Apple Music threw an awkward rap party at SXSW, and we were there for the weirdness

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Is wearing Apple AirPods at a concert normal? Probably not. But it made sense at last night’s Apple Music party. 

Kind of.

So goes the music portion of SXSW, which has traditionally involved Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud and record labels throwing solid parties with fairly respectable lineups of artists, to say nothing of the dozens of showcases putting globally up-and-coming music talent on display. 

This year, however, we saw Apple Music make its mark. 

SXSW has been going on since 1987, bringing together executives and influencers in technology, music, and entertainment. It’s a lot of loud “activations,” closed-door dealmaking, and partying. It’s gotten increasingly bigger (and some might argue: worse) every year. And true to its recent history, this year marked yet another SXSW first, with Apple getting in on the frenzy with its own events.

Apple Music’s party flew a little under the radar—as in, most people didn’t hear about it from the press circle, or other traditional channels. Instead, we knew one of the bartenders (which, sadly, still wasn’t enough to get us free drinks).

Apple’s event space was far away from the main action in downtown Austin. The outside was quite subtle.

All you needed to get in was a platinum badge, or a smile, and being with someone holding a platinum badge. 

It was a pretty boring venue. Cement floor with cement walls, and two bars inside. Like the old MacBooks, the bathrooms were all white.

Yes, the most valuable company in the world was running a cash bar.

The most jaw-dropping moment was finding my friendly neighborhood bartender, and learning that I needed to dig out cash. Yes, the most valuable company in the world was running a cash bar. And yes, iPhones offer a fancy way to pay called Apple Pay, but at Apple Music that didn’t fly.

Rapper Vince Staples was the party’s headliner. Incidentally, Staples performed at SXSW last year on Spotify’s stage, and made headlines for dissing them during it (“Shoutout to Spotify. Thank you for giving me this check to make up for what you’ve done to me and all my musical friends,” he said, according to Pitchfork). 

Staples didn’t comment on Apple Music, for what it’s worth, but he also didn’t look too happy to be there. It was a far cry from Gucci Mane’s performance at Pandora for SXSW Interactive last week. 

So, the drinks weren’t free. But Apple did have free and fast Wi-Fi, so I could post all the snaps and tweets I wanted.  

There was an awkward moshpit. Someone described the crowd as being “unusually not lit.” Also, there was clapping after every song, which, if you’ve ever been to a rap concert: No.

There was a man wearing Apple AirPods. He also might be wearing Snapchat Spectacles. Hard to tell. Either way: Who wears AirPods to a concert? 

Vince Staples’s set lasted about 40 minutes. By 10 p.m. CT, Vince was off, and people were just mingling about. There were rumors about other artists playing. But we got kicked out and it turned into a fancy VIP afterparty. No idea who was considered an Apple VIP, but it wasn’t us.

Apple also had a private event Tuesday, which included DJ Khaled (of Snapchat Stories fame) and Sage the Gemini (of Snapchat sunglasses lens fame) along with some record label people. 

And that’s about it. Just another evening of decent music supporting a multinational, mountain-moving force of capitalism, taking $10 at their cash bar from those who made it, since clearly $800 for an iPhone 7 wasn’t enough for them. Hard to wonder why they’re doing so well, even if their parties don’t come close to matching the excellence of their product.



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