History of SXSW

Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW has emerged as the premier destination for creatives across the globe. Travel back to its origin and flip through the years of speakers, artists, filmmakers, and more in our interactive history timeline.

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Governor Ann Richards and the SXSW Directors photo by Martha Grenon

Governor Ann Richards and the SXSW Directors photo by Martha Grenon

History Intro


In 1986, Ronald Reagan was president. “Electronic mail” was used primarily by universities and the military. The Berlin Wall was standing. The Euro did not exist. Many phones used rotary dials to enter numbers. An Apple Macintosh computer with 128 kilobytes of RAM sold for $5,500 (in 2015 dollars). 40 million music CDs were made and sold worldwide.

That same year, a small group of people in Austin, Texas began a series of long discussions about the future of entertainment and media. The meetings were in the offices of The Austin Chronicle, and participants were sworn to secrecy. A fundamental opinion shared by the group was that the local creative and music communities were as talented as anywhere else on the planet, but were severely limited by a lack of exposure outside of Austin.

Music was the uniting factor, but the group had a catholic taste for art and ideas. Inclusiveness and reaching for new things were core values. The solution being discussed was an event that would bring the outside world to Austin for a close-up view.

As the key ideas were formed, recognition grew that Austin was not the only city where this was an issue. For a local event to bring the world to Austin, it needed to have value everywhere. A name was sought that was not restrictive in its concept.

Finally, in October of 1986, the announcement of the first South By Southwest was made. The SXSW group expected initial resistance from the locals, but it was quite the opposite. Almost everyone wanted to be involved. Resistance would come later.

The first event, held in March of 1987, saw an expected 150 registrants swell to 700 on the opening day. As hoped for, Austin’s charm won over the visitors, and SXSW took on a life of its own.

Growth was steady for the first seven years. For SXSW ’94, often remembered for the Johnny Cash keynote/performance, two new events – Interactive and Film – were introduced. It would mark a fundamental shift in how the world viewed SXSW. Still early in the paradigm shift created by the internet, the film and digital communities found a home in SXSW.

The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas. (And maybe have a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences.)

– Roland Swenson, CEO of SXSW



Featured Speaker Young Guru with Rodney Sampson - Photo by Levi Thompson

SXSW Conference Speakers: Bernie Sanders, Bozoma Saint John, Darren Aronofsky, Ira Glass, Young Guru & More

Notable Speakers – Interactive and Convergence Tracks: Jacob Tobia, Rachel Zoe, Christiane Amanpour, Bernie Sanders, Bozoma Saint John, Ernest Cline, Ira Glass, Susan Wojcicki, Neha Narula, Joseph Lubin, Mayor Michael Tubbs, Vanita Gupta, Ezra Klein, Beto O’Rourke, José Andrés, Andrew Zimmern, Cat Cora, Ernestine Fu, Ray Dalio, Daymond John, Dr. Peter Diamandis, Ingrid Vanderveldt, Whitney Wolfe Herd, Kristen Green, Daniel Pink, Roy Spence, Matthew McConaughey, Dan Harris, Ray Kurzweil, Evan Williams, Noor Tagouri, Donté Stallworth, Tim O’Reilly, Eddy Cue, Amy Webb, Elon Musk, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Audrey Gelman, Katie Couric, Tim Ferriss.

Notable Speakers- Film Tracks: Barry Jenkins, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee, Lena Dunham, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright, Lena Waithe, Jacob Latimore and Jason Mitchell, Rian Johnson, Tatiana Maslany, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater.

Notable Speakers – Music Tracks: Keith Urban, Young Guru, Kim Deal, Steve Albini, August Greene (Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins), Daniel Glass, Ruben Blades, Superchunk, Nile Rodgers, Ted Leo, Priscilla Presley, Savan Kotecha, Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads, Shakey Graves, Trae tha Truth, U-God, Kenny Aranoff, Lucy Rose.

iKON at SXSW 2019 - Photo by Adam Kissick

SXSW Music Festival Showcasing Artists include Angie McMahon, Lizzo, The Beths, & iKON

1,964 showcasing artists, 94 Venues & Stages | Notable Artists: Amanda Palmer, Amyl & The Sniffers, Andrew Bird, The Beths, Black Midi, Black Pumas, Broken Social Scene, BRONCHO, Cherry Glazerr, The Chills, Cimafunk, Cuco, Deerhunter, Delaporte, Dungeon Family feat. Big Boi, Goodie Mob, & Organized Noize’s Sleepy Brown, Ecko, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Ezra Collective, Fontaines D.C., Graham Coxon, HÆLOS, IKON, KOKOKO!, Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, Lizzo, Mabiland, Angie McMahon, Megan Thee Stallion, Mr Eazi, Patti Griffin, Odette, Oh Sees, J.S. Ondara, Otoboke Beaver, Pink Sweat$, PNTHN, Rico Nasty, Robert Ellis, Say Sue Me, Soft Kill, Steve Earle & the Dukes, The Strumbellas, Swervedriver, Trupa Trupa, Vacations, Viagra Boys, Westerman, X Ambassadors, and Yung Baby Tate, Yung Lean

South by Southwest is known for launching smart studio films and buzzy independent movies. It all happens against a backdrop of tacos, beer, and keynote speeches from influential artists and world leaders. In 2019, SXSW might have had one of its best years ever.” – Variety

South by Southwest is known for launching smart studio films and buzzy independent movies. It all happens against a backdrop of tacos, beer, and keynote speeches from influential artists and world leaders. In 2019, SXSW might have had one of its best years ever.” – Variety

Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz attend the Pet Sematary premiere at the Paramount Theatre.

SXSW Film Festival | Us, Long Shot, Pet Sematary & More

Notable 2019 World Premieres: Us, Booksmart, Good Boys, The Highwaymen, Beach Bum, Long Shot, Pet Sematary, For Sama, Villains, Sword of Trust, Running with Beto, The Curse of La Llorona, Olympic Dreams, Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story, The Art of Self-Defense, The River and the Wall. Episodics: What We Do in the Shadows, Ramy, Shrill, David Makes Man, NOS4A2

Olivia Wilde Film Keynote - Photo by Danny Matson

SXSW Conference Keynotes

Keynotes Interactive: Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, Joseph Lubin, Roger McNamee Keynotes Film: Marti Noxon, Olivia Wilde, PJ Raval Keynotes Music: T Bone Burnett, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry Keynotes Convergence: John Boehner, Dawn Ostroff, Matt Lieber, and Michael Mignano, Bozoma Saint John, The Next Form of Storytelling: The Future of Technology-Enabled Entertainment, Kathy Griffin with Kara Swisher, Jessica Brillhart

2019 Featured Speaker, Esther Perel - Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW

2019 SXSW Conference Speakers: Esther Perel, A$AP Rocky, Elisabeth Moss, & Lance Bass

Notable Speakers – Interactive and Convergence Tracks: Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Amy Webb, Margrethe Vestager, David Schwartz, Howard Schultz, Michael Pollan, Jonah Peretti, Esther Perel, Eli Pariser, Gwyneth Paltrow with Poppy Harlow, Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford , Frank Oz, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Trevor Noah, Jake Tapper, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Kara Swisher, Austin Kleon, George Hotz , Senator Mazie Hirono and Guy Kawasaki, Arlan Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Susan Fowler, Tim Ferris, Steve DeAngelo, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Priscilla Chan, David Byrne, Kimberly Bryant , Brené Brown, A$AP Rocky, Stacey Abrams.

Notable Speakers – Film Tracks: Elisabeth Moss, Pamela Adlon, Jodie Foster, Zoe Saldana, Neil Gaiman, Jason Blum, Elizabeth Banks, Henry Winkler, Ethan Hawke, Noah Hawley, Olivia Wilde, Alicia Malone, Busy Philipps, Brandi Carlile, Aidy Bryant.

Notable Speakers – Music Tracks: Stephanie McMahon, Bruce Sterling, Lance Bass, Taylor Bennett, Pat Corcoran, Laura Jane Grace, Chris Lee, Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis, Lola Plaku, Kerry Trainor.

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