It’s entirely possible to go to SXSW and have a completely different experience from someone else.
Over the course of 10 days, a lot happens — sessions, world premieres, interactive experiences, show cases, satanic nuns breaking into song outside the convention center — and the event covers a broad range of topics like film, tech and music.
Though SXSW hasn’t released attendance numbers for this year, 2018 saw 75,098 attendees from 102 countries, hitting up 2,147 sessions and 727 official parties and events.
In other words, you’re not going to see it all. Partly, because you just can’t.
Still, you can pack in a healthy slate of events while you’re in Austin, Texas. My run this year included the world premiere of Jordan Peele’s Us and a visit with Wisconsin cheese, where I maxed out my dairy intake for the next month.
Here are some of the highlights from SXSW 2019.
We got super cavalier about the apocalypse
Amazon Prime Video came to SXSW to herald the end times. Or, at least, its upcoming limited series on the topic, Good Omens. Good Omens is a book at by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett from 1990 about an angel and a demon trying to thwart the end of the world.
At SXSW, we got to visit the Garden of Earthly Delights, with its pen of adoptable hellhound puppies and beer-and-prophecy-dispensing tree. Meanwhile, angels, demons and even a pack of satanic nuns (The Chattering Order of St. Beryl) roamed the streets. The nuns, in particular, wished anyone who passed by a Merry Apocalypse.
Forget the sheer horror of living through the cessation of humanity — puppies can make just about anything appealing.
#MeToo came to SXSW
More than a year after the #MeToo movement swept through industries like media, entertainment and tech, unseating prominent figures with allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and misconduct, there’s still plenty to say.
Topics like #MeToo, as well as diversity and inclusion were scattered all over the SXSW schedule.
We also heard from Susan Fowler, a former engineer with Uber, who wrote a blog post in 2017 that outlined her experiences with sexual harassment and discrimination in her year there. In her talk, Fowler said she’d avoided elaborating too much more, but now she was finally ready to talk not just about what happened but all the different influences in her life that allowed her to find the courage and motivation to write the blog post in the first place.
In Austin, it’s already 2020
Although the 2020 election is more than a year away, we’re already knee-deep in Democratic presidential candidates. More than a few of them came to SXSW.
Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Julián Castro, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke (who hadn’t announced his run yet) all did sessions under the banner Conversations About America’s Future.
Warren, in particular, made headlines forshe thinks should be broken up.
On the non-presidential candidate front, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also spoke about democratic socialism, as well as the divide between race and class. She also hit on the idea that automation in our future wouldn’t be so daunting if, as she put it, didn’t stand to cement the societal inequalities already present in our world.
Social good efforts popped up everywhere
SXSW is no stranger to social issues, and this year was no different. We saw a variety of events work some kind of social good angle into what they were doing.
Game of Thrones, for example, staged an interactive experience called Bleed for the Throne that was part blood drive in association with the American Red Cross.
American Red Cross Senior Vice President Cliff Numark noted that in the past couple months, hundreds of blood drives have been canceled and there’s a shortage of type O blood.
Over at Sony’s WOW Studio, there was an interactive music-making installation called The Cave without Light that was designed with inclusivity in mind, so anyone could participate regardless of ability.
We also saw ICON’s 3D-printed houses, which aim to make houses (2,000 square feet, even) that are more sustainable and cost less.
Bill Nye has questions about climate change
Ocasio-Cortez’s talk pulled in a sizable crowd. During the Q&A portion of her talk, toward the end, there are a buzz in the room when one particular person stepped up to the mic. It was Bill Nye, of Bill Nye the Science Guy fame, asking a question about climate change.
“People are just afraid of what will happen if we try to make these big changes,” Nye said, “When we address climate change, we’re going to have access to clean water, the internet and renewable electricity for everyone on Earth.”
For Ocasio-Cortez’s answer, she talked about the idea of dismantling fear and people stepping up to stand up for their beliefs.