Held in Austin, Texas for the past 37 years, South by Southwest (SXSW) is the world’s largest culture and technology conference. This month, it’s coming to Sydney with a packed calendar of events spanning the arts, screen, technology, games, AI, robotics and, of course, music.
SXSW Sydney’s music program is being led by Claire Collins, who oversees both the music portion of the conference (four days of panels, talks and workshops across all the aforementioned categories) and the music festival (a series of live gigs and parties) with the programming team.
Collins is no stranger to SXSW, having previously taken acts like electronic musician D.D Dumbo to Austin in her capacity as a manager. As a veteran attendee, Collins can’t wait to bring the energy of Austin’s SXSW to Sydney. “We want it to be really fun,” she says. “We want everyone who comes, whether they're industry, fans, members of the public … to feel the city come alive with culture… [I hope artists will] make real connections, get some deals done, make new friends and walk away thinking that it was a great move for their career.”
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We asked Collins to share her highlights and insights into the festival’s offering.
Behind the Scenes of SXSW Sydney’s Major Music Program
There have been more challenges in bringing SXSW Sydney’s music offering to life than you might think. “Even though it's a recognisable name, we are still a startup and had to create everything from scratch,” says Collins. “We want people to get value out of coming here. It's not like a normal festival where you get paid a commercial rate to perform, it's a showcase event … you turn up and hope to impress people and get work off the back of that.”
Programming alone was a mammoth task. From more than 2500 artist applications, Reg Harris (former music director of FBI Radio) and Ruby Miles (the programmer behind Laneway Festival) selected 80 international and 120 local acts to perform – all across varying stages of their careers.
Then there was location scouting. “One of the things that defines SXSW in Austin is that everything is more or less in a walkable precinct around town, [and] that was something we really wanted to retain for the Sydney event,” says Collins. That meant finding 25 venues within two kilometres of the International Convention Centre.
October 18–21: The SXSW Sydney Music Festival
Over four days, more than 200 local and international acts will perform at over 400 shows, including gigs at some of Sydney’s most iconic venues like The Hollywood and The Chippo Hotel.
“We're really excited to support these venues, which have had a rough time during Covid,” says Collins. “Some of [them] didn't have a live music licence [previously]…so now they can put up music all throughout the year and not just for our event.”
Collins says to look out for hip-hop duo Flyana Boss, who will be performing at UTS’s The Underground and Darling Harbour’s The Starship. She’s also planning on seeing New Zealand indie singer-songwriter Fazerdaze; London band Los Bitchos; South Korean duo Lil Cherry & GOLDBUUDA; Jakarta-based experimental trio The Tavi Collective; and Japanese all-girl punk act Otoboke Beaver in an exclusive Sydney performance.
In addition to standalone gigs, there are plenty of parties and showcases hosted by record labels and major industry champs. There’s Spotify’s four-night takeover of The Lansdowne Hotel and Young Henry’s Rock & Roll Circus at Tumbalong Park, featuring artists including Dan Sultan and the Hayley Mary of the Jezabels. At the Soda Factory in Surry Hills, the British Embassy will play host to UK artists.
The Rolling Stone stage is as close as it gets to the original SXSW music experience, set in the courtyard of The Powerhouse. “It's pretty iconic to go stand in a car park in Austin and watch music all day with a beer in your hand, so we're recreating that,” says Collins.
Collins says to expect a few surprises along the way too. “Pop-up appearances from more recognisable names are not uncommon,” she says.
October 16–21: The SXSW Conference
In between all the performances, there will also be panel chats and talks from leading industry figures and musicians. “The stuff that’s happening on the conference program is so mind-blowing,” says Collins. “You don't just have to go to music content; if you've got a music badge, you will still have access to other panels.”
Headlining the music portion of the conference is rapper, singer-songwriter, producer and multi-Grammy Award-winner Chance the Rapper, honouring hip-hop’s rich history and discussing its future.
Also on the line-up: Swedish music CEO Per Sundin, who will be talking about working with Avicii and Swedish House Mafia, as well as working on the VR ABBA Voyage show; Spotify’s global head of editorial Sulinna Ong in conversation with Rolling Stone Australia and New Zealand’s editor-in-chief Poppy Reid; and more.
How to Get Tickets
A music badge ($1295) or platinum badge ($1895) will get you into every music component of the festival, including the conference and live performances. For those who just want to check out new talent, a wristband ($330) gives you access to all live performances.
The entire SXSW Sydney schedule is now live. Collins recommends setting aside a good hour to plan and browse the schedule.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with SXSW Sydney.