SXSW 2023: Here's Everything We Experienced at This Year’s Festival

There's nothing like SXSW, which this year included everything from a lightning-canceled Lil Yachty set to the debut of the best high school comedy in years.

SXSW 2023 environment pic

Image via Getty/Amy E. Price/SXSW

SXSW 2023 environment pic

There are worse ways to go out than being struck by distinctly Texan lightning at a Lil Yachty show.

As we took shelter from the storm beneath a giant water slide, I made peace with this possibility, confident that someone, somewhere could whip up a fine 200 words or so about it as part of their larger SXSW coverage. I can see it now: “He died how he lived—talking to a public relations VP while guzzling vaguely libatious caffeine.”

Yachty’s set was ultimately canceled, leaving me and my fellow lightning chasers to seek our strikes elsewhere. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of bolts during SXSW. And therein lies the gleefully delirious beauty of art-focused festivals like this one. They move in like a storm and leave almost as quickly. But if you’re lucky—and more (most!) importantly, if you’re open to it—the lightning will find you again and again.

That’s certainly been my experience, and it held true throughout my inaugural trip to SXSW as a guest of festival sponsor C4 Energy. Below, see what struck me during my four days in Austin and beyond.


BEEF screen still from series


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The first thing I saw when I stepped out of the Uber from the airport was Dominique Fishback mopping up blood from a pristine white floor, the offending hammer lying next to the swath of smeared red. The skyscraper-sized image is one of dozens I’d see in Austin announcing the then-impending arrival of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ Swarm, a new Prime Video series that—true to its title—has been buzzing in the hearts of Atlanta fans since it was first announced.

Swarm, now available on Prime Video, centers on another unforgettable performance from Fishback as Dre—a woman whose toxic fandom of a Beyoncé-like star is exhibited in increasingly disturbing and extreme ways. If anyone had any doubts about whether the creative voices behind Atlanta could once again deliver a format-pushing series in a league all its own, Swarm should silence such talk once and for all.


Air film starring Ben Affleck

‘American Born Chinese’

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“I wanna take a second to just sit in this moment in time. It’s a crazy week, right?” series creator Kelvin Yu said when introducing American Born Chinese at the Paramount Theatre. “There’s something in the air, something special.”

We could all feel exactly what he was talking about, both in the moments of intense seat-searching that led up to the global premiere of the Disney+ adaptation of Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel and in the immediate aftermath. Ben Wang stars as a charming but frustrated student whose high school difficulties are magnified by issues at home, only for the stakes to be raised unimaginably high once he meets a newcomer by the name of Wei-Chen (Jim Liu).

The audience lucky enough to be among the first people in the world to see the series’ first two episodes swiftly and rapturously embraced this take on the story, which seems destined to be a massive hit upon its upcoming release on Disney+ in May. Also starring are recent Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan.


Bottoms cast at SXSW premiere

‘I’m a Virgo’

I'm a Virgo screening event

‘Self Reliance’

Self Reliance SXSW Film Still

C4 Smart House

Lil Yachty

If you’ve ever taken the plunge into the brand activation space, you’ll know that such environments can often feel cold, whether by design or otherwise. C4’s Smart House experience marked a more-than-welcomed exception, from The Creator’s Lab (where visitors were provided the tools to customize hoodies and more) to an expansive outdoor area dubbed The Flavor Lounge.

Per Charles Hunter, Director of Experiential Marketing at C4’s parent company Nutrabolt, this multi-day SXSW activation was a “perfect partnership” for a number of reasons central to the brand’s overall aim. 

“The C4 Smart House was created because we wanted a place to put those consumers first and highlight them through tech, music, arts, and culture,” Hunter told Complex. “We wanted our visitors to leave feeling inspired to create and know Smart Energy could be a small moment on their journey towards success.”

Key attendees at the VIP opening of the activation included Lil Yachty, as well as this very writer.

What more could you ask for?

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2023 Grulke Prize Winner Blondshell

Blondshell at SXSW performance

Closing Keynote: Margo Price

Margo Price at SXSW keynote

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