Every March music-hungering hordes swarm Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest Festival, an event that offers up a veritable smorgasbord of artists and record labels to sample over the course of a week. As appetites are sated and thirst is slaked, the big question upon everyone’s lips is – Which hotly-tipped artists will set the music world alight?
SXSW 2012 has lined up some stellar luminaries including Jack White, Nas, Norah Jones, The Shins, and Jesus And Mary Chain, as well as a wide range of known acts like Keane, Thomas Dolby, Pennywise, Talib Kweli, The Magnetic Fields, and Tenacious D. But who will be the next mad hot indie hero(ine) or crossover star? Who will win critical acclaim and fan(atical) fame?
Whether it’s digging up Beach Fossils, finding the Lights, procuring Indian Jewelry, or unearthing a Band Of Skulls, the most fun for the music fan is in the discovery of something new and something special – before everyone else does and the artist becomes a breakout hit. Here are some “made of win” acts playing SXSW this year that deserve more attention:
mr. Gnome - Kick-ass duo Nicole Barille and Sam Meister pack a huge sonic punch, segueing from surreal dreamscapes to cathartic conflagrations with unnerving speed and ease, with Nicole’s sharply anxious, yet ethereal vocals riding on the crest of Sam’s kinetic, propulsive drumming. Madness In Miniature is their latest freakishly awesome full-length opus.
“Spain” live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5eDopic8KE
The Twilight Sad – The Scottish band’s songs often build up slowly in intensity, reveling in a stark and electric ambience as lead singer James Graham bares his compelling, emotive vocals to a rising whirlwind of guitar ascension. The band’s latest album No One Can Ever Know tones down the guitars and turns up the synths, but James’ desperate delivery of the despondently bleak lyrics remains the same.
“Another Bed”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuehlm0aNfs
The Black Ryder – Australian duo Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper have only one album to their name, 2009’s Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, but it’s a doozy. Looping guitar distortion, cool, but dreamy female and male vocals, and a densely-textured wall-of-sound sensibility are shaped into highly melodic tunes. There are also a few vintage-sounding, noir alt-country numbers that are every bit as arresting as the more expansive tracks. The band is an official SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist:
“Sweet Come Down”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ed1IsPMCK4
Therapy? – These long-running Irish rockers have the cure for what ails ya. Founding members Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan have made their mark on a variety of genres, including bare-bones punk, appealing noise-pop, aggressive metal, and brooding balladry, always grounded by Michael’s tight, intricate bass rhythms and Andy’s deadly serious to gleefully ironic lyrics and vocal delivery. Therapy? rocks with enthusiasm and energy and the band’s 13th album, A Brief Crack of Light, is out now. The band is an official SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist:
“Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLBD0D52LMM
The Ropes – Sharon Shy and Toppy create melodically-appealing noise-pop with wryly ironic lyrics. The songs are guitar-based, but include plenty of electronics as well, covering both indie-rock and dance-pop styles as Sharon sings with imperviously cool, slightly velvety vocals. The band is an official SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist:
“Lack of Technology Made Me a Killer”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebjGebCirz4
Gossip – It seems strange to add Gossip here because Beth Ditto and cohorts seem to have made it big, but maybe signing to a major label, being on the cover of the NME, and performing on Jonathan Ross doesn’t cut it anymore. Anyway, Gossip first stirred hearts and loins way back in 1999 with a series of raucous and riveting recordings that had a stark, but catchy blues and punk-based vibe. Later tunes went the dance-pop route, but still resonate with Beth Ditto’s whoppingly rousing voice and attitude.
“Heavy Cross”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mQVljB7JGw&ob=av2e
Gemma Ray – While no one can ever replace Amy Winehouse, several artists ply a similar retro musical style, including Adele who is at the top of the pop charts. Well, it’s time to add Gemma Ray to the list. Oft compared to Amy Winehouse and Duffy, Gemma vocally sounds like neither, staking out the middle ground between Amy’s deeper smokiness and Duffy’s lighter croon, while still emoting melodramatically amid sweepingly orchestral to guitar-backed instrumentation. Gemma’s 4th album, Island Fire, is due soon.
“100MPH (in 2nd Gear): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9ft3S10Euw
Band of Skulls – This band broke big last year, with a song featured in a Ford Mustang commercial and another number on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. Not bad for an indie act from the U.K. While they’re touted as being a rock ‘n’ roll band, there’s also a serious edge of alt-folk beauty and pristine, precise production on debut album baby darling doll face honey. New album SweetSour is out now.
“Devil Takes Care of His Own”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XUwKewzdNs
Computer Magic - Danielle Johnson AKA Danz AKA Computer Magic crafts pleasantly engaging bedroom synth-pop in her Brooklyn home and no one is the wiser that wasn’t created in a recording studio. Like fellow SXSW artist Grimes, Danz follows a DIY aesthetic to music-making that is inspiring to other up ‘n’ coming artists and enjoyable to the listener. Danz just released her latest EP Orion on Kitsuné and is one of the featured acts at Kitsuné Club Night at SXSW.
“The End of Time”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSGiPE8-tMg
The Men – Riotous on record and compellingly calamitous live, Brooklyn-based The Men audaciously blaze with fuzzed-out, fiery guitars and driving rock rhythms that anchor lead shouter Nick Chiericozzi as he verges on emotional collapse. The Men reach back to the raw power and melody lines of early Nirvana as the band veers towards the anarchic edge, only to be pulled back by the dynamic instrumentals that shape the entropic dissonance into something aurally rewarding. Second album Open Your Heart was just released.
“Open Your Heart”: http://soundcloud.com/sacredbones/the-men-open-your-heart
Ryat – Christina Ryat is a purveyor of hypnotically warped electro-pop that layers on looping grooves and rhythmic beats while Ryat sinuously insinuates herself in the pulsating mix, sounding like a dreamy, child-like kindred spirit of Bjork and Natasha Khan. Her sophomore album Totem is scheduled for a May release.
“The Gaze”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbuN7NAmULw
The Boxing Lesson – Austin-based Paul Waclawsky explores the possibilities of psychedelic space-rock, utilizing Moog and other synths to create the band’s epic, atmospheric sound. Paul’s expressive, anxious to anguished vocals up the intensity, drawing the listener into the slow-burning soundscapes. Upcoming album Possibilities moves away from the long-players, favoring shorter, but still darkly mesmerizing rock numbers.
Tycho – Tycho AKA graphic designer Scott Hansen released a refreshing and rejuvenating electronic album last year on Ghostly International and he’s riding the wave to SXSW and beyond. Brisk cycles of intricate, but coherent sonic refrains move through Dive, evoking both an agreeably kinetic and calmly hazy space where sun and sand and sea all merge into a pleasant paradise. Some wordless female vocals grace some songs, while others feature murmured male intonations. “Dive”, the single, will drop in April.
La Sera – Katy Goodman, bassist and backing vocalist of Vivian Girls, went solo in 2010 with La Sera, releasing her vintage-vibed, self-titled debut album in early 2011. Katy’s highly melodic, introspective, guitar-based tunes and bittersweet lyrics are buoyed by her sweetly yearning vocals and chiming to surf-tinged guitar lines. Sophomore album Sees The Light will be out at the end of March on Hardly Art.
“Please Be My Third Eye”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUM2kZkXLi4
Blondfire – Brother and sister duo Bruce and Erica Driscoll, under the moniker Astaire, made lovely waves with “L-L-Love” in 2005, but has since had to change its name to Blondfire. That little glitch hasn’t stopped them from producing bright ‘n’ lovely guitar-tinged electro-pop with enticing, lightly silky vocals from Erica. The duo is an official SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist:
“Where the Kids Are”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8wG_s5aFps
Deafheaven – Death metal has never sounded so angelic, at least instrumentally. The band, which formed in 2010, forges grand, epic numbers that assault the senses with continually bashed cymbals, unnaturally rapid-fire drum beats, fiery crescendos of sky-scraping guitar frisson, and screamed out vocals from George Clarke, with the occasional graceful lull to soothe the listener before the next sonic attack. Debut album Roads To Judah came out last year.
Dragonette – If Lights can make it, there’s no reason for Canadian band Dragonette to be stuck in the dark. This is slick, upbeat, and catchy electronic pop (with the videos to match) for the mainstream with verse, chorus, verse song structures, infectious dancefloor beats, and Martina Sorbara, a lead singer with visual and vocal flair. A much-awaited 3rd album is in the works.
“Pick Up the Phone”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvcjqcVpH-I
Gliss – The latest iteration of distorted, guitar-driven dream-rock has been alive and thriving in the form of Gliss for a while. The LA band debuted in 2004 and was noticed by Billy Corgan, followed by prime supporting slots and radio show performances. On the previous two full-lengths, blazin’ guitar licks reel around laid-back, hazy, doubled vocals from Victoria Cecelia and Martin Klingman. Upcoming album Langsom Dans points to a new direction for Gliss in that it favors synths over guitars to create a dreamy mood.
“Weight of Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyxFTbaTJIQ
High On Fire – In an effort to live up to the band name, Matt Pike and brethren burn it up on rawkin’ metal numbers that assail the listener with belligerently growled out vocals, thunderous, fast-chugging rhythms, and jagged slabs of guitar. Latest, and 6th, studio album De Vermis Mysteriis is set for an April release.
“Fertile Green”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX4yy3TwdvM
Baron Von Luxxury – Baron Von Luxxury, the suave alias of Blake Robin, plies the beats and blips of his electo-pop trade on his new album The Last Seduction, out now on Manimal Vinyl. Known as a producer, DJ, in demand remixer, songwriter, and frontman for Luxxury, Baron shifts from straight-up dancefloor jams to dreamier, melancholic numbers with ease.
“That Disco Beat” (featuring Little Boots on vocals): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeo5MeEHG8c
Lisa O’Neill – Irish folk singer Lisa O’Neil, whose contemplative, wizened, slightly wavering vocals belie her youth, is rooted in traditional folk balladry, but reaches out to the next generation(s), continuing the long and venerable line of storytelling through song, passed down in a live and lively environment.
“Everything Is Free”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyCsi4hcDmg
Class Actress – The electro-pop backdrop may be standard (blippy to starry synths; clacking beat), and pervasive, but Brooklyn-based Elizabeth Harper’s strength lies in her wistfully light, charming vocals that mix melancholy and hope in equal measure. Debut album Rapprocher was released last year on Carpark Records.
Marriages – Much is mysterious about Marriages due to the fact that the band only coalesced a scant few months ago, but it turns out that its three members, Emma Ruth Rundle, Greg Burns, and David Clifford, all also belong to the instrumental band Red Sparrowes. While there are common, guitar-based, post-rock threads woven between Red Sparrowes and this new incarnation, one delightful change is that, as least from the available single, vocals have been added to the mix. Debut album Kitsune will be released in May.
“Ten Tiny Fingers”: http://marriagesmusic.bandcamp.com/track/ten-tiny-fingers
The Drums – Of all the quasi-known to unknown artists to grace the SXSW stage this year, Brooklyn transplant The Drums has the biggest buzz going for it. Lead singer Johnny Pierce and company have already racked up plenty of fans and critical accolades, supported Florence + The Machine on tour, and appeared on Jonathan Ross. The band wears its heart and U.K.-based influences on its sleeve, ranging from The Smiths-inspired jangle-pop to 60s-sounding crooning to innocent beach-pop, all while bringing a casually tossed-off element to the flights of fancy. The band is an official SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist:
“Let’s Go Surfing”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeZbbx5SPTs