SXSW: Covering Panels on Data Art and Privacy

ACCENT Reporter Marisela Perez Maita shares her experience on the two panels that talked about the same topic but from very different perspectives.

by Marisela Perez Maita

Every year in Austin, Texas, the popular festival, South by Southwest,  brings a stream of creativity and transformation to the city. Commonly shortened to SXSW, the multi-day festival hosts an array of conferences on different topics and issues, ranging from film and music to education and technology. In March of 2023, two SXSW conferences on art and civil engagement discussed the current role of data handling–one showing its artistic versatility and the other its legal implications on civil rights.

First panel: Data Art: Processes and Perspectives 

Artists Jane Adams, Laurie Frick and Sara Miller shared their perspectives and approaches to “data art.” Ranging from different disciplines –Computer Science, Fine Arts and Data Visualization Design–their artwork explores the versatility of modern art and the beauty of mathematical patterns. All three data artists show how the visual representation of quantitative information is another way to illustrate our state as users and consumers. By unifying concepts of art and science, they emphasize the mathematical and computer processes that surround us.

From left to right: Jane Adams, Laurie Frick and Sarah Kay Miller. Photo taken by Marisela Perez Maita in Austin Texas on Saturday, March 11 th, 2023.

According to freelance artist Laurie Frick, reality and identity can be seen in the rhythms and sequences of users’ data. She shows how these sequences tend to repeat organically and constantly,  “There’s something about actions or behavior, what individual people do, that has [a] symphony to it.” Frick said at SXSW. The patterns and repetitions she finds guide her artistic path of intentional visualization, “With my work, I try to make data feel ambient.” Frick said, meaning to transform abstract information into an understandable expression of human experience and interactions. “I try to look at it [data art] a little more poetic[ally] and try to find something that’s true and will be true for a while.”

Laurie Frick’s slide presentation. Photo taken by Marisela Perez Maita in Austin Texas on Saturday, March 11 th, 2023.

The second speaker, Sarah Miller, says data art is a wide and inclusive spectrum that ranges from AI to hand-crafted sculptural installations. Miller encourages artists to directly use data as inspiration to create something greater or different, or rather as she does, to visualize hard data through art. As a data visualization designer, she has worked with clients such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Chicago, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Sarah Miller’s slide presentation. Photo taken by Marisela Perez Maita in Austin Texas on Saturday, March 11 th, 2023.

Conversely, the third speaker Jane Adams has an interesting mix of both science and design. She is a doctoral student in Computer Science at Northeastern University and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Emergent Media from Champlain College. She described the discipline as treating data like a medium instead of a subject, pointing out the interesting parallel between data art and data science as involving inquiring processes with different motives, “If you are coming from science, there is faith that your data will still be beautiful, and if it does, it might strengthen it, and your methods can come across more clearly when you take art into account,” Adams said.

Jane Adams’ slide presentation. Photo taken by Marisela Perez Maita in Austin Texas on Saturday, March 11 th, 2023.
Their work

For Frick, being a data artist implies thorough and extensive research. At SXSW she spoke about a commission she did for the Houston Federal Reserve, one of the three branches of money distribution of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Frick was completely mesmerized by the quantity of cash in the bank, “It was like a fortress with billions of dollars in cash inside it” Frick said. 

All of her projects start with that: a first glimpse at the information that surrounds her, which soon becomes an inquiring, looking, and researching—or what she calls the hunting process, “Once you’ve got a project, you go home and sit from your computer and you start hunting. Where does the cash go? How often does it transit to people’s hands? What is the history of money?” Frick said. 

During her research, Frick found ​​a government survey done by the U.S. Department of Labor trying to understand how people are actually spending money. It was a detailed dataset from the responses of around 6,000 people and their spending on food, clothes, insurance, medical costs and more. As she examined all this information and compared the responses, like someone making $250,000 to another making $10,000, she realized that the answer to her question: “Where does the cash go? ” was determined by income and inequality—she said that this pattern is the one she needed to follow and visualize.

Frick’s artwork is composed of 60 glass squares of different colors and sizes. The color represents a category–housing, transportation, personal care–and the size is the amount of money spent on it. The squares aligned next to each other offer a personalized view of someone’s reality, a crude and transparent representation of their necessities, limitations and behavior.  

“Where does the cash go” (2020) By Laurie Frick.

Moreover, Sarah Miller discussed one of her projects called “The Digital in Architecture,” a report produced by SPACE10, IKEA’s research and design lab. Following an extensive research paper about the history of architecture and the digital tools that are used in architecture, the project explores how those tools affect what gets built and what those creations look like, “It was this really comprehensive paper and we decided to collect data so that we put together our own database of famous buildings and particularly buildings that were mentioned in the two-dimensional paper” Miller said. 

“The Digital in Architecture” (2019) by Sarah Kay Miller.

Before coming up with a design, Miller and the group of researchers and designers collected information about different aspects of buildings. Answering questions like, “How wide is the building? What’s the purpose? Is it a home? A museum?” Miller said, “We collected all this information and put it into a Google Sheet. And then after that, we came up with kind of sketches and ideas for like how to visualize this.” 

The result was a printed tabloid-sized report that maps 160 building projects and their different designs, technology, sustainability and materials. The report follows the principle of data humanism, which aims for data visualization that connects people with numbers. In Miller’s works, the graphic patterns allow readers to closely examine the micro-illustration of each building while they contextualize them in the historical timeline. 

Lastly, Jane Adams talked about her most recent work —a sculpture of a Latent Walk video captured by an Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL) model she trained. IRL is a technology that, in Adam’s case, is used to extract stock images from aerial drone photographs. From this, Adams scripted down over 17,000 images, printing them in transparent films and layering them one upon another. However,  Adams soon decided to add a new element to the piece, “What you’ll see coiled around the bottom is actually something that I added after based on joyful discussions that I’ve been having with people about training data and ethics,” the artist said, “I was wondering what it would look like to actually credit every single photographer who had contributed art to the training data. So that’s actually a 120-foot roll of all of the credits for all of the training data that was in the model.” 

Among the three artists, Adams’s work is the most related to robotics and computer science. She focuses on interactive mixed-media installations, aquaponic sculptures, and GAN art, exploring the ​​evolving relationship between art and science.

Sculpture title “Latent Walk Prims.” (2023)  by @artistjaneadams instagram

As shown by the panelists, data art is as broad and diverse as the artists want it to be. Their work can’t be compared to the work of statisticians and analysts, and yet data artists allow a communicative path between us and the digital and quantitative world we have created. 

Second panel. It’s Time to Stop Denying Privacy as a Civil Right 

From artistic visualizations and subjective interpretations, the civil engagement panel flipped the conversation on data 180-degrees at a different panel in the Hilton Hotel. Speakers Christopher Wood, Nicol Turner-Lee, Koustubh “K.J.” Bagch and Amy Hinojosa explored the exhaustive spectrum of data surveillance and its abuse of user privacy. Without being aware of why, when, nor how often it happens, users’ information gets collected and sold to a hidden market composed of third-party apps, big companies and the government. In addition to exposing this hard-to-perceive network, the speakers emphasized the importance of affording data privacy as a civil right.

The discussion was led by entrepreneur Christopher Wood, the executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech, a national organization that works at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and technology. According to Wood–who has 15 years of experience advocating for the LGBTQ+ community– data surveillance is especially dangerous for populations who have been historically marginalized. LGBT Tech’s mission is to ensure LGBT communities are addressed in public policy conversations. To start the panel, Wood asked the panelists what data privacy concerns they had and how they addressed them in their work. 

From left to right, Christopher Woods, Nicole Turner-Lee, Koustubh “K.J.” Bagch, and Amy Hinojosa

For Hinojosa, people should have a say on their own health care decision and who has access to it—but data collecting and sharing have grown unbridled. The unclear ownership opens a door to unregulated access to personal healthcare information, “Be it women, trans kind, people of color, anyone who these legislators think are making healthcare decisions that are against their version of morality, are vulnerable to be targeted and persecuted for it.” Hinojosa said. 

Amy Hinojosa, the president of the oldest and largest Latina membership organization in the United States, the Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA),  explained that her 16 years working in the organization on behalf of women has made her overly concerned about the weaponization of women’s healthcare data, especially the one of reproductive care. She brought up the Dobbs vs. Jackson Supreme Court decision and its detrimental effect on abortion access and healthcare privacy, “If you are using a period app or tracking your ovulation because you’re trying to get pregnant, this is now information that’s being tracked and in many cases shared, and there’s nothing to protect you.” 

Moreover, Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi is the Chamber of Progress of New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI). Based in Washington, New America is a center-left association that focuses on public policy issues related to national security, gender, economy, technology and more. Working with 28 industry partners—such as Amazon, Crypto and FinTech—OTI operates at the intersection of policy and technology to bring reforms that foster open and secure communication networks. Bagchi has worked over 10 years on issues that impact marginalized communities, from working for a Washington D.C. council member on consumer protection to now chairing tech policy initiatives between OTI and partner companies. 

As a policy institution, New America gets involved with any local-level issue, and aims to resonate with the lawmakers of the whole country. “The common theme of all these roles [within the organization] is how do we actually empower individuals to know what their rights are when it comes to this variety of issues? And also what policies should we be advocating for to make sure that folks are actually adequately protected?” Bagchi said. The conversation of privacy is usually centered on the bigger companies—Google, Amazon, Apple—when actually, the government is a crucial agent in the cycle as well, Baghci added, “There is not enough conversation around the fact that our government has found a way to collect data from consumers and users all across the country, without using the sort of traditional legal protections that we’re used to.”

The law allows “probable cause” to protect individuals against unwarranted intrusions into their private lives—but jurisdictions get blurrier in the online space. According to Baghi, the government slips away from legal repercussions by making deals with entities known as data brokers—businesses that collect information both from public and private views. Information can be aggregated from social media profiles or companies’ websites, or agreements with third-party apps. Data brokers make deals with developers to include a software development kit that, once the user downloads the app, allows the data broker to collect anonymous location data, “What’s been happening is that they [data brokers] have been selling that data to the government. To law enforcement entities all across the nation on a commercial basis,” Baghi said at the panel. 

He then referenced an incident with The Department of Homeland Security surveilling Muslim users through praying apps in 2020, “There were three separate apps that were essentially helping users identify mosques in their area or to identify what time and direction they should pray” Bagchi said, “One of these apps had over 10,000 downloads, and this information was sold to agencies that have historically surveilled Muslim communities.” The case was revealed through investigations by the non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation and shared by newspapers like The Guardian and Los Angeles Times.

Likewise, Baghis’ points illustrate the fortified surveillance that Nicole Turner-Lee asserted in the conference, “We’ve emboldened a system of technological surveillance that lends itself to discriminatory, racist, homophobic and gender violence, and it’s done in a way that it’s so opaque that we don’t even know what’s happening to us.” 

Turner-Lee is the director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, where she focuses on legislative and regulatory policies targeting high-tech industries and telecommunications. She explained the implications of the normalized “trade-off”—people accepting cookies, terms and conditions, or giving their driver’s license picture without knowing that consent can lead to discriminatory outputs.

Privacy policies are not comprehensible, so it makes it even harder for consumers and users to understand what they’re signing up for; Turner-Lee said, “Most privacy policies are written for lawyers, not for basic individuals who are navigating quickly through stuff.” 

The speakers described how technology appears to be based on an incompressible trade-off economy where users can’t say what, how much, and how often information is collected about them; but it’s either accepting the whole deal or not accessing the online space where everyone lives, so users click yes by default. 

“The challenge is when you are marginalized and the extent to which that data, either too little of it or too much, also plays a role in sort of demonizing and weaponizing it against you,” Turner-Lee said. She brought up the case of three misidentified African-American men who were accused of crimes they did not commit after the police used facial recognition software. This technology has shown significant flaws with Black and Asian faces, and yet law enforcement keeps relying on it on a regular basis. Hence, as Turner-Lee points out, the concerning implications of minorities consenting to provide personal data–be it pictures or information–under a system of inequality that already targets them.

The conversation on government surveillance and legislation’s lack of clarity in the growing digital domain could only lead to a discussion over civil rights. As Woods said, “It becomes a civil right issue where we’re not counted, we’re not included, we’re not at the table and therefore it’s really easy to say that we don’t exist, but yet we’re the ones suffering on both sides of that coin and that data.” 

States such as California, Vermont, Colorado and Oregon have taken the initiative in passing privacy bills that regulate data brokers. Yet, Turned-Leed explained, that state variation policies lead to a different kind of complexity. As states start developing and designing privacy laws, they set the bar. Action that resonates with preemption, of whether or not the government should actually permit and abide by state rule. 

Moreover, Turner-Lee points out the possibility of privacy laws reflecting a lot of the sentiment against critical race theory and the state’s transgender community, reemphasizing Hinojosa’s concern about legislators’ morality on top of people’s rights. Turner-Lee stressed the necessity of a federal mandate that guides the conversation and emboldens civil protection in the digital space as well, “We’ve seen brokers and other algorithms skirt on the edges where they’re violating civil rights law without any type of recourse or reprimand,” Turner-Lee said.  

The work of the SXSW panelists Woods, Hinojosa, Baghi and Turner-Lee aims to educate communities, organizations and consumers to better understand what they’re giving up when they click cookies, and encourage them to start advocating for their rights and demand comprehensive policies. 

“We do need regulation,”  Turner-Lee said. “I think what we found with regulation at least inspires companies to not just think about their reputational appearance, but to do things that are in much more better compliance for consumers–and that’s something I think as I look at it as a former advocate, still an advocate on the research side, without regulation, it’s hard to enforce anything.” 

Update: In July Governor Abbott signed the Texas Data Privacy and Security Act (TDPSA) that regulates data brokers operating in the state, becoming the 10th state– and 5th in 2023– to pass a comprehensive privacy law. The act will be effective in July 2024.

SXSW: Innovation Awards Finalist Showcase, Unwrapped

Many projects and discussions have taken place at SXSW Festival 2023. Among them, ACCENT Reporter Marisela Perez Maita was able to cover the uprising innovation showcase that offered a glimpse into the transformative state of our future.

by Marisela Perez Maita

On March 11, 2023, 55 finalists across 14 categories presented their innovative projects at the JW Marriott Downtown conference rooms. These categories included health, design, tech, audio and AI. Here are five of the numerous stands that were present:


The Musichealth stand – Photos by Claudia Hinojos

Musichealth is an AI that uses music therapy to help patients with dementia and their caregivers. The software —called Vera— creates a playlist that brings nostalgia and reminiscence of the patient’s past to their present. Once the patient starts listening to a song they enjoy and remember, their mood and behaviors change, relaxing the patient’s body and mind and making it much easier for caregivers to carry them through different activities. Combining neuroscience, technology and music, Musichealth helps dementia patients reconnect with emotions and caring memories


The Edubank stand – Photos by Claudia Hinojos

Founded in Brazil, Edubank is a bank that provides credits to schools in Latin America. The founder, Daniel Costa, started this project after realizing how the lack of financial support retains Brazilian schools for improvement. Traditional banks don’t like to give credit nor provide access to capital for education because “It’s too complicated” according to Costa. For this reason, institutions have a hard time finding resources to improve their facilities and quality of education. Edubank has helped over 400 schools in Brazilian states. They hope to reach 1 million students by 2026. 


How a profile looks like in Chptr – Photos courtesy of Claudia Hinojos

Chptr is an app for those who want to remember relatives and friends who have passed away. The way it works is very simple. People join a “profile” which is the space created for that person, and anyone invited to that profile can add a memory or a moment. A memory is either a video or audio where the user expresses their emotions or thoughts. A moment are pictures, videos, conversations or any media that shows how that person was for those who loved them. Chptr embraces memory, grief and love through the timeless space of technology.

The app is completely free and can be downloaded from the App Store or Play Store. 


Reporter Marisela Perez Maita testing Neuralight technology; The Neuralight stand and demonstration data – Photos courtesy of Claudia Hinojo

Neuralight is an AI that, by capturing oculometric movements, diagnoses neuronal disorders, measures sickness progression, and allows doctors to find the best treatment for the patient. Neuralight presenters pointed out that neurological disorders are usually diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease, nd many of them share similar symptoms, so the risk of being misdiagnosed is high. Some of the most common are Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease (HD), and Major Depressive Disorder (MD). Neuralight’s technology uses oculometric data to diagnose and predict these disorders accurately. Following a dot on a screen, gives information such as reaction time and many other complex neurological data that are useful for medical diagnosis. 


The Shrimpbox stand – Photos courtesy of Claudia Hinojos

The company Atarraya presented Shrimpbox the first AI-powered aquaculture farm designed to allow the production of shrimp sustainably. Traditional shrimp production pollutes oceans, destroys habitats, and contributes to overfishing. For this reason, Atarraya built the technology to cultivate shrimps in a “box” that replicates the breeding environment of the shrimps, be it in urban, hot or cold areas. The box can be built anywhere in the world, making it a sustainable farm that significantly decreases the environmental impact. 

From the presented stands, Neuralight won in the category of Health and MedTech. The Finalists Showcase emboldens the importance of festivals like South by South West, where people with brilliant ideas get the opportunity to showcase their passions and innovations to others and inspire more ideas to come.

SXSW: Katharine Manning on Trauma-Informed Workplaces

Mental safety, as is dealing with trauma, is vital to creating a healthy workplace. Katharine Manning guides these topics for employees in the workforce.

by Foster Milburn

As students, we often question what to expect once we enter the workforce, particularly internships. The classes we take in undergrad help us contextualize topics in which we major, but extracurriculars can only prepare us so much for the workforce once we enter it. How can we know what we value in a workplace when we don’t know what it means to be part of a corporate environment?

You have probably seen some of her books regarding empathy in the workplace. She is an advocate for unheard voices, including those affected by the Pulse nightclub and South Carolina AME church shootings, and an attorney who guides the Justice Department through responding to trauma victims. She is Katharine Manning, and she is an author, professor, and attorney.

Through what she refers to as “The LASER Technique,” Manning offers a five-step process for a compassionate response to employees with trauma for managers and anyone overseeing a group of people in the workplace.

The LASER Technique as presented by Katharine Manning at SXSW

The first step is Listening, Manning advises, “don’t interrupt and don’t problem solve; just let [the employee] speak. Make room for that.” 

The second step is Acknowledge – “it is straightforward: ‘I’m sorry,’ or, ‘that sounds difficult.’ It lets [the employee] know you heard them, and they are likely to listen to what you share next,” Manning said. 

The third is Sharing information, “John F. Kennedy said in times of turbulence it is more accurate than ever that knowledge is power,” Manning said. “When we share, we get a little of that power back.”

Step four is Empower. This step is about recognizing that the person in trauma has their own journey to walk. She advises, “you must set boundaries for yourself, but within that, you can give [the employee] tools to take with them on that journey.” 

For example, if the company offers mental health resources, share those with the cohort. Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.

Step five – Return. By setting boundaries, you’re caring for your mental health while helping the individual facing trauma. It would help if you watched for yourself, and Manning’s advice for that is investing in self-care. “I do a little bit of yoga and meditation every morning. Just do something every day that gives back to yourself,” she said. 

Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.

This is how we respond, but next is making sure that the people that come to us in the first place are encouraged to do so. “People underestimate how valuable it is to check in on the people in our lives,” Manning said.

From highlighting common incidents such as workplace violence and employee safety, to recognizing needs and developing resources such as miscarriage leave, gender-affirming medical care, or domestic violence, sharing resources is vital. “Do you have these policies within your organization? If not, think about that,” Manning said.

This is the second pillar of trauma-informed workplaces. Manning advises, “make sure you’re getting input from those affected – don’t create a phenomenal gender-affirming care policy without first talking to transgender individuals.” The dormant items will not do anyone any good if they’re sitting on a shelf with no one discussing them.Her book, “The Empathetic Workplace,” describes other pillars in responding to trauma and distress amongst our coworkers and supervisors. Next month, she is launching a course diving deeper into making workplaces more empathetic, thus creating a healthier work environment for all employees. You can check out the website for more details.

SXSW Film Review: Family

Written by Tracy Fuller

SXSW is one of the premier spots to showcase a new film coming to the big screen in North America. With this year’s festival having a record number of films premiering, there was a considerable buzz generating around Laura Steinel’s Family.

Family is a comedy-drama that focuses on a young teenager, Maddie (Byrn Vale) looking for acceptance and love – a borrowed concept from the timeless John Candy classic Uncle Buck. Kate (Taylor Schilling) is asked to take care of Maddie while her parents go out of town to care for a family member. Kate is by no means fit to watch over anyone’s child, much less herself.

Because Kate is so self-absorbed and unfiltered in every minute of her day, she does not have the first idea of how to relate to Maddie. When she does begin to listen to stories of being harassed at school, Kate can connect to it from her childhood. It is at that point the walls she has built around herself slowly begin to chip away. What was supposed to be one night watching Maddie becomes a full week. This takes Kate entirely out of her comfort zone at work, causing her to start neglecting details.

At work, Kate is known to be cutthroat, but now that she is distracted trying to care for Maddie, it begins to backfire. The more she leans towards the nurturing side, the more Kate’s calloused exterior starts to soften.

In the middle of Kate’s failed efforts, Maddie ends up going missing and finds her identity within the Juggalo family. During the search for Maddie, Kate learns that she has made her way to the Gathering of the Juggalos. The Gathering is a music festival which has gained some notoriety and continues to be a topic of discussion in today’s pop culture.

The series of events proposes a moral decision of what is more important to Kate: working on her career or building a relationship with Maddie. By the end of the movie, you will find yourself in the feels. This production was brilliantly put together and structured. It made me quite happy to see Steinel portray Juggalos at their core, which compliments the storyline so well as finding love and acceptance in each other.

One of the things I adore about this film is how that very same love and acceptance from the Juggalos is captured in this comedy gold classic. This movie captures the essence of family, not only by blood but also by bonds. I left the theater thankful for my friends. Furthermore, it was an incredible experience hanging out with Laura Steinel and the rest of the cast. I look forward to seeing this one again.

SXSW Film Review: Blockers

Written by Tracy Fuller

A New Spin On An Adult-Teen Raunchy Comedy

Blockers is an adult raunchy comedy that revolves around three high school girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Little do they know, their parents come together to ruin their plans.

Blockers is the directing debut for Kay Cannon. Cannon pushes the strengths of its cast while capturing the different dynamics in the 3 (sets) of parents and their conflicts.

Single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) is having denial issues with the imminent departure of her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton) for college. Mitchell (John Cena) is a buff dad but holds some strong feminine qualities mixed with small doses of testosterone. He tries to have a bonding relationship with daughter Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) as if she was his son but wears a dress. Divorcee dad Hunter (Gideon Adlon) who has not been around since the marriage dissolved. He now recognizes the value of his relationship with daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon) and tries to salvage it by making sure her prom night is a memorable one.

After the girls leave for prom, the parents stumble upon a confusing bit of emojis that they ultimately discover as the sex pact. All the parents set out to track them down and stop them from consummating the night.

What ensues as a crazy chase all over town cause a few disastrous events to occur. In the midst of all these events, the trio of parents finds a way to work through their dilemmas. Coincidently, as are the three girls.

Blockers is more on the rated R side of comedy. The film also balances teen humor with adult humor. I mean imagine parading through a hough naked and blindfolded chasing your partner down by their own “musk.”

The movie portrays what a typical environment is for today’s teen. They set out to have a great time. In doing so the insecurities of the parents is brought to light, something many parents today can relate. Even with the teen sex comedy, it highlights, in the end, some rethought decisions that lead to a better scenario for everyone.

This movie has the laughs, love, and appeal that make you think of American Pie or any John Hughes film.

While the talented and well-known talent casts the roles of the parents, the teens are the heart of the movie. These up and coming actresses sell their respective parts flawlessly.

The real predicament is whether the parents and the girls can make peace with the fact that everybody has to grow up. In the end, this movie has a bit of everything to keep you entertained. I was glad to see Cena’s acting get stretched. Also noting, Leslie Mann, who probably gives one of her best performances. I would see this movie again for sure.

SXSW Film Review: Ready Player One

Written by Tracy Fuller

Spielberg Captures The Heart of Life in Ready Player One

Ready Player One, the novel by Ernest Cline, on screen is a brilliant merger of the mind of Steven Spielberg and the adoption of the screenplay. Here is a film that any pop culture fanboy will cherish. With it premiering at this past year’s SXSW Film Festival, the anticipation was quite high.

“I didn’t make this movie just for gamers, I made this for everybody,” says Steven Spielberg.

The film is set in a dystopian trailer park, year 20145, in the city of Columbus. Within the trailer park stacks, characters like Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a real-life nobody, resides. In the virtual reality world, the Oasis, Watts finds himself to be more than a nobody.

The Oasis is the primary way of life in the future, providing entertainment, fantasies, ambitions, and ways to achieve a certain financial status. The Oasis is a world where gaming is life. Watts bares some remarkable friendships with some of the gaming elite in the alternative VR world. He spends most of his time living strapped into his VR headset, immersed in the Oasis.

In the Oasis, Watts is surrounded by pop culture references that have become a way of life. These references stem from game creator, the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Following his passing, it is announced that Halliday built one final game in the Oasis known as Anorak’s Quest. The mission calls for players to find three keys through a set of smaller objectives. Upon finding all three of Halliday’s keys, they will be granted the celebrated Easter Egg. This egg will give them full power and ownership of the Oasis and its assets in both worlds.

Watts becomes the first person to receive one of the coveted keys. In doing so, he draws the attention of legendary gamer, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). He also becomes a mark for the Innovative Online Industries CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

The combination of Steven Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and the team at Industrial Light & Magic, knock this one out of the park. Capturing the VR setting and its potential to the big screen is not an easy task. The Oasis is phenomenal; every landscape that you encounter in this film is full of pop culture references.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this film, is not the incredible visual appeal and abundant references, but also the heart that Spielberg captures in this film. The message ultimately conveys that no matter how hard you try to design an artificial life, you should not lose sight of what the real world has to offer.

Spielberg does capture Halliday’s character showing the struggle of following your heart and chasing your ambitions. Not to mention the fellowship and bonds you acquire in life. There is so much emotional overtone mixed into the story that you end up leaving the theater feeling better about life.

Q&A with Sego

Written and Photo by Nathaniel Torres

Sego, a Utah born and LA transplant band, was featured on NPR’s “The Austin 100″ and played their second official SXSW showcase this year.  The band was founded by members Spencer Peterson and Thomas Carroll and has since expanded to include Alyssa Davey (bass) and Brandon McBride (synth and guitar).  The band captures their audience by enveloping them in a groovy mirage. A sound I compare to a short-lived age of 90’s pop. A sort of mix between The Verve and Blur. Despite the older references, Sego stands on their own today while their crowds sing and dance to their tunes. If you needed any more convincing to take a listen just know the band’s cover of “Young Turks” was approved by Sir Rod Stewart himself.

How many SXSW have you attended/played?
Spencer: Second [as Sego]. We were here three years ago right after we started. Alyssa [bassist], this is her first time. She’s just getting acclimated to the noise.

Had you heard or known about SXSW before coming out?
Spencer: I’ve been here a bunch.  I was coming with different bands for years.  I’ve been to SXSW like 6 times maybe and it just continues to change every time I’m here.
Alyssa: I had always heard about SXSW. My dad actually was always pushing this other band I was in to go to SXSW. He was all about it.

Was it difficult getting an official showcase?
Spencer: It’s been relatively easy for us, in the past though. It’s interesting because you get one show and you are coming all this way for one show, but then within the month you end up picking up ten different showcases. As all these bands descend upon Austin there’s all this sifting and settling of the load. I feel like it’s hard because you have to put in some time, but once you’re kind of like in there, it really kind of pays off. You can find shows if you really push for it, even if you are not official. I’ve done SXSW [with different bands] three years in a row – not being official – and we played awesome huge shows. It was great.

How was your travel out here?
Spencer: We are trying to make a loop of it. A lot of out-of-state bands will try to make a route into and out of SXSW; which makes it tough touring in and out of SXSW because all of a sudden it means every band is routed on the same timeline and the same place.
Alyssa: I found that with a friend of mine; their band played here. They did the same thing and made a tour out of it. You’re already going out there so do some shows on the way and do some shows on the way back.
Spencer: It kind of creates a weird road culture where all these little towns that normally don’t get big bands are overwhelmed. All these bands need a place to play. Places most people haven’t heard of get decent shows leading up and coming away from SXSW. This place moves like a small little economy outside of Austin just because of so much cross traffic.

What are your feelings on the atmosphere? Were you well received?

Alyssa: The people here are into music because clearly they’re at a music festival but in a different way. It’s an appreciation. Here it’s a little different because you’re seeing so many bands that you don’t know that you’ve never heard of, so it’s like new ears every time.
Spencer: Yeah the whole attitude is different. It’s still cool.

Badges are quite expensive and the word is that artists do not really make a profit.  What are your feelings on this?
Spencer: I think everybody treats it like a loss. I knew one band that actually made money on a show…and it blew my mind. We pay out just to get here, just get the opportunity. Personally, I go into it assuming that it’s just a wash. You can offset the loss a little bit by booking some shows in and out and making it more purposeful.

Does the festival open doors? What are the benefits of getting out here?
Spencer: Yeah and close some. Most people here are here with a purpose and have some industry clout. We had a crappy show and it turned cool people off on us. They were at that show and they were actually kind of high rollers. So, we learned the hard way you should never mail in a show, ever…especially at SXSW because you never know who’s out in the audience. It’s not like a random tour stop. Whether [it’s a] label or PR people, I feel like every time I’m out here I meet people I forge friendships with and relationships with.

What were some other things you got into while you were here?
Alyssa: Barbecue!
Spencer: I feel like I got to get some barbecue while we’re in town.

Will you be doing SXSW again or coming back our way sometime soon?
Alyssa: I hope.
Spencer: We have nothing in the books as of right now but I feel we come out here about every once a year, year and ha alf. So yeah, we’ll be back soon.

Sego is well on their way making the tour back home where the brisket is lacking. They are making sure to stop in their origin city of Provo, Utah where they say they always receive the warmest welcome. Sego’s music can be found on Spotify where you can also listen to their Audiotree Live set. They are also on social media if you’d like to give them a shout out. Just don’t expect it to compare to acknowledgment from Sir Stewart.

Q&A with Bad Pony

Written and photo by Nathaniel Torres

Broadening the scope internationally I spoke with Bad Pony, a five-piece from Down Under. Bad Pony has now traveled to North America twice and is the recipients of Australian Music Week’s prize of 2017.  The band is the result of Jarred and Sam’s need to break out of their previous band’s bluesy genre. Searching for their own sound, they poached a few other front men from different bands, divided the percussion responsibilities, and now showcase their individual talents as Bad Pony.  They brilliantly stitch together an array of genre sounds and tempos within their music, dropping bass and transitioning to a bluesy upbeat one song and then exposing their Aussie roots and relating it to a funky soulful chorus the next. I had the privilege to speak with the entire band which along with Jarred on vocals/percussion and Sam playing guitar/percussion also include Mark on bass, Cron on guitar and Isaac on synths/percussion.  This was the band’s first SXSW appearance.

Had you heard or known about SXSW before coming out?
Mark: Of course!
Jarred: It’s been a dream of mine just to come and see music here. When I was growing up I used to see bands who were quite low-level, then they’d come here and they’d blow up. It seems like a whole world of promise and potential.
Sam: The idea of SXSW in my head is I get to see all these bands that I’ve dreamt about seeing for so long and then walk into a random pub and stumble upon something brilliant I’ve never heard before.

How was your travel out here?
Isaac: We flew into LA. That was killer.
Mark: It’s about 24 hours, in transit, to get from home to Austin so that was two days of our lives spent super excited and anxious.
Jarred: If we could have come straight here that would have been amazing. LAX is like my idea of hell. It’s my least favorite place in the world.

What are your feelings on the atmosphere? Were you well received?
Isaac: The crowds here are just so welcoming. Just really, really up for a good time.
Jarred: Everyone has been so nice to us and looked after us.  Even the accommodation we stayed at, the dude gave us a great deal.
Sam: He just wanted Australian beer.
Jarred: He gave us three extra units in his house for a six pack of beer!

Badges are quite expensive and the word is that artists don’t really make a profit.  What are your feelings on this?
Isaac: We are just artists man. We just play. We don’t know the business side of it.
Jarred: We’re happy to be here – we didn’t have to pay a $1,000, so we’re happy.
Sam: I did.
Jarred: No, we did. We did.
Mark: Much more actually.

Does the festival open doors? What are the benefits of getting out here?
Sam: We had people see us two days ago who were just walk-ins and that’s one of the biggest benefits. They have no idea that you’re about to play and catch your set. Then, 15-minutes later they’re organizing an interview with you.

What were some other things you got into while you were here?
Sam: Everyone I worked with was like, ‘Man you’re going to Texas. It’s all about the barbecue sauce and the meat. And it was absolutely about the barbecue sauce and the meat.  It was everything I hoped it would be and I fell in love

Will you be doing SXSW again or coming back our way sometime soon?
Isaac: In a heartbeat.
Jarred: No brainer.
Isaac: As soon as possible.
Sam: All it takes is an email.

Bad Pony, who easily spent the most time and money (out of the bands interviewed) to get out here, expressed extreme gratitude for the opportunity not just to play but to see other bands performing.  They were recently picked up by Arow Agency and say they never take too much time off from touring stating that they easily become bored when not on the road. The band is high spirited on and off stage expressing there’s nothing better than getting to tour around the world with their best mates. Bad Pony’s music can be found on Spotify but make sure to check out the acoustic videos on YouTube made during their stay here in Austin. For a more in-depth interview including Mark’s SXSW reaction story and Isaac’s PSA keep a lookout for the full video interview.


Q&A with Löwin

Written by Nathaniel Torres
Photo by Sarah Vasquez

I spoke with Sara Houser (vocals) of Löwin, an Austin band that debuted SXSW in 2014.  The band regularly plays at establishments such as ABGB, Hotel Vegas and Barracuda. They feature a female vocalist who’s soothing croons accompany a unique blend of guitar melodies and hooks over a solid low end.  Löwin played seven shows this year and their members have been performing unofficial shows for the festival every year since they started calling Austin their home.

Was it difficult getting an official showcase?
Sara: I’ve played SXSW [unofficially] pretty much every year that I’ve lived in Austin, but this is the first year that any of the bands I was in actually made it as an official artist. I think [unofficial shows] are the case for a lot of Austin-based bands. From what I understand Austin-based bands are kind of last to be considered. We were lucky that we fell into a booking agency that helped usher us into SXSW as an official artist.

What are your feelings on the atmosphere? Were you well received?
Sara: All the shows we played were amazing. The crowds at SXSW are always refreshing because people are engaged and they’re moving around and dancing – not like your typical Austin crowd who have seen and done everything. People are generally out to enjoy themselves. It’s not their run-of-the-mill show.

Badges are quite expensive and the word is that artists do not really make a profit.  What are your feelings on this?
Sara: I think a lot of show-goers maybe don’t take into consideration that most of the shows that we’re playing that week are free; meaning we don’t get paid to play. We had a couple of shows that did pay us…not a lot. But all four of us had to ask off work, which for Chris and I…SXSW is a huge money-making week. We didn’t go into it hoping to make a lot of money.  We were just hoping to reach a fan base that, otherwise, wouldn’t have seen us…and that’s what’s cool about it.

Does the festival open doors? What are the benefits of getting out here?
Sara: Exposure for sure. We used it as kind of a testing ground for all of our new material that we’re going to be releasing, shortly now that SXSW is over. We connected with lots of great photographers and lots of new fans – but as far as did we have anybody walking up to us after a set waving contracts at us, no. Being an official SXSW artist is a great thing on a resume for any band. There is a level of legitimacy it brings to the table.

Even for the local veterans of SXSW there was more to learn about the festival stating that reaching out to the industry side of the festival could unlock further potential for the band.  You can catch Löwin at Barracuda March 30 and keep a lookout for that new material to be released. Until then, they have a few singles available on Spotify. Just hold down the “o” on your phone keyboard to get “ö”.

Photos of SXSW 2018

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Photos by Tracy Fuller

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