The music we wouldn’t dare miss.
Here it goes again.
Depending on how long and how deeply you’ve been mired in music culture, SXSW can feel like the party of the year or a week of boot camp in hell. Ideally, it’s a little bit of both. Yeah, you have to walk around a hot city catching sets by every band you’ve ever heard of, but on the other hand, you get to walk around a hot city seeing every band you’ve ever heard of. It’s exhausting and ridiculous, and if you do it right, it’ll make you feel alive in ways you rarely get to feel.
Like every year in Austin around this time, there’ll be way, way too many bands vying for attention along Sixth Street and Red River. You’re probably already set with the headliners and legacy acts, so we’d like to brush you up on the up-and-comers — the bands about to break through to those headlining tours around the rest of the country. Hopefully, this will help you narrow down that impossible schedule you’re staring at on your phone, or at least give you a few names to watch out for while you’re trawling the streets of Austin for something good.
It’s chaos in there, but amid the noise and branding and promos, sometimes you catch a glimpse of why we all trek down to Texas in the first place. Here’s the acts we wouldn’t dare miss this SXSW.
Of the countless garage bands playing SXSW, power trio Wand is the weirdest and heaviest. It’s like Sabbath on speed, more metal than Thee Oh Sees, and more psych than obvious comparisons Fuzz and Meatbodies, vocalist/guitarist Cory Hanson’s former band. Wand’s new record, Golem (out March 17th via In the Red), is a bombastic trip that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands as well as anyone who digs old-school heavy psych and stoner rock (hence why RidingEasy Records, cultish purveyors of all things Sabbath-esque, is handling a syndicated tape release of Golem).
Wand isn’t another face in the diluted garage rock crowd. That they’ve traversed scenes is proof of their innovation. Also, they put on a crazy (loud) live show. Catch them at the official showcase on Friday night at Hotel Vegas or Saturday afternoon at Waterloo Records’ free day party. –Jon Hadusek
Sometimes the best music comes from the sudden confluence of disparate sources, and that’s exactly the case with San Francisco’s Cathedrals. Brodie Jenkins was the product of California wine country, raised on Americana and soul sounds; Johnny Hwin is the son of Vietnamese refugees who learned piano by ear and started out producing hip-hop beats. Together, they form a sort of electro R&B that dips its toe into a pool of trap, pop, and trip-hop. Though they only recently put out their first EP, they’ve been crafting their sound for over two years, and their careful work has turned many a head in the months since their debut. They’re sure to attract even more attention at their official showcases at Clive Bar on kick-off Tuesday and Empire Control Room on wind-down Saturday. – Ben Kaye
Photo by Alice Baxley
At the end of last year, a two-piece from LA called Girlpool released a seven-song, self-titled EP that oozed with wit and wisdom through its charming lo-fi scuzz. Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker both live in Philadelphia now, and the young guitar/bass duo is gearing up to release its full-length debut, Before the World Was Big, on June 2nd.
The women in Girlpool write smart pop songs with a political edge, but what makes their singles click is just how well they’re able to sync with each other. Any rock band with just two people has a lot of space to fill, and that space multiplies when neither musician plays drums. But Girlpool rhythmically locks in to the point where you’ll hardly notice there’s no percussion to bone up the songs. These two tackle stuff like misogyny, anxiety, and growing up in their lean guitar numbers, but mostly it’s a pleasure just to hear them talk to each other through the frets. See Girlpool Wednesday night at House of Vans or at the Portals day party on Friday. –Sasha Geffen
Photo by Ryan Boyd
Boston’s Elder are the metal band with the most breakout potential at SXSW. They just dropped their excellent sophomore LP, Lore — an early metal album-of-the-year candidate — and will ride that momentum into a full week of performances. They’re playing more sets than most any band in any genre, with one practically every night starting with American Icon’s Heavy Metal Cage Match show on Monday night at Beerland. You’ll have no excuse for missing Elder, and I intend to catch them a few times, because repeat listening is the only way to fully comprehend their stoner prog epics — 10-plus-minute songs that move through melodies and riffs with literary adroitness. The guitar interplay recalls Television’s Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine if they were clad in denim and stoned on the good shit, and while that might sound like a far-reaching comparison, it’s the truth. I can’t recommend this band enough. –Jon Hadusek
Photo by Daniel Dorsa
New York’s Mitski might best be qualified as a singer-songwriter simply because her music stretches everywhere. Her first two records were full of orchestral, lush pop. OnBury Me at Makeout Creek, she’s taken a turn into the indie rock world, but brings along just about any noise she can muster. Although there are outbursts of distorted guitars and strained screams, she gets there through subtle pianos and country twangs. Lyrics crafted with wit and intelligence span an equally large gap on either side of love; “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony/ I want a kiss like my heart is hitting the ground,” she sings on “Townie”, while on “I Don’t Smoke” she promises, “If your hands need to break more than trinkets in your room/ You can lean on my arm as you break my heart.” You’ll want to see this folk-hearted talent at a solid early-evening showcase, like her set at The Liberty on Saturday. –Ben Kaye
Hinds came into the world as Deers and had to change their name due to a potential lawsuit from a similar-sounding band. That’s a common enough origin story, and like many bands who arrived upon their name by threat of legal action, Hinds’ second name actually fits them better. Deer — entire deer — are whatever. Narrow the animal to its back legs, and all of a sudden you’ve got a wonder of muscle springing to action.
Luckily, the Spanish garage rock foursome is up to the image they’ve cropped for themselves. The singles they’ve unleashed so far burst with surfy melodies, both gentle and furious, toothy and sweet. Their voices topple all over each other as they spell out stories of frustration and drunken heartbreak, while the rhythm section locks loose gears behind them. Hinds’ no-fi productions already pack more character than most bands who drag themselves through the studio, and their arrival in the States ought to be a rare treat. See them Thursday night at Fair Market, Friday night at Lucille, or Saturday at Latitude 30 — all three sets are at 10 p.m. –Sasha Geffen
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Torres, aka Mackenzie Scott, built her listenership through sheer will and individuality. Back in 2012, she wrote and recorded an album and then put it on the Internet. No label, no publicist, all aspiration. Her slowcore folk, striking in its earnestness, gradually crept through all the right DIY web checkpoints — Bandcamp, blogs, web forums, BitTorrent — before Partisan records caught wind and signed her. Scott’s trajectory serves as an inspiration to artists hoping to establish themselves purely through passion and the strength of their work. She’s set to drop her sophomore record,Sprinter, on May 5th via Partisan and will likely be premiering these new songs during her SXSW showcase at the Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday, the festival’s final night. –Jon Hadusek
Makthaverskan is playing the USA for the first time ever, and given the sheer power of their last album, II, there’s no way we’d miss out on seeing these Swedish post-punks in the flesh. Makthaverskan is a hurricane, an ice storm, a tornado ripping through the boxy edifices of “rock music.” They are the least boring post-punk band I can think of.
II ripples with love songs, hate songs, and songs of revenge, and each of them erupts from singer Maja Milner’s spine. The band’s new standalone single, “Witness”, takes up more space than ever, letting its drums and guitars crash-land to earth around Milner’s howls. And while the Scandinavian five-piece throws around some sharp barbs, its rock candy melodies are what keep the songs lodged deep in your head. Makthaverskan deals in sugar and blood, and especially the rush you get when you mix them. –Sasha Geffen
TOBIAS JESSO JR.
Recalling Harry Nilsson and Paul McCartney, the music of Tobias Jesso Jr. is, in a word, refreshing. In a time when it seems like contemporary songwriters are trying too hard to be different and innovative in the hopes of becoming The Next Big Thing, Jesso reminds us that sometimes you just need a pop song and honest sentiment. His genius in is in his simplicity, peeling away the frills on his debut album, Goon (out March 17th via True Panther).
The intrinsic disadvantage of South by Southwest is that bands often don’t have enough time to soundcheck or are forced to play a rushed set because of time constraints. It might not feel like an authentic or accurate representation of their live show. But Jesso writes the kind of songs that can be played anywhere and in any context, with a big backing band or with a nothing but an acoustic guitar and piano. Intimate is the opposite of SXSW, but Jesso’s set at Central Presbyterian Church on Friday night should be just that. –Jon Hadusek
While a lot of SXSW attendees spend the week searching out the cutting edge, Leon Bridges will be wowing listeners with a soul sound straight out of the ’60s. The Texan’s music throws back to the era of Otis Redding with such genuine warmth that the recent Columbia signee should please even the most jaded music industry type. Whether he’s singing a beautiful ode to his mother in “Lisa Sawyer” or promising a return to his beloved (as on “Coming Home”), Bridges’ music has a blend of genuine, immediate presence and an uncanny feeling that it’s coming straight from a decades old 45.
Though he’s only got a few tracks on the internet, the hype flood has been rising thanks to glowing reports of his live show, including a backing band complete with a tenor sax for those smooth solos. Bridges will be giving fans five chances to catch his honeyed guitar tones and powerful pipes, but the key set should be a Friday night set in the hallowed halls of St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. –Adam Kivel
Though they come from a city known more for its dreary downpours than its righteous waves, Seattle’s La Luz have found a way to capture surf rock where many bands have failed to. Their easy doo-wop vibes and danceable garage sway create the type of misty, “heavy” atmosphere many strive for but few manage so effortlessly. It rings of carefreeness, but only subtly belies the lyrics’ attempts to reason with the unreasonable perils of life and love. Yet despite its more melancholic inspirations, the music creates a euphoric mood — not the outright exuberance of pure joy, but the blissfully cool calm of something more zen. The quartet has nothing new to support since releasing their debut in 2013, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have new material to tout at shows at Hotel Vegas on Thursday and Friday or, perhaps better yet, the venue’s Bruise Cruise on Wednesday. –Ben Kaye
According to legend, Chicago’s Mick Jenkins started rapping when he entered a contest to win a pair of Beats headphones in college. He started attending Young Chicago Authors, writing poetry, and dropping a capella verses. That combination of hunger and poetic prowess led him to the excellent 2014 mixtape The Water[s], in which the anti-drill thinker uses his intricate lyricism to urge listeners to drink in the world’s truths, even if sometimes it seems like that deluge might drown you.
Jenkins matches his dexterous wordplay with high-energy performance and massive hooks, making him a fit on SXSW bills with indie upstarts and high-profile hitters like Earl Sweatshirt. But his spot at the Smokers Club House with fellow up-and-comers like Joey Bada$$, Wara, and Lil Herb promises a night full of meaningful hip-hop hype. –Adam Kivel
Photo by Philip Cosores
Oh, how much can change in just a few months. As the calendar turned to 2015, the world was just starting to get an understanding of Natalie Prass and her powerful voice. Thanks to an excellent self-titled debut, though, that’s all changed, and the former Jenny Lewis backup singer has turned into an indie sensation of her own. The Nashville-via-Virginia singer-songwriter’s emotionally resonant songs ache with heartbreak in that Southern tradition, rounded out by arrangements designed around Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb house band.
Prass’ winning live show highlights the charm of the already sterling songs, and she’s also been known to throw in a Janet Jackson cover. Be sure to check Pratt out at our CoSigns IV party at the Hype Hotel — you won’t want to miss her continued rise to the top. –Adam Kivel
Denzel Curry may just recently have turned 20, but he’s got the bravado and composure of a seasoned vet — as proven by his recent “Envy Me”. Growing up in Rick Ross’ hometown, Carol City, FL, Curry has had some big shoes to fill. That’s not to say he goes straight for the Maybach Music boss’ style — his proper debut, Nostalgic 64, leaps and dives through complex lines — but he’s clearly aware of those at the top of the game, and he’s aiming to catch up with them. The early previews of his upcoming 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms suggest he’s got the potential to do just that. Curry’s got six sets planned for SXSW, but he’s sharing the top line of the bill with DeJ Loaf at AnimalXHouse’s unofficial showcase Thursday afternoon. –Adam Kivel
Photo by Angel Ceballos
Chastity Belt came out of Seattle in 2013, a group of post-collegiate women playing disarmingly confident, frequently goofy, and understatedly feminist post-punk music. That understatement doesn’t come from anything subtle — not when you’re playing songs called “Cool Slut” and “Pussy Weed Beer” — but in the delivery. The band was birthed from a bunch of friends playing music together in a small college town, and what group of university students doesn’t like to go out and have a good time? These four just went ahead and captured the experience in music; think Broad City with stoner guitars. On their forthcoming Time to Go Home, they’ve grown a little more assured in their sound, but continue to calmly refuse to take themselves too seriously, a combination that will make them a standout at the three She Shreds showcases they’ll play throughout the week. – Ben Kaye
Originally Posted on Consequence of Sound