SXSW 2011: Smartest Race Thinkers, Best Bands, Tweets to Watch

Whether you're headed out to Austin or keep track on Twitter, we've rounded up the musicians and techies to keep an eye on.

By Jamilah King, Jorge Rivas Mar 10, 2011

The massive South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) kicks off Friday, and we’re bringing you highlights of the event and ways that you can keep up with the conference even if you’re not there.

Although SXSW is most often associated with music, the conference is actually composed of three different tracks: music, film and interactive–which focuses on the Internet and emerging technology. New ideas and new understandings about the dynamics of race, tech and culture often bubble up out of SXSW. Last year, for instance, Baratunde Thurston, director of digital for The Onion, was one the first people to call attention to the dominance of black culture on twitter, both in the number of black folks tweeting and the amount of trending topics initiated in black circles. Several think thanks have since validated the claim

Some whip-smart Internet personalities who follow the politics and culture of race will be there again this year. So here are a few of favorites. If you’re there, you should try to make these workshops. And if you’re not, don’t fret. We’re gonna keep you plugged in with more 140-character updates than you can possibly consume. And video, as soon we see it posted. 

Interactive Workshops

Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics and Director of Digital for The Onion is amazing at engaging people at the intersection of politics, technology and comedy. He’ll be at two workshops:

Comedic Communication: Designing for Pleasure and Play (#comCom)
Time: Monday 14th March 12:30pm to 1:30pm 
Place: Ballroom A, 1st floor, Austin Convention Center

Practically Funny: How Alternative Comedy Kings Have Learned To Reach the Masses
Time: Tuesday 15th March 3:30pm to 4:30pm 
Place: Room 18ABCD, 4th floor, Austin Convention Center


Blacks and Latinos Using Twitter to Sound Off, Organize [SXSW 2010 VIDEO]

Latoya Peterson ( and contributor Miriam Zoila Pérez will both join:

Tech Power to the People! Digital Community Engagement (Tumblr)
Time: Saturday March 12 12:30PM
Place: Austin Convention Center, Room 10AB, 500 E Cesar Chavez St

Cheryl Contee (Fission Strategy), board member and media technologist Deanna Zandt and Twanna Hines (sexual & reproductive health / rights advocate) will be part of: 

People Power: Leveraging Personal Stories to Build Influence (Tumblr)
Time: Monday March 14 9:30AM 
Place: Hyatt, TX Ballroom 1, 208 Barton Springs Rd

We’ve got a workshop for the design nerds too. Khoi Vinh, former design director for, will look at history of grids, take a brass-tacks tour of best practices, and look ahead at some of the most enlightening and innovative thinking that’s shaping grid thinking in the future.

Ordering Disorder: Grid Design for the New World #odogrids
Time: Saturday, March 12, 12:30PM
Place: Austin Convention Center, Ballroom A


So sure, there will be bigger name artists performing at SXSW. Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and Little Dragon, to name a few. But Austin during this time of year is where the indie, unsigned acts reign supreme. And here are some of our favorites.

The GetBack. Based in Oakland, the GetBack’s got talent. And lots of it. Its members are former national poetry slam champs and thespians who can, and have rocked any kind of stage. Don’t believe us? See for yourself. Follow @rafaelcasal

ATN Showcase Featuring Rafael Casal (+ The Getback, Woodworks/Park Circle)
Bayou Lounge 500 6th Street (@ Neches)
NO BADGE REQUIRED 18+ / FREE / $5 Under 21




Theophilus London first caught our attention with his track "Life of a Lover" [MP3] with singer Jesse Boykins III. Based in New York. He’s got a few free mixtures under his belt, including The Charming Mixtape, which you can cop here. For free. And his LP Lovers Holiday is available on iTunes.  @THEOPHILUSL



Marques Toliver is incredible. Originally hailing from Florida, Toliver (who is only 23-year-old) is a classically trained musician and vocalist now based in London. His first EP ‘Butterflies Are Not Free’ will be released by Bella Union (home to the likes of Fleet Foxes, Beach House, John Grant, amongst others) on April 25th.

Two performances on 3/16, French Legation Museum and Red Eyed Fly



Mama Said Knock You Out! A Night of Women in Hip-Hop to Benefit the Mamas of Color Rising’s Sankofa Birth Companion Project!

Las Krudas Cubensi (queer feminist hip hop from Cuba!) will join Invincible from Detroit and DJ T-Kay (who’s a human rights archivist by day) for a performance at the historic Victory Grill.

Tuesday, March 15th 8pm
The Historic Victory Grill, 1104 E. 11th Street, Austin, TZ 78702

J*DaVey Instead of annoying you with a series of exclamation points and Kanye-esque caps locked tirades about why and how you may not be up on J*DaVey, I’ll just say this Los Angeles-based duo is doing things with music most folks can’t dream of. How else can you explain a 6-track EP that begins with a cover of Nirvana’s classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? It’s good, it’s funky and, if you can’t make it to Austin to see the live performance, it’s free on the InterWebs. @wearejdavey

Mar 18: Nuvola and Suite 101, Austin, TX


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, this documentary looks at the African-American puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Elmo. Read more about it in this Colorlines article.

Saturday March 12, 1:45PM, Vimeo Theater – 501 East 4th St
Wednesday March 16 6:00PM – **Westgate
Saturday March 19 12:00PM – Paramount Theatre

Fambul Tok – World Premiere of Fambul Tok at SXSW. The film is about victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war coming together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies.

Thursday, March 17, 5:00PM, Alamo Lamar C, 1120 South Lamar Blvd
Monday, March 14 1:15PM – Alamo Ritz 1
Wednesday, March 16 12:00PM – State Theatre 

Party to Launch Funding for ACT UP! Documentary
Director Scott Robbe and Ellen Spiro will host a night of music, food and drink during SXSW to inspire funding for the launch of their new feature documentary to be titled, ACT UP! (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) with Executive Producer Gus Van Sant (Milk)

March,13, 6-10 pm at 5909 Lookout Mountain, Austin, 78731.

*This article has been altered since publication.