SXSW hits Austin March 8 to 17

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Arts writer Soojin Chang gears up for her week in Austin at SXSW
South by Southwest is a pilgrimage any artist and entrepreneur should make at some point in their lives. With more than 260 films, 1,000 interactive media conference sessions and 2,000 musical acts packed somehow into a week and a half, my ADD will finally meet its match next week in Austin, Texas.

The festival is as diverse as my browser tabs, and a day that starts by listening to a political talk by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will naturally end at a Kendrick Lamar show hosted by Vice. There are many firsts in store, everything from the U.S. premiere, red carpet and panel discussion of “Spring Breakers” to a lecture by Deadmau5. The Bay will be represented in expansive ways — cinematically in a documentary of poet James Broughton, a visionary voice of the San Francisco renaissance and sexual revolution, technologically through lectures held by Silicon Valley leaders and musically through local acts like Wax Idols and The Soft Moon.

SXSW is notable for converging technology with artistic expression, and I am anxious to see, for example, what exactly the social and interactive future of watching television entails. Media lab work is headed toward immersive experiences, and MIT researchers will be presenting a physical space where both real and 3D projected objects and sounds coexist with people by embodying emotions and senses in textured shapes and colors. The world’s first vertically-shot iPhone movie, compiled by the The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, will be followed by Charles Manson’s first phone conversation released in 20 years in the animated short “Old Man.”

Certain affairs are not as surprising but still very much anticipated. For instance, James Franco plays a deranged artist in “Maladies” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a womanizer in his directorial debut film, “Don Jon’s Addiction,” alongside Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza. As far as musical acts go, because there are so many, one of the more compelling aspects will be to link stylistic influences between one artist to another. For example, how does the Flatbush Zombies’ revamp of hip-hop connect back to Dead Prez and forward to the mash-up duo The Hood Internet? As for young female voices, what do the differences between Angel Haze, Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES, Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira say about the diverging images of femininity?

But within this cinephilic and music addict’s paradise, I want to find out what our leading young entrepreneurs are doing to sustain a successful, independent career that embraces rather than sacrifices individual creativity. Freelancing seems to be a topic sidestepped at most collegiate institutions, but I think that combining entrepreneurial knowledge of social media and technology with a university education creates more gratifying lines of work. There are CEOs at 21 and people under 30 landing covers of Forbes more than ever now. So between prepping for those LSATs, tune in for live tweets, Instagram and blog posts from March 10 to 16 and a full conference overview with film reviews on March 18.

mtvU Woodie Awards highlight the music that college kids love
MtvU, MTV’s network dedicated to programming catered to college students, will host its annual award show, the Woodie Awards, on Thursday, March 15, as part of SXSW. The show, which aims to feature promising new artists that eventually go on to bigger platforms, will include performances by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as well as Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ and indie-rock acts Alt-J and Jake Bugg.

This year’s nominees range from infamous Kickstarter participant Amanda Palmer to indie pop band fun., who recently won Grammys for Best New Artist and Song Of The Year. As Eric Conte, executive producer of this year’s show explained, the Woodies seek to include the best music of the previous year in order to properly represent “the soundtrack of the lives of college students.” Berkeley’s own KALX radio station will also compete at the show for the College Radio Woodie, which spotlights the nation’s best college radio stations.

While mtvU targets a very specific demographic, the artists featured on the network appreciate their coverage with a college audience. “It has really helped broaden my fan base,” said electronic producer and nominee Dillon Francis, who revealed upcoming remixes for larger-scale pop acts Passion Pit and Justin Timberlake.

College audiences actually allow for certain musicians to easily spread their material. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who just two years ago sat as an audience member at the Woodies before performing at last year’s festivities, explains that the college scene helped him build his buzz as a new artist. After beginning his career performing at nearby high schools, MGK said, “(The students at those schools) went from being local to going on to colleges all over the United States, and it spread by word of mouth.”

This is the second consecutive year in which the show will take place at SXSW. To further reinforce the Woodies’ plan to showcase new talent and its theme of music discovery, a new award category, the Chevrolet Sonic College Artist Woodie, was added this year to highlight the best emerging college musicians in the country.

The Woodies will air on MTV and mtvU Sunday, March 17 at 8 p.m.

Contact Soojin Chang at [email protected].
Contact Rahul Pandya at [email protected].