mack (Redhook) covering Come Together and Dante Knows covering The Prodigy’s Breathe.
To explore the screen stream of the festival, I went to Palace Cinema in Central Park Mall to see Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story. The documentary followed the life of Gogol Bordello’s frontman, Eugene Hütz from Ukraine to the US and around the world, building the gypsy punk band, experimenting with art and sharing an infectious energy. At one point, Eugene describes music as a type of invisible magic, which has tangible benefits that you can see – no wonder he is such a great musician and showman.
Amongst other screen events was Baz Luhrmann’s Faraway Downs premiere of the Australian mini-series starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.
Central Park Mall also contains the epic gaming venue, Fortress, which mixes futuristic gaming arenas with a medieval style tavern with food, drinks and screens to watch the events. Here, former Australian Eurovision Song Contest performer, Montaigne, performed songs from roleplaying musical game, Stray Gods.
There were over 300 performers for the music festival, so we couldn’t experience everything, but it was fun exploring different venues around the city and soaking up the atmosphere whilst trying to see as many bands as possible. Touchdown Under presented by YEG showcased artists from Asia to the Middle East covering genres such as operatic metal, Indonesian folk and Korean R&B.
New Zealand artist Ashy performed catchy R&B hits with her band and backing singers, complete with coordinated dance moves at Knox Street Bar. Tulliah soothed the Rolling Stone Courtyard with her heartfelt acoustic songs reminiscent of Laura Marling. Yorta Yorta, Kalkadoon and Yirendali woman, Miss Kaninna won the first ever Justin Cosby Award for Best Emerging Artist at SXSW Sydney. She is one to watch and her song Blak Britney is a complete banger.
Amongst the overwhelming number of experiences, I managed to explore the exhibition hall’s startup village and meet Create Racket, a startup helping artists create more income by partnering with brands in an authentic way. It also gives brands an opportunity to support artists and their audiences via social media early on.
Heading over to some music industry talks, we got to hear more about ticketing, the music industry and marketing in Big Ticket Items: The Future of Live Music in a Tight Economy hosted by Tixel and Bolster. At Spotify House, which took over the beloved Lansdowne Hotel music venue, the Women At Full Volume session explored equity for artists behind many cultural lenses. The panel was made up of Sarah Sim, Artist & Label Partnerships Lead, Southeast Asia, Spotify, Dr. Alethea Beetson, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Program Lead, Spotify and Cat Stratton (Cat & Calmell) moderated by award winning journalist, Sosefina Fuamoli. A great takeaway from the talk was a recommendation of the Big Ancestor Energy playlist from Dr. Aleetha Beetson.
When it comes to the practicalities of the week, approach the week as a marathon, not a sprint. I attended as many events as I could over the first three days, which led to me completely running out of steam by Thursday.
Some venues were almost a 30 minute walk from each other so you need to factor this into your schedule. You’ll want to arrive early as some sessions fill up way in advance, especially the keynote speeches, which had winding queues. Attending the talk before would be the best way to guarantee your spot in a keynote.
Here are some tips:
Plan ahead – look through the app and programme to find the experiences that interest you most. You can highlight these and create a schedule in the app.
Add your top events to your diary as your own must-sees.
Check the location and walking time between events so you don’t get caught out with travel time. Allow extra time in case experiences run late.
Allow time for exploration and discover something unexpected.
Check for free events if you might not be able to commit to the whole ticketed experience.
Burn yourself out – be realistic about what you can achieve in the week and expect to have some days where you might want to take it easy.
Stick to one stream – most passes will allow you to explore other talks and events. There are even some free events that don’t require tickets!
Platinum tickets were expensive at AUD $1,295 but offer you preferred entry and extra perks to selected events. Stream wristbands for the week varied from $195 – $330 for secondary access and day passes were $40, with select screen tickets available for one-off screenings. There were free events and experiences to try out throughout the week, including some family-friendly gigs, so there really was something for everyone.
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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land we now call Sydney, where SXSW Sydney takes place.