South by Southwest 2012 Part 2: Parties

This article is part of a 3-part series recapping my experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2012. It is split into the following sections: Panels, Parties, and Personal. As a reminder, everyone has a different goal and thus a different experience with SXSW. This is one extrovert’s take on 2012’s conference.

“I’m hungry.”

“I need a drink.”

“How’s the line?”

These are just some of the questions you’ll hear at SXSW 2012, and in all of the cases, you probably are going to get an answer that involves a party or a lounge (micro parties). Before I tackle the larger party scene, I’m going to talk a bit about lounges.

Scattered throughout the conference campuses and in the parking lots and restaurants of Austin, TX there are lounges. Sponsored by companies looking to promote their brands, even if just for a single morning, these are your go-to locations for a quick drink,bite to eat, or just get away from the crowds for a little while. In-between the panels there is a 30 minute window to transition between the locations, so if you can steal a few minutes of free time before getting to your panel, you will be visiting a lounge to try and score something to eat or a little hair-of-the-dog. In general, these places are pretty damn fantastic and are always conveniently located. My personal favorites were the Alcatel-Lucent Lounge on the 4th floor of the Hilton, The Taco Tent and Registrant’s Lounge setup next to the Hilton and the ACC, and Mashable’s Circus Mashimus inside the ACC. These were my locations to always score a beverage and some munchies without wandering too far; you just need to know what time to go by the lounge.

These are also great spots for networking, since people are usually recharging their devices and happy to have a reduction in the ambient volume of the room, so chatting someone up is pretty easy and strongly encouraged. If you don’t have anything to pitch (like so many people at the event), then just listen. Trust me, 99 out of 100 times the other person in the room has something they really want to share with you. As a courtesy, don’t tell them their product sucks to their face or suggest a better marketing strategy, just smile and encourage them. Who knows, you may be wrong. Maybe.

Lounges offer micro-environments which are really conducive to building a longer, more valuable relationship with another person at SXSW. Out of that stack of business cards you are collecting, very few (if any) of them will be a valuable connection for you if you don’t spend more time and develop a deeper relationship with them. That’s why so many people speak about meeting their next business partner or investor not at a huge party, but at an intimate get-together back at a hotel room or in a small unofficial after-party. I’ve never been invited to those places, so I’ll just take their word for it.

So much partying, so much alcohol, so much free schwag. At SXSW, if you are paying for food or drinks, you’re doing it wrong. The parties (official and unofficial) are the end-all-be-all of SXSW. Sure, it’s a conference, but there are people who simply come for the parties. The official parties require a badge, but so many of the unofficial parties simply require an RSVP and a photo id. Weeks before SXSW begins, scouring EventBrite is a great way to get those RSVPs in. RSVP to everything, regardless if you think you will attend. Oh, and ignore that part about printing your ticket; besides the EventBrite app, I never once was asked to show a ticket, because they have a printed list of all the RSVPs (if at all).

There are a few core rules for attending parties at SXSW:

  • The official parties will have lines, so get there early if you want to get in and be ready to queue up.
  • Is your party kicking ass? Then stay; leaving a great party for another awesome party will usually not work out due to capacity issues (1-in-1-out).
  • Tip the bartenders, especially if it is an open bar. They will make your night that much better. Go ahead, pull out that $5 bill; it’s worth it.
  • Don’t fear the locals: They know the best venues, bands, and probably can be a great connection for you as the week progresses.
  • Get a buddy you can meet up with, especially if you are an introvert. It’s less exhausting and easier to meet others (and ditch the creepy people) when you have a party buddy.
  • LADIES: This is your playground. If you talk tech, the men of SXSW are yours to command.
  • GUYS: If possible, get a female buddy; It will make party hopping, meeting people, and even getting past RSVP lists you are not on possible: A guy/girl duo is the most powerful social force in the SXSW party galaxy.

If you can manage it, getting 6 hours of sleep and drinking more water will allow you to rinse-and-repeat the panel/party endurance race that is SXSW for all 5 days. If you really want to get the most value out of your experience, there is a lot of free food and lack of lines before those 9:30am panels.

Okay, I tried, that was my best shot at convincing you not to sleep in. See you at 11. Maybe.

Best Parties for Me
Mashable through a fantastic party, taking over a venue that had 3 different floors that included games, multiple open bars, and a dance floor with fantastic DJs A Plus D. Tip: A shitty DJ will kill any party, so beware. I also had a great time at Six Lounge (the female bartender’s name is Lauren, FYI), especially when their Saturday house DJ MightyMike was spinning the best of 90’s dance and pop with contemporary hits.

Final Thoughts
There were so many parties, nobody could possibly attend them all, but Twitter proves to be an invaluable resource, with the likes of a few special accounts:

Since SXSW Music starts at the end of Interactive, there are also a ton of bands that flood Austin, TX (already a huge music city), so good music is easy to find. I didn’t imbibe in new bands due to queues, but I did discover Free Energy, and they rocked the Nokia Lab tent. Here is one of their newest tracks:

The party never stops, so if you can keep up your energy, there is always somewhere to be and people to socialize with at SXSW. Party hard, party long, and repeat till you fly home.

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