Playback: SXSW 2015
Although the weather didn’t completely cooperate in Austin this year, it was still an incredible year for music at SXSW. It certainly felt bigger than any other year with the crowds, and the queues, and the crowds…. did I mention that it felt crowded? I’m not complaining of course. Unlike most people, I quite like the energy that comes off of 6th street once the sun has gone down and there is a different sound coming out of each venue you pass (it get’s even better after midnight when the people watching is at its peak!).
Nevertheless, there were some rumblings about how “South By used to be all about smaller unknown bands” or “you never had to wait on a line” or (my favorite) “a SXSW badge used to mean something.” It’s true that the corporate and sponsor presence felt bigger than ever this year but that’s just a sign that this festival continues to expand.
Let’s face it… SXSW is the biggest live music event in the world, period. And with the growing popularity of the Interactive and film portions of SXSW it seems like there is no limit to how big it can get. Brands have figured out that SXSW is not just valuable for marketing to music fans but also marketing to the press and the bands that attend. And with the brands has come the corporate audience. It’s easy to see how an advertising agency or technology company could justify sending employees to take notes and exchange business cards at the interactive part and then stay a few extra days for the music bit. Even the idea of rolling an interactive festival into a music festival is pretty clever. Most of the innovation and interactive festivals out there (Cannes Innovation Festival, Innovation Week Tribeca, CES) are all targeted to nerds. But SXSW has made it cool to nerd out by rolling it into the largest live music festival of the year (it helps that Austin is a pretty kick ass town to boot).
That being said, SXSW still somehow sticks to its roots with small stage events and back room shows…as long as you know where to look for them. You can still stumble upon the next big band somewhere on 6th street, but you might have to push further out if you want to increase your chances. I found myself walking into parts of Austin that I would have never set foot in 5 years ago. But then again… there have been a lot of cool new venues added to the circuit because of the expansion.
Anyhow… enough ranting! Let’s get down to what you really want to hear: a report on the top artists coming out of SXSW this year. I’ve split the list up into three groups covering:
- Artists we knew would put on a good show
- Artists that surprised us
- Artists to look out for this year
The artists we knew would put on a good show
- Spoon – Outlier
- The Ting Tings – Shut Up and Let Me Go
- Surfer Blood – Swim
- Jungle – Platoon
- Kaytranada – If (Janet Jackson cover)
- Tove Lo – Habits (Hippie Sabotage remix)
- Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener
- The Zombies – She’s Not There
- Run The Jewels – Blockbuster Night Part 1
- Joey Bada$$ – Hazeus View
- Odesza – Without You
- Best Coast – Boyfriend
- The Damned – Eloise
- Portugal. The Man – I Won’t Let You Down
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Outlier.mp3|titles=Spoon – Outlier]
Spoon – Outlier
Going into SXSW you just knew that Spoon was going to crush it. They are from Austin which makes them local hero’s in some respect, they have a new album out and they were playing a number of shows at the best venues. One of which was at Cedar Street Courtyard (pictured above)… It was the perfect sized venue for Spoon; not too big, not too small, but just the size for a big headline band where you still feel like it’s an intimate show. They also played the bigger venues like the Auditorium Shores stage in Zilker park which was epic. It felt like every single person at SXSW was in the park that night, and Spoon did not disappoint.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Shut-Up-and-Let-Me-Go.mp3|titles=The Ting Tings – Shut Up and Let Me Go]
The Ting Tings – Shut Up and Let Me Go
Another big name on the bill that you knew would be knew were going to put on a big show were The Ting Tings. They put on a big show at the Austin Music Hall and I think everyone there could agree that it felt good to get jump around like an idiot to some classic pop tunes.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Eloise.mp3|titles=The Damned – Eloise]
The Damned – Eloise
You couldn’t go wrong if you caught up with Portugal. The Man, Surfer Blood, Jungle, Kaytranada or Tove Lo either. Courtney Barnett had a mini cult following throughout the week as well…also not surprising. And finally… a band I wasn’t sure to put in the “surprised their show was so good” or “knew they’d put on a good show” category was British legends: The Damned. I’m not sure why I even questioned it. Of course they were going to put on a fantastic show. They’re veterans. Even after a very slow start to the set because of technical problems, they managed to keep the crowd laughing and put on a classic show.
Artists that surprised us
Anyone who has been to SXSW will tell you that it is impossible to follow a plan for seeing artists. Sure, you can devise a plan, but don’t expect the events on the day to reflect that plan with TOO much accuracy. It’s part of the charm of South By; you never known what fantastic band, DJ, rapper, or artist you will stumble upon. You could be going to get a taco without any intention on walking past a bar with a hypnotically authentic Japanese Bluegrass band playing their hearts out. And that’s the great thing about SXSW.
This list represents artists that (for whatever reason) were not on our radar but we had otherwise stumbled upon at some point in the week at SXSW and were treated to an unexpectedly great show.[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Destruction.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Castles-Prod.-by-Felix-Snow.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Long-Way-Down.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Come-Back-To-Me-feat.-Tove-Lo.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Guitar-Blue.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Waves.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Burn.mp3|titles=Joywave – Destruction,SZA – Castles,Robert DeLong – Long Way Down,Urban Cone – Come Back To Me,Pirates Canoe – Guitar Blue,Roger Sellers – Waves,Hamish Anderson – Burn]
- Joywave – Destruction
- SZA – Castles
- Robert DeLong – Long Way Down
- Urban Cone – Come Back To Me
- Pirates Canoe – Guitar Blue
- Roger Sellers – Waves
- Hamish Anderson – Burn
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Destruction.mp3|titles=Joywave – Destruction]
Joywave – Destruction
Joywave put on a sick little show at the Palm Door on 6th. Frontman, Daniel Armbruster was especially charismatic on stage…before the show started he was joking with the sound tech, and during the show with a witty award given out to the most hardcore fan of the set (someone wearing boat shoes and a shirt that ironically proclaimed that he had “woke up like this” of course). They played a good deal of new material and their latest release (called “Destruction”) was met with a lot of purposeful head nodding and hipster-like shuffling. Really looking forward to see what this Rochester, New York based band will come up with next.
For some odd reason I decided to walk way the fuck south on Saturday when it was rainy and overcast out. I found myself on Rainey Street and thought it was a sign… as I passed the Collide Showcase on Rainey, sounds of a hipster-rap-electronica party spilled out. I ducked in to get involved.
On stage was 24 year old singer-songwriter Solana Rowe of the New Jersey based band SZA. She had a special flavour of PBR&B that could have only been created in the New York / Tristate area. And she was absolutely killing it. Everyone in the place was swaying to the beat and following her every word. The rain, my hangover from Friday, my wet socks… it all melted away after the next 20 minutes and I had a big smile on my face as I left the Collide tent.
If you are familiar with SZA then you probably wouldn’t expect her show to be a party because her EPs are very chilled out and soulful. But they definitely turn it up to 11 when it comes to their live performance. I highly recommend catching them live if you have the chance.
Everyone who has ever gone to a DJ show has wondered if behind that laptop they might just be checking emails and catching up on their Instagram. Are they just pressing play and then dancing around on stage for an hour pretending to turn knobs and tap buttons? Robert DeLong makes sure that there is no question to what he is up to whist on stage.
DeLong has Go Pros attached to his rig and live screens above his head providing proof that every time he taps a button, pulls on a joystick, or slides a fader he is in fact creating every sound. The rig he’s set up is pretty interesting to see as well. It’s a collection of traditional music instruments like drums, beat makers and mics, but he also has a collection of nerd related equipment as well. A joystick here, a gamepad there… all of which have been programmed as MIDI interfaces made to manipulate or create a certain sound. It makes for a pretty mesmerising performance in itself but the music is pretty awesome to dance to as well.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Come-Back-To-Me-feat.-Tove-Lo.mp3|titles=Urban Cone – Come Back To Me]
Urban Cone – Come Back To Me
Palm Door on 6th delivered a bunch of unexpectedly great shows from beneath their outdoor tent. One of such surprises was that of Urban Cone when Tove Lo decided to jump up on stage and perform “Come Back To Me.”
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Guitar-Blue.mp3|titles=Pirates Canoe – Guitar Blue]
Pirates Canoe – Guitar Blue
Austin is known for its cultivation of “weird” so you are expecting to see some unexpected things. Nothing prepared me for my introduction to Pirates Canoe however.
I was on my way to some delicious BBQ when I heard some terrific Americana bluegrass playing from the venue up ahead. Nothing out of the ordinary there… we’re in Texas after all. When I got close enough to see the band I was stunned to see that the sound wasn’t coming from a couple of blonde dixieland ladies like you’d imagine. It was a troop of Japanese performers. The entire band is from Kyoto, Japan. And although the sight of Japanese artists might not sound like it would fit the authentic sounds of an Americana roots band, it does. After the novelty of what it looks like wears off and you are able to let the ethereal voice of lead singer Elizabeth Etta sweep you away, you realize just how good they are.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Burn.mp3|titles=Hamish Anderson – Burn]
Hamish Anderson – Burn
While waiting to see Leon Bridges at St David’s Historic Sanctuary, we snuck back to the second stage to see if we could catch anything fresh. St David’s is a terrific place to see a show. The main stage is set where the alter would normally be and the audience is sat in the pews as if the artist is giving a sermon.
The back stage is slightly more intimate with high wooden beamed ceilings that give the room a warm acoustic and a cozy feeling. When we entered the room you could hear a pin drop. Hamish Anderson, a Melbourne based blues and rock virtuoso was just whispering the last words of his previous song. The small packed in audience erupted in cheers when he finished. As I took my spot I knew this was going to be good.
Blues and rock are not normally my type of music, but when it comes to live show, all bets are off. Bonus points when you are seeing an artist in such an intimate setting as this. The intensity doesn’t quite come through the same on a recording, but after 20 minutes in the room with Hamish and his band I was a believer. At the moment Hamish Anderson is on tour with BB King and I wouldn’t miss seeing him live if you have the opportunity.
Artists to look out for this year
And finally, the list you’ve been waiting for. These are the artists that you should be looking to break out this year. Not just because they had incredible performances but also because of the incredible amount of momentum behind them at the moment.[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Flashed-Junk-Mind.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Borderline.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Coming-Home.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-World-Is-Going-Up-In-Flames.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Flying-Golem.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Fossils.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Shes-A-Witch.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/White-Horses.mp3,http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Ibeyi-Better-In-Tune-With-The-Infinite-Jay-Electronica-cover.mp3|titles=Milky Chance – Flashed Junk Mind,Tove Styrke – Borderline,Leon Bridges – Coming Home,Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames),Wand – Flying Golem,Circa Waves – Fossils,Gengahr – She’s A Witch,Avers – White Horses,Ibeyi – Better In Tune With The Infinite (Jay Electronica cover)]
- Milky Chance – Flashed Junk Mind
- Tove Styrke – Borderline
- Leon Bridges – Coming Home
- Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
- Wand – Flying Golem
- Circa Waves – Fossils
- Gengahr – She’s A Witch
- Avers – White Horses
- Ibeyi – Better In Tune With The Infinite (Jay Electronica cover)
German folk-pop duo, Milky Chance came on the scene with the massively popular track “Stolen Dance” back in 2013. They were in danger of being a one-hit-wonder and then they released “Down by the River” to massive success shortly after and it was cemented. Milky Chance was here to stay. Their latest single “Flashed Junk Mind” made the crowd go just about as wild as when “Stolen Dance” was performed. It’s funny to me that bands outside of the U.S. like Mumford and Sons and Milky Chance are creating more popular modern versions of the American genre than American bands are.
One of the many successful Swedish acts gaining popularity this year is the other “Tove” …Tove Styrke. A decidedly more chilled out performance than the massive affair that was the Tove Lo show at the Austin Music Hall, Tove Styrke was perhaps more my speed. It was nice to see that after all the hype Tove Styrke has received on the internet, she puts on a terrific live show as well.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Coming-Home.mp3|titles=Leon Bridges – Coming Home]
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
One phrase I heard to describe some of the bands in Austin was: “that band is winning SXSW this year.” And while I’m not exactly sure how SXSW is a game that you can necessarily ‘win,’ it did feel like Leon Bridges was a band that was winning SXSW. You couldn’t go a day without hearing about him. The Fort Worth, Texas native was likened to Sam Cooke because of his accurate recreation of 50s and 60s soul and gospel sound, but he brings a renewed confidence to the genre. Talking to his band backstage (the guys from White Denim) they confirmed that there is a full length album on the way.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-World-Is-Going-Up-In-Flames.mp3|titles=Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)]
Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
On one hand Charles Bradley has been around for a long time (since 1948 in fact) and on the other hand, he’s just coming into his own. In the beginning of his life, Bradley set out to become a chef. His natural talent as a performer couldn’t be kept a secret for too long however, and after seeing James Brown perform live at the Apollo in New York, the seed was planted.
His early career was spent imitating James Brown in a sort of cover band. After some time, a rep from Daptone discovered his raw talent and he began writing and recording his own material in the early 2000s.
You can certainly see the resemblance to James Brown and it is easy to hear the influence the late soul singer has had on Bradley’s sound. However, if you read up on the life Charles Bradley had, he certainly has enough material to write from. Watching him perform on stage to an absolutely packed crowd in Zilker park you bear witness to what Bradley is becoming. Metamorphosing from an artist that paid homage to a soul legend into a legend in his own right, Charles Bradley is easily the best thing that has happened to soul in the past decade. This is a live show that you should not miss if given the chance!