Returning from SXSW there’s only ever one question; ‘which band was the best?’ After taking some time to reflect (and sleep!) it’s without doubt, this year, the charge was led by British bands… so instead of choosing the best acts of the week, here’s 10 killer sets from around the world that made this year’s trip to “The Lone Star State” so great…
Amyl and the Sniffers – Thrasher x Vans: Death Match @ Weather Up
There’s a storm brewing at Weather Up. On the edge of town, a good ten blocks from the downtown action, chaos has erupted and the pit of colliding human-sized atoms bouncing off each other are being rewarded for their eneavour to one of South-by’s most easterly venues. Call it rage, a tantrum or simple flip out, singer Amy Taylor knows how to summon a storm. Her bandmates create a relentless tirade of 110mph rapturous punk-rock as ignited by the spirit of Johnny Ramone and swilled down with a vodka-infused Gatorade chaser. Yelping in her Aussie twang, “I’m not a loser!” Amy grins as she sings with a mischievous glint in the eye. There’s some chat about poppers, the moshing becomes a scrappy swirl, dust clouds tan the revellers and just like Debbi Harry with the sass and savvy of a guttersnipe alley cat, she launches herself upon the crowd and rides their arms on one giant wave of enthusiasm – a solid celebration from the newest queen of punk-rock, positioning this band as the best kind of SXS-mess.
Ratboys – Stereogum Range Life @ Cheer Up Charlies (Outdoor Stage)
They say you can take a band from its hometown but can’t take the hometown out of the band. And as the clouds gather above the swinging canopy which is gradually picking up momentum over Cheer Up Charlie’s outdoor stage you can’t help but think, from their on-stage attire, Chicago’s Ratboys are right to be tuned to the climes of their Windy City. Standing centre-stage, singer Julia Steiner occasionally glances up to the sky from under the fold of her Chicago Bears beanie and seemingly gives a few knowing smiles to partner-in-rhyme Dave Sagan and the Ratboys live band, before they launch into a rollicking set of honest songs about toxic friendships and taxing relationships from their latest GL (Good Luck) EP. Emitting sweetness through summery strumming, gauzy choruses swell from alt country undertones and offer a hit of serotonin through the grey of the day; fresh, like the packs of free Stereogum gum being handed around the crowd.
Art d’Ecco – Desert Daze + Ritual Events @ Hotel Vegas (Inside Stage)
Apostrophe placement has been a hot topic this week. From The Beths’ Jonathan Pearce talking about spelling of ‘y’all’ to Liverpool’s Her’s declaring at the Brooklyn Vegan party they “know it’s grammatically wrong, but don’t care.” Fellow apostrophe rogues Art d’Ecco are a figment of Lynchian subconscious and the most glamorous of punk-rock dreams. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the Hotel Vegas back room is dwarfed by their super-sized Bolan-esque tones and spiky starboy synths. Hook-laden stompers brim with Patrick Wolf pop majesty, Gossip shimmer and Public Access TV indie rock sensibility. That the singer looks immaculate with a raven bob framing porcelain sky-high cheek bones, bold colour to the eyes and lips, and is sporting a shimmering jacket kissed by the mauve and pink hues of the dive bar lighting, whilst three of the most dapper suited and booted band members sway to the beat, makes it all the the better. No-nonsense, just genuinely danceable, straight-up glamorous indie rock n roll with the biggest of hearts. Like being given a naughty VIP pass, the entire room is enticed to join the party in their nostalgic but forward-facing world.
Mike Krol – Hipster Robots Suck @ The Side Bar (Outdoor Stage)
Rocking back and forth in his Elvis t-shirt with one foot on the drum kit, Mike Krol is taking care of business. It’s a good job; most of the crowd who’ve gathered around this DIY backyard stage – complete with monitors on patio furniture – have been awake just a few hours and what they need is a shot of driven and raw garage-grunge adrenaline. Surrounded by band, Mike leans forward in his shades and pulls himself up, holding balance before dropping back off and pacing the stage. A sermon of his sharp take on the world through scratchy Strokes-tinged yelps, Mike tambourine-bashes like he’s secretly powering the band through each track; if he stops, they stop and together they clatter through songs from latest album Power Chords. ‘What’s the Rhythm’ is a highlight, enticing the sun from behind the clouds and transforming the yard into a blazing hot sun trap, keeping it all very cool but igniting a fire for his SXSW debut. “I tend to avoid SX like the plague,” he says, “but I don’t know why. This is a lot of fun.”
Durand Jones & The Indications – Ticketmaster Showcase @ Stubbs BBQ
When ‘screaming eagle of soul’ Charles Bradley passed away he left a James Brown wail-sized hole in the lives of many soul fans. Durand Jones & The Indications might not be able to fill it, but they’re doing their damndest to try. As the sun sets over Austin’s famous outdoor venue, the crowd are hit with the talent of the 7 musicians before them. Durand can hold a breath-defying note to challenge the sustained chords of the organ and his voice effortlessly soars to sooth the most jaded of South-by souls. On ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ the drummer’s time travel-inducing falsetto harks back to a golden age of smoke-filled jazz clubs and just like a tight family unit raised in Daptone’s House of Soul, the skills of each member are given chance to shine. Stepping back into the spotlight after a stint on saxophone, Durand takes the mic and gestures to The Indications’ trumpet player; “we like to play a game,” he tells the crowd, before trying to catch her out in an improvised contest of call-and-response. Fans of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson or Nick Waterhouse will recognise the band as vintage soul enthusiasts rather than revivalists; a fresh young band who can take a pause as well as they can throw a party.
Dreamer Boy – Vinyl Me, Please: Rising @ Empire Control Room
“Do you wanna go to Nashville?” asks one Zach Taylor, donning his Stetson and grinning before navigating the edge of the stage and joining the clumps of crowd in front of him. Tonight, wherever we find ourselves; his hometown or Austin, the true destination is more complex. Better known to friends as Dreamer Boy, his mellow chillwave is befitting of the stage name as it filters through the speakers and laps upon glitchy Bieberesque r’n’b pop. Singing and flexing wibbly auto-tune alongside synths from right-hand man and Love, nostalgia collaborator Bobby, this stripped-back dive bar set is that of a DIY bedroom set-up, yet Zach’s showmanship shines as he weaves about huddles of curious cats, serenading them with teenage love songs on the right side of awkwardness and sweetness. Wherever we are or wherever we’re heading, this set is one wild trip.
Emerson Snowe – International Day Showcase @ Austin Convention Centre
You’ve got to hand it to Jarrod Mahon, even when presented with the most sterile of spaces, under his Emerson Snowe moniker, he is a pure entertainer. Stood with guitar in hand and only a backing-track for company, he sweetly delivers dreamy nursery rhyme pop to ‘Ballroom G’s rows of chairs, and their occasional occupier. Majestic swan song ‘If I Die, Then I Die’ is a glittery waltz wrapped in a smog of Lemon Twigs splendour and sensitive synth ballad ‘Could You Love Me?’ sees Jarrod showing off his best sides to the cameras transmitting his image across multiple screens surrounding the stage. It’s a tricky set for the Brisbane songwriter but in his world, if the party doesn’t come to him, he’ll take the party to them; when not strumming his guitar, he sings whilst climbing and hanging from the rigging and ducking under the TV monitors, before leaping off, strolling down the aisle, and leaving those in their seats to serenade unsuspecting delegates in the foyer outside.
The Wants – Quit Your Day Job @ Cheer Up Charlie’s (Indoor Stage)
It’s early days for this Brooklyn 3-piece who’ve been infiltrating the city’s subterranean scene and gradually causing a buzz with the defiant, murky sound of their own rhythmic underworld. Tonight, with an extra member in tow, an unexpectedly short 20-minute set proves only one mission; to leave the crowd wanting more. A clue in the name, perhaps? ‘Ape Trap’ and ‘Clearly A Crisis’ possess the stark art-pop bounce of Franz Ferdinand with the stop-start stomp of Gang of Four, and the bobbing heads of a packed crowd pick up speed as the tracks gain momentum. The set is mostly industrial doom-laden post-punk and danceable guitar grooves powered by throbbing basslines and singer Madison Velding-VanDam’s monotone, interspersed with a side helping of anxiousness and melancholia. The brevity of the set might hint at a lack in material but could only mean one thing; more good things to come.
Avalanche Party / The Blinders – End of Trail Records @ Valhalla
A special moment in the trajectory of Avalanche Party and The Blinders’ careers to date, SXSW was always going to be more British invasion than pilgrimage. A billing featuring both acts would only result in the deepest of war wounds and a trail of destruction left in its wake. Punked-up poets, each perform solid sets, erupting with a blistering and unapologetic gut-punch of monumental proportions. Yet, it’s the surprise collaboration between the two, in tribute to The Amazing Snakeheads’ recently passed Dale Barclay, which is pivotal and emotional. Performing a rousing ‘Memories’ from Dale and his band’s Amphetamine Ballads album, Avalanche Party frontman Jordan, typically bare-chested and sweat-clad after an impassioned performance from within the crowd, is joined by The Blinders’ singer Thomas who swigs from his Lone Star and positions himself at a second mic. Together, the band stir up the Snakeheads’ distinctive stoned groove, and a cacophonic sound erupts, unravelling into bittersweet scenes of beautiful disarray. Dale would be proud.
Fontaines D.C. – DIY Magazine @ Swan Dive (Patio)
“My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big,” intones singer Grian on frantic post-punk number, ‘Big’ before pacing the stage and shaking his wrists with pent-up energy. Taken literally, it’d be a bold prediction for the Dubliners; building a buzz at the world’s largest music event, particularly with an unreleased debut LP, is no mean feat; there’s stiff competition. But putting similar confidence into their set, the Fontaines frontman roams his invisible cage and surveys the faces surrounding the band. ‘Boys In The Better Land’ is ferocious and the 5-piece hammer through each track with vigour. Through the band’s relentless commotion their usual nonchalance is, tonight, injected with restless spirit; guitarist Carlos stands tall on the speakers, hunched under corrugated awning whilst bandmate Conor shreds his strings with a cig gently resting in his lips. Wearing a baggy pinstripe shirt, Grian’s resemblance to Ian Curtis is evident as he clutches at the mic before adding to the band’s racket with a tambourine in hand, moving their position from big prediction to big premonition.
Honourable mentions (in no particular order): Blushh, Illuminati Hotties, Sharkmuffin, Odonis Odonis, Sneaks, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Cherry Glazerr, TC Superstar, The Beths, Squid, Black Midi, Thyla, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Madeleine Kenney, Viagra Boys, Dylan Cartlidge, Murray A. Lightburn, Anteros, Whenyoung, Samia, Bedouine, Trudy and the Romance, The Texas Gentlemen, Fatherson, The Mystery Lights, Oh Sees, GRÜN WASSER, Sports Team, Gabriella Cohen, Fruit Tones, Her’s, Sweet Spirit…