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the story of sxsw

From a grassroots start in Austin TX, 1987 to a new, second home in Sydney.


“Sydney is home to a diverse and thriving creative community. The spirit of innovation, creativity and adventure is in our DNA and we are thrilled to showcase this to the world. SXSW Sydney will be a focal point for innovators, not only from Sydney, but all of Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Our goal – in October 2023 – is that you will feel the same way I do about this inspiring and thought-provoking festival of discovery. And, if that happens, we’ve all done our job.”

— Colin Daniels, Managing Director SXSW Sydney

the sxsw timeline


    Inaugural Music Festival: 177 Artists and 15 Stages

    The first event, held in March 1987, saw an expected 150 registrants swell to 700 on the opening day. As hoped for, Austin’s charm won over the visitors and SXSW took on a life of its own. Notable showcasing artists included Reverend Horton Heat (Dallas TX), Bad Mutha Goose (Austin TX) and Lonesome Strangers (Los Angeles CA). 15 Panels, workshops and sessions took place, featuring Jody Denberg, Jim Dickinson, Kevin Wommack, Joe Nick Patoski, Kim Buie, Mark Josephson, Ernie Gammage and Jeff Whittington.


    Inaugural Film & Interactive Events | Music Keynote: Johnny Cash

    Remembered for the Johnny Cash keynote/performance, two new events - Interactive and Film - were introduced. The inaugural offering featured eight panel sessions with 36 total speakers and two world premieres and was called the SXSW Film and Media Conference (SFMC). The film and digital communities, still early in the internet’s conception, found a home in SXSW, marking a fundamental shift in how the world viewed SXSW.


    Guillermo Del Toro Brings Down The House With A Rambunctious Screening Of Hellboy At SXSW Film

    Alongside SXSW Film, the Music Festival swelled to 1,278 Showcasing Artists across 55 Venues, including Sydney rock band The Church, Petty Booka (Tokyo), Dizzee Rascal (London), Franz Ferdinand (Glasgow), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (New York), The Killers (Las Vegas), N.E.R.D (Virginia Beach, VA), and Joss Stone (Devon, UK). On top of the jam-packed line-up, Little Richard delivered an iconic Music Keynote.


    Twitter Takes Flight at SXSW | SXSW PanelPicker® Launches | Sydney’s own Hoodoo Gurus perform

    Twitter ‘caught fire’ at SXSW 2007 when it offered its platform to event delegates, launching the social media company into the stratosphere. SXSW PanelPicker® launched, opening up conference programming decisions to the creative community. For the Music Festival, 1,580 showcasing artists took to the stage, including Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Bjorn & John, Public Enemy and Sydney’s own Hoodoo Gurus. At SXSW Film, there was the World Premiere of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, including talent features from Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane, Isla Fisher, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more.


    The Obama’s Iconic Keynotes | Perth’s own Troye Sivan performs.

    Both Michelle and Barack Obama delivered ground-breaking keynotes, alongside Kevin Plank (Under Armour), Andy Puddicombe (Headspace), and Stewart Butterfield (Slack). The Music Festival showcased 2,224 Artists including Iggy Pop, Låpsley, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, and Perth’s own Troye Sivan. Film Keynotes included Nelson George, Gale Anne Hurd, and Elliot Page, with work-in-progress screenings of Keanu and Sausage Party.


    SXSW went online amidst the Global Pandemic, bringing unexpected discoveries inside our homes.

    Despite the challenge of moving a whole event online, SXSW beat the odds and delivered a stellar line-up. The SXSW Online Conference featured Willie Nelson, Ava DuVernay, Mick Fleetwood, James Cameron and many more. The SXSW Online Film Festival featured a whole range of screenings including Demi Lovato’s TV Series, Dancing with the Devil, while the SXSW Online Music Festival saw performances from Australia’s own Baker Boy, the Chats and Indigo Sparke, and Mercury Prize nominees Black Country, New Road (UK).

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