SXSW 2024: The XP Recap

Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Audible at SXSW
Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Audible at SXSW

The XP Land team descended on Austin for SXSW 2024, and we immediately immersed ourselves in the controlled chaos. For us, it was an opportunity to connect with fellow experiential creatives, brands and experience makers. There was also more XP industry content on the agenda than ever before.

The event kicked off March 4-7 with SXSW EDU and then rolled into the festival (interactive, culture and film, followed by music) from March 8-16. It’s a lot, y’all — hundreds of speakers and sessions, official and unofficial brands blanketing the city, and a lifetime’s worth of BBQ and tech bros. 

It seems like every year someone declares South-By “dead” or having “jumped the shark.” We disagree. For a 37-year-old festival, SXSW continues to evolve and experiment in pretty remarkable ways. At the very least, we can’t help marveling at XLISTER Hugh Forrest and his team’s massive feat in the sheer amount of official SXSW programming around the city. We did, of course, come back with a few trends and outstanding tidbits to share with our fellow experiential architects. 


Without a doubt, Austin has always been a character in the play that is SXSW. The festival is primarily concentrated downtown, stretching from South Congress to Red River, with the hottest spots on Rainey and the infamous Dirty Sixth Street, so named for its college-town vibe.

Although SXSW hasn’t released the official number of attendees for the 2024 edition, it’s safe to say that beyond the 300K+ expected from around the world, many more people came to Austin with no intention of buying a $2,000 badge but with every intention of sampling experiences outside the official activities. And we didn’t need to look far to find parties and brand activations that didn’t require a SXSW credential to get in.

The Audible Sound Experience, for example, had two lines — one for South-By attendees and one for non–badge holders. The civilian line to get into the carnival-themed activation seemed to snake around the block day and night. Likewise, pop-ups such as the Fast Company Grill, The Equality Lounge by the Female Quotient and Canada House (and other location-based experiences) welcomed visitors regardless of their official SXSW status. 

This is, of course, great for the city of Austin.

This year’s event is expected to exceed the $380 million that boosted the city’s economy in 2023. And the throngs of people only add to the social media and citywide buzz for the festival. But the sheer number of unofficial events happening across the city did have the effect of spreading badge-holding festivalgoers thin (i.e., half-empty content sessions for even the most well-known speakers). On the other hand, an abundance of choice means that the most popular sessions will be the most well-attended and hardest to get into (like the live recording of Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway’s Pivot podcast on Saturday). Note to our XP selves, sometimes less programming is more. 


Our team was particularly interested in checking out the brand activations, from high-end (House of Robb by Robb Report) to mass-consumer (LaCroix House), to try and understand “the why” behind their presence at SXSW. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a lot of originality, problem-solving or storytelling.

Much of what we saw was brands creating a cookie-cutter activation that went something like this: take over an existing structure, brand it a “house,” feature talks and panel interviews, include one to two free drinks, add in some pay-to-play activations that don’t really add to the narrative, and hand out swag. There were exceptions, like the Audible Sound Experience (kitschy carnival, but lacking a strong tie-in to the brand), the return of the Paramount+ Lodge (Instagram-worthy experiences from IP ranging from Mean Girls to Survivor), Sharpie x Papermate Studio (a nonstop doodlefest), Shipt (brightly colored shopping carts delivering SXSW survival kits) and Porsche: Full Service

Porsche: Full Service. Photo courtesy Lori Hoffman

Porsche completely took over Brazos Hall, including the paint job outside the building.

The brand partnered with Public School and the Czarnowski Collective to bring the idea of the American road trip to life, with Porsches including the all-electric Macan and Taycan on display. As AdWeek pointed out, the activation gave off Meow Wolf vibes while also maintaining the brand’s grownup prestige. A chic rooftop lounge rounded out the experience. Porsche’s “why” may have been connected to the heavy tech industry presence at the festival — it was a showcase for their electric vehicles and a more playful persona. 

Sharpie x Papermate Studio. Photo courtesy Erica Boeke

In the future, we’d love to see more brands break out of the “house” motif and take advantage of the blank canvas and invitation to solve one of the many UX issues that plague South-By, from the need for a better calendar of events to a streamlined system for building an itinerary around one of the 24 content tracks. Go ahead, solve a problem or tell a unique and immersive story. And sorry, we don’t think the rollout of a newly designed laundry pod (or tile) counts, even if it does purport to solve a problem. 

LaCroix House. Photo courtesy Lisa Jaycox


We went into this SXSW expecting to see AI as the dominant topic of conversation — and there is no question that it was integrated into many sessions. But from an XP perspective, we were also struck by the number of conversations that included the metaverse and how much VR dominated the XR Exhibition at the Fairmont. 

We weren’t surprised to see so much VR, but we expected to see more mixed reality and AR. As we walked the exhibition floor, we made two primary observations. First, because almost all of the action was happening inside the VR goggles, it was challenging to stop and quickly take in the story or creator’s intent. Second, each VR activation required a sign-up and a commitment of time (some upwards of 30 minutes for the entire experience). As a result, there would only realistically be a handful of experiences you could be immersed in.

As for the metaverse and Web3, we were happy to see more than 20 official sessions dedicated to this space (and many more outside official SXSW,  from conversations about professional sports partnerships to music’s explosion on these platforms to fashion’s increased investment in tech). Roblox, Apple VisionPro, and Fortnite are just the beginning of this medium that went through a rough patch a couple of years ago — but holds the ingredients to entertain, yes, and also fan the flames of fandom. 


At XP Land we always say that connection is the cure to what ails us, and what ails us is loneliness and polarization. SXSW creates opportunities for connections to be made, whether it’s through formal channels like official meet-ups or just finding like-minded people at content sessions; setting up coffee dates with people in your network or making new friends at happy hours and parties. We came home exhausted, inspired, and excited to keep the conversation going with contacts new and old.

A festival like SXSW has its fair share of greatness, as well as flaws — and as XP pros we all… have notes. But would any of us have it any other way?

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.