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10 reasons why SXSW will rule this year

Embrace the madness of SXSW 2018 with our picks for the most notable speakers, sessions, films and bands
Photograph: Merrick Ales
By Dan Gentile and John Laird |

SXSW always rolls in like a hurricane, taking over our city for ten days with some of the best innovators, musicians, filmmakers and creatives from around the world. It won't be any different this year, when the 31-year-old festival hits Austin on March 9–18. You'll want to take some time outside of the fest to enjoy the best things to do in Austin, from incredible restaurants to Austin's best cocktail bars—but you'll also want to check out the following top 10 reasons why SXSW is going to kill it this year. See you out there!

Best of SXSW 2018


The hottest global sets hit our doorstep.

Gang of Youths 
The rockers had a big 2017 in their home country of Australia, where their album Go Farther in Lightness took home the ARIA Music Award for Album of the Year. Expect the band’s epic sound (think: Bruce Springsteen meets the National meets the War on Drugs) to shine bright at the fest.

One of the better LPs to come out in the first months of 2018 is Ought’s Room Inside the World. Carve out some time to see the post-punk act before they fly back to Montreal.

Max Richter 
SXSW kicks off with British-German composer Richter’s eight-hour, overnight performance of Sleep, a lullaby of sorts that will make its anticipated North America debut. Beds will be available.

The Madrid garage rockers will preview their highly anticipated sophomore album, I Don’t Run, before its April 6 release. The buzz typical of the energetic all-female outfit’s shows should shake you out of your mid-SXSW slump.

The series Korea Spotlight (formerly K-Pop Night Out) is set to be headlined by Crush, an R&B and hip-hop star who, in just a few years, has racked up millions of hits on Spotify, starting with his first runaway single, “Sometimes.”


Women speakers are at the forefront.

Melinda gates, cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation

Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble

Kim Deal, bassist of the Pixies,
vocalist and guitarist of the Breeders, and unofficial First Lady of indie rock

Elaine Welteroth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, and responsible for the publication’s celebrated feminist turn


The silver screen embraces the Lone Star State.

Native son Ethan Hawke is always a fixture at the festival. This year he honors another Austin legend with a screening of Blaze, a movie Hawke wrote and directed about outlaw country singer Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey). Looking for more Western-inspired cinema among the 132 features slated for SXSW Film Festival (Mar 9–17)? Catch a panel featuring the showrunners of the cowboy sci-fi hit Westworld.


Austin artists take center stage.

Erika Wennerstrom
The singer, who normally fronts rock outfit Heartless Bastards, will roll out her debut solo album, Sweet Unknown, the week after SXSW wraps—meaning the fest is the perfect time to hear her soaring vocals.

Curtis Roush
The Bright Light Social Hour’s  Roush recently releaed his solo debut, Cosmic Campfire Music. It’s one of those albums that has a little bit of everything—classic rock, soul, psychedelia—and will be a total ear relaxer in the otherwise noisy chaos of the festival.

The post-genre pop artist’s eagerly awaited new album, Fresh Lies, Vol. I, is part of a song cycle: a living compilation that will add future volumes over the months and years to come. Catch his dynamic show at the fest to see how this project begins.

A local act that call itself Hovvdy (pronounced howdy) just makes sense at a Texas festival, but the main draw is its new album, Cranberry, which just dropped in early February: a warm, gentle effort loaded with lo-fi pop tunes.

Molly Burch
One of the local highlights of 2017 was Burch’s stellar debut album, Please Be Mine, which means she’ll be in high demand come March. Spend time with her Patsy Cline–like voice and vintage pop sound.


The city is brought into focus.

SXSW’s inaugural Cities Summit reveals how the places we live in shape our lives, with panels and speakers grouped into three categories: Cities as Narrative (“Superheroes and the City”), Cities of Innovation (“How Cities Will Drive Autonomous Vehicles”) and Cities for All (“Redefining Sanctuary Cities”). Four Seasons Hotel Austin, (512-467-7979, website), various times


Gaming gets a spotlight.

A computer keyboard isn’t exactly a hallmark of most sports, but the popularity of online gaming has created a new breed of athlete. SXSW embraces the modern contender with a live-action tournament stage and a talk from pro Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer. Just an amateur looking to mash buttons? Then head to the expertly curated, free-to-play games in the Arcade Bunker, PC Arena or Indie Corner. Austin Convention Center, (512-467-7979, website). Mar 15–17 at various times


All-star journalists are lauded for their work.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent

Katie Couric, news anchor turned author and cancer advocate, recording a live podcast episode at the festival

Ira Glass, This American Life host 

Ezra Klein, editor-at-large and cofounder of Vox Media

Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic and author of We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy


Do-good citizens are celebrated.

SXSW built its rep on tech, music and film—but with great creativity comes great responsibility. The Social Impact track of the conference features inspiring individuals including Jordan Reeves (Mar 10 11am–noon), an 11-year-old who 3-D printed her own prosthetic arm; and Manal al-Sharif (Mar 12 11am–noon), a Saudi women’s rights advocate who challenged the government by illegally driving a car (and went to jail for it). Westin Austin Downtown, 310 E 5th St (512-467-7979, website). Mar 10–14 at various times. 


Cryptocurrency is put under the microscope.

The decentralized digital cash Bitcoin began as an economic experiment powered by an underground black market and turned into an investment strategy. But is it legitimate? Sessions focus on what the volatile currency means for the entertainment industry (“Entertainment Will Bring Cryptocurrency Mainstream”), personal data (“Blockchain and Civil Liberties”) and a potential machine economy (“Cryptocurrencies: A New Future for  Money”). Mar 11–16, various locations and times


You can nerd out on the music industry.

“Beyond the Band: Shakey Graves”
Ever been curious about the people behind the music? Beyond the Band allows fans to meet the key players—managers, agents, label reps, tour managers and more—that help make an artist successful. The team supporting Austin-born folk and rock singer Alejandro Rose-Garcia—the award-winning artist known as Shakey Graves—is the focus of this discussion.

“Preservation & Appreciation of Album Art today”
When physical media ruled, artists’ album art was nearly as important as their music. This session, which is set to feature speakers from Polyvinyl Records, Modern Vinyl and Kill Rock Stars, covers the state (and future) of this medium in a digital world.

“The World Is a Stage: Concerts in VR”
Live music and virtual reality are a match made in heaven. Take a look at what’s been done and what the future holds for this high-tech marriage of ideas during a panel featuring Irina Shames of SubVRsive, Tom Gimbel of Austin City Limits and Matt Apel of Google.

A Conversation with Kim Deal & Steve Albini
This talk features two rock legends in one room: Deal of the Breeders and the Pixies; and Albini, who recorded the Pixies in addition to Nirvana, PJ Harvey, the Jesus Lizard, the Stooges, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and more. Albini’s no-bullshit demeanor is guaranteed to elicit at least a few “Did he just say that?” moments during this chat about the music industry.

Music Keynote: Lyor Cohen
Cohen helped develop the Killers, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, JAY-Z, Kanye West and more when he was the chairman and CEO of Recorded Music for Warner Music Group. Now he’s the global head of music at YouTube and Google, as well as the founder of the music content company 300. He knows his stuff—and will have plenty of insight to share.

All music panels are located in various rooms at the Austin Convention Center, various dates and times.

More to explore