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
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
Rural Alberta Advantage