Saturday 7 December 2019

SXSW sussed

Our pick of the hottest bands from the biggest music showcase in the world

Niall Byrne

Now in it's 24th year, South by Southwest (SXSW) is the biggest and best music industry showcase in the world. Every March, thousands of bands descend on downtown Austin, Texas, in an attempt to make an impression on publishers, tour bookers, punters, managers, journalists, bloggers and tastemakers. Last year, Passion Pit were the break-out buzz hit of the festival and rumour has it Elliott Smith was discovered while busking on the street one year.

So, we sent Niall Byrne to this year's festival to discover the top bands you will be hearing more about in the near future.

Mountain Man

Three girls huddle around a trio of microphones and wonderful things happen. Amelia Meath, Molly Sarle, and Alex Sauser-Monnig are based in Vermont and their sound is rooted in the North American music of blues, country and folk. Singing all their songs a cappella, bar one with a guitar, their crystal-clear harmonies are what draw you in as their sweet voices chime in unison. Many of their songs could have been sung in 1920 but still sound fresh to these modern ears.

For fans of: O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack

The Middle East

Queensland, Australia is the home of this folk septet who have been building up a reputation on the back of last year's The Recordings Of The Middle East EP. Until SXSW, however, the band had rarely been seen in a live setting outside their home country. No reason to worry, the band's joyous yet melancholic folk sounds even better on stage. As a marching band passed the windows of the Galaxy Room on Sixth Street, they sent their own little procession right into our hearts with stirring songs such as Blood and The Darkest Side. Spine-tingling brilliance.

For fans of: Fleet Foxes, Nick Drake

Frightened Rabbit

These Scots have had a cult following since they released The Midnight Organ Fight in 2008, but the release of their new album, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, will undoubtedly see them become a mainstream concern if their new and improved live show is anything to go by. Their set at SXSW was evidence of the confidence in their new songs, with singer Scott Hutchinson sweating out a captivating performance of love and loss in sharper focus than ever before.

For fans of: Arab Strap, The Shins

The Morning Benders

Purveyors of big-hearted, swoonsome indie-pop with a 50s AM Radio twist. Think Grizzly Bear jamming with Vampire Weekend. Despite having only appeared on the international scene in the past two months, a capacity crowd turned up at their first SXSW show on day one to get acquainted. It didn't take long. The band (below) have instantly memorable songs. When they cut the music during the big pop thrill of Excuses for an extended a cappella singalong, the crowd's love for them was easily cemented.

For fans of: Grizzly Bear

Dam Funk

Modern gangsta funk is an intriguing concept in theory but as Dam Funk's mammoth five-LP album Toeachizown last year proved, it can be a sporadically edifying concept. Edited down to a live 30-minute set does make it a goer. Dam controls the show with his gravel-voiced croon, which is something he neglects to do on record. As a result, Dam Funk was a bumpin' ride through Cali with the rooftop down and sunglasses up.

For fans of: Warren G, Prince


The Brooklyn pairing of Jesse Cohen and Eric Emme (right) formed this new group after stints in Professor Murder and Don Cabellero. Their modus operandi is to make spiky dance music with a knowledge of global sounds and a penchant for percussion. They themselves call the music "calypso disco electro music". Whatever you call it, you'll be hearing a lot more of it judging by the calibre of songs on display at SXSW.

For fans of: Depeche Mode, Neon Indian

The Golden Filter

The New York outfit (right) provide a succinct blend of dance, disco, pop and ambience. It's synth-driven music with forceful drums and it's very, very catchy. Lead singer Penelope's breathy vocals and determinedly obscured face add mystique as she stomps to the beat. Their debut album, Voluspa, is released in April.

For fans of: Italo Disco, Giorgio Moroder

Rye Rye

It's not every day you get a taste of Baltimore club music in the flesh. M.I.A.'s protége Ryeisha Berrain is just 19 years of age and will release a debut album this year. Live, she is flanked by two dancers practising B-more club moves and she's more than capable of joining in while rapping simultaneously.

For fans of: M.I.A, Diplo


The Toronto duo's music recalls their city brothers Holy F**k. Dance-punk anchored by a propulsive drummer and a guy who plays a keytar without any shame or remorse for his actions. At SXSW, the band performed a surprisingly good cover of Run DMC's It's Tricky, but it was their own songs that allowed you to get lost in the moment.

For fans of: Holy F**k, The Rapture

Memory Tapes

Much loved by the blog tastemakers, Dayve Hawk's solo project is many things: electronic, wistful, nostalgic, Balearic, independent and lo-fi. Live, it's a much more focused approach; a drummer, a minimal backing track and Hawk playing guitar and singing in a brittle timbre.

For fans of: Neon Indian, Chillwave

Flying Lotus

Stephen Ellison's Warp Records debut, Los Angeles, established him as one of the world's most unique electronic producers. At the label showcase, a smiling Ellison (left) delivered more than an hour of future music mixing songs from his forthcoming Thom Yorke-featuring album Cosmogramma, with his own refixes of tunes from Burial, Lil Wayne, Aphex Twin and J Dilla. He takes in electronica, dubstep, jungle, drum and bass and hip-hop but always manages to maintain an off-the-grid innovative sound marked by his special ability to produce beats that you didn't think were even possible.

For fans of: Four Tet, Burial


The London-based Australian trio (left) lucked out when they released their debut album, O Soundtrack My Heart? on Warp Records. Judging by the new material debuted at SXSW -- a denser, more layered mix of ambient electronic, post-rock atmospherics, crashing cymbals and crucially, more singing -- they will be picking up a lot more fans this year.

For fans of: Battles, Tortoise


Yearning indie-folk fronted by Swede Simon Balthazar yet based in London. Comparisons to a certain Canadian indie group (clue: initials are AF) are inevitable but they stand up on their own thanks to the lush yet immediate arrangements which reach big crescendos at every turn.

For fans of: The Arcade Fire, Beirut

The Drums

A singular band of sorts, The Drums wear their Manchester influences on their tightly worn short sleeves. They add a dash of 50s colour and aesthetic to their spindly 80s jangly-pop guitar lines. The live show is a splash of fun, singer Jonathan Pierce's blonde fringe flops about on stage dramatically, suiting the music, while the guitarist forgets about his guitar and jumps around with a tambourine instead. Fun times.

For fans of: The Smiths, Joy Division

Sleigh Bells

One hundred people braved the cold, cold weather on the last night of SXSW way east of downtown Austin to catch this New York duo perform in an outdoor bar. After an hour delay and only a bonfire to keep warm, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss ignited the place with their raucous mix of treble-heavy, razor-sharp guitar lines, big thumping beats and Krauss's commanding jump-around lead vocal style.

For fans of: The Kills

Irish Independent

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