SXSW is Dead.

In Beats + Bytes by Nue Agency

That’s what Nas’ manager, Anthony Saleh, told me late last week as I packing my bag for a weekend in Austin. Even though this sentiment was coming from the team behind the hit song, “Hip Hop Is Dead,” his comment rocked me a bit. Was SXSW “over” as so many people have recently declared?

Nah. Here’s the truth: SXSW isn’t what it used to be, but it still matters.

I write this to you from the plane home to NYC, a shell of my former self. I’ve spent the last 72 hours in back to back meetings, events, panels, and parties. I am exhausted but eager to get back to work and apply everything that has inspired me over the past several days.

One of my favorite highlights was the Sound Ventures event, led by legendary talent manager Guy Oseary, which featured a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session with guest panelists Matthew McConaughey, Gary V., Ashton Kutcher, Marc Benioff (CEO of SalesForce), and Melody McCloskey (CEO of StyleSeat). The five collectively invested $400K (!!!) in the education startup LearnLux.

The subsequent party brought together leaders from tech, music, and entertainment—a real SXSW moment in the making. Snoop Dogg warmed up the crowd as our designated DJ. Elon Musk, fresh off his mainstage keynote, showed up and stayed late to mingle with the crowd. Ashton Kutcher even held a private “jam session,” sponsored by Audi, that ran past 4 a.m.

For all of the commentary around SXSW becoming a boondoggle of brand-sponsored parties and self-aggrandizing thought leadership, I found hope in the content dedicated to blockchain and the major challenges facing technology today. The future may be uncertain, but at least we’re facing it head-on.

SXSW is more commercial than ever, but that didn’t stop attendees from showing up to challenge each other on their viewpoints and forge new bonds in the process. With important questions still looming—Can we fix social media? Can blockchain bring true disintermediation into the world?—I leave Austin with a refreshed perspective to accompany my staggering sleep-deprivation.

Until next time SXSW,
– Jesse K

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Also published on Medium.