First of all, let's dispel the misconception (which should be thoroughly dispelled by now) that SXSW Interactive is the domain of stereotypical nerds in the Bill Gates/Lambda Lambda Lambda mold.
And interactive parties aren't exclusively card-swapping, venture capital-seeking affairs, either -- one peek at the #techkaraoke hashtag on Twitter from last night's revelry at Austin nightclub Six is enough to illustrate what happens when the Interactive set cuts loose on the final night of their conference for Pinqued's annual, epic Tech Karaoke party. Of course, it also illustrates the superiority of Karaoke Apocalypse -- Austin's indie-credentialed yet Heart and Scorpions-loving live karaoke band -- over the typical squint-into-the-screen, sing-over-canned-music standard karaoke experience. But, primarily, it's the reverie of 2011's brand of hip nerd, enabled to connect via Twitter and Foursquare on an iPhone or Android (or the increasingly-Mesozoic sadness of a Blackberry) to say things like, "Damn, nice cover of 'Rock You Like a Hurricane,'" or to actually applaud Styx's "Kilroy Was Here" as a conscious karaoke choice.
But, of course, the point of the parties is not exclusively to send self-professed social media gurus (and those of us who know better, and opt for the less-offensive social media consultant) into a free meat and cocktails-induced wobble through the corridors of Downtown Austin. It's still a corporate-funded feting, in which companies trying to make themselves relevant enough to be in social media spheres, and to know what to do to meaningfully reach consumers once they're in that sphere, put themselves into the fray.
No one epitomized that better than Pepsi Max, whose partnership with Foursquare over the past week not only led them to dominate a downtown parking lot with a giant LED sign recording Foursquare check-ins and brightly touting Pepsi Max, but sending Foursquare users on a search for 2000 "Golden Tickets" to Monday night's Big Boi show/party at Seaholm Power Plant.
While there's a certain degree of skepticism that's induced when corporate entity pairs with hip hip-hop star to tout product, the partnership did fill a cavernous venue with old and new Foursquare users. One friend of mine found the lure of a Big Boi Golden Ticket to be her tipping point to entering the Foursquare fray; she's become a loyal user, and unlocked her Golden Ticket on her quest for a new bed frame at IKEA, some 20 miles away from anything remotely related to SXSW, in one of Austin's northern suburbs.
The show itself featured a pair of bands that necessitated rock math to adequately describe them. Locksley, from Madison, whose Wikipedia bio notes that "[s]everal tracks off [its first] EP were licensed for commercials, including "Don't Make Me Wait" and "She Does" to Payless Shoes, and "Don't Make Me Wait" to the STARZ network," was Weezer plus Vampire Weekend plus Glee/2. The Sounds, from Sweden, was Berlin plus The Bravery plus Human League/2 minus Duran Duran. Their sets incorporated the polish that comes with a decade of longevity, and The Sounds' lead singer, Maja Ivarsson, provided a bit of anti-corporate bravado with cigarettes, attitude, and hoisted middle finger helpfully augmenting each F-bomb peppering songs from their set list.
Big Boi, at one point in his headlining set, commented that there were so many songs for him to choose from as a way to ostensibly solicit a request, but, more realistically, to say, "Hey, look at me." His set drew from his most recent (and completely solid) latest album, as well as Outkast chestnuts like "Ms. Jackson" and "The Way You Move," the latter featuring the requisite yet always ill-advised white girls from the audience dancing on stage demi-train wreck. The show also made one thing clear for those not yet in the know about it: DJ Swiff is a general bad-ass.
The important (and sheer ungodly number) of parties at this year's Interactive has to do with Interactive's phenomenal growth. According to a SXSW spokesperson, this year's attendee number (factoring Gold and Platinum badge holders into the mix with those just there for the Interactive portion) is right on the cusp of 20,000 -- up from just over 14,000 last year. The considerably widened footprint of the day program -- necessitating shuttles to run attendees to the outer borders of the Republic of SXSW -- is the most obvious indicator of the enormity of Interactive, especially given that there have been teeming masses at multiple spots throughout the conference, with some sessions at capacity well before their start times.
Factor in the locals without badges but networking at the periphery of the conference - which primarily means the parties - and you get a sense of just how important the after-hours affairs are to sharing knowledge as the glut of panels during the actual conference itself.
The parties are so hard to manage and keep straight that this year, a group of entrepreneurs established a service called RSVPster. For $30, subscribers let the service RSVP them into the multitude of parties around town. While that contributes to a flurry of confirmation e-mails and at least several "I RSVP'd to what?" double takes, it's also a way to help make sense of the everywhere that you feel you have to be at when at a conference the size and scope of Interactive.
SXSW Music still has the lion's share of parties -- asserted by RSVPster's Jennifer Sinski, in an e-mail to subscribers this morning, stating "The last four days were practice, and now the real SXSW has arrived." Indeed, for the skinny-jean-clad multitudes set to descend on day shows, what happened over the last five days might not feel like the real SXSW, but for an increasingly large and diverse group of attendees, not only have we just ended rather that begun the real SXSW, but the SXSW Music folks no longer have sole claim to the contingent best able to get down and bust a move -- even for a group okay with "Kilroy Was Here" still being part of the playlist.