As we speak (or as I type) I am on an airplane headed to Austin, Texas on my way to South By Southwest. This is not just any SXSW for me; it is my 10th straight SXSW. I started out traveling to Austin when I managed a dance pop band called The Gaskets. After the Gaskets broke up I started going as a member of the media, covering it for the last six years with a camera in hand. This year I am going to be EXTREMELY busy and I will be on the road for at least two weeks. I have a feeling that I won’t be able to update this site as much as I would like to so I wanted to put this post up. I WILL be updating my Twitter, Instagram and most importantly my Tumblr. I will be posting highlights from every day on Tumblr so check over there if I am slow to update this site.
Anyway, in honor of my 10th at SXSW I wanted to give you a little break down of some of the highlights of the last 10 years. Austin is crawling with musicians and celebrities so this list is going to sound a little (okay, a lot) name droppy, so I apologize for that in advance. Just don’t read it if that sort of thing is as grating to you as it is to most people. I am going to include some links and photos to keep you guys entertained while I am busy taking photos 14 hours a day. And if you are going to be in Texas over the next two weeks hit me up! See you guys in a food truck line!
Probably my favorite part of SXSW is seeing the same people every year and seeing some of those people really make it. I remember taking Aziz Ansari, Rob Hubel and Paul Scheer to some really awkward local 80’s dance night because we all were flying out Monday instead of Sunday like everyone else. They were promoting Human Giant and no one had any idea who they were. A couple years later I ran into Aziz and as soon as he stopped to talk to me he got mobbed by fans and I had to take camera phone picture after camera phone picture of Aziz and strangers.
My friend, the “mumblecore” director Joe Swanberg, has always had success at SXSW. I think he has debuted a film at Austin and they have always gone over pretty well. But this year his new film Drinking Buddies has a star studded cast and it was such a cool thing to get to request red carpet passes for my friends movie.
No friend of mine has ever blown up like Lena Dunham and that was a real SXSW story. She met most of the crew of her film Tiny Furniture at SXSW and when the film first showed there it didn’t seem to have much buzz. When ever I talked to a media person about my friend’s film they didn’t seem to have heard of it, but when it won Best Narrative Feature all of a sudden it was such a big deal. I went to the SXSW Film closing party with the crew of Tiny Furniture (I ran the Twitter account for the movie) and it was so amazing to watch Lena become this big deal in an instant. I figured Lena would do big things but I never expected her to become the most famous women on the planet.
Some of my favorite moments managing The Gaskets came during SXSW. My brother lived in Austin for years and we used to throw BBQ’s at his (or one of his friends) places. We would spend a few days passing out flyers for it. One year we offered free food and booze on the flyer and when the party started about 20 homeless people showed up to the party. It was pretty amazing. Another one of my brothers friends stole an entire stage from a frat house and carried it on the roof of his car all the way back to the party. The cops showed up (thankfully because of a noise complaint, not the theft) and the lead singer of the Gaskets got off stage and went over to the cop and started grinding on them. Somehow the cop thought it was funny and let them play one more song.
One year I talked my way back stage at a show and I just hung out on stage taking photos while Wu-Tang played. It was a pretty surreal moment and I remember thinking how when I was 20 I never would have though I would have been just hanging out with Wu-Tang.
One of my best friends live in Austin and he has a mix of love and resentment for SXSW. One year we tried to sneak into a party by going through what we thought was the VIP entrance acting like we owned the place. Our plan worked but it turned out we had walked into the green room for another party and had no access to the party we were trying to sneak into. The room was extremely small and full of famous musicians. It was pretty clear instantly we didn’t belong but we ate a bunch of their free food before leaving. Another year I got him a press pass to a big Red Bull event. He had eaten a bunch of shrooms and decided that corporate sponsorship was ruining music. He kept ordering free Red Bull Vodkas and then dumping them out right in front of the bartenders and then ordering another one. The bartenders seemed confused but kept pouring. Eventually I had to get him the fuck out of there because the press pass was under my name. He ended up passing out in a van.
A big life highlight for me was seeing on of my favorite punk bands, the Circle Jerks, in a room of like 75 people. The fire marshall came in right before the show and busted up the party. They ended up kicking out like 200 people but I got to stay because I was working the party for Inked Magazine. I took a bunch of photos but then just put down my camera and started fucking shit up in the pit. For a minute it felt like it was 1981 and I was seeing them at some dive bar in Los Angels.
I once photographed a Death Set show in a boxing ring. The party got broken up by the police and I realized if I hurried to Beauty Bar Austin I would get a chance to see the Death From Above 1979 reunion. Mike Stewart from Beauty Bar NYC told me to meet him at the back door and he would sneak me in even if it was sold out. When I got near the back door I was greeted by 100s of people outside just listening to the music and a ton who were climbing things to try to get a view of DFA. As I got closer to the door a bunch of people ripped down the fence separating the outdoor area of Beauty Bar. Cops started pepper spraying people an a mini riot broke out. A bunch of people got arrested and the cops showed up with a bunch of crowd control horses. It was pretty insane.
I have hitchhiked several times during SXSW and they all worked out pretty well. One time I talked my way into a girls car when she got stuck in traffic infront of the bar I was leaving. I ended up getting her number and hanging out with her all night.
A few years ago Bill Murray was everybody’s highlight of SXSW. He showed up and seemed to be everywhere. He was bar tending, convincing cops not to break up house parties, and just causing a scene everywhere he went. I was lucky enough to get a few minutes to photograph him, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek to promote their film Get Low. Sissy Spacek was super nice to me and ended up giving me a huge hug when I saw her on the red carpet but Duvall and Murray gave me hell the whole time because I showed up late. They thought it was hilarious but it was pretty terrifying just being around them.
Theophilus London got a Sailor Jerry tattoo on his neck. Seriously.
I am usually so busy at SXSW that it’s the one time that I DON’t hit on girls, but one of the first years I was there I met this girl and we broke into a apartment complex and got naked in a hot tub in the pouring rain. It was pretty amazing. We also made a sex tape and I somehow lost the tape between the time I filmed it and the time that I got back to NYC. I am still hoping I see it on the internet one day. It was really hot.
I think the best show I went to at SXSW was Scissor Sisters before anyone had heard of them opening for Junior Senior and B-52s. I loved Junior Senior and seeing the B-52’s was pretty awesome. The best show I didn’t go to was MIA’s first show in the US with LCD Soundsystem right after Daft Punk Is Playing At My House had just come out. I decided watching college basketball and eating wings was a better use of my time.
John Oliver, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Foley all let me photograph them with their Green Cards. I seriously love this photo.
My favorite gig of all time was at SXSW in 2008. It was an event called the “Sansa Playground” that Dim Mak through. Cobrasnake usually shot all of Dim Mak’s stuff but he was in Japan so I got the job. I wasn’t even a full time party photographer back then and I it was a pretty big deal for me back then. The party had a ton of great acts and a mechanical bull and a swimming pool and a squirt gun fight and it was a really good time but the best part about it were all the people I met who I am still friends with. A lot of my favorite people in nightlife who I only see at these big events I met there. I met JFK from MSTRKRFT, Rony from Rony’s Photobooth, Shwazye, DJ Skeet, Steve Aoki, Nick Catchdubs and Ana Calderon there. I love seeing all those people and it was amazing to meet them all at that one party. I also ended up getting a WMC gig the next month where I met even more people that I am still friends with.
Let’s see if we can top that last name droppy post. Last year I covered the MTV Woodie Awards which take place during SXSW in Austin. Aoki was DJing the awards so I went back to his dressing room and he had assembled a who’s who of EDM performers in this little trailer. There was Skrillex, Zedd, Porter Robinson, Flux Pavilion, Dillion Frances and of course Lil Jon. After we had taken some photos I started talking to Lil Jon about The Gathering of the Juggalos. I had photographed him there and I wanted to known what he thought about it. As soon as we started talking about Juggalos all the DJ’s got quiet and Lil Jon and I explained to them all about juggalos and how insane the Gathering was. I pulled out my iPad full of juggalo photos and I had an extremely surreal show and tell. The important thing to learn here is that EVERYONE loves juggalos.
One of my most awkward SXSW moments was actually on the plane ride there. I ended up sitting next to a comedian who I knew a little bit from New York. We had a bunch of mutual friends and in the 15 minute conversation we had before the flight took off I had managed to accidentally insult him three or four times. It was really awful and we sat in silence for the rest of the flight. When we landed he invited me to his showcase but I was way too embarrassed to even think about going. A few months later I saw him at a movie theater and literally ran into a bathroom to avoid him.
Also bonus Austin moment was actually from Fun Fun Fun, not SXSW, but it involved Diplo, throwing pumpkins out of a SUV and snorting yeast powder, but maybe I will leave that story for another time…