This year marks the 31st annual South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. This year, the music festivities started earlier on a Monday (usually on a Tuesday) in order to schedule more panels and performances for an already packed music week. My guess for the change was to encourage many music badge holders to arrive early and attend more non-music daytime panels and sessions while the tech conference was still going on.
One benefit to arriving early is getting a glimpse of Austin before the city became inundated with constant blaring music and wandering drunk people in and around downtown. While not entirely unenjoyable to listen to and watch, the continual barrage can make the week feel long. There’s a reason why major brands sponsor rest and relaxation areas here.
Future of Airport Design Starts in Austin
A surprisingly packed room of eager people wanted to learn more about how airport design can help reduce flight anxiety for the millions of airline travelers in the United States. Since there hasn’t been a brand new airport built in the country in decades, the speakers stressed the complex nature of adapting existing outdated domestic airports for the modern traveler.
I thought the discussion would revolve more around airport terminals’ structural design, but it was actually more about their physical and emotion designs in trying to satisfy travelers’ wants and needs – for example, providing sleeping pods so that tired travelers can get private power naps in between connector flights. Since people are almost always connected to the world via smartphones, airport waits are no longer “dead time” and airports are very interested in trying to capture the time and attention of these potential captive passengers.
This somewhat poorly titled panel was primarily about the experiences of well-intentioned lawyers using crowdsourcing to help asylum seekers legally enter the United States. Since deportation is handled in administrative courts, many asylum seekers and otherwise underprivileged people don’t get the kind of legal representation afforded to those in criminal courts. In some cases, children were required to act as their own legal counsel. Yes, that is outrageous, but not entirely surprising given how the judicial system punted recent cases involving the executive branch’s policies on immigration.
A big emphasis was made on the transition from the country being governed by rule by law to rule by power, which immigration, more often than not, becomes the focal point in the government’s power grab. Most of the panel participants were lawyers that worked for nonprofit organizations helping disadvantaged people and providing tools for other prospective helpers.
How to Uber-ize Public Transit to Save It
Paul Mackie moderated this panel regarding the better integration of technology in the planning and operating of transportation systems in order to help people complete their trips. Mackie apologized with the somewhat mistitled panel since the talk was geared more toward pushing a rider-focused agenda in transportation systems planning. I was personally surprised to see a transportation planner on the panel since these talks generally lean towards technology more than than urban planning.
The panel was overall very informative, but the talk understandably left more questions than answers given the complex topic. Everyone on the panel repeatedly emphasized the solution of providing overall personal mobility over focusing on any single particular transportation mode because no trip is ever the same, and transportation systems should be able to adapt to these micro changes in trip behavior.
The first official music day always feels like a rush. There aren’t a lot of official events, and many acts choose to perform in unofficial venues on this date. The result is more seemingly large crowds in fewer venues, but that didn’t deter a lot of folks who seemed eager to listen to live music.
Fortunately, the British Music Embassy in association with the BBC scheduled a full week of live music, including some great musicians from across the pond. Forth Wanderers, who started the night, is actually from New Jersey. Five friends playing music in high school sounds almost cliche, but the young indie band kept at it and kept at it well as its SXSW invite suggests. Lead singer Ava Trilling only recently joined the post-high school graduate scene, but she had a surprisingly mature stage presence along with the rest of her bandmates. “Blondes Have More Fun” is one of the FW’s best identifying songs with its breezy melodies and notions of teen naivety. Trilling mentioned how much fun the band was having in Austin and exclaimed about meeting the Mythbusters cast earlier that day.
I stuck around to see British rockers SuperGlu, which instantly became the night’s highlight. While wearing a UT Austin shirt, lead singer Ben Brown repeatedly yelled “Go Longhorns!” throughout the set to help rev up the crowd, which already included many boisterous Brits. You would have thought Brown was a part-time tour guide by how much he raved about the band’s origins in Manningtree. The entire band was quite rambunctious, as Brown played guitar and sung around the small stage and in the crowd. At one point, he tried to drink some beer from someone in the audience, though he was hindered by the less-than-ideal short power cord. The band’s first show in the U.S. was a great success, as everyone seemed to enjoy the energy and sound. The best songs included “Diving Bell” and “Latvian.”
The last music act I saw was the Germany-based Canadian musician Emma Czerny, who goes by the stage name Magic Island. Czerny had a frenetic stage presence to match her similarly frenetic electronic sound. She moved all over the stage, sat on a stage cushion, and even dropped down from the stage and sung amidst the audience; a few lucky people were personally serenaded as she performed her most accessible song, “When the Stars Are Falling (For Dancing).” The set slowly progressed from quasi-experimental (“Alchemy”) to quasi-dance pop, which rewarded those of us who stuck around for the entire set. Unfortunately, music like Czerny’s is not everyone’s cup of tea, which was a shame for those that missed a truly complete performance.