After another hectic five days racing across Austin, SXSW Music 2016 was another roaring success. In amongst all the Tex-Mex, free bars and a whole bunch of film, we also saw some amazing live music, and other bands not so great. Here is a run-down of the 17 acts we caught while in town.
This SXSW rundown is in alphabetical order but it’s fitting that Anderson .Paak would come first. Everywhere you turned this year there was a Paak show coming up, but we caught him at the Pandora Discovery den. Already with a healthy back catalogue to choose from, Paak was apparently changing up his set from show to show but we were treated to his Dr. Dre collaboration, Animals, plus much of his aclaimed second LP, Malibu. Strutting about on stage in a stylish bomber jacket, Paak mixes R’n’B with hip-hop stylings, sometimes rapping, sometimes singing, sometimes playing the drums. While the music is sophisticated and engaging, the main thing Paak exudes is energy and exhuberance. He’s a real performer on stage, something music is really missing at the moment, so if he can continue to back it up with great music, the sky’s the limit.
One of the most in demand artists at this year’s SXSW, Baio was one of our high hopes for the festival too. Though debut album, The Names, couldn’t ever quite escape the shadow of Todd Terje’s masterful, It’s Album Time, the Vampire Weekend bassist solidified his solo act with a well-timed remix collection to follow it up late last year. Unfortunately Baio was one of our biggest let downs of the festival. Playing groovy electro with lots of looping synth and a live rhythm guitar, hits like Sister Of Pearl still went down well but it was all a bit noodly and forced when reproduced live. With Baio embracing a strange on-stage persona, dancing around bum-first from side-to-side, front-to-back, he never really pulls it off. The deeper, more tropical tracks worked better, but we’re only saying that because it required Baio to stay behind his decks to push the effects board.
Stealing the show that night against the always impressive Mohawk line-up, Bayonne is a Caribou/Gold Panda-esque one-man-show, producing his eclectic, loop-heavy tracks life on stage in remarkable fashion. With only two tracks formally released, one of which just a couple of weeks ago, word of mouth was obviously doing Bayonne a lot of favours because his show was packed to the brim. Often setting a track up with synths, loops and effects, Bayonne layers up each segments like he’s conducting an orchestra before letting loose with vocals or live drumming on stage. For a one-man electronic show to create such momentum was impressive, especially with so much of the sound reproduced live. A hugely impressive debut at SXSW.
Day Wave (above)
Playing jangly indie rock, Day Wave tore up the Cheer-Up Charlie’s stage like it was their 5th SXSW. Reminiscent of Beach Fossils or early Wild Nothing, their upbeat sound is almost dream-like at times, with frontman Jackson Phillips tearing rushing most of their debut EPs, Headcase and Hard To Read. There are moments when you’d wish Day Wave had a little more edge, as even on his more downbeat lyrics, Phillips is still sickly-sweet, but it all still works. The best moment of their set? when he looked out on stage to see the heaving audience, Phillips tried to hold his emotions back but a huge grin broke still through. They obviously enjoyed themselves up there, and rightly so.
Another name on everyone’s lips in the run-up to SXSW, Diet Cig are everything so great about the festival wrapped up into one little band. A spunky, DIY ‘slop pop’ duo, Alex Luciano on guitar/vocals and Noah Bowman on drums create an excitable sound, high on energy, exuberance and charisma. As Alex tore about the Sidewinder stage, Noah was doing his best to get through an entire pack of drumsticks, mixing it up with other percussion to bring extra depth to their tracks. The pair do face the familiar problem of trying to create a fuller sound with only two people on stage, but thanks to all their fervour, you don’t end up missing the extra bodies. I don’t know if Diet Cig is the sort of band that will ever ‘make it’, but then I don’t know if they need to, they’re doing just fine as they are.
Admittedly suffering from poor sound on stage, D.R.A.M.’s slot before hype act, Vince Staples, was an unfortunately limp, stuttering set. Bar his big hit, Cha Cha, the crowd were never really in the groove, with his loops lacking verve and the silly, over-embellished lyrics falling flat. By the end the music felt very generic, and with D.R.A.M. making the audience to shout out to their mums five times every break between tracks, he needs to find a new routine.
Back for their second successive SXSW, this time off the back of debut album release, Leave Me Alone, the all-girl four-piece still know how to put on a show. Playing reverb-heavy lo-fi rock, there weren’t booked into as many shows this year but were probably the better for it, now even tighter on-stage and a lot of fun to watch. The Spanish band let loose at Flamingo Cantina, running through most of Leave Me Alone, plus a couple of older tracks, their no frills approaching giving off a fun, house party vibe. At the end of the set, Hinds went off stage with big grins on their faces so it’s obviously still very fun for them, and it’s still very fun for us too.
Kacy Hill (above)
Revealing at the end of her set how nervous she’d been about performing, you wouldn’t have know if from diminutive powerhouse, Kacy Hill. On supremely hot afternoon at Spotify House, Hill’s atmospheric, downbeat electro has a vast sound, pitching her bellowing vocals against James Blake-style beats. Hill’s tracks move through waves, slowly building pace to a series of mesmerising crescendos, with a lul to get your breath in between. With an honesty to her performance and the very polished tracks, it was hard to come away from the show not wishing Kacy Hill the success she so obviously deserves.
From Seattle, not a sleepy Cali town like you might expect, La Luz’s powder-coated surf rock is effortlessly seductive. Led by Shana Cleveland’s dulcet vocals alongside sharp, spikey guitar, their music is laid back yet jumpy and excitable all at the same time. Rushing through what felt like a very quick set, the band held back on fuss in between tracks so they could squeeze an extra couple of tracks in but the Hotel Vegas crowd were still left wanting more, basking in the sunlight from the skies above and up on stage.
It hasn’t quite happened for Polica like you thought it might following excellent debut, Give You The Ghost. Drawing comparisons to dreamy Beach House, though they lack some of the same hooks, Polica’s synth pop comes completely alive at their shows. Led ably by frontwoman, Channy Leaneagh, she was so lost in their music during the set, the band quickly drew in the ever-willing crowd. Warming up for Baio and Miike Snow, Polica certainly held their own, with songs from new album United Crusher, coming across just as tight as albums one and two. However, you can’t help but wish there was a little more variation.
A band’s success at SXSW can rest a lot on the time and place they find themselves playing; Juan Carlos Lobo Garcia didn’t get the luck of the draw. In front of a largely empty room and given the first slot of the night, his Ritualz act is aggressive, reverb heavy electro, but in the situation it sounded very flat. While I’m sure a raving room would have helped the mood, the tracks lacked any real oomph, the dark nature of his ‘witch house’ sound drowning out any euphoric highs. Maybe in another situation it would have been completely, or then again, maybe not.
Shannon And The Clams
Quirky four-piece, Shannon And The Clams really come alive on stage. Playing punky, vintage-inspired surf and keeping to a kitsch, 60s dress code, they were part of an afternoon line-up that included Thee Oh Sees and didn’t let the side down. Finding moments to rev it up, and others to slow it down, Shannon And The Clams exist for the live arena, much catchier in person than on record.
Playing a whopping 11 showcases at this year’s SXSW, we caught Sunflower Bean somewhere in the middle, at the ever-popular Fader Fort. Playing live, Sunflower Bean are a lot heavier than you might have expected, and pushing heavy reverb through the mics and guitars, the three-piece really thrash it out on stage. Album standout Easier Said unsurprisingly stole the show – a lighter, upbeat indie track – but the rest of their catalogue came alive like never before too, with the darker and more boombastic, Tame Impala, rousing an equally chaotic reaction. Something of a SXSW rarity, the sound was excellent for the whole of their set too.
Another of the electro acts crashing the normally guitar-heavy Mohawk stage, North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso certainly held their own. Debuting a series of new tracks before getting into first album hits, Coffee, H.S.K.T and Hey Mami, Sylan Esso set off an all-out frenzy. Finding the perfect balance between downbeat electro and fun party beats, their music so smooth and melodic you can’t help but groove along. The new material is more of the same, but it feels like they’re stepping it up a notch, as by the end, the crowd really couldn’t get enough. Watch this space for album number two.
Starting their SXSW before the music festival officially kicked into gear, Tacocat crash landed on the Hotel Vegas indoor stage at 100mph. Best known for service industry anthem, I Hate The Weekend, the quirky four-piece play pop-punk garage rock with an enviable sense of humour. With two of the band members boasting highlighter yellow hair and guitarist Eric Randall often touting pigtails, they look an odd bunch on stage but they work their socks off to make sure you have a good time. With new album, Lost Time, due April 1st, it’s shaping up to be a good year for the Seattle band.
Vince Staples (above)
Making headlines after tearing into Spotify at their own sponsored event, Vince Staples took to the Barracuda stage under the watchful eye of his manager, waiting in the wings. This was a set much less mired in controversy, but you could still see why the young Long Beach rapper’s playful on-stage persona has won him so many fans. Staples’ hard-hitting vocals clash with sophisticated baselines in just the right way, exuding so much confidence you can’t help but jump along. This uncompromising West Coast rapper is undoubtedly one of hot artists coming out of the festival this year.
One of our finds of the festival, White Lung are a no-holds-barred indie-pop-punk four-piece from Vancouver. Playing riff-heavy guitar music, their sound was so well layered, even live, that when vocalist Mish Hall storms in, everything still feels in sync. While they could own the stage a little more, tracks from their upcoming third album are sounding better than ever, as garage rock continues to make a comeback, the more rough and ready, the better.
Additional reporting by Natasha Peach and Dave Krummel.