This year was another one filled with surprises and after trying to succinctly describe what the SXSW Music Festival is truly about, I finally realized the simplistic reason why this festival still remains at the top of the list for bands and music lovers to attend: it’s all about discovery. Recently, music writers at the NY Times declared they are missing Coachella and Bonnaroo altogether. They have a point, as those lineups go on, it seems to be more about what favorite festival traveling band of the year they can get to commit and headline. There are a few bands worthy of discovery in those line ups, but it is nothing like the experience of the SXSW Music Festival.
Where else can you see the next emerging artists from around the world before they hit it big in America? In 2013 I witnessed Bastille’s second live show in America, and within a year they were playing on Saturday Night Live and selling out mid to large level venues all across the US. In 2014 I witnessed Royal Blood play to about 30 people and they destroyed their set. At SXSW in most of the small venues there is no back stage. The artists co-mingle with fans and they are truly at a point of appreciation that you are there to see them. Sure, there are a few gripes about SXSW as it’s become massively commercialized with every music and non music related advertiser producing their own day shows and parties which just makes it even harder to decide where to go or who to see. It’s also for the elite. If you pay thousands of dollars for a badge, you will probably get in to the large headlining shows, but even if you shell out $175 for a music wristband, your chances still remain pretty slim to get in to the larger well known acts. My strategy has and always will be to go for the smaller up and coming bands which usually are less crowded and I promise you will be blown away by someone, somewhere. Here I am listing a handful of my favorite bands witnessed at SXSW and they are definitely ones you need to know. The other cool and awesome thing is the people you will meet. There is never a dull moment during the festival and you won’t be disappointed with the people from around the world you speak with.
One such person I met was Mr Orkester. I missed grabbing a picture of him during his one man band set but we sat and talked afterward and it was quite fascinating. Originally from Norway, he truly is a modern day musical vagabond. His real name is Sebastian and he travels all around the world, this being his first time at the SXSW Festival. His next stop is Mexico as he met some cool people there he will stay with once he gets enough money in tips to afford the plane ticket. He has no cell phone and uses the internet at public libraries to keep in touch with others. He mentioned how many people have met him and said how jealous they are of his lifestyle, of just living in the moment and truly not having huge financial responsibilities with a home, bills, job, etc. He laughed a bit and said, yes it’s pretty cool most of the time but it sure isn’t glamorous as there are some nights spent on the street with no shower, no bathroom, etc and no guarantee of when he will actually be able to get to his next destination. He also mentioned how many people just sit there and take pictures or videos of him and don’t tip. I only had $5 on me but that’s what I gave him and would have given more if I had it. So, if you see Mr Orkester in your town playing on the street, say hello and help donate toward his next destination because he definitely entertains and is worth what you would have spent on your next coffee or beer. Plus, you truly are helping him eat his next meal or pay for his next plane ticket.
Aside from meeting super cool and unexpected personalities, here are the top 8 acts caught live while at SXSW.
MATT WOODS – (London, UK)
Ben actually shared Matt’s latest track right after I saw him live and I was so impressed. He could be the next r&b crooner to take the world by storm. The London based artist also introduces awesome electronic elements during his set and if you are wondering if his vocals are just as great as his recorded tracks, they are if not even better. He is also a cool guy as well.
NINET – (Israel)
It’s no secret I was impressed by her live set and shared her music last week, so it’s no wonder she is on this list. If you see her coming through your town, you must catch her live. Her live experience is quite mesmerizing and I truly believe it is only a matter of time before word travels fast through America. I have a feeling she will be organizing a headlining American tour within the next year. She has also stepped in when Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree) lost his voice in NYC earlier this month and she stepped in and learned all of his vocal parts in 40 minutes before the show. Rolling Stone covered it here.
OBERHOFER – (Brooklyn, NY)
Oberhofer have been making awesome surf pop vibes for the last few years and this is the first time catching them live. Great energy, performance and personality. Oberhofer have also announced a deluxe version of their most recent release, Chronovision which includes previously unreleased tracks like Hey Man.
RUN RIVER NORTH – (San Vernando Valley, CA)
We have already shared tracks by RRN so we are already fans. It was great to catch them live at the ASCAP showcase and they completely impressed with their live set. The 6 member band was full of energy and completely on point during their entire set. A really awesome emerging indie rock band – if you can catch them live, do it. You can purchase their newest release, Drinking from a Salt Pond, here.
SLINGSHOT DAKOTA – (Bethlehem, PA)
Slingshot Dakota totally wins for the most energy exerted from a duo who both have stationary positions. They are totally an indie pop band but their live set exudes a bit of a punk vibe where you almost want to head bang a bit, especially with Tom’s insane drumwork. The husband and wife duo completely rock it out. They are both super appreciative of their fans and those they work with like the staff and sound team. Carly is also super cool and they are totally approachable which makes you love them even more. Pick up their latest release Break, here.
SWIMM – (Los Angeles, LA)
This year SWIMM was on my short list to see this year and I was not disappointed. The Florida natives totally rocked it out and impressed with their live set. They have a wide range of sounds from shimmery indie pop, chilled out shoegaze to even songs that totally rocked out. If you missed their latest release, you can pick up the 12″ vinyl of Beverly Hells here. They are also cool guys as well.
TACOCAT – (Seattle, WA)
Tacocat was probably the most packed inside the Brooklyn Vegan venue. I was pretty far at the back and I really do not have a photo worth sharing. The lighting wasn’t the best so unfortunately Emily Nokes looks like a white washed blob so I won’t bother sharing. The Seattle foursome have a great knack for presenting feminist issues in an amusing yet serious way (Check out the video for Hey Girl). Their live set was energetic and definitely entertaining.
YUCK – (London, New Jersey, Hiroshima)
YUCK have been making awesome indie rock with a 90s rock vibe. It’s always great to see a band that has been on your radar for a while yet you have never experienced them live since they are based halfway across the world. They have a great stage presence which is commanding and also entertaining. They have been likened to Pavement and Dinosaur, Jr. In my book they are awesome. Even though their live set was delayed and cut short due to previous bands running behind, they played a stellar set and should be added to your need to see live list.
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