Lost in Austin? Here’s Our SXSW Survival Guide

The music leg of the beautiful clusterfuck that is SXSW is now upon us. To come through it alive, you have to bear in mind that SXSW isn’t just a festival: it’s a week-long assault course that will put your ears, mind and body through the ringer, spitting you out the other end a shell of your former self. A shell that reeks of BBQ ribs, Lone Star beer and desperate poverty. Here are some of the best ways to avoid death at SXSW – but we’re not promising anything.


Don’t go into a mosh pit unless you have medical insurance
Getting into an accident in the States is a crazy expensive hobby. So steer clear of rowdy circle pits in which arms and noses could easily be smashed to smithereens. Watch the likes of FIDLAR from afar, as if you were a kindly mum who’s just there so she can give the kids a ride home.

Learn to love the smell of your fellow man/woman

With an estimated 50,000 people descending on Austin for the festival and no camping to speak of – except for the bedroom entrepreneurs renting out their back-gardens on Craigslist – expect to be sharing a bed with at least three other people for the week. And not in a sexy fun way. In a grotty, shameful, ‘hold on, didn’t you used to play bass in Mona’ kind of a way.


Don’t attempt to last the week on just Maker’s Mark and Clif bars
This has been attempted by various folk on various occasions – alright then, just me in 2011 – but it never quite works out. Supplement your basic booze and energy bar diet with meals from the awesome food trucks dotted around town – the finest is Chi’Lantro, a Mexican-Korean fusion paradise. Just follow the massive queues and you’ll find it. Or a secret Green Day show. Either one’s a winner.

Sneak into a movie screening

The film festival runs concurrent to the music event, and there are heaps of amazing music-related flicks premiering here. The big hitters – Snoop Dogg’s Reincarnated, Green Day’s Cuatro! and Broadway Idiot – will be way over-subscribed, but the smaller indie flicks, like Kathleen Hanna biopic The Punk Singer and the 1970s hardcore version of Searching For Sugar Man, A Band Called Death, will be well worth a peek. Also, cinemas offer cosy seats and the chance to cry alone in a darkened room.

Be prepared for one hell of a Saturday night

SXSW just so happens to fall in the same week as the student Gomorrah of Spring Break and St Patrick’s Day, both of which are America’s two biggest excuses to get royally pissed up. Last year on 6th Street, the main music drag, I saw grown men wet themselves, women passed-out in the gutter and, worst of all, a punk rock skiffle band from Doncaster performing the greatest hits of Queen.


Make sure you visit the South Congress neighborhood
A fair amount of bands play down here too, but with its cheap vintage stores and über-cool Hotel San Jose – who put on their own SXSJ event – South Congress is 6th Street’s beardy big brother, the one who knows about woodworking and distilling his own whiskey. Check out the showcases at the legendary Continental Club – one of, erm, Playboy’s best bars in America – and scoff delicious pizza on the outdoor tables at Home Slice.

Put down the cheap beer and treat yourself to a fancy cocktail

…at the super-plush, historic Driskill Hotel. But be warned of strange surprises. Last year, whilst sinking a midnight martini, NME was ‘treated’ to a set by Daniel Bedingfield, who bounded his way through ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ to a largely uninterested room, most of which was half-arsedly wondering why an unknown lounge singer was covering UK garage hits. This year we’re crossing our fingers for an appearance by Phats & Small.