SXSW Day Five: Jack Black Ruins a Life and Buddha Digs Social Networks
The official end of INTERACTIVE; the official opening of MUSIC marked the day. In general, appearances are deceiving; there will continue to be meet ups, trade show, panels, even a keynote from Bruce Springsteen remain on the Interactive calendar. And there has been music here and there all week. To ring out the Conference, Stubb’s hosted the InterActive Closing Party for thousands of participants, featuring Miike Snow. A venue like this is some small miracle, a state of the art amphitheater behind a barbeque joint? People are crowded in and jovial, many people saying hello or goodbye again, a final hooray of networking opportunity for the many Interactive participants who will be leaving. I had never heard Miike Snow before and I liked him, he has a strange look for his sound, though his voice matches the look, that raspy haggard vocal. I liked his beats and the lighting was impressive, again, for a backyard sort of joint. Prior to all of this, I popped in to Swan Dive for Dustin Wong. It took a moment for his music to grow on me because the rhythms were too common, but only until the layers of loops grew so that tones and harmonies toppled over anything generic about it. By the end, a passionate swarm of sound came over the audience and we all cheered. I also jumped in to Upright Citizens Brigade for about twenty minutes. That was some quality improvisation, a very sharp cast, although it’s not the famous UPC from television, they are no less entertaining.
As I’m standing on a platform, sucking down complimentary Maker’s Mark and Shiner Bock near the open bar, it strikes me how much swag and festival passes are given away, food and drinks, there is even complimentary massage in the Press Room. Then it strikes me: 35,000 people are in attendance, music bracelets are $175, my $1,400 badge was comped, but some people pay that, so, to estimate low and simply, we assume that on the average, each attendee is worth $100, that’s $3,500,000; add corporate sponsors and we’re talking a starting budget of $5,000,000. The estimated economic impact for Austin is more like $200,000,000. I was sad to learn that many smaller artists are unpaid and receive no accommodations. This is the unfair imbalance. However, I would say that venues hosting their acts ought to pay their artists if SXSW can’t. There are thousands of bands, literally, so it would make sense, and these venues do tremendous business.
A force of nature, this event is. Thousands of people congregate downtown Austin, easily doubling or tripling in size and intensity. Wealth is spread like Nutella on Italian bread in a Paris hotel room at 11am. I walked the streets, popping in to venues, scoping out parties, having a heart attack with beautiful women everywhere my romantic little head turns, time flying, feet aching, back and forth on Old Pecan. Who wouldn’t want a romance story in this? I’ve heard some other stories though. After seeing the last fifteen minutes of Built to Spill at The Belmont, another big outdoor stage behind a bar. The band is still a great presence and nostalgia struck in a way that really outshined the other stuff of the night. The whole showcase included Daniel Johnston and Kimya Dawson, but I couldn’t get in, it was full. The night was basically over; I was tired and went back to my crash pad.
Within moments of arriving, controversy struck when news that a friend who had just arrived from Houston to stay for the week was not going to enjoy SXSW at all, she had been arrested for reckless, drunk driving. The story goes that while listening to Tenacious D in the car and pulling in to the gas station, Jack Black suddenly appears by the pumps and actually approaches their car. After snapping off a digital photo, excitedly they got in the car, buzzed for sure, and slammed on the gas like, “Oh my god, lets go tell everybody!” The cops don’t feel that is good enough to be driving 55 in a 35, and it was her third offense. She may be looking at some real time for this. Jack, if you’re out there, help!
Earlier on in the day, I caught one film and one interactive event. The discussion panel that started my day was a great topic, Closer to One: Buddhism and The Internet of Things. It was interesting but felt kind of shallow because I wasn’t sure if Vincent Horn, the fellow who was supposed to lead the spiritual aspect, has any real vision for a technology toward enlightenment, although his optimism and Buddhism is there when sharing his teacher’s gem, “Why be a Buddhist when you can be a Buddha?” The other panelist, Product Designer Matt Rolandson, has little connection to spirituality or even a healthy liberal social agenda. He mostly designs things that are “really cool”. He did at least admit that so much of social media actually stresses people out and that he would like to see more “collectivizing intent” versus competitive, and products that empower people to do things as in his personal example, a new Nike bracelet that helps the user understand their body. Horn relates that “everything rests on the tip of intention”, so more intentional social media could really express interconnectivity of the universe and the Internet. For example, a migration from “gamification” the idea of winning prizes for personal gain to “social support networks” to which collective good can be accomplished. The iOS by Apple, the system behind iPhones and iPads, originated the first “ecosystem” in this new generation of things. It’s amazing, but it’s true, because a world has opened up between the devices that share this framework and a social network that binds it together. So a garden of Eden could possibly be developed within these ecosystems. Religions and churches have yet to contemplate this, but soon you might see Catholic confessional and Buddhist chanting apps. The one point I didn’t hear enough about was the degree to which the psyche is occupied with constant exposure to the internet of things.
I also enjoyed the film, “Wonder Women!!”, A feature documentary about the rise and fall of Wonder Woman not only as DC Comics character, but also as symbol of self-empowerment. The odd trends she has gone through include 70’s disco babe and 50’s housewife, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, very much like the feminist movement. Many characters are also depicted in bondage and sometimes sacrifice their life for the male lead so that they can win the day. The audience appeared to be at least two-thirds women, at least I know they surrounded me and I wasn’t there to pick up. When the show was over, many men left during Q&A. One man spoke, claiming comic book audiences are predominantly male and he was nearly booed, even though he was right. One missing component of the discussion, both in the film and Q&A, was the fact that male characters are absurd and generate an image that men should not have to live up to. That argument was not introduced, although a few minutes did argue against the assumption that male heroes are overly sexualized, similar to women comic book heroes. Indeed, it is equally unhealthy for boys to be raised with a self-image such as G.I. Joe or Superman. Documentaries are always slanted. I was pleasantly surprised to see scenes at The Excalibur in Portland and a convention in Seattle. But one very compelling point, beyond the above mentioned, did stand out. Why is it that of all comic book blockbusters of the last ten years, why no Wonder Woman?
And finally, I want to mention a couple quick things. A neat presentation Birth of InterActive Entertainment by the leading designer of the company that made Bjork’s most recent App-Album release, Biophilia really deserves some attention because this is the future of music releases. It is still too small a demographic and too expensive to produce such amazing interactive music, but it’s all there and ready to go. The fact is that passive entertainment is on the decline, however, considering how people watch television while using their computers, I’m just wondering if we can be occupied and interacting at once. In between this and the parties I started this out with, I visited the Palm Park tent for my drinks. Inside was a lock-picking exhibition by Locksport Lounge, where you learned how to pick locks. I'm impressed that they would be crazy enough to teach people how to pick locks when so much valuable stuff is kept in lockers all around this festival.