South By Southwest (SXSW), that annual spring gathering of the cultural universe in Austin, Texas, is just around the corner. The festival as a whole, which includes, Music, Film and Interactive primarily, stretches March 11-20. Technically speaking (we say technically because there are tons of bands to see beforehand), the Music portion of the festival takes place March 15-20. To put it in perspective, that five days of nearly round-the-clock musical acts playing in every nook and cranny of Austin, all of whom are vying for your attention, whether you happen to be a hotshot A&R guy for Warner Brothers Records or just someone who will get hooked on a new favorite. For anyone who has never attended and even for those who have, SXSW is overwhelming to say the least. Just trying to grasp the sheer scale of it all will make your head spin. Chances are, you probably haven’t heard of a good portion of the acts playing the festival. To help you navigate the craziness, Glide Magazine is here to offer up some recommendations. We have broken it into two parts consisting of 5 acts we think will or could breakout at SXSW, and 5 under the radar picks that are well worth catching. In the second of two installments, Glide Associate Editor Neil Ferguson offers up his picks…
Note: Click on each band to see their official SXSW schedule. Please keep in mind that official schedule does not show “unofficial” gigs.
Last year this band of rabble-rousers were hands down the best act seen at SXSW, at least for this writer. Led by crazed pianist Adam Weiner, who bangs and kicks the ivory while addressing his audience as “pals” and “babies” like a more flamboyant Jerry Lee Lewis, and British guitarist/drummer Dan Finnemore, who balances out the boogie woogie with a his own Mekons meets the Clash style, Low Cut Connie are the kind of straight up good times rock and roll band that is all too forgotten these days. Their packed-to-the-rafters set almost had the makeshift club in shambles, and clearly I wasn’t the only one blown away. Since releasing their critically acclaimed album Hi Honey (REVIEW) last year, they’ve managed to make fans out of the likes of President Obama – who included their song “Boozophilia” on a summer playlist – and Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot, who lavished the band in praise on his NPR-syndicated show Sound Opinions. These are just some of the accolades Low Cut Connie has received, yet somehow the masses still aren’t hip to their antics and tunes. Let’s hope that’s about to change when the band blows back through SXSW with a vengeance!
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A few years back it was the Milk Carton Kids who dropped jaws at SXSW with their delicate, subdued harmonies in the vein of Simon and Garfunkle. Falling in the same realm but with a touch more rock and roll and country, the brotherly duo known as The Cactus Blossoms are already turning heads since releasing their JD McPherson-produced album You’re Dreaming. The Blossoms carry the torch of the “blood harmonies” made legendary by the like of the Everly Brothers, and their songs are catchy in a way that makes you long for a warm night spent in the front seat of a Buick Riviera with your baby. If the NPR crowd hasn’t already pounced on The Cactus Blossoms, they will after this year’s SXSW.
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Four beautiful women from Australia playing reverb-drenched psych rock. Did I mention they’re all sisters? This may seem like a novelty, but this quartet knows how to conjure up huge sounds, and their homage to the testosterone-heavy rock of the Seventies, as well as more psychedelic sounds, along with the arena-ready vocals of lead singer Amy Findlay leaves only one question: are the kids ready for this shit? Expect Stonefield to find a spot on every festival lineup after the buzz they get at SXSW.
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Another Australian act but in an entirely different vein from the previous one I mentioned, the DMA’s are a group of youngins poised to hit it big. Their new album Hills End has been released on Mom + Pop, the same U.S. label that signed fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett, who was unquestionably last year’s breakout SXSW act. Their sound brings to mind elements of New Wave meets the Nineties alt-rock of groups like Oasis. There isn’t a ton of complexity to the DMA’s, but their music makes you want to jump up and down, and it’s catchy without being obnoxious. Expect them to make a splash on this side of the pond.
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Is it possible that one of the most exciting new talents in the Americana world to emerge at this year’s SXSW will be from New Zealand of all places? Listen to “Helo Miss Lonesome”, the first song off the self-titled debut album from Marlon Williams and you’ll quickly realize the answer is yes. The song is a fast Bonanza style cowboy romp, but what stands out is crooning of the 24-year-old singer. Throughout the album it is Marlon Williams’ voice that takes center stage, which is airy and powerful in the vein of Chris Issac and Roy Orbison but a tad more rugged. On songs like “I’m Lost Without You”, he takes on the role of a cowboy lounge singer. Williams already has a slew of tour dates in Europe and the U.S. this spring and summer, and his fresh-yet-retro sound is exactly what people are into these days.
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UNDER THE RADAR
If you live in Brooklyn or listen to radio stations like WFMU, Daddy Long Legs are not exactly under the radar. They have garnered something of a cult following, yet hardly one that has caught the attention of the masses. This trio has a stripped down, raw approach to the blues that falls in the same realm as the approach to the form taken by British groups in the Sixties. With their mod fashion and dapper suits, you may think they came straight out of that era too. These guys have played SXSW before, but this year they seem to have gotten in on some good bills. Their live sets are raucous affairs, brought to an electrifying level of energy by Daddy himself, a slender character hellbent on conjuring the blues harp whooping of Sonny Terry.
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These Austin locals don’t seem to give two shits about flashy promotion or becoming the next big thing, and that is part of what makes them so cool. OBN III’s make cranked up rock and roll and their latest LP Worth A Lot Of Money finds them blasting off quick, catchy, shred-driven tunes reminiscent of Thin Lizzy but with more of a punk rock attitude. They are definitely one of the best live acts in Austin right now and there is no doubt that they will be one of the loudest bands at SXSW.
Earlier this year, Colorado trio The Yawpers made their first non-SXSW appearance in Austin in front of a packed house at the Sidewinder when they opened for the Legendary Shack Shakers. It’s hard to upstage the Shack Shakers, but they managed to accomplish it with a sound that I described then as “redneck Bruce Springsteen on acid music” falling “somewhere between Shakey Graves and the Black Keys, but with a gloriously grimy flare of its own.” These guys have a lot of intensity and it’s ready to connect with more ears.
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The last few years have seen a saturation of Americana and alt-country bands that has gotten to what seems to be a breaking point. If I had a nickel for every press release I got that claimed some wannabe troubadour as “the next Jason Isbell” or “next Sturgill Simpson”, I would be a rich man. Of course, when there’s too much of any kind of music, you tend to get a lot of watered down bullshit. The opposite can be said for Brooklyn’s Mail the Horse. They are definitely an alt-country band through and through, yet with the release of their third album Planet Gates last year, they set themselves apart from the rest. The group fuses a laid back stoner vibes with ragged, Deer Tick-esque harmonies and influences of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young , The Band and even the Waco Brothers.
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These guys also have an Americana/alt-country thing going on but with more of a tight, grandiose sound. Their music is easy-going in a sunwashed Laurel Canyon sense, which is interesting because they hail from New Orleans. There’s also something folky and emotionally resonating about their sound that makes you feel like it could connect to fans of more mainstream groups like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons – although to be clear they sound nothing like those groups and are not as cheesy. Just check them out and you’ll hear they are onto something big.
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SXSW Music takes place March 15-20 in Austin, Texas. See a full list of 2016 showcasing acts.
Neil Ferguson will be hitting the pavement all week at SXSW. For live updates, drunk tweets, and snarky commentary of the madness, make sure you follow him on Twitter: @musicjournzo
Stay tuned to Glide Magazine for more coverage of SXSW 2016!
Cover photo: Low Cut Connie at SXSW 2015 (Arthur VanRooy)