South by Southwest Interactive: The parties, the lounges

South by Southwest’s latest Interactive edition may have played out in a recession-plagued 2009, but swarms of techies still invaded Austin, Texas, for insights, networking and discussion. While social media may have been a huge theme this year, the jam-packed conference rooms would prove, inevitably, one thing as far as free time was concerned: Despite the Tweets, Meetups and Mashups, nothing beats socializing in person.

Of course, this may mean witnessing a fellow attendee search for wifi on her laptop while waiting in line for food, or listening to a hearty discussion about Google Analytics at a club (at 11 p.m. on a Sunday no less), or becoming a victim to a line crasher trying to convince the bouncer that he needs to be indoors with the sponsors because, you see, he is a viral marketer. (Said “viral marketer” did get us in as part of his faux posse, which regains one small sliver of a brownie point.) All that, however, merely adds to what more than one person has called “Spring Break for geeks.” The laid back, down-to-earth spirit at SXSW’s lounges and parties putting Sundance, Art Basel Miami Beach AND New York Fashion Week to pure and utter shame, here are some highlights from the conference:

Bacon Flavored Interactive After Party: A Benefit for the Children’s Music Fund: The stench of bacon, a charity raffle of cool prizes and a white hip-hop trio hailing from Kansas City – all, to boot, in a Communist-themed bar. While the venue wasn’t boasting a queue out the front door, those inside gaped at the catchy beats and mind-boggling offensive lyrics courtesy of Bacon Shoe, a.k.a. ‘Toine, Lethal D and Mr. Ruggles, an oversized mangled dog head donning dude who doesn’t rap or spin turntables, but instead stands in the back and…grills bacon next to a mic. A Red 7 Lounge employee also did the honors in another section of the venue, although he was un-miced. If only Meniscus could provide Smell-O-Vision at times like these…

Video: Bacon Party Highlights
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Circus Mashimus: This developer-friendly lounge boasted its own two branded shirts, one celebrating a spork and the other a man with a mullet. Free food, including delicious giant cookies, popcorn straight from a popcorn machine, and jerk chicken, made this small room at the Austin Convention Center a popular one.

Imaginations: It takes just one group of artists to have party goers gawk at their talents rather than lunge for the beer. That would be Massive Black, whose talented digital artists created oil paintings, 3-D robots and human beings, live, ENTIRELY IN PHOTOSHOP, on large screens to pulsating dance beats. If anything, impressed attendees at the Mohawk learned about the 90 percent of the Photoshop functions that most never use.

Legos at the Austin Convention Center: So this doesn’t technically count as a lounge, but a corner of the first floor served as an open space Lego playhouse. Attendees dipped into their inner child, building homes, action figures, vehicles and other creations to display on the window rails (although one person, sadly, was spotted in the area late Monday, choosing to construct figures instead of hitting the conference’s heaviest concentration of parties).

Nuclear Taco Night: An annual tradition in its seventh year, SXSW attendees put their taste buds on the line when they constructed tacos with spices galore – and, believe me, there is no way to quantify or describe how “nuclear” these tacos are. So here are some accounts from Twitter users/Nuclear Taco survivors during the aftermath of the event:

rvarela: My guts are still upset with me from eating the nuclear tacos at #sxsw.

tpurves: youch, feeling the burn of those nuclear tacos for a second time this morning.

And Meniscus’ very own Associate Editor, wadehahnchan: Boy those nuclear tacos didn’t make the plane ride + transfer fun.

SXSW Interactive Opening Party by frog design: An official opening event at a technology conference can often reek of formal fare and executives hunting for business deals. Then again, SXSW did mention a “party,” not banquet or reception, and the kick-off festivities at the Mexican American Cultural Center more than fulfilled that description. Taking place outdoors on the museum grounds, an Austin Bike Zoo consisted of larger-than-life flies atop bicycles decorated with lights, an open bar served free beer and wine, and – best of all – a “Minor Mishap Marching Band” barged into the proceedings.

Video: Various SXSW Interactive parties

Highlights from the SXSW Interactive Opening Party, the Tocquigny Mixer and Imaginations at the Mohawk.
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Video: Nuclear Tacos at SXSW
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine