During February and March 2016 I traveled North America to meet the Chew community, DJs, partners and investors. Read more about the entire Chewhiker trip here.
After weeks of traveling across the country Austin for South by South West was the next big milestone. For six months before the trip it had come up time and time again. It seemed to attract the full range of music and technology leaders. From the remote dessert I was slung into the middle of the busiest two weeks in Austin’s city calendar.
The two day event combines a technology conference with both a film and a music festival. My plan a few weeks before had been to arrive for the music part of the conference. With just a week to go, while I was still traveling around Denver, I’d got an email from TechCity UK. A connection I’d made in LA had suggested I join a panel on the future of music. This was how I found myself on an 4am flight still less than fresh from the night with the Arizona DnB crew a few hours before.
The plane descended into green Austin. Leaving the airport I the hot humid air pushed me back. Nursing a bottle of water I headed to the Great British House for my panel. The building was a yoga studio for the rest of the year. For this week it had become the base for British companies visiting the event. Some companies had come out on a trade mission organised by the UK Government. Other seemed to get in just by having a British accent.
The panel was incredible short and Mike Butcher kept it to time by cutting all responses to a few sentences. The room was busy and the audience was a mix of interested faces and the backs of the heads of those more interested in free drinks. The panel blew past. Then I had an interview. Finally Nico from Mixcloud stepped onto the decks for the first live stream from the festival.
The week was full of meetings with everyone I’d met or been introduced to before and during the trip. From major labels to DJs and managers. Everyone represented. As the week went on the formal meetings turned into chance encounters. I noticed that if any British act were playing I was a sure to find the UK music industry representing.
Between meetings I hung out with Sabrina and Joanna. Joanna runs an interactive visuals company Makelight. Sabrina supports Chew through UCL Advances. UCL run our office space and the IDEALondon late stage accelerator program.
The REProduce showcase rounded off the week. Rana and Vivek brought a network of Indian electronics artists to Austin. The broad range of acts showed the range of talent from the diverse country.
As everyone began to go their separate ways the streets of Austin started to clear. I couldn’t leave the state without seeing on particular Chew DJ. We published a feature of Mark Woods aka Danger Close in 2015. His life journey to DJing fascinated me. When I men him he was one week from leaving the military on medical grounds. After barbecue in Austin he drove me out to his home in Killeen. As we drove he explained how he got into DJing before joining the military. He listed his deployments and some of what he’d seen as a result. The strength of the man to live through such experiences and be so positive through music was humbling. Now the friends he’s learnt to DJ with had spread out across the country. Chew was that community for him now.
After a few beers we setup his DJ gear complete with lights and mixed late into the night.
Mark and his wife Nicole were inspirational. Two creative souls connected to the world through music and creativity. Him through drawing, tattoos and music. Her through photography. They had overcome the risks and tie apart that the military life brought them. So before I headed to get my flight it was only right that we went back into Austin for a photo shoot. Walking around downtown we found some great backdrops as the sun began to fall towards the horizon. The photos captured the essence of our time together over the two days.
The photos in this post are all by Nicole. You can see a larger selection of the photos she took on the Chewhiker Tumblr very soon and read more about Nicole’s Killeen photography business here.
I’d been in Austin for the longest of any city on the trip so far. I’d loved my time more than anything but I had to move on. I missed the winding train journeys I’d taken in the north. In the south the rail lines didn’t go straight to where I needed to be. The next day I had to get to Winter Music Conference in Miami for meetings and the Gulf of Mexico happened to be in the way. I headed out to the airport yet again. As the wheels of the plane left the ground I felt deep sadness at the fleetingness of the connections I had made. Technology helps us do business, meet new people and stay close to those we’ve met. It’s real world connection that made us feel alive.