The 8 Types of People You’ll See at SXSW

The 8 Types of People You'll See at SXSWIt's that time of year again. The cold, short days of winter have come to a silent close. The sun is beginning to peek out its head; birds are beginning to chirp. You've retired your beanies and favorite hoodie in place of Chuck Taylors and some sweet graphic tees you snagged online. You're all caught up on Mashable. You've got a sudden increase of Instagram followers. It's that time of year again — time for South by Southwest.

SXSW bills itself a "Spring Break for the Creative Class," which is a decent explanation of what it used to be, in those glory years gone by. In the Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago, SXSW was a smallish conference for creatives, and a place where burgeoning bands and up-and-coming filmmakers would peddle their wares for some early exposure before going mainstream. In the golden years of SXSW, or "South-by," as the familiar call it, substance was king. If you'd done something great, you could showcase it in the sleepy, hip little city of Austin, Texas. In other words, it was a place for working creatives. But, sadly, those years have met a bitter end.

Officially kicking off on March 9th, there are already SXSW events taking place in Austin, and everyone, everyone is tweeting, preparing for, traveling to, or complaining about the festival. Having been taken over by the underemployed, pretentious, entitled fan-kid technophile that's none too focused on the value of work ethic, SXSW may have seen better days. But perhaps there is some hope to be had. Whether you're going to South-by, want to go to South-by, or aren't really sure what all the cool kid fuss is, the following typology of the SXSW attendee should orient you properly to the chaos of the month, and which kinds of people you should safely avoid.

  1. The Digital Nomad

    The Digital Nomad can be an extremely sketchy part of the SXSW population. Usually attending the Interactive days of South-by, called SXSWi, these folks bill themselves as Internet entrepreneurs or marketing directors. They have many gadgets and lots of apps. And conversations about apps. And friends that they met from said apps that they always seem to be "about to meet up with." Although shabbily disorganized, they know how to use everything, and they're not afraid to act like it. But what exactly do they do? What value are they adding to the conference? Often, it's difficult to tell. How do they make money? After a 45-minute conversation at Blog Haus, you're still not sure. And where do they live? Answer: on the Internet. Digital Nomads don't have a permanent home — they float about from conference to conference, tech event to tech event. Some seem to have a decent career, but vaguely make money out of buzz and binary code — basically, thin air. After spending time with one of these odd creatures, you may begin get the feeling that they're actually just uber-plugged-in homeless people. And you may indeed be right.

  2. The Celebrity Stalker

    The Celebrity Stalker is one of the most vapid and annoying populations at SXSW. These are the fankids, the name droppers, the people that are invading Liberty Bar tonight because they read on Twitter that one of the Wilson brothers is having a $2 PBR tall boy there. They want to get TwitPics of celebrities, and generally contribute to the truly successful (read: busy) working creative's disdain for the festival. These are the types that get tipsy off of one beer at the Perez Hilton party, where they actually have authentic fun. Note that the Celebrity Stalker has also gone niche, invading the personal space of professional bloggers and Famous Internet People (who wants to read another manic tweet about some YouTube star's new tattoo, or seeing Peter Sciretta playing skeeball with his girlfriend at the Highball?), which have become a "web celeb" culture of their own.

  3. The SXSFreegan

    The SXSFreegan is (usually) a local Austinite that scoffs at actually paying for a festival badge. They've mastered the art of hearing about the secret shows, bumping the line for Fader Fort, and they've probably got a collection of wristbands that would warm even the coldest of hipster hearts. The SXSFreegan has a liberal arts degree, no job, and can magically stay drunk, fed, and entertained for most of the month of March. If you spot a SXSFreegan with a backpack, you can safely buy weed from them — possibly also in edible form. Note that they will tell you they can get you other drugs. They can't. Additionally, it is proper to bum a cigarette from the SXSFreegan — they got six cartons for free from some party Camel was throwing on the street outside Buffalo Billiards last night. Be kind to the SXSFreegan, as you're invading their fair city, and ultimately profiting from their years of bearing the brunt of their organic navigation of the ups and downs of the festival.

  4. The Social Spammer

    The Social Spammer is SXSW's bread and butter. Masters of looking busy but not being important, they're really just overshooting the reach of their "digital sphere of influence" and playing with their gadgets again. Superstars of "networking," they're usually small-time entrepreneurs ("I'm in PR.") and big-time betas, and they reek of trying too hard. These "new media mavens" or "social media gurus" will pull out their glowing smart phone at all hours, drunkenly microblogging things like "SXSW is just all about the people!" — while "the people" are working, doing business, or simply enjoying the present, usually at a film or a concert. Sometimes disguised as the Digital Nomad, the Social Spammer goes to all the most-hyped events, but you'll hardly ever get to look them in the eye. They're too busy adding you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Path, Quora, Instagram, Yelp, FourSquare, Find My Friends, and everywhere else, while simultaneously tweeting about the importance of community building in the digital age. Avoid being alone with the Social Spammer, or you'll hear teary, booze-fueled confessions about how the picture they just posted didn't get enough "likes," and how inexplicably deeply that can hurt.
    Pro Tip: This year, there's a website where you can make money off of spotting these folks: People of SXSW.

  5. The Beautiful Loser

    Pretty and popular, these are the groupies and indie kids that flock to the music days of SXSW. They're usually employed in the service industry, they've probably done some modeling, and they can materialize a hip pair of sunglasses, ostensibly out of thin air. They used to be punk, then they went indie; and now they're sadcore, trip-hop, or prog metal. The underage quotient of the Beautiful Loser can be found listening to dubstep and talking about Die Antwoord. They have lots of friends, liked The Wire, and can party with The Strokes while barely making rent. The men wear their girlfriend's skinny jeans while pretending not to have a girlfriend, and the women have eye-covering bangs and get that they look like Zooey Deschanel "all the tiiiiime!" The Beautiful Loser may be a local, but is more likely one of the too-many-thousand visiting hipsters descending on poor Austin from L.A. Beautiful Losers can also be Social Spammers, Trustafarians, and SXSFreegans, and are likely college-aged — as SXSW has changed its schedule in recent years to eye-rollingly coincide with most college spring break weeks. If you want to romance a Beautiful Loser, make sure to tell them that they "might be better suited for ACL."

  6. The Fake Press Badger

    There are people — bloggers, critics, panelists, and the like — that come to SXSW to work. Customarily, these people write for a living, putting in long hours at offices or coworking spaces the world over. And then there are the unpaid bloggers. This subset of the population are the enthusiasts and hobbyists that make money for other sites (usually film ones) by giving away their content for free. Often, they are rewarded with press badges by the blogs for which they write — footing the bill of the rest of their South-by stay on their own. A tiny, talented, and marketable fraction of these people become professional bloggers or critics — but it takes a dogged amount of real work to become a working writer or legitimate member of the press. The Fake Press Badger doesn't understand this, and is extremely excited about the "people, energy, and access" that they believe the festival affords them. These people are a bit sad, and take the festival seriously. (A warning: These people don't get out a lot, and may not be clear on how to handle their liquor — especially in Texas. Avoid giving them "access" to any clutch parties.) Little do they know, they are years too late.

  7. The Attention Seeker

    Whether it's dressing like a centaur (it happens), diaper Sumo wrestling (also happens), or just raisin' Cain, Austin is a town ripe for spectacles and the strange. The Attention Seeker can take on many forms, but watch for glowsticks, glitter, and the garish. Attention Seekers can be found primarily on Sixth Street, as they tend to blend in with the regulars on South Congress and the East Side. They are often young, painted or decorated in some memorable way, and nearly naked. You can hear the Attention Seeker coming by means of Doppler effect. Take notice, but avoid giving the Seeker any positive attention or feedback, or you'll be encouraging copycat crashers during your 10-day stay.

  8. The Virgin

    If you've never been, or if it's your first time, take heart. With a good attitude, you can gain much by attending the festival. But that's about as kind as it's possible to be. Enjoy yourself, learn something, go with good intentions — but know that thousands upon thousands have taken over Austin before you, made the same mistakes as you, and left the same legacy as you. And the booze tastes the same, whether you pay for it or not.

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