Last I looked the economy was still in the shitter, so the theme of this year's preface is doing SXSW on the (relative) cheap.
The main misconception that I hear about SXSW – even among fellow Austinites – is that it costs a fortune to attend. Yes, it's true that if you plan on attending all three conferences (interactive, film, music) a platinum badge will set you back as much as $1595. Even for the music conference alone the walk up rate for a badge is $795. Guess what, though? You don't NEED no stinking badges.
Theoretically, the badge gets you white glove treatment throughout the festival, ushering you to the front of lines, opening up doors to exclusive parties and talk panels that you would ordinarily get shut out of… and while this is all true, in practice you can literally save hundreds of dollars if you don't mind settling for just the shows, particularly if you're there for the metal (hipster-friendly indie rock showcases are another matter entirely).
I've been going since 2001 and trust me, the vast majority of metal shows you can get into quite easily for a measly $10-15 cover. The badges are priced at a business expense write-off level, so if you're not part of the industry and just want to catch a bunch of bands within the framework of a flexible schedule, I can't emphasize enough how little need there is to pay $800 for a badge.
Now, you may have heard that in addition to the badges there are also wristbands available, though SXSW does a piss poor job of advertising this fact. Actually, if you're an out-of-towner you either have to have a local purchase one for you in advance or take your chances that they'll be available on a walk up basis once the festival begins (hint: they haven't run out in years). Wristbands are only $179 and frankly are not likely to get you into shit like the Sound City Players show or Rachael Ray's ridiculously popular Feedback party, but it's up to you whether such amenities are worth the extra $616 or not.
The wristbands are the jam if you plan on hopping around a lot, but know that the more you do so the more time you're going to end up standing in lines. More lines = fewer bands seen. You're better off finding a showcase that's deep enough you don't mind sticking it out for several hours, in which case you can see a week's worth of shows for conceivably less than the cost of a $179 wristband, depending on how many individual cover charges you rack up throughout the week (the day shows are nearly always free, though many require you to RSVP in advance).
This will be my third year sans wristband and I can honestly say I have yet to be turned away from a showcase that I was willing to pay cover for, though I always have a back up plan for when the inevitable finally happens. If there's one thing to take away from this, it's that flexibility will save you a shitload of money here. If you're flush with cash and certainty/exclusivity is worth the extra six hunny then by all means pick up the badge, but don't be fooled into thinking it's a prerequisite to getting into shows period.
Wednesday (3/13) Picks
Noon – 6 PM @ Mohawk (map)
This is hands down the only place to be during daytime hours during Day One. It's not that the alternatives are non-existent (they pretty much are) but more that Pitchfork has put together arguably the best ensemble of metal talent under one rough for the entire week: Skeletonwitch, Pallbearer, and Royal Thunder represent the heavyweights, while Trash Talk, Encrust, Pinkish Black and Mutilation Rites provide an impressive undercard.
8 PM – 1 AM @ Six Lounge (map)
No real competition here either, though in this case the lineup isn't quite as illustrious as the Show No Mercy gig. That said, Call of the Void are a pretty killer new HC/grind band signed to Relapse that should be worth checking out. A Life Once Lost: either your bag or they're not, but a pretty decent draw if you're down with the metalcore. Actually the biggest knock about this showcase is that two of the bands, Power Trip and Pinkish Black, you already caught at the Pitchfork day show. C'est la vie.
5PM – 1 AM @ The Nomad Bar (map)
5 Firestarter 82
6 Kill This
7 Obscure Oracle
10 Antique Scream
11 Mala Suerte
7PM – 11 PM [rock] & 11 PM – 2 AM [punk/metal] @ Metal & Lace Lounge (map)
11-11:40 Single Mothers
12-12:40 Massive Scar Theory
1-1:50 A Life Once Lost
2 PM – 1 AM @ Hoeks Death Metal Pizza (map)
2 PM Descend to Ashes
3 PM Psychothermia
4 PM Uglytwin
5 PM Seize the Prophet
6 PM 2×4
7 PM VYGR
8 PM Southern Front
9 PM Critical Assembly
10 PM King Conquer
11 PM HeadCrusher
12 AM Vattnet Viskar