SXSW 2011

Posted on April 21, 2011 11:33 pm Categorised in:

As I mentioned in my post last week, the past month or so has been crazy. A lot of actual shooting has given way to a lot of time editing and while I still have a ways to go to catch up (do we ever really catch up?) I wanted to pause for a second to reflect on one of my favorite events of the year, the annual South by Southwest festival.

SXSW, held in Austin, Texas, is a now-massive multi-week festival held in early to mid March every year that covers everything from interactive design to film and music. There are tons of amazing things that happen throughout the entire festival, but the majority of the time I focus my efforts on the music portion. I really want to check out the interactive and film portions, but oftentimes scheduling prevents it. Even if just for the music, I have attended the festival for years and will continue to as long as I am able. Every year I have an absolute blast, whether I am attending as a fan or photographing musicians or live shows for a client. For those new to my blog, I have written a SXSW follow up post for the back three years, check those out if you’d like. Each year I walk away with the feeling that I really didn’t photograph much, or at least as much as I had hoped, and every year I surprise myself with a few good frames from the trip.

SXSW 2008
SXSW 2009
SXSW 2010

Every year brings a new twist to the usual flavor, but I have to say, this year stood out more than the previous. Several friends and colleagues in the newspaper photojournalism world made their first trips to the festival, including Gerry McCarthy of the Dallas Morning News and Christian Murdock of the Colorado Springs Gazette. Since schedules were hectic and since the festival (unlike any other festival) spreads itself across all of the City of Austin, I sadly did not get to meet up with either of these guys, but click on their names above to check out their respective works from the festival.

I should also note that good friends and colleagues Ariel Zambelich and Zoneil Maharaj, both from the Bay Area, who I conquered the festival with during the past two years, were MIA this year. Hopefully they will both make it back out next year. They were missed.

The biggest difference this year was the fact that I would be participating (for the first time) as a musician. Usually my routine, weeks prior to the festival, includes securing credentials, researching official and unofficial showcases, scheduling and doing a good bit of research, however the week’s leading up to this year’s festival were packed with rehearsals and playing shows with my band, Square and Compass. We played several shows prior to leaving for SXSW, so by the time I arrived in Austin, I had barely even looked at the lineup for this year.

My thought driving into Austin was that since I was not officially credentialed (this doesn’t mean much as you can still have a GREAT time without a media credential or a general admittance badge) nor was I on assignment, that I would simply go with the flow, have no expectations and have a good time…off the clock. I think as photographers, especially freelance photographers such as myself, we  (or at least I) find it hard to put down the camera and just enjoy the moment. I believe this is both a gift and a curse. On one had I would love to not have to lug heavy gear around all the time and be free to just watch and enjoy, however on the other hand, this is what I do, and work or no work, making images is my passion, so as long as I have two arms and two eyes I will have a camera up to my face, making these images, which is why, even in years where I am not on assignment to photograph the festival, there are still images made. Even if my intention was to not shoot, there are still pictures. When I get home, weeks later, and go through the images, reliving the moments that unfolded in front of me, I am happy that I took my camera out and this year was no exception.

Although this year’s SXSW excursion was somewhat truncated, I still managed to see and photograph a handful of acts.

When we arrived in Austin during the day, Friday, March 18th, we immediately made a B-line to the annual Flatstock poster art convention that is held in conjunction with SXSW. I am constantly inspired by poster art and make it a point, every year, to stop by the convention center to browse, be inspired and spend money on posters. The rest of the day and night Friday were spent just walking around the area and hanging out. Usually I am running around like a madman, shooting, running to the next venue, shooting, breathing, running, etc, but this go-round I had no expectations. That is, until I saw that the Australian electro-pop group, Miami Horror was playing a showcase that night. Miami Horror, French Horn Rebellion and a deluge of awesome electro acts were playing a showcase at ND Studios. I have been a fan of Miami Horror for a few years now and sadly missed them during SXSW 2009, so when I saw the show was a possibility, I went for it and was glad I did.

There were several things that I was interested in catching on Saturday during the day, however, since my own band’s showcase started in the late afternoon/early evening, I didn’t have time to see anything prior to our show. This only meant that we got to sleep in, leisurely lunch on the amazing food Austin has to offer and relax until we performed. Our showcase went off without a hitch. There was a good crowd and we had a great time playing. Austin is the live music capitol of the world, so it’s not surprising to say that our best shows (in my opinion) have been in Austin.

After our showcase I changed, and headed straight for the Fader Fort for the Saturday night showcase. Last year I did the same thing and was able to enjoy and photograph both Bone Thugs N Harmony and Sleigh Bells, so this year had a lot to live up to. Thanks to acquiring the proper wristbands the day before, I was able to avoid any lines, and headed straight into the tent right before rapper Lil B was set to take the stage. I made my way to the front of the stage and in a similar fashion to year’s prior, was smashed up against a ton of other “photographers” trying to photograph one person. I was armed only with my trusty 35mm 1.4L lens and a limited amount of memory cards, but I made it happen. I had never heard Lil B prior to his set. I must say it takes some getting used to, but at least he was interesting to photograph. I love photographing live music and it makes it that much easier when the venue, stage, and lighting are top-notch as they were here. There is only so much you can do when you are photographing one person with one lens and cannot move, but I think despite the setbacks I made a few interesting frames. Lil B was very animated throughout the set, but for most of the set was wearing a ball cap and sunglasses, so the frames of him without the accessories, especially the few playful ones of him smiling and being lighthearted, I thought were special. There is even a frame of him standing next to me, with a bra in mid-flight, next to his head. He doesn’t seem to notice.

After Lil B’s lengthy set, something happened that was only a mere rumor prior to the show. Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, of Bad Boy fame, hip-hop and entertainment mogul, came on stage much to the audience’s surprise and performed a few of his hits including “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and “All About Tha Benjamins”. As a fan of 90’s rap and RNB, it was definitely exciting to witness and photograph the moment. As photographers, especially for live music, we are there as working photographers, not fans, but it seemed like all of that was thrown out the window during Diddy’s set. It was the last few songs of SXSW at the Fader Fort and it seemed like the photographers, security and other personnel were all actively having a good time. So if you can’t beat em, join em. I then started singing along to the songs while photographing Diddy. Apparently he realized that I was the only one who actually knew the entire verses to the songs so before I could react he was reaching down to shake my hand during one of the songs.

Not soon after Diddy wow’d the crowd with his surprise performance did the entire Odd Future crew take over the stage. These guys again, are a new/different breed of hip-hop that Diddy called, “the next generation of hip-hop”. They are definitely different and interesting to photograph with a lot of characters. I wish I had the chance to photograph their full set the day prior, but I fancied what little I saw and photographed.

After the excitement of the Fader Fort we called it a night, slept in the next morning and headed back home Sunday afternoon.

The Fader Fort website has videos of all of the sets previously mentioned on their website. Check out THIS ONE of P-Diddy and snoop around for the rest.

So like every year, SXSW was a blast and I can’t wait for next year. I might note that this was the first year I didn’t photograph ANY indie, punk, rock or hardcore acts. Everything I photographed and pretty much everything I saw was either of the electro, rap, or hip-hop variety. This year was also a total success in that I performed as a musician and not only did that go swimmingly, but I got props from P-Diddy less than an hour or two later.

Until next year, South By…

For now check out the images from this year, compare them to the images from the years prior and tell me which set you prefer. Also check out the videos at the bottom of this page if for some reason you are wondering what Miami Horror, Odd Future or Lil B sound like. NOTE: For those of you that work for “The Man”, the latter two videos might not be safe for work. If you don’t know what “Mo Money, Mo Problems” sounds like, then shame on you!