ONE LAST SXSW ENTRY! This is a repost from my Hotline column, where I'm doubling up like a crackhead on Linden Street, but the point gets across
10 Bands that caught my attention at SXSW
Michael Marotta vs Michael V :: Herald vs Vanyaland
Yeah yeah yeah, a billion bands play SXSW, and each of the trillion people wandering around downtown Austin emerge back to the Real World with their own “best band ever” lists.
So here is mine. I skipped out on things like Muse at Stubbs BBQ or Nas at the Fader Fort or even Hole playing somewhere (didn’t even care enough to look!), instead having maybe a half-dozen bands I needed to check out (Marina & the Diamonds, Class Actress). The rest was all about flow, and if I missed something awesome a few blocks away, chances are it didn’t matter because I was having a blast exactly where I was.
From Wednesday afternoon to Sunday morning I caught maybe 60 bands, and here are 10 (in no real order past the first few) that lingered enough in my dome piece to still write about them after being back in Boston a few days…
Typical SXSW story: Got the wrong time for Class Actress’ set at the Phoenix on Saturday and rolled up an hour early. Three unknown dudes take the stage and proceed to blow minds. Crystal Fighters’ blend of traditional Basque Country sounds and modern dubstep and electro seems an unlikely mix, but the UK band (normally a quintet, tonight a trio) is just rock n’ roll enough to start capturing hipster hearts. Yes, another “Crystal” band, so what? They rule. LISTEN:“Xtatic Truth”
After making the New York City coffeehouse rounds armed with an acoustic guitar, the sultry voice of Elizabeth Harper now fronts the carefully-paced, country-club synth pop disco of Class Actress. It’s electronic music with stunning depth, and Harper’s bedroom eyes are irresistible. A future superstar, this lady is, and she even got the “Brooklyn’s Madonna” tag by one publication. But that voice. My god that voice. LISTEN: “Careful What You Say”
Marina & the Diamonds
One of the few bands I had marked as a “must see” before arriving at Logan, Greek songstress Marina and her backing Diamonds seem poised for an American breakthrough. Chances are we won’t even mind the lyric that goes “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America.” She’s on to something, and even Perez Hilton reportedly knows every word to her songs. Think an indie-flavored Dersden Dolls without the punk cabaret stuff. LISTEN: “Obsessions,” “Hollywood”
If you waited more than 20 minutes for a daytime showcase gig, chances are Florida’s post-grunge pop kids Surfer Blood was playing. Must have seen them about a half-dozen times, and it never got old. Definitely one of the major success stories of this year’s SXSW, and “Take It Easy” might be one of the best songs about tacos, like, ever. LISTEN: “Take It Easy.”
Another favorite of the Fader Fort’s indie paradise on Thursday afternoon, Los Angeles’ Best Coast are another in a genre I’m dubbing “post-grunge surf-pop.” Bethany Cosentino adds a nice pin-up vocal flair to buzz, noise and pop all in one hearty ultra-hype milkshake. Music for the thrift store set. LISTEN: “When I’m With You”
Full disclosure: I kinda love female rappers, from Amanda Blank to the ladies on VH-1’s “Miss Rap Supreme.” But Chicago’s Kid Sister takes things up another level, and was the undisputed highlight of my IHEARTCOMIX-Mad Decent “Carniville” experience. That’s no easy feat when there is a Gravitron on the premises. But tracks like “Right Hand Hi” and “Control” are insanely awesome summer anthems and I smell BBQ every time I hear them. How “Right Hand Hi” never became a mega-hit, I’ll never know. The LA Riots remix of “Control” never gets old, either. LISTEN: “Right Hand Hi.”
French Horn Rebellion
Until Saturday night at the Phoenix, I only knew French Horn Rebellion for their Magic Magic remix. Turns out, these blippy Brooklyn-Milwaukee dance-pop cats got their own original game material just as tight. They were supposed to open for Little Boots and Dragonette next month at their now-cancelled Middle East gig, making me even more bummed than I was before I knew they were on the bill as well. LISTEN: “Up All Night”
Four bad-assed Atlanta grrrls throwing down some post-hardcore lo-fi punk at the Panache Showcase all while switching instruments before songs and putting a huge white sheet covering up sponsors logos behind the stage? Will happily take, forever ever. LISTEN: “Toomerhead”
Aa (Big A Little A)
Great Scott booking agent Carl Lavin personally tied to create his own trending topic on Twitter after realizing the new it-thing in bands is to have everyone play drums. And we thought they’d all be playing MicroKorgs? Brooklyn’s Aa (pronounced “Big A Little A”) create such a beautiful mess or drum beats and harmonies we kept forgetting we were outside in a tent. Well-crafted tribal rhythms by white dudes in v-necks can comfort in strange ways. LISTEN: “Thirteen.”
Acid Mothers Temple
Not really a new discovery, not even a time-honored favorite. But when you get a text message from an old friend you haven’t seen in years telling you that in 20 minutes Acid Mothers Temple is playing in an empty building lot at dusk and it’s BYOB and when you arrive someone you don’t even know hands you a flask of vodka and there is a dude in a rodeo clown suit roller skating as Japan’s psychedelic rock legends just tear it up in a space-aged freak-out on the pavement… well, that’s pretty much SXSW in a nutshell. LISTEN: “A Gastric Ulcer and the Prosta”
BONUS TRACKS... Honorable mention to Austin’s own Neon Indian, who brought their strobe-pop to a packed out Fader Fort Thursday and played a billion other “places to be.” ...Also a shout out to New York post-hardcore veterans Les Savy Fav, who put on an intensely killer show everywhere, the Saturday night Vice party in an empty office building on 6th Street was no exception... And props to all the DJs who killed – Le Casle Vania and Reid Speed at Barcelona, Toxic Avenger and Dances With White Girls at Beauty Bar, and Felix Cartal at Aces. Nothing like a well-timed electro dance party to break up the rock n’ roll show. ...Also cheers to NYC's Mr. Jonathan Toubin for laying down the soul at Vice, keeping kids dancing until sunrise.