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by eoincregan 2015-03-30 16:56:15

SXSW - Tickle Your Senses

Music, food, film, fitness, weirdness; Austin & its annual festival have it all...


On 15 March we landed in what has become not only one of our favourite cities in the world, but also our most inspirational & exciting event of the year; Austin, Texas for SXSW.

Our 4th venture had kicked up a notch as this year we had been invited to host a talk at SXSW Interactive, for which Trev crafted the story of MVP & how we bootstrapped (a term which we had previously picked up at SXSW) to get it up & running, "MVP - How to Open a Pub on $5000".


For us Austin & SXSW stands for so many of our favourite things - music, food & drink, film, fashion, fitness and an element of 'crazy' - Austin's city motto after all is 'keep Austin weird'.



The Talk

We prepared & went into our talk with one big uncertainty; would anyone show up?! Not having a strong network outside of Ireland made it difficult for us to guarantee a crowd, we could only rely on our social network. To our relief, Trev, Jim Carroll & Al Coleman spoke to pretty much a full house of a 150 strong attentive audience. We felt the story (told through an image based slide show), made for a light, warm, fun, community based tale and a break away from most of the other heavily digital, data & media based talks laden with industry cliched jargon at SXSW Interactive.


The Food

Not only is Austin a natural mecca for BBQ, it is also home to America's first ever Wholefoods supermarket. An overwhelming choice of all natural freshly made juices & smoothies, countless salad combos, hot food dishes and even five types of porridge for the morning, not to mention every type of milk, nuts, fruit & veg in existence. It is pricey but we could happily eat here three meals a day. 
In one of the many trailer parks we discovered vegan food truck 'Conscious Cravings' for delicious wraps & smoothies, made to a standard that vegan/vegetarian places at home have not yet reached. Or if the pure health buzz isn't what you're after you can opt for one of the many Cajun or Mexican trucks, even some breaded alligator on a stick for $9
We discovered a gem of a Mexican with the wonderful name of 'Juan in a Million' out in East Austin. With a line out the door but fast turn around, Juan is there himself to greet & wish farewell to all customers with a handshake 'that would put to shame most politicians' [newspaper quote from the restaurant]. Juan has an all day breakfast option as well as an authentic selection of Mexico's finest dishes. We tried the Jeuvos Rancheros with eggs over easy & refried pinto beans...
Franklins is one of the America's most famous BBQ spots... The line forms around 7am, with a clever entrepreneur having opened up a seat rental shop across the street. Supplies are usually sold out by lunch hour or earlier. Second in command is La Barbecue, a simple trailer in a small park, oozing mouth watering smells, free beer while you wait & brisket samples that fall apart in your mouth. Again the policy is 11am until sold out (usually 2-3 hours). 


At LA Barbecue we waited over an hour and had hands down one one of the best BBQ ever - chopped beef brisket with chipotle slaw on an oily brioche bun. 

Other top BBQ spots include Salt lick, Micklethwait, Stubbs & Stiles Switch.



The Film

The third strand of SXSW is film. A week long of premieres, shorts, talks (Wu-Tang's RZA gave a keynote on his moves into the film world), exhibitions, this year more than ever we delved into the program. Highlights included the premier of Sneakerheads, looking at the culture & obsessions of sneaker collectors; 808 The Movie, the tale of the infamous drum machine as told by Arthur Baker; Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a biographical tale of Nirvana front man and Landfill Harmonic, a heart warming of a Paraguayan orchestra who've risen to success using instruments made from recycled rubbish (we got to see them live too). We also enjoyed "We Like it Like That" which followed the rise of Latin Boogaloo in New York in the 1970s
As well as the films, Austin has some beautiful cinemas like the Paramount Theatre & the Alamo Ritz, which have kept their style from the showbiz days in the 40/50s, and also run a non invasive table service throughout the films with a top selection of beers & cocktails. 



Spike Lee handling business in the airport...




The Music

Naturally the biggest part of SXSW, there are said to be 5000+ performances throughout the week. Planning your schedule weeks in advance is a must, studying new acts & working out your hour by hour timetable. It is quite an overwhelming task & can take a couple of SXSWs to really grasp it. A lot of the daytime parties are not included in the official schedule, but they are a great chance to squeeze in more as they will regularly play multiple shows. 

A normal SXSW night on 6th street...

Hip hop seemed to be the ruling genre this year, with queues always down the block for shows. Fader Fort, which although has always had a strong hip hop footing, seemed to be even more dominated this year with less interest in the indie/Rock & electronic side. Surprise guests included Big Sean, Timbaland, Twista & Travis $cott. We'll happily forget that Miley Cyrus showed up though.
Some of our must see acts from this year include Boogie (the new Kendrick?), Juce (London soul/funkers), BADBADNOTGOOD (even better if they have Ghostface Killah in tow), Icky Blossoms (grunge heavy Brooklyners), Rae Sremmurd (like Kriss Kross gone crunk), The Barbarettes (3 girls doing 50s style doo-wop in Korean), Vic Mensa, Lolawolf and Shamir (camp doesn't get more fun).
From an Irish standing it was great to see Girl Band playing top shows (like Fader & BMA) & packed houses all week, while Meltybrains? ruled at the Irish showcase.

Ghostface drops CREAM with BADBADNOTGOOD at Fader...


A guitar made from a glue can...


The Fitness

A city with a great climate, pathways for running & cycling along the Colorado river, outdoor swimming in Barton Springs, outdoor gyms, countless yoga centres & healthy eating as seen above, it's hard not to want to get out there. Austin also has some fantastic sports stores & gear, notably Lance Armstrong's cycle shop Mellow Johnny's and high end yoga clobber at lululemons.
We also noticed an increase in sports talks at SXSW interactive this year too.

The Fashion

Music & fashion go hand in hand, so you'll see all the musos, fans & bands rocking their latest from kicks to head gear. Scan the line for Fader and you'll see what's in trend for this summer, so much that Fader this year started a feature pulling individuals out the crowd to run through their choice of stylings. Fader were also giving out free converse with a team of artists on hand to custom paint them, while Vans dominated the day parties at the infamous Mohawk venue. 
For sneaker heads, Austin's only boutique can be found North of downtown 'Nice Kicks' with a full selection of rare Jordan's, New Balance and Vans etc, with a schedule of DJs & rapper visits in for the week.

The Crazy

While Austin is currently the fastest growing city in the U.S and previous empty sites or run down areas being cleaned up at an alarming rate each year we go, there is still plenty of exploring to be done to see how to keep 'Austin Weird'. Ramshackled bars strung together with corrugated iron, voodoo-esque tattoo palours, age old barbershops, supermarket sized fancy dress & costume shops and heaps of untouched wall paintings & old fashioned shop signage, it's a sight to see, before they are hoovered up by new apartments & offices. 
On our last day we were approached by a toothless bum... with a towel wrapped around his head, a religion book opened, and told us that he was an angel sent down from above and that economic downturn is far from over so we'd better watch out. Maybe he's right & the remainder of Austin's weirdness will be saved.

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