As you might imagine, the scene in Austin during South by Southwest (SXSW) is something surreal: food trucks, fringed booty shorts, long, unwashed hair, tattoos and colorful wristbands create an unforgettable rush of youthful energy on the streets of an otherwise casual city.
Looking down on the sidewalks of Sixth Street – Austin’s Bourbon Street equivalent – through the mess of empty plastic cups and discarded lanyards, one might notice a rather ubiquitous symbol: the Chuck Taylor All-Star. The iconic silhouette, for all its history, was practically designed for festivities like SXSW; for sleepless nights tramping through dirty crowds; for spilled drinks; for stamping on guitar pedals; for painting wall-wide murals. Celebrating this, Converse marched southward to set up camp during the festival activities, putting on a holistic, 360º demonstration for its diverse fan base.
Naturally, the chief of Converse’s concerns in Austin was music. Officials from the brand are the first to admit that musicians have donned their emblematic sneakers for virtually as long as they’ve existed themselves. This is the chief concern of the Rubber Tracks initiative – a free, no-strings attached world-class studio for burgeoning acts to record, produce, and master their work. After establishing the first studio in Brooklyn, New York, Converse again planted a pop-up in Austin for SXSW, offering each chosen artist a full day in the studio for the duration of the festival. Of particular note, neither Converse nor its partner Indaba own the rights to the music produced in the studio.
Speaking frankly, the whole Rubber Tracks initiative speaks volumes on behalf of Converse, especially in Austin at that particular time, when the rhetoric surrounding SXSW carries grumblings of mindless corporate impressions. Really, it was more impressive than anything.
Just down the backstreet from that artist’s oasis was the home base, or should we say the ‘Fort’. The storied FADER Fort, arranged in conjunct with The FADER magazine, is a block-encompassing stronghold of bands, free workshops, and, of course, copious amounts of refreshments. Within this mini-village, Converse offered some visitors the opportunity to customize their sneakers with none other than legendary artist Futura, a key face in the “Made By You” campaign that recently rolled out. Press members were invited to meet Futura at a special dinner the night prior, which featured a gracious spread from local barbecue favorite Salt Lick, as well as a detailed look at the campaign.
For music lovers, one of the greatest parts about SXSW is surely the diverse bevy of acts that flock to Austin. Many of them, it seems, were headed to The FADER Fort. I got handed a mixtape and a band patch within minutes of entering the VIP section; your choice of thrash-rock, vibe-y electronic music, and bass-blasting hip-hop was performed throughout the days. Mike WiLL Made It’s set was microcosmic of this genre-mashing, as the Atlanta mega-producer brought out Two9, Rae Sremmurd, Future – for whom half of the crowd lost it – and Miley Cyrus, for whom the other half lost composure.
Blocks seem like worlds away under the oppressive Austin sun, and traveling to the Death Match – Converse and Thrasher Magazine’s annual skate jam – one couldn’t help but feel transported to a different dimension. In more colloquial terms, Death Match is the 30 rack to FADER Fort’s iced-down vodka; a rambunctious, jagged hoedown of very rad bands and pure skateboarding stoke. Professionals like Eli Reed, Jason Jessee and Kenny Anderson were around to shred and mingle with the local talent, who virtually put on a demo themselves with Texas-sized airs and lengthy grinds. In the background, bands like Natural Child and Wavves rocked psychedelic jams, sharing a bill with Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, and even E-40. Again, all this was free to the public and all ages – as it should be.
Check out the sights from the photo set above and look out for more festivities from SXSW next year.