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April 2, 2019

Adelaide doesn’t need a South by South Australia

While no South Australian artists played at South by Southwest this year, Adelaide is still making waves where it counts, says Play / Pause / Play founder, Luke Penman.

  • Words: Luke Penman
  • Pictures: Andre Castellucci

I’m told some Austin locals don’t like the interruption that the annual media conference and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) brings. Some, however, are more than happy to put their house on Airbnb and get out of town for a week.

We stayed at one such house. The guy who owns the place runs a company called Boomerang’s Pies and, sure enough, he’s left a selection of them in the freezer for us.


Luke Penman is the founder of play / pause / play – an internet radio station dedicated to Adelaide’s live music scene.

Through the Flinders University Venture Dorm program, Luke attended South by Southwest, the biggest music / tech / film / gaming / everything conference in the world.

The pastries, though inspired by the Australian variety of ‘handheld pies,’ are filled with Pepperoni or Mac & Cheese and don’t quite match what we’d consider Aussie cuisine. But Boomerang’s adaptation of our beloved pie to the Southwestern palate is a perfect example of the move that seemingly every start up must go through – the pivot.

Over the course of a week I spent time at SXSW Interactive – a spin off series of after-hours networking events – where I saw numerous businesses and projects at various stages of finding their feet.

In most cases, there existed a nugget of a good idea – from the re-usable festival wristband (containing tickets and cashless payment options) to the ‘stock market for music’ (investing in recordings or tours of artists you believe in) – but most, probably, have a few more pivots to go before they find something that works.

Luke Penman

Austin is a sister city of Adelaide, and a fellow UNESCO City of Music, though it seems to much prefer its own self-ordained title of ‘The Live Music Capital of the World’. They make sure you know it too, with a plaque on the wall at the airport proclaiming Austin as such to all new arrivals.

More than 800 artists performed in official showcases at SXSW 2019, with hundreds more playing unofficial shows around the area. Nightlife hotspots like Sixth Street and Rainey Street were closed to traffic as thousands of people – punters, media and industry alike – swarmed the streets to find something new.

While no South Australian artists performed at SXSW this year, Australia House hosted more than 50 acts from across Australia, and, in my typical festival style, I spent far more time watching Australian artists than anyone else.

Plenty of our exports killed it: Haiku Hands, Angie McMahon, The Gooch Palms, The Pinheads, Feels, and WAAX all impressed, and one particular artist stood out for me – Harmony Byrne; she has the most powerful voice I’ve ever experienced. While she is staying in Austin for the next few months, she has an album on the way and hopefully will be back in Australia before the end of the year.

All up, there’s thousands of musicians, hundreds of venues and more than 100,000 attendees. Everything from new start-up companies and emerging musical acts to established artists and major corporations working on AI and care robots. Much of SXSW was quite intimidating.

But then I’d meet someone new or help make a connection and be reminded how invigorating new discoveries and new connections can be.

I met some media heroes and great artists, but the most affective moment for me was meeting Andrew Becker from New York’s Renaissance People’s Music. He told me that he’d not only heard of play / pause / play – the internet radio station I founded last year – but he’d listened to the Heaps Good 50 countdown in December and listed off a dozen South Australian artists who he now loves – from Mane to Zen Panda, Wolfjay, Wing Defence, Bec Stevens and so many more.

Hearing those names from someone who lives on the other side of the globe was mind-blowing, and an important reminder that what we’re doing in Adelaide makes noise around the world.


Before the trip, someone told me that they thought we should have something like SXSW here – a ‘South by South Australia’, if you will.

The reality is, we already mostly do, it’s just spread across the whole year.

We’ve got Umbrella: Winter City Sounds and its associated Indie-Con (produced in collaboration with the Australian Independent Record Labels Association). In the broader media, technology and entertainment sphere, we’ve got Southstart and Hybridworld, AVCon, Adelaide Film Festival, Writers’ Week and plenty more.

There’s so much to celebrate in Adelaide – we already have so many great artists and venues in our own backyard. We only need to strengthen the community that exists around the initiatives we already have.

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