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SXSW: A Look Into The Week Long Engagement of Film, Music, and Tech

The city of Austin has long been a haven for artists and storytellers alike. These creatives, some born within city limits and others not, sought out an audience for their vision and a platform to demonstrate their talent. Out of this need for a collaborative space capable of connecting individuals of different backgrounds and ideas, one extraordinary event was formed. South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals merge the industries of film, music, and technology in a week-long feature of premieres, exhibitions, and keynote speakers. At its core, SXSW is a conglomerate that unites leaders of these various industries; sharing ideas which hold the potential to propel the world forward. Even with this momentous task at hand, SXSW succeeds in providing a community where participants have access to once in a lifetime opportunities.

Model and University of Texas Student Hassan Ahmad will be dressing in character for the upcoming Amazon Prime miniseries “Good Omen” during the show’s screening at SXSW. I had the chance to speak with Ahmad about his role in previous exhibitions.

“Last year, I worked with ABC and the year before with Giorgio Armani, where I got to model their new collection of sunglasses. Each frame had a different story that went along with a movie,” Ahmad said. The films themselves were directed by international filmmakers who participated in the initiative. At the same event, Ahmad was able to see the entire Armani family and meet with Dev Patel, who co-hosted the Armani Event titled “Films of City Frames.”

Ahmad also gave his own interpretation of why SXSW is important.

“There’s not just [events for] acting, there [are] also programs about science and education and [they] drives a crowd. There’s a place for everybody at the conference.” He said, “you’re on campus and you’re going to a school like [UT Austin] with such a great proximity to SXSW. People are paying thousands of dollars to stay in Austin and it’s really great to go and network and enjoy the things there.

Last year I talked to the cast of Ready Player One and I didn’t even know who the cast was, but they were having their premiere and it was one of those cool opportunities that you reflect back on,”

Ahmad is not the only UT Austin student who has landed a dream role of being an official contributor to SXSW. Abhi Velaga will be drumming as a member of the band, Merry Jane & The Fondas, at Barracuda on March 15. Newcomers to the SXSW music scene, this punk rock group will be releasing their studio EP on March 30 with the production help of celebrated Austin musician Jackie Venson.

This will be Velaga’s first time attending SXSW, and he will be going with an official artists pass. The swift rise of Merry Jane & The Fondas was beyond anything that Velaga expected, especially in such a short amount of time.

“I’d kind of lost some enthusiasm or optimism for music and music business as I grew up. At a moment in time, being a guitarist was my ideal life, a goal, like a fulltime guitarist, making a comfortable living, which is like kind of pretty unrealistic. I kinda just lost optimism about all of that and I just got focused on working and getting a Computer Science degree and making money and then financing what I want right now,” Velaga said. “But this band is something interesting to me. I just wanted to be in the band because I liked the people and I liked the music and I thought I might as well be playing shows and putting myself out there in some way, and it’s already gone way farther than I thought it would as we’re now playing SXSW.”

With one week till the show, Merry Jane & The Fondas have already started to navigate the professional scene of SXSW. When asked about the value he saw in SXSW, Velaga described the week-long series as a big mixer of influences.

“There’s all these chances for emerging and meeting people, and business things could happen or projects can develop or bands can develop,” he said. “[These] connections can take you really far. If you’re a musician and you just stayed in your house all day and you worked on music,that’d be cool, but  if you were putting yourself out there in some way, you might meet future bandmates and meet someone who’s a lifelong friend.”

Besides the official SXSW performance of Merry Jane & The Fondas, Velaga will also be performing in unofficial shows throughout the festival. Many performers take advantage of the crowds drawn into Austin by SXSW, and use the week to host their own unofficial performances. In a similar manner, tech companies will be hosting their own free events in the midst of SXSW week.

Bumble, the social, dating, and networking app that encourages women to make the first move will be taking over Jo’s Coffee each morning of SXSW.

I sat down with Naseem Shafaei, the Bumble regional leader overseeing Bumble Honeys at all participating Texas and Pennsylvania universities, to learn more about the company and what they have in store.

“[First off,] there’s three modes to Bumble: Bumble Date, which was the original, Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz and all three platforms are outstanding and cater towards making relationships and connections.”

The tech company will aptly be kicking off their event series on March 8th, International Women’s Day, complete with one-on-one mentoring opportunities and an acoustic performance by Princess Nokia. From there, each day is more impressive than the last. A guest speaker appearance by Olivia Wilde, private birth chart reading with a professional Sanctuary astrologer, and friendship bracelet making hosted by Upstairs Circus these are just a few of the many activities available to those who stop by Jo’s Coffee in the mornings of SXSW.

“People should definitely come out to [our events] because it’s all free. It’s all an opportunity that we’re giving out to the individual,” Shafaei said. “[Hosting] these different activities so that you can get a feel of not only what Bumble does, but what Bumble can do for you. You can discover what mode you are more interested in; that’s why we have such different activities every day.”

In addition to appearances by Bumble, Topo Chico will also be present throughout SXSW. Brand Ambassador Eden Hansing shared what festival and conference participants could find at these Topo Chico booths.

“They usually consist of our tent, a table, and our barrel coolers full of products and swag. We have a lot of free merch, including shirts and bottle openers, and we’ll be passing out Topo Chico,” Hansing said. “We pass out the products all day and talk about the brand, the start of the brand, and the myth and legend behind the water.”

Cassidy Crawford, a junior at UT Austin who will be working a SXSW event at West Elm, shared her own thoughts as to how an individual could take advantage of the free events of the week.

“There’s just so much going on all at the same time. So if you go someplace and it doesn’t work out, there’s just like 20,000 other things that you can hop over to. In the past, I somehow stumbled upon this Twitter account, @atxconcert, that posts all the flyers [of SXSW events] as they come out. And then when SXSW actually starts, they’ll kind of group them together and be like, here’s what’s happening today at this venue or in this area of town. So it was just so helpful to have that account to go back to,” Crawford said.  

Crawford advised first time SXSW participants to be patient with free events.

“If you are trying to get into things for free, you’ve gotta be patient and usually it’ll work out. But if you have the chance, the earlier you get there, the better off you are. Be patient and keep your mind open, like go to shows that weren’t at the top of your list because they’ll end up being really fun and those people will probably be famous in like a year.”

While some people might shy away from SXSW due to the high price of wristbands that provide access to film screenings and official musical performances, it is entirely possible that some of the best moments of the conference and festival happen out on the streets of Austin. These moments, where participants and celebrities have the chance to speak in an environment devoted to the collaboration of ideas, may be where most of the magic happens. You won’t know unless you go find out for yourself. •

by: Mai Geller

Graphics by: Jasmy Liu

Mai Geller is a sophomore at the University of Texas double majoring in Plan II Honors and Accounting. She is a member of the Spark Writing Team in addition to Spark Online. In her spare time, you can find her listening to Leandra Medine’s podcast “Monocycle” or stalking the Instagram account of John Mulaney’s french bulldog, Petunia.

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