Austin’s annual musical challenge to the brave and eager has rolled around. While film, interactive and games are becoming more important to the South By South West (SXSW) brand, music is at the heart of this Texas festival and once the interactive spring break is over, the skinny jeans and Ray Bans come a knocking, looking to further themselves in some capacity. With over 2,000 bands playing over five days, there’s plenty to delve into. Here’s a dispatch from the first 48 hours:
Screaming Females @ Club De Ville
If you like lo-fi garage music delivered by a three-piece with a smattering of mid-’90s rock and a titch of a female lead singer who screams, shreds and gives it socks, then New Jersey’s Screaming Females are right up your pizza and beer-lined Austin street. Also, bonus points for doing what they say on the tin.
Key Track: ‘ I Dont Mind It’
Download: Screaming Females – I Don’t Mind It
Jamie Woon @ Emo’s Jr.
This English soul boy has played a deft hand in his career so far. Production from Burial has given the former Brit School student some major cool points. In a live setting, that gloss is quickly taken away. Woon is a traditional shy soul singer who doesn’t try or attempt to mask his performance with the electronic sounds that are dominant on his records. No sirree, this is straight up soul with a bit of funk and jazz. Occasionally, it tips into lounge terrority. Woon’s an understated performer too so if you’re not swayed by his voice, then you might not be engaged by his live show.
Gold Panda @ Emo’s Jr.
After Mount Kimbie’s wandering ambient and beats set, Gold Panda showed them how to light up a room. With his hoodie up, his hands twisted furiously, while his body heaved around the equipment creating energy for the room. His set was a majestical showcase of skittery beats, sped-up and slowed-down tempos, hypnagogic melodies and succeeded in recalling Derwin’s Japanese obsession through synths, simple melodies and skewed rhythms.
Cults @ MTV Hive House
As video tapings go, this was up there. An early morning shuttle brought 25 or so people to the house of an old country singer where the San Fran video site Yours Truly was filming the band for MTV Hive and the site. After breakfast tacos and juice, the small crowd were treated to a couple of songs performed by Cults’ six-piece band on a small stage that the country singer had built for himself. ‘The Curse’ sums up the band at this point: swirling vintage melodies with a distinct pop bent thanks to singer Madeline’s sweet voice.
Therapies Son @ Club De Ville
Effeminate and uplifting orchestral pop grooves from 19 year-old Alex Jacob. Flanked live by a drummer and celloist, this was the real deal. Glorious. Rumour has it that a well-respected UK label is interested in signing him.
Key track: ‘Touching Down’
Download: Therapies Son – Rose Red Rose
Toro Y Moi @ The Fader Fort
It’s delightful to report that Chaz Bundick’s excellent new album Underneath The Pine is getting the treatment it deserves in a live setting. A live band led by Bundick laid on the funky and balmy synths, lending a full-bodied rep to the songs. Summer jam crush grooves for all.
Key track: ‘Still Sound’
Toro Y Moi – Still Sound
Jonquil @ The Fader Fort
Hugo Manuel, who is known as a solo artist and as electronic producer Chad Valley, has also been keeping his hand in tropical keyboard pop with Jonquil – a full band project. The songs are full of light and positive melodies, with echoes of that African-inspired Vampire Weekend sound that’s still so prevalent. Lovely.
Foster The People @ Mohawk
Fascinating set from this LA-based band. Their anthem ‘Pumped Up Kicks‘ may well be a false flag. These guys delve into ultra-pop integrating harmonies, thumping electronics and yes, the obligatory “new band” signifier, a single drum which various members bash throughout the set. Foster The People are not an indie band. They are an indie boy band. They have a singer who is a cross between an American singer like Rob Thomas with the cheeky face of Mark Wahlberg.
They are aiming towards your radio and they may well get there if they iron out the cackling, abrasive numbers and stick with what they do best – sunny piano pop with simple song structures with electronics pumping in their veins. Foster The People are a particular North American band – radio friendly, kinda cheesy, yet still wholly interesting.
Key track: ‘Pumped Up Kicks’
Download: Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
Suuns @ Red 7.
Rock music should be played in dark caves and Red 7’s inside venue is a veritable bleakhall. It’s a perfect place for Suuns’ dark and brooding set which jumps from Suicide-esque drone spike to suddenly frantic trashy rhythms. The Canadians are all about intensity – gothic hypnotics with stabs of light and energy. The room shakes. Bodies vibrate. Suuns are HEAVY.
Summer Camp @ Red Eyed Fly.
A much-anticipated set which ended up a bit of a chore. Technical difficulties are always around the corner at SXSW but the London duo’s fledgling live set in Austin was beset with issues before, after and during each song. The band are at their best when using vintage sounds to create their own thing. When that song isn’t strong enough as it was on two particular occasions during this set, it falls flat. The absolute highlight is Elizabeth Sankey’s coying down to earth voice. The whopping ‘I Want You’ closed the set and sets the bar for what the band could do in future.
Summer Camp – I Want You
Photos by James Goulden
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