New music, or…well… the accessibility to new music, has become more attainable than ever before. The advancements in electronic media have had a profound effect on the way the world receives information. Social networking sites, blogs, and satellite radio have expanded our choices in ways that are instantly available and exceptionally unique. While there is still joy to be had in visiting the local record store and perusing through bin after bin of artists new and old, music fans can also savor the sounds of barely emerging artists with a few simple clicks. But, before the advent of the Internet and its inevitable contribution to the way we process and obtain music, people had to work a little harder and interact a little more face-to-face in order to find the next best thing. Live music is an effective medium for connecting individuals who seek and appreciate innovative music. And while the world over has a number of incredible music festivals that showcase a diverse range of artists, there is one in particular that has the wherewithal to bring together the crème de la crème of new musicians with industry folks, dedicated fans, and other aspiring musicians. SXSW not only gives bands the chance to showcase their work, it also gives them the chance to gain valuable resources on how thenew music industry is emerging and what steps they need to take to become a part of the next wave of sound.
The experience of attending SXSW – as a critic or as a fan – is a pretty overwhelming one (why do you think it’s taken me so long just to write about it!). Whether you are there for work or play, the idea of being that close to so many bands with the potential to change the face of independent music is mind-boggling. There was absolutely no way to see and hear all the music your heart desired and it probably left the average SXSW-er with a slight pang of anxiety and regret. The mix of artists chosen to play this year’s SXSW came from all over the world and brought their A-game with them. Although there were unforgettable performances given by more familiar artists like My Morning Jacket, M. Ward and Ice Cube – the meat and potatoes of SXSW was in seeing artists you barely knew or kind of forgot about. And though many of the bands that played this year already had a substantial following before they even made it to Austin, all you really needed was a little organization and a lot of patience to seek out the hot, new bands playing the nooks and crannies of Austin’s lesser-known establishments. Below are just a small fraction of the artists that stole my musical heart over the 4-day event. Some of the bands mentioned are bands I was already intimately familiar with, while SXSW kindly introduced me to the rest.
Autolux – Loud does not even begin to describe how intense this L.A. based trio can get. With chords that literally shake your skin into submission, Autolux creates a sound that is a sublimely perfect blend of ferocious noise and cheese-less pop. There are so few bands these days that understand the fine oscillation that exists between jarring volume and sensuous pop melodies. Autolux has mastered these indie rock elements and in turn has produced songs that are rich with harmony that can merit the use of earplugs as easily as they can lull you into a state of calm. They played a number of performances this year and each one was edgy, intense and instantly captivating. They have the ability to suck the audience into their noise and wrestle their ears to the ground. The only shame is that they have only released one full-length album since 2004. Thankfully, a new record – currently titled Transit Transit – is set for release sometime this year. Get ready to have your socks rocked because this stuff is probably going to break all kinds of sound barriers.
Lightspeed Champion – What a clever little man is Devonte Hynes – the mastermind behind the folk-inspired indie rock sound of Lightspeed Champion. Although his previous projects have been a little noisier and experimental, the music he has created as Lightspeed Champion is witty poetry reminiscent, in some parts, of the spirit of Badly Drawn Boy. His songs read like everyday conversations that just happen to be set to an acoustic guitar, violins, and an occasional keyboard. After seeing him play a short acoustic set accompanied by a lone violin player, I was instantly hooked. His voice and lyrics don’t need more than simple instrumentation to be appreciated and enjoyed. His debut release Falling Off the Lavender Bridge was recorded with the help of a few Saddle Creek musicians – giving it a quintessential indie rock feel that is familiar, but different enough so as not sound like every other dude with an acoustic guitar and a notebook full of songs that should never see the light of day. LSC is undeniably endearing and needs to be hunted, captured and played on repeat.
Longwave -Longwave is one of those bands that you probably really dug when you first heard about them five or so years ago. Their first commercial release back in 2003 caused a great deal of excitement amongst indie music fans. While the album still holds strong after so many years, their live performances left much to be desired. After seeing them tour for The Strangest Things – my excitement pretty much turned to disappointment and disinterest. After that one performance so many years ago, I placed Longwave in the back of my mind and didn’t give them a second thought until their standout performance at Emo’s. Having not released an album in a few years, Longwave did the smart thing and took some time to collect themselves and their musical vision. What has resulted is an endless stream of songs that are more mature and more textured – not to mention loud. They apparently finished putting together a new record, but no word on when it will be released. Hopefully their solid performances at SXSW this year will be the push they needed to get their new sound back out to the masses.
Oppenheimer – Northern Ireland is home to a number of indie bands that Americans have grown to love. As of late, we seem to have become smitten with Snow Patrol (although technically they are a band formed in Scotland – a good portion of their members are from Northern Ireland). Although S.P.’s music has changed pretty dramatically – not necessarily in a good way – since their introduction to the US market, there are a number of solid Northern Ireland artists that are emerging to take the indie music world over. The newest sensation out of Belfast is the likeable duo that is Oppenheimer. With an album set to release in June, these guys are already winning the hearts of indie music fans. Having snagged a spot on the recent They Might Be Giants tour – Oppenheimer has been injecting Americans with their signature blend of clever pop tunes full of humor and heart. They engage their audience, making them a part of the overall live music experience and that makes their sound even more palatable. They have only just begun making a name for themselves in our neck of the woods, but rest assured that the guys from Oppenheimer are going to sing their way into your aural cavities and you won’t be able to fish them out.
Ra Ra Riot – Yay for bands that play uncompromisingly good indie rock music, but do so in a way that doesn’t make you yawn or compare them to the hundreds of other indie rock bands out there. Ra Ra Riot is one of those good indie rock bands that, despite their young age, get what it means to create music that is well-executed and rife with talent and spirit. Their rather large band consists of musicians that play the violin, cello and keyboards with such ease and enthusiasm. They are kind of like a loveable nerd that isn’t quite yet aware of the awesomeness s/he possesses. Their ability to play all-out indie rock goodness that is capable of being both animated and mellowed out – though not really at the same time – is awe-inspiring. Although all they have out right now is an EP that was released in 2007, Ra Ra Riot has been signed to V2 Records and is working on their first full-length album due out sometime in the later part of the summer.
South – South (pictured) is another one of those bands that has been around a long time and made some great music, but never seems to get above the radar. If you haven’t heard of South before, chances are you will be hearing a lot more about them soon enough. Their first US release, From Here On In, is one of the most impressive first releases of this decade. The music was genuinely different and exciting to hear. Though subsequent albums have been released, South has really gone above and beyond with their most recent record – You Are Here. The songs are a little more pop inspired but still echo with layers of the kind of catchy harmonies that made them initially appealing. Though they played all over Austin during SXSW, their intimate performance at the Hilton Garden Inn was the perfect opportunity to hear their new songs up close and personal. The combination of acoustic and electric guitars gives the music a laid-back edge and compliments the Brit-pop aspect of their sound. Joel Cadbury’s tender voice still has the awesome ability to convey the depth of South’s lyrics and tug at your soul. Let’s hope they are gearing up for a massive US tour, because You Are Here needs to be experienced in a live setting as many times as possible.
The Whip – The UK gave SXSW the best music they had to offer this year. From solo acoustic artists to full on rock and roll bands, the performances from UK-based bands were spot on. The collective energy of one band in particular, The Whip, reached epic proportions during a performance at the Liverpool Showcase put on by the British Music Embassy. Their vigor rivals the dance-inducing energy of Austin-based Ghostland Observatory – minus the diva-esque vocal styling of Aaron Behrens. Guitars, a laptop and unstoppable rhythm makes The Whip one of those bands you won’t be able to get enough of. Their electronica/pop brand of music has the kind of up-tempo beats that gets your toes tapping and your booty shaking. It makes you feel alive and it makes you want to dance. And coming from a pretty hard-core lover of the kind of music that makes you want to do nothing but lay in bed and mope – that’s saying a lot. Although there couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred people packed into the tiny little bar – The Whip transformed that show into a night out at the pub with friends, pints, and nonstop danceable action. Even though their recent release on the UK label Southern Fried Records is only available in the US via import or digital download – I suspect The Whip will be a permanent fixture in the US music scene before we know it. Honorable Mentions – There were so many unbelievable performances during SXSW this year and while there isn’t enough time in a day to give each one the words and credit they deserve, there are a few bands that merit at least a shout out and some ample play time on your music player of choice: Helio Sequence, Vampire Weekend, The Oaks, She&Him, The Wombats, Bodies of Water, Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears, Colour Revolt, Fleet Foxes, DeVotchka, Kristoffer Ragnstam, Cary Brothers, Von Iva and Foreign Born.
– Brigitte B. Zabak