Sometimes our Earth’s orbit brings us closer to other heavenly entities. Last Saturday for instance, our own Moon was closer than it has been in twenty years. Well, annually in mid-March, we collide headlong into another planet, a clusterfuck (as Buckminster Fuller would say) of talky panels, film screenings, and live shows that is known as South by Southwest, or more commonly by its planetary initials SXSW. This was only my second visit and the first at which I have spoken. The daylight saving’s time wormhole swallowed up a few key things and possibly a few people on Sunday morning, but I’m pretty sure everything I said about last year still holds. The panels are good, but the side conversations are the goods.
My favorite locations on panel planet this year, included “Indie Success: Caching in on Collaboration,” a discussion of creativity and collaboration with Kenyatta Cheese, Heather Gold, Allee Willis, and Mary Jo Pehl. I met Kenyatta at SXSW last year because he was on a panel with my friend Alice Marwick, and I met the awesomely multi-talented and hyper-driven Heather at Geekend 2010 after my talk there. This is how the tribe grows.
Kenyatta is a beacon of positivity. He is just a benevolently inspiring presence. His words are strong yet playful at the same time. I ran into him and Tricia Wang (these two) serendipitously one afternoon on 6th Street, and my day was just completely made. “I am Kenyatta Cheese, and I am of the web,” he opened at this panel, and when the legitimacy of his last name was questioned, he said, “I didn’t choose my name, but I’ve chosen everything since.” Believe that.
The web allows us to create and distribute the most mundane of our thoughts, but getting them to the point of getting them out there is often a large part of the struggle. Heather insists that we need to give ourselves permission to create, and Mary Jo Pehl put it, “it’s so freeing to let go of the idea of quality.” Songwriter and artist Allee Willis posts her creations as they happen. She said that being a happy artist means knowing your comfort zone and getting out of it. She keeps every iteration of everything she does, 42,000 terabytes’ worth. It’s more about the process than the product (This was a common thread this year, as even 4chan founder Christopher Poole said in his keynote, “It’s the process at which you arrive at the product that is fascinating.“) Find the balance to corrupt the balance. You can’t learn from perfection. Let it go, work with others, and release your darlings. This is good.
I also caught a great talk on Gamestorming by the authors of the book of the same name, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown — whom I’d met in the registration line — and James Macanufo. As you know from my previous posts about notebooks, I love attempting to represent ideas visually — with pens and paper. Well, the Gamestorming crew is all about that. They encourage us to think of meetings or projects as games and to pursue them accordingly. James also encouraged creating artifacts, that is, writing things down. “If paper didn’t exist,” he said, “we’d have to invent it again.” I cannot be more supportive of these ideas. I love this stuff.
One of the main themes from last year — context (or lack thereof) — popped up time and again in discussions this year. Much to the chagrin of several reviewers of Follow for Now, and when the web started inflating and people were getting hired as “content creators,” I toyed with the idea of being a context creator. I still think it’s a viable task (I may put it down as my occupation on my 1040 this year), and so does my good friend, fellow traveler, and SXSW partner-in-crime Dave Allen. It seems like the core of what Dave and I — and our mutual friend Jeff Newelt — do is make connections and provide context for them. I see it like this: at its most basic, human interaction consists of three things: 1) contact, 2) content, and 3) context. They can occur in any order or simultaneously, but all three all have to exist in order for meaning to shine through. Leave one out, and meaning leaks.
Historical context is especially important and the most neglected, and that’s the main point of Dave’s post on SXSW this year. Our digital archives are so vast that we have access to much of the past, but no way to contextualize it in time. I am digressing, but this is a problem Dave and I talked about regularly this week and will be exploring further in the future. The idea is also deeply embedded in Tricia Wang‘s work (and subsequent panel, “Sleeping at Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users“) in on the next internet community in China. As Geert Lovink once put it, “The New does not emerge. It erupts, then fades away.” We have to keep it in context.
Thanks to Jeff Newelt, Dave Allen, and Ume, I managed to see screen-scramblers Eclectic Method three times during SXSW. They do a multimedia remix show that’s like they’re flying a plane, driving a car, and conducting a train all at once: It moves in every direction, and they somehow keep it controlled. Their show on Sunday at the Seaholm Power Plant was huge. Just HUGE. They played the much smaller Pepsi Max event on Wednesday (just before the legend Pharoahe Monch), and a short set at the Austin Music Hall the next night (pictured).
The line-up that night was bananas: local favorites Ume, ‘Bama trunk-popper Yelawolf, Texas representative Trae the Truth, a DJ set by Erika Badu, Eclectic Method with Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover, and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. I saw The People’s Champ Paul Wall on his way there and Bam Margera backstage. Bananas…
Ume filled the cavernous venue with their joyous noise sounding the best they’ve ever sounded. No offense to their old drummer Jeff, but the addition of new drummer Rachel really steps up their sound. They’re bound to finally smash the next level now… I was bugging out so hard during Yelawolf’s set that it prompted Eric from Ume to tweet, “It is fun watching @RoyChristopher have fun.” (Favorite. Tweet. Evers.). Yelawolf killed it, and I certainly enjoyed myself.
After several discussions with folks at the show, we concurred that in order to legitimately claim the the Wu-Tang Clan was in the building, there had to be at least five of the extant members present. Well, We got U-God, Cappadonna, Inspektah Deck, GZA, and Ghostface Killah — just enough for the city. They were plagued with sound system problems, mainly screeching mics, but the energy was at a feverpitch. The five of them eased out on stage one by one, exchanging verses, and when Ghostface finally emerged, I thought the Austin Music Hall was done for.
Somehow since last time I’d seen him, Rob Sonic had become convinced that I didn’t love him anymore. Fortunately he came back to town with Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz (collectively known as Hail Mary Mallon), and I was able to profess my love to him anew. The boys were in town to rock the back patio at Home Slice Pizza. They brought their friend Kimya Dawson (see the clip embedded below), who made me weep like a baby every time she took the stage. Aesop Rock, Rob, and Wiz did a quick but thorough mix of old and new material, all of which was the toppest of notches. Cannot wait to hear all of their new records (several in the works from these folks).
Somehow, my man Merrick (of Music Impacts — more on this project on the site later) got us into the VIP at Perez Hilton’s party at The Moody Theatre, where we drank free drinks and watched Liz Phair freaking own the place. No small feat considering the size of that monstrosity. We stumbled off into the night not long after her stellar set (which included classics like “SuperNova,” “6’1″,” “Flower,” and closed with “Fuck and Run”).
A ten-day orbit of fun and stimuli like this makes saying “thank you” seem ridiculous, but I must try anyway. Many thanks to old friends Dave Allen, Jeff Newelt, Kenyatta Cheese, Heather Gold, Kerrisa Bearce, Travis McCutcheon, Miriam and Jake Hodesh from Geekend, Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and Big Wiz, as well as Lauren Larson, Eric Larson, and Rachel of Ume (and mutual friends Andrea, Jessica, Ronnie, and Chad), for getting me into stuff, buying me drinks, and just for simply being my friends.
High-grade humans I met this year whom I must thank include Donna Coxon-McCory, Merrick and Shivvy of Music Impacts, artist Gary Baseman, Ian and Johnny of Eclectic Method, their manager Justin Bolognino, Char Zvolanek, Michael McSunas, Shadamation, Mark E. Johnson from The University of Georgia, Brady Forest from O’Reilly, Sunni Brown, Zadi Diaz, Steve Woolf of Blip TV and Epic Fu, Tricia Wang, Kelly Khun, Cecy Correa, Stephanie Spear, Lauren Rae Bertolini, Amy Allcock, Dang Nguyen, Miriam Shoemaker, Kim Stezzi, and Brian Scipione of Sonic Living: You all made this year what it was, mind-twistingly awesome. And to those I missed: Michelle Rae Anderson, Zachary Dominitz, Chris Grayson, Sloane Kelley, Doug Stanhope, Brendon Walsh, Mark Budgell, Mark O’Sullivan, and Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Next time.
I walked out of my place at midnight on Day Number Nine, and I could hear the distant drone of a million bands still playing downtown. You can’t worry about missing something on Planet SXSW, because no matter what you’re doing, you’re always missing something.
Here’s Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock (a.k.a. Poltergasm!) doing “Delicate Cycle” at Home Slice Pizza on March 19, 2011 [runtime: 4:33]: