Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SXSW 2011- scouting report

We know SXSW as 'adult spring break' or 'indie spring break' where hoards (thousands) of us music nuts rush down to Texas to pig out on bands at numerous showcases and day parties. But SXSW is also kind of a scouting report as you get to feast on a number of groups in a few days, seeing what's good and what's not. Sure, you'll see some of your favorites from years past (this time for me it was Lucinda Williams and Old 97's) but even if you're just a little adventurous, you'll also need to see some new blood when you're in Austin.

Thanks to the nice people at Flavorpill, I was able to come up with a list of weirdly-named bands that were worth checking out at SXSW but after I traveled there, I also found a number of other bands I liked with less weird names too.
Even after attending three panels (including one I organized about rap) and filing four stories there, I managed to see about 50 bands, which was a new record for me there. With about 2000 bands playing at SXSW, that comes out to about 2.5% of the music that was going on there. Still, it was fun to see all of it and here's some recommendation, aka my own scouting report:

(Photos: Shining Twins, Capsula)

  • Gold Motel- great power pop group from Chicago, led by sweet-voiced Greta Morgan. Wrote about a show they did for CNN (yep, the news network). Was glad to see that their catchy tunes held up well live.
  • Alexis Foxe- retro big band singer but not so retro that she's lost in nostalgia. Smart enough to hand out customized notepad mersh and deserved a much bigger crowd than she got for her showcase. Still, she was picked to be part of the SXSW fashion show.
  • Marco Benevento- Brooklyn keysman whose work bridges jazz, techno, classical. Performed a solo piano set and had a small drunken crowd raving for him.
  • Bliss N Eso- Aussie rap? Indeed. They were impressive and it wasn't like they were rapping about kangaroos and boomerangs, OK? They've been around for about a decade (opened for 50 Cent down under) but only reached the States a few years ago.
  • Capsula- wild Spanish garage band, with lead singer/guitarist Martin Guevara putting on quite a show, onstage and offstage and on the drum riser and with his guitar in the air.
  • Big Freedia- been wanting to catch 'him' since the last SXSW. This 'sissy bounce' rapper from NOLA is hilarious and dirty, shaking his butt all over the stage and into the crowd and beyond, with a bunch of dancers putting theirs anywhere else they could fit it.
  • Snowdroppers- another bunch of Aussies but this time a rootsy folk/country band with some rockabilly craze in them.
  • Janka Nabay- this Sierra Leone singer relocated to Philly and hooked up with a New York band to good effect. Self-proclaimed 'father of bubu music,' it sounds more like a West African groove going on (no complaints here).
  • Dominique Young Unique- sassy (and dirty) rap in the manner of Kid Sister.
  • Shining Twins- an indie power trio led by diminutive drummer/singer Marissa Kreiss who plays standing up, banging away on a bass drum twice her size with drum sticks.
  • Fever Fever- a real post-punk revival group not only because they're Brit girls but also because they're rabid enough to sound like they were there in the old days (which they weren't).
  • Wordburglar, More or Les- part of a Canadian 'nerdcore' rap showcase, they joined in on each others' set and both proved to be quick-witted, quotable and hilarious.
  • Something Fierce- well-named Houston punk band (not to be confused with a late mid-West power pop band) which features a drummer than looks like he wandered in from a jam band.
  • Le Butcherettes- a Mexican punk band might sound like a novelty until you hear and see Teri Gender Bender (aka Teresa Suar├ęz) in action. There was such a packed and rapt crowd for their show that I wouldn't be surprised if they proved to be a break-out band from the fest.
  • Blue King Brown- yet another Aussie band but in yet another style. They describe themselves as 'roots' but it's more like they're a diaspora Latin group, impressively led by singer Natalie Pa'apa'a, who wooped up a crowd nicely at the showcase I caught. Hope they get booked for Globalfest.
  • Khaira Arby- a great Malian singer (Ali Farka Toure's cousin too) who also moved the crowd at the same showcase as BKB (see above). Her soaring vocals can also be heard on the new album by Sway Machinery. You can also hear her SXSW set here on NPR.
  • Grupo Fantasma- this Austin band calls itself 'Latin funk' and they're so grooveful that you won't doubt it (they were good enough to get a 1AM crowd dancing like crazy, even yours truly).
  • Yuck- probably the most unappealing band names around but maybe that's part of the charm. Part indie, part drone rock, part visual spectacle- permed out singer, Japanese girl bassist, drummer with an Afro bigger than his kit. Still, they were good enough to see twice at the Fest.
  • Wild Flag- Featuring Carrie and Janet from Sleater-Kinney so what's not to love? They are and aren't SK, not only because they still won't hire a bassist but also 'cause Carrie doesn't do all the singing and now they've added a keyboard player. Only a single out now but surely more to come.
  • Vaccines- supposed the hottest new band in the UK now, they live up to at least some of that hype, which is saying a lot. Roy Trakin: "they sound like the Ramones crossed with Jesus and Mary Chain if both had bothered to learn how to play their instruments.."

  • Dirty Dozen Brass Band- joined them for a great Second Line march through downtown Austin.
  • Hayes Carll- vying for the title of country's funniest man against Todd Snider?
  • White Denim- now with a 2nd guitarist and only a little less unhinged live.
  • tUnE-yArDs- much stronger, more confident set than I saw her do last year.
  • Anamanaguchi- ditto for this techno-punk band, great digital visuals too.
  • Living Things- their set was a meager 20 minutes but for that short time, they rocked hard and held the stage well, even though I missed the dancers they had last time.


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