Stars of SXSW: Texas can’t hold ’em

Macy Gray, Snoop Dogg, RATM? It seems that the se­cret is out about SXSW. Jim Car­roll side­steps all the A-lis­ters to track down 20 new acts to rave about

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

TH­ESE DAYS, the South By South­west mu­sic fes­ti­val cov­ers ev­ery inch of Austin. It’s out­grown the Sixth Street strip where it came into be­ing in 1987, and now spills out to the east and west.

But the fo­cus al­ways re­turns to Sixth Street. This main drag, with its 60 or so live venues packed into a cou­ple of city blocks, al­lows the city to boast that it is “the live mu­sic cap­i­tal of the world”.

There are many rea­sons to come to SXSW. It’s a place for mu­sic fans to see house­hold names (this year’s sched­ule fea­tured Muse, Scis­sor Sis­ters, Hole, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray and more) and ris­ing stars. It’s a place new bands (there were nearly 2,000 in Austin last week) hope to get no­ticed by as many as peo­ple as pos­si­ble by play­ing as many gigs as they can over the four days and nights. Or you might be a mu­sic busi­ness pro­fes­sional looking to meet like-minded souls to help you fig­ure out what this in­dus­try might look like in 2015.

And then there are the hearty few on the look­out for the next big things. De­spite the num­ber of es­tab­lished acts who pig­gy­back on the fes­ti­val buzz, SXSW is all about the po­ten­tial bright stars of to­mor­row. Here are 20 to keep an eye on it’s just three voices de­liv­er­ing folky odes which sound as if they were handed down through the gen­er­a­tions and not writ­ten in the last few months. Spell-bind­ing. Brook­lyn duo Jesse Co­hen and Eric Emm’s blend of Balearic pop and sub­lime Afrobeat grooves saw them winning many friends in Texas. On record, as the Set­tings EP shows, their mu­sic is mag­netic and ro­bust, but on a stage in front of a room of dancers and that sound be­comes some­thing hugely ad­dic­tive. A band who’ve got their swag­ger on thanks to a sec­ond al­bum chock­ablock with mag­i­cal pop tunes and swing­ing har­monies. They se­duced many over the course of SXSW. Songs such as Ex­cuses and Stitches from the Big Echo al­bum ex­ud­ing charm and con­fi­dence. Straight out of Den­ton, Texas, and without a Fergus or a Geron­imo in sight, F&G are a bunch of fresh­faced dudes with an unerring abil­ity to write su­perbly crafted, soul­ful garage rock. The po­ten­tial on dis­play augers well for the fu­ture. Any­one looking for arty, breezy, Afropop would have ran into Givers at one stage or an­other over the week. Both odd­ball and down­right com­pul­sive, songs like the skank­ing Ceil­ing Of Plank­ton showed that here was a band with their minds al­ready set on a very dis­tinc­tive and in­di­vid­ual di­rec­tion. It’s amaz­ing what a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Back at SXSW ’09, we caught the RAA sup­port­ing Griz­zly Bear and show­ing dis­tinct prom­ise and a lot of nerves. A year on and the Toronto trio ooze class thanks to mus­cu­lar, well-rounded songs burst­ing at the seams with pas­sion and emo­tion. Th­ese LA hipsters have al­ready scored a deal with Rough Trade and their de­but al­bum is en route, so this Texan visit was all about set­ting the scene. This mis­sion was ac­com­plished with hyp­notic desert-rock, sul­try in­die-pop and re­mark­ably strik­ing songs such

as Bil­lie Hol­i­day. A bunch of Chicago kids who would prob­a­bly have had trou­ble get­ting served at the bar, Smith West­erns packed a ton of at­ti­tude along­side the mer­ri­est con­sign­ment of teenage kicks we en­coun­tered all week. What’s cool about Cullen Omori and friends is how they blend glammy rock riffs, garage ra­malama and catchy hooks into one slam-dunk af­ter an­other. On record and in pho­tos, Generationals are two lads from New Orleans. Live, they add a wise­crack­ing drum­mer and an­other dude to the mix to em­bel­lish their catchy 1960s pop tunes with a doo-wop, soul­ful sheen. Songs such as No­body Could Change Your Mind from their ace Con Law al­bum stick be­tween your ears. From Reims, France, here’s an­other combo in thrall to big mu­sic. Ev­ery song soars to the sky as if some­one set out to repli­cate the best ex­cesses of Ar­cade Fire and Poly­phonic Spree without the an­noy­ing bits. Their play­ing is top-notch and songs such as Work are so damn im­pres­sive. A SXSW word-of-mouth suc­cess in re­cent years when they were known as The Mus­lims, Soft Pack roared into town with a fine al­bum of ra­zor-sharp, punchy garage-pop to sell. An­thems such as C’mon hit the right spots with a hint of dark­ness and in­trigue in the shad­ows. There is an un­writ­ten SXSW law that at least one Austin band has to get a rave re­view, and it’s Har­lem’s turn to en­joy the heat this time out. Messy and ram­shackle, the beauty of Har­lem’s live show is that just when it seems as if the whole she­bang is about to col­lapse, they find an­other gear. Best barbs about mu­sic blog­gers all week too. A duo from Min­neapo­lis, Peter Wolf Crier’s live show is a com­pelling, vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence thanks to Peter Pisano’s camp­fire songs and a lilt­ing, high bari­tone. Play­ing tunes from their In­ter-Be al­bum, the gritty coun­try-ish, bluesy feel puts you in mind of Bon Iver. Al­ready in the mix with their glit­ter­ing Hey Boy sin­gle from last year, The Magic Kids were the rea­son why we braved The Rud­est Door Staff In Texas for the Goner Records show­case. From Mem­phis, the Magic Kids will win you over with harm­ing in­die sass and sunny child-like cho­ruses. Such was the vol­ume of gigs Surfer Blood played dur­ing SXSW, it was nigh on im­pos­si­ble to miss them in action. I caught their fi­nal show at a packed Mo­hawk, where the Florida band threw out a string of fuzzy power-pop gems. Even af­ter a long, event­ful week, the set still sounded fresh and in­vig­o­rat­ing. Ex­pect the fuss around them to keep grow­ing. Fronted by Jes­sica Davies and Katherine Blamire, Smoke Fairies spe­cialise in wist­ful, spooky, mag­i­cal folk and blues sounds for that road movie you’ll get around to mak­ing some­time soon. While the Lon­don duo and their three­piece band will have to shoul­der in­evitable com­par­isons to PJ Har­vey, it may be bet­ter to fo­cus on the sub­stance of such songs as Liv­ing With Ghosts and When You Grow Old. Yes, of course, you know all about Conor O’Brien, but SXSW al­lowed us to see how a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence would view the Domino act and his songs. Play­ing a bunch of solo shows all over town, O’Brien’s be­guil­ing songs, fan­tas­tic melodies and strik­ing lyrics did all the shout­ing for him as many, in­clud­ing the New York Times, took a shine to what Vil­lagers had to of­fer. This year’s M.I.A.? There was plenty to thrill about in the su­per-sassy dance­hall hip-hop from New York Do­mini­can hero Natalie Yepez AKA Maluca. Now signed to Mad De­cent af­ter Di­plo heard her singing karaoke, Maluca dis­played a lot of bravado with a stir­ring set which fea­tured plenty of rough and tough bass and brass to keep those hard-hit­ting tunes on point.

The Soft Pack

Smoke Faries

Smith West­erns

Ru­ral Al­berta Ad­van­tage

Har­lem

Maluca

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