South by Southwest 2014 is coming up (March 11-16), and as one of the largest music festivals in the world, with around 2,000 bands playing and the Interactive Tech conference and the film festival, it’s the ultimate place to be. On top of all of that, there will be hundreds of parties, and for the full Austin party experience you need to hit as many shindigs as you can. Can’t score an invite to the hottest party at SXSW? No invite, no problem with our guide to party crashing! Specially formulated for South by Southwest but adaptable to a broad range of situations, from swank soirees to college keggers, we have all the gate-crashing intel you need right here.
You’re not George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven; you don’t need to spend hours researching and plotting just to score that open bar. But you do need to do a little planning. Figure out what party you’re dying to get into and why you want to go. Is it for the swag? The free bourbon? To meet Matthew McConaughey? To see an intimate 2 Chainz performance? To network? To hit on Scarlett Johansson? Check out a list online to narrow down the party you need to be at, or better yet, get in the habit of asking the bartenders, doormen and drunk festivalgoers, “Where’s the party at?” Some popular parties that need some finesse to get into include the Fader Fort, presented by the music and lifestyle publication; it’s mostly invite-only and in the past has featured performances by everyone from Kanye West to Lou Reed. Gossip columnist Perez Hilton’s yearly bash and the Pitchfork and Vice parties are also popular events.
Before you go for it, get a little background on the party you’re crashing. Google the details and go to the Facebook invite page. Maybe your ex is friends with Arcade Fire’s triangle player—pump them for details.
Show up somewhat sober and act like you belong there. Never hesitate, especially not if anyone challenges you. Just act polite but mildly scornful and slightly annoyed. Looking and acting self-assured is the most important skill a party crasher needs! Master this and all else will follow. Remember, you’re at a party. No one wants to harass guests, so you have to project that you belong there. You only need to know two words for getting in: keep walking! Stride in looking busy, walk and text or pretend to be on the phone with someone. If you’re challenged, turn your head and throw your lie out over your shoulder or flash your fake credentials. When you’re at the first stage of getting in, just don’t stop walking.
3. IN WITH THE IN-CROWD
Gaining access can as easy as just slipping in with a group. Go when you know the door will be swamped and busy. There will always be people going to parties as a team; look for a pack and get behind them. If you’re lucky, the doorman is busy and will just speak with one of the group and wave the rest in and you can slip in behind them.
4. FORGE YOUR INVITE
If you’re at SXSW, chances are you have a pass of some kind dangling around your neck because you bought a pass, scored one for blogging or are playing in a band. Even if your pass doesn’t give you the full access you desire it can still be a useful tool. Try just flashing it at the doorman as you walk in—chances are he’s just looked at 50 passes in a row and won’t notice you don’t have the right one. If they’re stamping people, stand outside with the smokers and sneak a glance at their wrists, then just use a marker to sketch the stamp on yourself. If it’s generally the right color and shape, it’ll probably work. The stamps usually smudge and no one examines them that closely.
If they’re using bracelets, run to the dollar store and get one the same color. If you want to get elaborate and you have an inside man or woman, borrow their pass or invite: it takes 10 minutes at the copy place to scan it, put in your name and laminate it.
5. SHOW UP EARLY
If you’re dying to get to the party, show up early before the doorman starts working. There are going to be lots of people coming in and out to get it set up. Just walk in looking like you’re there to work and if anyone asks who you are, say you’re an intern or you’re there to help the band set up. Then go to ground until the party starts.
6. WORK THE GUEST LIST
If they’re rocking a guest list, you have two options: If they’re working off a paper list, tell them you’re on the list but only RSVPed online a few minutes ago. Alternately, when you get to the door get a peek at the list and shout out a name that’s not crossed off.
7. BRIBE YOUR WAY IN
You probably know the next tip, and it’s surprisingly effective, but you have to figure out if it’s worth the price: bribe the doorman. It’s one of those things that you see in movies that works. The main thing to remember is you have to be subtle; there might be sharp eyes in the line behind you or a lurking boss. Flash some cash low in your hand and tell them, “Here’s my invite, bra.”
8. SNEAK IN
Coming in through the kitchen or supply door is often easier than you think. Again, it’s all about looking like you belong there. Stride in with purpose, don’t stop if anyone talks to you but turn your head as though you’re in a rush and shout back that you're with the DJ and you’re running late or that “you’ve got to get Jimmy to help you with load-in.” If you have an inside man or woman, get them to open up that back door or fire escape for you; make sure they don’t trigger any alarms.
9. PRESS CREDENTIALS
Hit the copy shop and make yourself a pass for a fancy-sounding publication that doesn’t exist, like The New York Review of Arts. Flash your faux pass at the door and say you were told to show up and write a quick blog post about how awesome the party is.
10. MORE MINOR IMPERSONATION
Dress in black and look like a roadie or bar staff. Just pick something up, look determined and busy and walk in. This isn’t James Bond–level shit; grab a six-buck bottle of wine from the corner store and run in with it while shouting back that they need this champagne at the bar right now.
You did your research, so you probably know who the host or hostess is. Stay clear of them at first and do some mingling. You’re there for the social aspect, right? Even if you know no one, you’ve got to make a little small talk. The rest of the party doesn’t know that the man you’re asking about his awesome pants isn’t your best friend. Just make some chitchat in the line at the bar, cut it short by gesturing to the most crowded corner of the room and saying, “Oh, I see the guy I was waiting for, nice talking to you.”
12. PASS BY THE HOST OR SPONSOR
After you’ve spent some time blending in, pass by when the host looks like they’re on the way somewhere important and give them a quick, not-too-enthusiastic, “Great party.”
13. DON'T OVERDO IT
You’re there for a great time, but don’t nut out like a Christian teenager trying Jesus Juice for the first time. Don’t get sloppy drunk, don’t break-dance in the middle of the party, don’t hit on every woman there. This is great advice even if you’re invited, but as a gate-crasher you don’t want to draw the heat on you.
14. EXIT WITH GRACE
If you’re found out and someone asks you to leave, exit with gentlemanly grace. Don’t try to lie your way out of it. It’s not going to work, and even if it does, there will be a cloud over you all night. Besides decorum, there’s also your safety to consider. You don’t want a doorman or security guard throwing you out on your head and you don’t want the cops dragging you in for a night in Austin’s drunk tank and a morning of trespassing charges. That would be so uncool.