South By Southwest 2011 @ Austin, TX (Mar. 16th to 20th, 2011)

Intro – A Rocking City, Austin TX to Japan With Love
Intro – A Rocking City, Austin TX to Japan With Love in SXSW 11 @ Austin, TX 2011.3.16 – 20


We were well informed of the excitement for this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) before we even headed to the States. Peelander-Z, a Japanese band based in NYC who are pretty well-known in Austin, sent us the following information.

“The music part of the fest doesn’t start until next week, but there are already a hell of a lot of people here,” Peelander-Z said. “This year might be the biggest SXSW ever. Some of the unofficial events are going to be incredibly big!”

Peelander-Z’s message flashed on my computer monitor on the 14th of March, the day before I was scheduled to head for Narita Airport and fly to Austin. At the same time the TV news about an explosion at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima came into my sight. The public transportation had been rather chaotic since the major earthquake on the 11th and there was no train service available from Tokyo to Narita at all on the 15th. I was wondering if I should leave my friends and family behind at this time of chaos and if Japan would be OK, but eventually I decided to travel to SXSW as planned and managed to get one of the last seats on a limousine bus to Narita International Airport.

SXSW After 15 hours on an airplane, I landed in Austin, TX. When I arrived the city was literally rocking. If you are a regular visitor to Smashing Mag, SXSW should be pretty familiar to you as we have been covering this festival for the last six years. For new readers, SXSW is one of the biggest festivals in the world and is held every March in the capital city of Texas. A major part of it is a trade show of bands and artists as well as record labels, musical instrument companies, and other businesses relating to music from all over the world.

There is no main stage there. Well, there is a big one in a park, but there are so many other stages as well. Stages are found not only in concert halls and clubs, but also in restaurants, record stores, supermarkets, and shops. Anywhere that can be used as a venue has musicians playing there. The whole town is rockin’ with a countless number of bands and artists.

Last year, I tried checking the list of the shows printed in the official program provided by the organizer, but there were simply too many even to have a look through. I guess the number of the acts was about 1,800. This year I think there were even more acts. There were showcases of bands from Korea and Taiwan that didn’t happen last year, suggesting that the festival is getting far bigger. There are also hundreds of private parties, shows, and festivals going on in the city that are not authorized by the organizer. It is literally impossible to know how many musicians are in Austin during this time of year.

At the Austin Convention Center, a gigantic complex located right in the center of the city, there are hundreds of booths to demonstrate, exhibit or promote anything you could of think of about music. There were also some rooms for radio and TV programmers to record and broadcast live footage from the festival to local and national audiences. Walking on 6th street, whether you like it or not, music floods into your ears and moves your body from every building and corner. The street was filled with a countless amount of people every evening. Something new to me was to witness a bunch of street art performers with a massive brass band dancing and rocking in the crowd. It reminded me of a street performance team that is familiar to us at the Fuji Rock Festival.

SXSWAlthough the excitement was there and the scale of the festival was far bigger in every aspect, I found myself not enjoying it at all because of what was happening in Japan. The biggest ever disaster caused by a series of earthquakes and tsunami was hitting Japan as well as (the still) lasting fear of a crisis caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident, similar to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island never ever left my mind.

Nevertheless, what I experienced at SXSW did cheer me up. I found so many people working to try and help the victims in Japan. Straight after hearing the news of this disaster, one of the regular events at the festival, Japan Nite, started producing a charity T-shirt and changing the design of their posters and flyers to ask for aid for us. Visiting their booth, their neighbors were helping by all wearing charity T-shirts. Also Hanson organized a charity telethon asking all of the musicians in Austin to join in to try and raise $100.000 in 12 hours. The incredible thing was that they met their goal by the time the finished their live webcast.

In addition to those above, a band from Taiwan called Go Chic that I happened to cover one afternoon made an appeal to the audience to help Japan and said that they would be donating one-third of their merchandise sales before they started blasting their funky punk music. Also when I saw the guys of Ozomatli, who have lots of experience touring in Japan, they asked what was the best thing they could do to help us in Japan. Literally every time someone found out I was from Japan, I heard comforting words from people sharing the pain and sadness from the disaster.


Strangely enough, in all my years of traveling outside of Japan, this was the first time for me to think of my home country constantly. It was great to learn that Japan has so many friends in the U.S. and at this festival. Needless to say, this years SXSW was the most memorable one I’ve attended.

Lots of time has passed since we returned home. We should have finished reporting about the festival much sooner, but we are still suffering from the unseen fear or radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations and a crisis that has never been experienced before in the history of mankind. During these difficult historical times, it seems we have learned that maybe music and people support us in our life in so many ways.

Our staff at SXSW this year included photographers Ryota Mori, who first introduced SXSW to us back in 2004, and Miyuki Samata, a regular visitor to SXSW for the last couple of years. This was the first for writer Itsumi Okayasu to experience the festival. I, Koichi Hanafusa, the editor of Smashing Mag, also attended SXSW as well. Together we are posting what we have witnessed this year. We hope you will recall your experience of being in a flood of music if you were there and if you were not, we would love you to feel what the music is all about and give you a bit of motivation to come over to Austin to experience this amazing festival.

Apollo 18

SXSW 2011 from BEAKER on Vimeo.

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Koichi "hanasan" Hanafusa
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