inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #0 of 115: Host (jonl) Mon 28 Mar 11 16:06
    
Ed Ward is a writer who sometimes does radio. His specialties include
food, music, travel, and art. He's lived in Montpellier, France since
November, 2008.

Jon Lebkowsky is a web developer, writer, editor, and activist, and is
well known as a forward-looking pioneer of the Internet and
technoculture.

Ed and Jon (both active cohosts of Inkwell) have attended the South by
Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film, and Media festivals for many years - Ed
has been more focused on Music, and Jon on Interactive. For the next
week, the two will discuss their experience of the event, focusing on
SXSW 2011, which was this March 11-20.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #1 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 28 Mar 11 16:08
    
Ed, you get around more than I do. Do you know of anything else that
compares, in size and scope, with SXSW?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #2 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 28 Mar 11 16:27
    
I'm sure there is something, but I tend to avoid festivals. For
instance, the Montreux Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival, and certainly Denmark's Roskilde Festival are, I believe,
bigger in terms of attendance, if not number of acts presented. 

None of them, however, have the panels program attached. For that
you'd have to look at MIDEM (the grandaddy of music biz conferences).
But nobody goes to see the live music at MIDEM, which I remember as a
good thing (got in to see Jordi Savall with no problem) and a bad thing
(the big deal Texas party was...empty the year the State of Texas and
SXSW went in together on one). 

There are *comparable* events -- WOMEX for world music, Folk Alliance
for folkies -- but none come close in size and scope, thanks to the
Film and Interactive modules.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #3 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 29 Mar 11 07:13
    
I should speak about the Interactive conference... when it started, it
was called Multimedia, focusing on CD-ROMs and software. We had to
push for Internet content, which they added in the mid-90s. For years
it was a small gathering, and by 2000 it was a leading conference for
bloggers, for people thinking about social technology. That was still a
fairly intimate group. Bruce Sterling could invite everybody in his
closing talk to a party at his house, and the party was manageable.
That started changing in 2004:
http://www.boingboing.net/2004/03/17/aftermath_of_bruce_s.html 

I was aware of a turning point in 2006, the year I curated a track on
digital convergence. As digital media emerged and evolved, Interactive
grew into the massive presence it's become. Twitter famously caught on
during SXSW 2007 and spread like wildfire thereafter, because so many
influential Internet mavens found it useful and spread the word. Every
year since 2007, Interactive has grown exponentially, and this year it
outgrew the Convention Center, they had to add the AT&T Center and a
couple of hotels. I talked to several people who felt overwhelmed -
though they were still happy to be there. (A year or so ago, Clay
Shirky told me he'd heard of people in New York who were pretending to
be at SXSW in their tweets - nobody wanted to admit they were missing
the boat).

I found the scaling issue pretty interesting, and was wishing I could
take more time to think about it - but I was on the run all week,
jamming with the crowds.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #4 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 29 Mar 11 07:27
    
What's happened here, whether through shrewd and insightful management
or plain dumb luck, is that Interactive provided the bridge between
Music and Film, in that both are beoming more digital as time goes on.
I mean, what's the percentage of physical film deliveries to theaters
these days as opposed to digital? (I actually don't know the answer to
this, if anyone wants to chime in). 

That's the reason I always try to get there a day before Interactive
starts: it's got way more useful info for me these days than Music
does, although since it outdrew Music this year by a couple of
thousands attendees, it's also attracted a lot of fringe activities
which caused traffic and other problems. 
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #5 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 29 Mar 11 20:01
    
You can't park downtown readily, unless you want to pay $10-$15 - many
of the lots inflate their prices during SXSW because of the demand.
Peddycab drivers tear through downtown, and many of this year's
attendees rented bicycles to get around. Buses were often full and
couldn't take more passengers at stops on the edges of downtown.

Amazing crowd, unbridled energy.

The film festival is well-produced by Janet Pierson, but the crowds
are huge, you have to wait in line an hour or two to see the more
popular films. This year they realized that people were holding places
in line for their friends - they were counting; the line for "Source
Code" gained over a hundred people in an hour. The next night and
thereafter they stationed volunteers along the lines to make sure
nobody was cutting. My head goes to logistics; I was trying to think
how they could mitigate the problem of success. It's a tough problem -
only so many venues in town, what do you do when you've filled 'em all?
Are they going to have to cap attendance?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #6 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 30 Mar 11 13:59
    
Good question: cap attendance, or reduce outside events. I'm not aware
of Film at all, and that sounds like they need to cut down on the
offerings or perhaps do that unit at a different time of year so as
*not* to engage the Interactive and Music attendees -- but then, the
synergy which the event encourages gets diminished. 

There are solutions to some of the non-sanctioned events which cause
crowding, but they're largely during Music. 
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #7 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Mar 11 14:47
    
Someone, maybe Bruce Sterling, said that events are becoming the
magazines of our era. People are drawing intellectual and social energy
from gatherings like SXSW, so they're growing in stature and there's
so many more of 'em. I find myself wondering if this will hold as
transportation and infrastructure costs accelerate, but for the moment,
events are a Big Deal, and SXSW is one of the Biggest.

The non-sanctioned events have started popping up all over the place.
During Interactive, more and more attendees want to take advantage of
proximity to folks they seldom see to organize gatherings that scale
from very small workshoppy meetings to larger unconferences and for-pay
events. I think this started with BarCamp, which was uninspiring last
year and completely missing this year. 

What I've seen during the Music Festival is different - there's a
large crowd of people who are not attendees, but who have come to
Austin (or come downtown from within Austin) to soak up the vibe.
There's more and more peripheral free, unofficial music events. I hear
those are creating challenges - not always produced by people who know
what they're doing.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #8 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 30 Mar 11 16:14
    
Exactly. My friend Ms Zoom lives in a condo across from the power
plant there downtown, the one that's been decommissioned, and there was
an event starring sometime Austin resident Kanye West there, for whom
the non-SXSW branding company confirmed 7500 RSVPs for a venue which
holds 2500. Some of these kids camped out for three days in the heat
with no food, no water, no sanitation, no nothing, only to be turned
away. The brand data-mined 7500 people. SXSW got nothing. The City of
Austin got a nightmare crowd-control and cleanup job. 

Nor was the only over-subscribed, non-SXSW event that did this. These
branding setups, people who rent buildings and give away swag to people
who leave their e-mail address and maybe fill out a form, are becoming
very big, and that's part of the spring break problem. It's clear the
city isn't working in its own best interests here, and SXSW can't do
much about it: they're already perceived as the Great Satan by a lot of
Austinites, and this would be a bad PR move. It makes me wonder what
the city, by allowing these things to happen, is getting out of it. 
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #9 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Mar 11 21:37
    
What did you think of the panel discussions? I found it hard to make
those that I wanted to see, partly because I had several meetings
during the conference (including our breakfast at Curra's), and partly
because they were so spread out.

John Morthland mentioned a good panel about Captain Beefheart's life
and music, did you make that one?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #10 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 06:47
    
Sure. The only problem with panels I had was during Interactive when,
as you've noted, there were meetings in a number of hotels, some, like
the Sheraton, where the Future of Journalism track was held, far from
downtown. There was a shuttle, but it had an eccentric route (not
published) and there was all the goddam traffic. I felt this hindered
any interdisciplinary/ecumenical impulses I might have had. But then,
there were about as many panels listed for Interactive as there were
performers for Music. 

As someone who knew Beefheart -- and knew a lot of the people on the
panel -- of course I went to that one. I'm one of the few people I know
who still goes to Music panels, mostly because there are ones on
historical topics like this one that often aid in my doing what I do.
But then, I'm also a former panels director for SXSW, so I have a
certain affection for the whole process. 

I was also on one that a lot of people liked: "I'm Not Old; Your Music
Really Does Suck." It attempted to come to terms with the flood of
mediocre music and lack of filters to help whack through the jungle of
new releases. Chris Morris, an ex-Billboard journalist, had a statistic
about how many records are released each year and how many sell over
100 copies. It was discouraging, if you were going to put out your own
record. But the panel itself managed to avoid the geezer "things were
better back in my day" trope, and one of the most realistically cynical
of the panelists was the 33-year-old woman from the Austinist website
-- her take on things was refreshing. 

I also saw some of the Gamble & Huff presentation, which was woefully
empty (but then: black people, never big with your "rock" audience),
and some of the Nicky Hopkins panel. Julian Dawson, who wrote the Nicky
Hopkins book, should be showing up in Inkwell here in a couple of
weeks, I think.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #11 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 31 Mar 11 07:35
    
I was lucky in that many of the performances I saw were very good (and
a couple were amazing - Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Yoko Ono), but I
could hear music blasting out every nook and cranny where there were
clubs and bars, and much of it sounded pretty pedestrian. Why do you
think there's so much mediocre music? What were the panelists saying?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #12 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 07:57
    
I used to joke that one of the purposes of SXSW back in the old days
was to show that anyone could make a record, and that, unfortunately,
anyone did. Lots of anyones. 

One of the reasons there's so much crap out there is not the
performers, but, rather, the consumers: people spend their whole day
plugged into music. If you do that, you either desensitize yourself to
what you're listening to or else you consume music which is crafted not
to be terribly interesting so that lots of it can be consumed. You
can't engage with an artist telling a terrible truth, or a performance
with deep emotional resonance while you're walking down the street, and
I think a lot of performers these days realize that and go for the
middle. 

This also goes to the heart of why kids today can't understand why
their parents got so wrapped up in the music of their era. We don't
understand that their relationship to music is utterly different and
that it's far less emotionally central to their cultural world-view, no
matter how passionately they seem to follow this or that band or
scene. So what's the big deal about the Beatles? They were just a band.

That young woman on our panel called Austin the "lite listening
captital of the world," because so much of what's created there is so
ignorable -- and it is ignored, since people go to clubs and treat the
performers like so many cocktail pianists, talking over them and
ignoring them. SXSW Music is largely a celebration of that, with enough
quality stuff to keep the connoisseurs coming back.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #13 of 115: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 31 Mar 11 11:19
    
Ed, you make an interesting point. I was in Austin a few months ago and 
wandered down Sixth St (right street?) a couple of evenings without ever 
encountering anything that =had= to be heard. In fact, the closest to good 
I got was a remarkable blues singer who was doing nothing new, but doing 
some old blues wonderfully well--and her audience clearly wasn't 
interested in old blues; they wanted whatever passes for music today.

But I would have assumed that people still get something out of their 
favorite entertainers beyond the avoidance of silence. What is it that 
makes a great entertainer, or great entertainment today? What will the 
people who like that sort of thing be listening/viewing/experiencing 40 or 
50 years from now that is their Beatles or Ed Sullivan Show or whatever?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #14 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 14:56
    
Well, my reflexive answer to that is nobody and nothing. The consensus
that made such events possible died with (your choice here) the
Beatles or Elvis or Michael Jackson. I honestly don't know what people
who go to musical events and spend their time talking and taking
cell-phone photos get out of the experience, except that it seems to me
that they're avoiding *having* an experience and just having the sound
put their horror vacuui in abeyance for a while. 

On the other hand, 6th St. isn't the prime Austin entertainment
experience at any time of year. There are individual clubs providing
venues for acts whose audiences actually do enjoy them. 
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #15 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 31 Mar 11 16:10
    
The word in this week's Austin Chronicle is that SXSW is moving to a
9-story geodesic dome to be built in the Bastrop area:
http://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2011-04-01/dome-sweet-dome/

I'm taking a moment for this to sink in...
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #16 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 16:26
    
And what would be the date of that issue, Jon? And what does
experience with publisher Nick Barbaro tell us about that date?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #17 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 31 Mar 11 17:19
    
I was wondering who was gonna pick up on that. <grin>
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #18 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 19:39
    
It's a tradition.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #19 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 31 Mar 11 19:44
    
They've posted the audio of the "I'm Not Old; Your Music Really Does
Suck" panel for those who are interested and have an hour to kill. No
video, so no need to be scared:


<http://schedule.sxsw.com/events/event_MP6159>
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #20 of 115: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 31 Mar 11 21:45
    
Just for historical purposes, what was the year of the first SXSW and
how many people were in attendance?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #21 of 115: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 31 Mar 11 21:46
    
I think the answer to the earlier question about how many movie
theaters use digital for their movies is "all"....at least AMC and
Harkins both use only digital now.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #22 of 115: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 31 Mar 11 21:48
    
You quoted Bruce Sterling as possibly saying that the SXSW are
becoming the magazines of our era.....not salons?
Does SXSW have ongoing forums for discussion on their website during
the year between festivals? It should, if it doesn't; then you could
really pick up on the magazine/salon idea.
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #23 of 115: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 31 Mar 11 21:49
    
What was the response to Plutopia Productions this year? Any
reflections on the experience?
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #24 of 115: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Apr 11 04:58
    
It's hard for me to be objective about Plutopia, since I was involved
in putting it together, and I was working it rather than observing. All
the feedback we've heard has been very positive, people who attended
had a great experience. Here's something Derek Woodgate wrote about it:

"Plutopia 2011 consisted of four areas that made up the whole and which loosel
y followed four aspects of the “Future of Play” theme, nam
ely
sound play; social play, active play and emotional play.&n
bsp;
One of the critical
elements of this year’s event is that many of the sponsors, such as Sphero (Or
botix), Sifteo Cubes, Intellitoys, the Xchox 3D Music Project (with Music Comp
uting and Glaze Studios), Interactive Entertainment Systems, Switched On, etc.
 were all part of the content of the event, as well as being sponsors. They we
re all showing new products or technologies by means of interactive installati
ons or displays. Some of these are included in Pop 17 and Veronica Belmont’s r
eport from the event at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2OoZ8cQR60.";
  
inkwell.vue.405 : Ed Ward and Jon Lebkowsky on SXSW
permalink #25 of 115: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 1 Apr 11 06:32
    
I'm packing up to return to France at the moment, but the first SXSW
was in 1987, had 177 showcasing artists in 15 venues, had 15 panels and
workshops, had 700 registrants at between $35 and $55 each.

As for ongoing discussions, I'm not sure how that would work, nor how
the organization would supervise and/or handle it. I would say that
specific areas of interest can be discussed among interested parties,
and since this Panel Picker thing is more or less crowdsourced, they
can pick up the topic in another panel next year. 
  

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