The New & Notable At SXSW Music 2016
Words by: David Schultz
:: SXSW Music :: Something New For You ::
SXSW turns one aspect of the traditional festival experience on its head. Where Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and its brethren rely on well-established headliners to anchor their main stages and attract substantial crowds, SXSW places great reliance on the bands normally found in the small print of festival banners. As a practical matter, SXSW doesn’t even have a main stage. With 2,000+ bands occupying the Austin venues over the course of a week, even the most knowledgeable and studious music aficionado would be hard-pressed not to discover something new. In that vein, JamBase contributor David Schultz found a handful of bands that may not presently be on many auditory radars.
Any list of new, up-and-coming bands worthy of attention has to begin with Sunflower Bean. Following Loretta Lynn’s traditional country set at the BBC Music Showcase, the New York threesome simply overwhelmed the crowd with classic rock inflected songs that drew as much from the psychedelics of the ’60s as they did the indie-alternative rock of the ’90s. A power trio in every sense of the word, Sunflower Bean simply overwhelmed the crowd at the Stubb’s amphitheater. Most astounding, the band isn’t even old enough to drink at the Austin bars they were playing, embodying eras of rock that they were too young to experience. Stretching out the songs on Human Ceremony, their full length debut, bassist Julia Cumming consistently brought the audience into her realm with sinuous grooves, guiding the band into finishing flourishes akin to My Morning Jacket. As with any young band with potential, there are dozens of ways the entire enterprise can go sideways. If Sunflower Bean avoids those pitfalls, they are going be titans of rock.
This all-girl group from Seattle, Washington may be a little too colorful and cheery to truly be riot grrrls. Nonetheless, I think Kathleen Hanna would be proud to take credit for this feminist leaning foursome. Without taking themselves too seriously, Tacocat peppered their afternoon set at the Side Bar patio as part of the SESAC, HFA and Rumblefish party with songs about their periods, being lewdly harassed on the street and the frustration of being a laborer on the weekend. While their Day-Glo attire matched the sunny atmosphere of the outdoor venue, the choice of aqua blue lipstick may have proved questionable in the midst of the Texas heat. Far from dour, Tacocat’s upbeat demeanor is infectious. While they previewed songs from their upcoming Lost Time, they sadly didn’t bust out their new version of the theme for the revamped version of The Powerpuff Girls.
Golden Dawn Arkestra
If anyone ever asks you to see an Arkestra, say yes. If anyone ever asks you to see the Golden Dawn Arkestra, say hell yes. The rooftop patio stage at Maggie Mae’s could hardly hold the dozen and a half musicians that make up the wild and flamboyant Austin-based collective, who may very well consider themselves to be a way of life as opposed to just a band. With a phalanx of horns, percussionists, dancers, keyboardists and guitarists, the GDA’s set was sheer funk insanity – part-Parliament, part-Sly Stone, part Mardi Gras bacchanal and you can’t even think about calling yourself an arkestra if you’re not going to live up to the cosmic inventiveness of Sun Ra. The wild costumes and eccentric performances hardly detracted from the music. Rather, it enhanced the entire aura to the point where it felt less like a concert or more like a happening.
Four fetching sisters from Australia, Stonefield deftly ran through a Black Sabbath inspired set of blues-based psychedelic rock at Maggie Mae’s main stage. A true find at SXSW, the Findlay sisters have little recorded output with even less available in the United States. Unlike most SXSW acts that make themselves and their music easy to find, Stonefield seems like they are a true treasure lurking in the grass, if only they can be found. It’s unclear what they have on the horizon but it would be shocking if no plans are imminent. It’s worth noting that Sabbath’s influence was not foreign throughout the week. Brooklyn’s Acid Dad electrified Swan Dive over the course of an early afternoon set and, lest it be thought that Sabbath lacked soul, Charles Bradley brought down the house – or rather amphitheater – with his version of “Changes” that closed his set at the NPR showcase at Stubbs.
One thing became abundantly clear by the time Margo Price finished her set at the NPR showcase on Wednesday night, she is either the future queen of country and/or the next Chris Stapleton. Building up the hype for Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, her debut album coming out on Jack White’s Third Man Records, Price lived up to the Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette comparisons. Although there’s enough traditional country within her songs to keep the Grand Ole Opry crowd from revolting, the 32-year-old Nashvillian (or Nashvillite) brings more to the table than just songs of heartbreak. Her “Tennessee Song” might not only evolve into a honky-tonk classic, it could be the crossover hit that makes her a household name.
Hooton Tennis Club
Fabulous quartets from Liverpool have a storied history in the world of rock and roll. One of the success stories from last October’s CMJ Festival, Hooton Tennis Club are either a great pop band that just likes to jam or a jammy rock band that writes great songs. Either way, without much fanfare, their Wednesday evening set within the dark confines of Barracuda (nee Red 7) was one of the best of the week. Playing almost the entirety of their debut Highest Point In Cliff Town, they extended “Always Coming Back 2 You” into an enthralling jam that segued seamlessly into the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For My Man.”
The Cactus Blossoms
With dozens of bands garnering attention by playing as loud, hard and fast as they can, The Cactus Blossoms stood out by playing as softly and tenderly as they could. Charming the crowd amassed on the patio of Side Bar for the Frye Days showcase, guitarists Jack Torrey and Page Burkum pair harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers with the acoustic tone that emanates from many of the stages of the Newport Folk Fest. Equally as appealing as their voices, the Blossoms meld their acoustic and electric guitars together to generate a sound that possesses some heft but never overwhelms the warmth of the harmonies. Given that the world never tires of Simon & Garfunkel reunions, there is a niche for The Cactus Blossoms to fill.
Throughout the entirety of SXSW, it’s possible to spend the entire week listening to rappers rap, DJs spin, hardcores thrash and headbangers headbang. The one thing that tends to be truly hard to find amidst the overabundance of music is a jamband jamming. Khraungbin, an insanely intriguing Texas trio, offers a whole host of loping instrumental jams that incorporate Eastern and African rhythms, drifting into areas reminiscent of Tinariwen as often as they delve into spacey, hypnotic folk rock. To quote noted Relix scribe Mike Greenhaus, Khraungbin is the “future of something.”
Joy Division may sit alongside the Velvet Underground as one of the more enduring influences on alternative rock. Notwithstanding their limited output before lead singer Ian Curtis hung himself, Joy Division’s stark, industrial vibe lives on in the DNA of an uncountable number of bands playing their crafts in basement venues throughout the world. At the British Music Showcase at Latitude 30, the traditional SXSW home for all things British (except beer), Girls Names, a fantastic outfit from Belfast, plowed through a set that never relinquished its unadulterated, adrenalized groove while guitarist Cathal Cully’s wry baritone added the appropriate atmospherics.
One of the buzzier bands flitting about Austin, Beach Slang resplendently shambled through a noon time set at the SPIN day party at Stubbs. Playing with a loose, heart-on-their-sleeve style, the Philadelphia band unavoidably draws comparison to a legendary ragtag group from Minnesota. Right around the time that The Replacements vibe was becoming abundantly evident, frontman James Alex abruptly stopped a song short to let the crowd know that the pre-breakfast whiskey on an empty stomach might be taking hold. Viva la Westerberg! Hopefully, they don’t inherit the Mats penchant for snatching defeat from the throes of victory.
On Saturday afternoon, at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at Cheer Up Charlie’s, Diet Cig‘s Alex Luciano leaped and bounced around the stage like an overcaffeinated pixie, bringing a remarkable energy to the slowly waking audience. Absolutely adorable, Luciano fronts the gender flipped version of the White Stripes guitar/drums duo as if she was born to front a band. Unquestionably, no one seemed legitimately more excited than her to be playing a SXSW showcase. Of the many bands that stood out at SXSW, Diet Cig may be the one with the most room for growth. However, they unquestionably have the spark that sets them apart from the pack.
Check out David’s full review of this year’s SXSW Music here.