SXSW: South by Southwest Film / Music / Interactive Conference

Last week during Spring Break, I went to SxSW conference in Austin, TX with Ricardo and Albert.

Keep Austin Weird

Austin is a nice, clean and small but definitely bigger than Pittsburgh. The weather reminds me of California, just right. Food reminds me of California too, tex-mex rocks! It is certainly the live music capital of the world, especially along 6th street, where all the pubs and bars are. There’s also random people busking on the street and weird people walking around. Saw a LGBT parade on Congress one of the days. There are also many trishaws ¬†and bicycle rickshaws, with the cyclists dressed up like superman, wonderwoman, scooby-doo and the like. There is no subway network, only a small tiny 2-carriage commuter train. The streets are surprisingly clean with many trashcans around. Congress Ave is also very picturesque with the Capitol building at the end of the road.

Interactive Documentary

I attended many film workshops regarding interactive documentary storytelling over the first few days. It seems like a new trend nowadays. They inspired me to create an interactive documentary of my own in the future, perhaps in a Singapore context. It seems like a good fit for me too, since I can combine both my web design and filmmaking skills together. One of the workshops also talk about the intersection of user experience design and filmmaking, which is pretty interesting. I also went to a workshop which talked about DSLR and tools for filmmaking.

There was a party hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and ETC was part of hosting it. So we were involved in a tiny booth helping to promote ETC. The music was really loud but we managed to showcase some ETC projects, including World of Goo as well as parts of our Project Xenon video. We managed to impress some people and also help to give out some swag.

We watched many films, such as

  • Evil Dead (remake): a gory, scary remake of Evil Dead (1981)
  • And Who Taught You To Drive?: a nice funny documentary about driving lessons in Japan, Germany and India
  • Hours: about Hurricane Katrina
  • Animated Shorts
  • Improv
  • Downloaded: about Napster
  • Cirque du Soleil #EVOKE13
  • Much Ado About Nothing: a remake of the Shakespeare classic
  • TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard
  • Documentary Shorts 1: After, Recollections, The Village
  • Reality Show: a movie about making reality shows, shot in a documentary style
  • V/H/S/2: a nice stitching of many horror/zombie-related shorts
  • We Cause Scenes: a documentary about ImprovEverywhere
Music and the Singapore connection
Over on the music side, I managed to catch LeCrae live in a collegemixshow. Everyone else is a non-Christian hardcore rap/hip-hop artist, except for LeCrae. He was really talking about God in between his rap songs. Pretty amazing. Managed to take a picture with him too. I also found out that there was a Singaporean band The Sam Willows performing, so I decided to pop by and check them out. Pretty cool and funky band with nice timbre-style music, and they’re all just slightly younger than me. Amazing people. Nice to see our local talent being exposed to the US market.
Over at the Trade Show, I realised that IDA has a booth and they brought some Singapore startups to showcase too. I managed to talk with one of the IDA persons and found out that they actually have an international office at Redwood Shores! So close to where I was last semester and I didn’t know! Pretty cool.
Twitter and Swag
Twitter is a wonderful thing in such conferences. I was searching “Singaporean SXSW” to see if anyone tweet about Singapore stuff, and managed to link up with someone from sge, an entrepreneurs group and invited him to the ETC party, and found out that he was working in Blk 71 as well. What a small world. Twitter is also a good thing to search for free stuff. There’s a channel called SouthByFreeNoms with all the free food and drinks posted. On the first day, we were talking with some random guy in the line, and he said we shouldn’t be spending any money or more than $20 on food a day. It is true. There’s always free breakfast, sandwich and drinks somewhere! And of course, free swag. There’s so many places giving out free t-shirts that you actually don’t have to bring shirts to the conference. And free pens, beer, tacos, beer, stickers, etc. Breakfast tacos are the best. One of the best swag was from the Oreo booth, after taking a photo and guessing where the photo behind you was taken, you get oreos, plus a small portable charger, plus a $25 voucher somewhere. I’ve got a voucher at a fruit juice place called Juiceland while my friend got his for Waterloo Records. Cool local places.

Everything is bigger in Texas

That’s what they say. The roads and freeways are definitely bigger in Texas. Bigger than the ones in California! It seems like a uniquely Texas thing to have a “frontage road” beside every freeway! And it is certainly a car country. In Houston, there 6 normal lanes plus 2 carpool lanes plus 3 lanes on the frontage road. Crazy! Speed limits are higher too, from 75mph on freeways (instead of 65) to 40mph on normal roads (instead of 35). And another strange thing is that the traffic lights here are mostly horizontal instead of vertical. Another interesting Texas phenomenon is the Texas U-turn.


I went to visit Austin Stone Community on Sunday evening. It was held in a high school gym. The Texas music genes is pretty strong, everyone looks like Crowder. Haha. On Wednesday, I decided to drive 3 hours to Houston, TX to attend Lakewood Church’s midweek service. I also managed to convince Albert to come along and we had a nice chat during the drive. We had Church’s Chicken for lunch (which is called Texas’ Chicken in Singapore), and it is more peppery than Popeye’s and KFC. We drove to Houston’s “Chinatown” and found a huge area of strip malls filled with all kinds of Chinese stuff. We had Malaysian food at Banana Leaf (which is not related to the one in Milpitas), and spotted some Singaporean goods at the Chinese supermarket like Yeo’s and Owl’s. After dinner, we drove to Lakewood Church. It is HUGE, after all, it was a basketball stadium. It was pretty empty since it was a midweek service. We managed to get good seats in the middle. Worship was good, no Israel Houghton though. Joel Osteen came for a while to say hi, and then his sister Lisa Osteen preached about writing down our visions. All in all, a pretty surreal experience, as usual.

On the way back, we drove around Houston downtown before driving back. Downtown is like many other downtowns I guess, quiet at night. Houston is a large city, 4th largest in the states, and sprawling, like many others. It seems to have many suburban cores too.

Getting Around

We took bus most of the time, even though our motel was on the freeway. Fortunately there’s a bus a short walk away to downtown. At night, we have to take the last bus or take the night owl bus and walk. But the music crowd was crazy. Once they came, it was like the geeks meet the hippies, and 6th St became super crowded with many people partying. On the last night, we almost couldn’t get back – all the taxis were full and the buses were full too. Zipcar saved the day! Managed to find one in Downtown to drive back and then we could drive it back downtown the next day.


It was a good week. Feel very inspired now. And I’d miss Austin’s weather. Back to cold Pittsburgh where spring does not exist.