SXSW: Life Lessons by Mike Thomas

Michael Thomas returns from SXSW in Austin, TX, a totally enlightened being…but not in the ways you might expect.

Namaste. Be the change you want to see in the world. Feed the mouth of every orphan. Teach a man to fish. Dreadlocks are the coiffure of the “aware”. Hemp bracelets and fisherman’s trousers forever. Et cetera.

Enlightenment is not the dominion of the ‘Gap Yahs’ alone, but they do claim a certain monopoly on “finding themselves.” It’s amazing how many earth shattering realisations have been reached on a fishing boat half way round Koh Tao.

Most of the time though, these epiphanies tend to lose their lustre as the Yah makes his/her way back to British shores, into a suit and crosses the threshold of corporate life. And all you’re really left with are these two, less-than-revolutionary thoughts:

1. I love the sun and there is not enough of it in England to keep me happy. FML.

2. I love not having any structure to my life and not having to work for a living….FML.

After my own jaunt across the pond, to the ear-tickling goodness that was South by South West music festival in Austin, Texas, I too came back a new man, uplifted by revelation and fresh meaning.

Here are the grandest of my lessons learned: 

1. Cheese, not just for breakfast…

Whoever said it wasn’t a good idea to eat a lot of cheese clearly hasn’t met the Texans. Breakfast burritos, chilli cheese fries, Philly cheese steaks…after a week in Austin, I’ve had to turn cheese into a sixth food group. One must endeavour to get your five portions of cheddar and edam into your daily intake or there will be grave consequences….like, you might actually have to go to the toilet, and who wants that at a festival.

2. Find a good hat, marry it.

This is a lesson courtesy of London-Vienna based musician SOHN. As anyone that’s ever been to an Oceana will know, many of our countries finest clubs like to employ a no hoods, no hats policy. Thankfully for Mr SOHN, there is no such policy in Austin. SOHN loves his big ring-wraith looking hood-hat. He wears it to perform, he’s wearing it in a tonne of recent press shots…he was even wearing it when we bumped into him mid-stroll around 7th st. I can only assume he’s had botox and no longer sweats.



3. Forget the chums you came with, WiFi codes are your new friends.

On entering any establishment in Austin, as a tourist who doesn’t want to bleed money for roaming costs, etiquette is to immediately pull out your smartphone and enquire as to the passcode for the free WiFi. The next ten minutes should then be spent updating all social media outlets, including the scheduling of Instagrams and Vines from the past WiFi-less hour. Wouldn’t it just be the worst kind of nightmare if Snapchat didn’t know you were in a Bikini Bar on 6th?!

4. The two dollar bill, it’s the simple things.

There is such thing as a $2 bill. I KNOW RIGHT?! Just like we used to have £1 notes, the Americans too have a banknote they have decided they have no use for. Still legal tender, but slowly being removed from circulation makes it an amazing find! We were extremely happy to be gifted one by one particularly over friendly Texan (read: Illuminati conspiracist…but who’s judging).

Two dollar bill SXSW

5. Gay bars are a great way of meeting gay people.

On our second night in Austin, we ended up at The Iron Bear (miss the reference at your own peril) and met two great human beings. This pair then cropped up regularly throughout the rest of our trip, making it better with every resurfacing.

So it turns out that gay bars are the perfect way of meeting great gay people. Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of this before?!

6. Southern hospitality, listen up Britain.

English courtesy and minding our Ps and Qs (WHAT ARE Ps AND Qs?) ‘aint got nothing on some good ol’ Southern hospitality.

Short of offering me their older sister as welcoming gift – they offered me everything I could have possibly wanted, including hundreds of dollars worth of fireball shorts. Being British is great in America.

7. Jungle are not these guys…

Jungle SXSW 2014 XWHY

but these guys…

Jungle SXSW 2014 Image courtesy of The Digital Fix

They are also really good at the whole music thing.

8. Effortless beats try hard every time.

Despite lashings of free vodka at Hype Machine’s venue for the week – Hype Hotel – two out of the three of us were still just about compos mentis enough to discern a sharp difference between two headlining acts: BANKS and London Grammar. BANKS, much hyped (duh), was just about as sexy as she’d been billed, but was resolutely trumped by the natural beauty of LG’s Hannah Reid.

London Grammar SXSW 2014

Reid came out on stage, baggy sweatshirt, hair in a pony tail and owned it.  Both have great vocal tones, but the stripped back nature of London Grammar live is just that more impressive. I guess it’s like putting a Paul Scholes next to a Cristiano Ronaldo. Both great in their own right just I prefer Scholsy.

9. Tipping….erm, what?!

You have never seen confusion until you have watched a group of six English people trying to split a bill and work out how much they owe in tips.

10. Philly Cheesesteaks are the new kebabs.

On the 8th day, God gave us Philly Cheese Steaks…and all other food fell away into an abyss of pointlessness. On at least four occasions whilst at South By, I scraped together my loose change and accepted the kindness of strangers to buy a Philly Cheesesteak. The first time was an experiment, but then and every time thereafter it resulted in what can only be described as an explosive food-gasm. Kebabs ain’t got sh*t on these. Withdrawal symptoms in full swing.

philly cheese steak1Image credit:

11. I don’t like Drenge.

Heralded as the next best thing in rock by Politicians and NME alike, Drenge are enjoying a distinct preeminence.  However, after months of trying to like them and  seeing them live at SXSW… I have come resolutely to the conclusion that…I just don’t get it.

12. Le Youth is not French…

or English, for that matter, which was our second guess. He is, in fact, from LA. Who’da thunk.

13. The Aussies are making good music again.

It’s easy to forget that, at one point in time, the English charts were filled with Aussie talent from Imbruglia to Minogue and Savage Garden. Well, SXSW renewed our faith in Antipodean musicality. The Griswolds, Chet Faker, Peking Duk and Flume all dominated.

14. The Music Industry…Buncha drunks…In the BEST possible way.

No news here, obvs, but it bears repeating. The BA flight over from London to Austin on the Tuesday morning was so full of musicians, A&Rs and record label reps that it might as well have been a tour bus. They’d drunk the plane dry by the fourth hour into the nine hour flight across the Atlantic. Rock’n’Roll Lives on.

SXSW 2014


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