SXSW 2023: Top New Discoveries In Austin

David Schultz shares nine of his top musical discoveries from this year’s conference in Austin, Texas.

By David Schultz Mar 27, 2023 11:02 am PDT

From a music-lovers perspective, the annual South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas has always been about discovery. For anyone with an adventurous spirit and an open mind, the five days and nights that comprise the music portion of SXSW can be truly invigorating. For those who revel in slaking their thirst for new music, SXSW is simply Disneyland.

From a statistical standpoint, the sheer number of sets makes it probable that you will see something unique or, at the very least, something that makes you raise eyebrows and wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. At the British Music Embassy’s Outpost Belfast showcase at the Cedar Creek Courtyard, Orlaith Forsythe of Dea Matrona reared back on her bass during their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and bonked Mollie McGinn square in the head. At THE GOA EXPRESS’ marvelous set at the So Young Magazine showcase at The Creek & The Cave, a mosh pit spectacularly collapsed in a heap at the front of the stage. At the Brooklyn Vegan Lost Weekend day party at Mohawk, Model/Actriz lead singer Cole Haden ventured out into the crowd and leaned precipitously backwards over the balcony before heading back to the stage.

SXSW 2023
  • SXSW 2023: Not Just For Newcomers

    SXSW 2023: Not Just For Newcomers

    Robby Krieger, Tangerine Dream, Be Your Own Pet, White Denim and The Nude Party were among the established acts that stood out at SXSW 2023.

Although the scope and breadth of SXSW was tempered in 2023, the potential for new discoveries remained limitless. Read about nine such discoveries this writer made at the conference:

Choses Sauvages (Mohawk)

From north of the border, Choses Sauvages might be the Quebecois version of the Disco Biscuits. Although apt, that comparison will likely irk Choses Sauvages’ fans as much as it will irritate fans of the Biscuits. In their defense, unlike Felix Belisle, Mark Brownstein would likely never take his shirt off in the midst of a set and nimbly dance around the stage while the band jams on. Opening Brooklyn Vegan’s day party at Mohawk, the Canadian collective’s noon time set of electronic, slightly disco-derived grooves felt a bit incongruous in the daylight. At the very least, had it taken place twelve hours later, a more lubricated crowd might have been more inclined to follow Belisle’s game of Simon Says to its likely dance party conclusion.

Cheekface (The Side Bar)

Cheekface lives up to their self-imposed moniker of “America’s Local Band.” In the main, the Los Angeles-based trio comes across as a blend of a pop-focused version of the Talking Heads and a somewhat less childish version of They Might Be Giants. At a bare minimum, David Byrne would approve of Greg Katz’s deadpan delivery, wry observations of modern life and, on “Featured Singer,” his dream of being just that on an EDM song. Anchored by the solid bass riffs from Mandy Tannen, formerly of Stellastarr, Cheekface are like seeing the “Everything Is Awesome” band come to life. Closing out the Stuporfriends fiesta at Side Bar, they were one of the few bands that stressed the “party” aspect of playing a “day party.” If being a Deadhead is becoming cliché, the Cheek Freaks are a welcoming bunch.

Cheekface (See 10 videos)

Iguana Death Cult (Seven Grand)

Although their name would seemingly indicate they are practitioners of the dark arts or, at the very least, a heavy metal outfit, Iguana Death Cult are not only pretty upbeat, they’re quite eclectic. Previewing songs from their upcoming Echo Palace, their third full-length release, the feisty band from Rotterdam closed the American Association of Independent Music showcase at the upscale Seven Grand with a remarkably diverse set. At the outset, the Dutchmen added the right amount of cowboy jangle and percussion to adventurously push the sound in a slightly cow-punk direction. They then decidedly shifted towards Joy Division with guitarist Tobias Opschoor and bassist Justin Boer’s undercurrent of jumped-up subterranean homesick blues giving way to the surge of Jimmy de Kok’s new wave synths. In a closing move that almost felt like a non sequitur, frontman Jeroen Reek busted out a trombone, walked to the center of the crowd and the Death Cult finished with a lovely burst of loungey jazz.

Iguana Death Cult

The Heavy Heavy (The Parish)

The Heavy Heavy should not be taken lightly. Reaching back to an era when the rock and roll that came out of Laurel Canyon also qualified as chart topping popular music, the English quintet, fronted and anchored by guitarist Will Turner and keyboardist Georgie Fuller, make little effort towards hiding their influences. At The Live List day party at The Parish, they focused on their EP Life & Life Only and previewed songs from their upcoming full-length debut. With vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Mamas & Papas and psychedelic-tinged grooves inspired by the original version of Fleetwood Mac, The Heavy Heavy are definitely going to be heavy hitters in 2023.

Paul Dominy (See 2 videos)
The Heavy Heavy

Paisley Fields (The 13th Floor)

With respect to queer country, Lavender Country, may be the genre’s Chuck Berry, perhaps not the inventor but surely an original innovator. However, there was a crassness to the seventies-era band’s material that drew the focus away from any meaningful satire or commentary on the underlying country tropes. At the Don Giovanni Records showcase at The 13th Floor, Paisley Fields, a former member of modern-day version of the band, offered up a more nuanced version of the genre. Setting aside the flat-out humor of “Ride Me Cowboy,” Fields deftly brought subtlety to his material, making “Jesus Loving American Guy,” a song about religious intolerance, and “Iowa,” a song about hometowns not always being a home, much more powerful. Utilizing a raised limp wrist as a middle finger, Fields may be at the forefront of making queer country the new punk rock.

The War & Treaty (Empire Garage)

The War & Treaty are the nom de band of the husband-and-wife duo of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter. The Trotters’ roots are clearly gospel and their performances, especially their captivating eye-opening set at the 2018 Newport Folk Festival, often have a revival feel. However, there is also an infusion of heartfelt Motown soul and rhythm and blues. In less capable hands, their set as part of the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion, during which they highlighted songs from the Dave Cobb-produced Lovers’ Game, their first major label release, would have come across as hokey. It’s their clear affection for each other, as when they clearly tried to outdo each other on holding a note, and earnestness in easing into a “can you top this” medley of ’60s staples, that makes their performances special. The Trotters’ story is one they freely share from the stage and they do so with the mindset of spreading their inspirational message of perseverance. Guided by the Phil Cook mandate to make the audience feel better at the end of the show than they did before, The War & Treaty suffuse every performance with the uplifting emotional power that transforms a live show into a memorable event.

Austin City Limits Radio (See 2 videos)
The War and Treaty (See 35 videos)

BALTHVS (The 13th Floor)

Quantitatively and qualitatively, BALTHVS (pronounced bal-thoos) are Colombian Khraungbin. At their set that closed out SXSW at The 13th Door, guitarist Balthazar Aguirre, bassist Johanna Mercuriana and drummer Santiago Lizcano initially offered up their version of pleasing worldly rhythms and melodies. As the set progressed though, they revved up the energy to the point where it was akin to watching Khraungbin play U-Melt/Particle like electronic jams. Their psychedelic version of “Disco Inferno” to close their set was not only insanely fun, it took the curfew to bring it to a righteous close.


Garrett T. Capps & NASA Country (The Creek & The Cave)

San Antonio’s Cosmic Cowboy and his top-notch band closed the Spaceflight Records showcase at The Creek & The Cave (nee Barracuda, nee Red 7). In a manner that his fellow San Antonian Doug Sahm would surely appreciate, Garrett T. Capps plays both kinds of county music – outlaw and psychedelic. Dressed in black like a Spaghetti Western villain, Capps led NASA Country through songs focused on the joy of listening to Aretha Franklin and the Grateful Dead and stoner psychedelic country explorations, accented and given depth by a box modular synthesizer. Their closer, “People Are Beautiful,” the title track of their latest album, is an anthem of optimism deserving of a bigger audience.

Michael Coleman
Garrett T. Capps (See 3 videos)

Narrow Haunts (The 13th Floor)

At the Hometown Heroes day party, Narrow Haunts, a wonderful band that emerged from the pandemic, electrified a midafternoon crowd at The 13th Floor. While the band blazed through a number of Stooges-inflected protopunk riffs, the lead singer fully explored the space, singing from atop anything he could climb and literally bringing it right into the faces of the crowd. He came over to me, looked at my badge, and then finished a song by repeatedly screaming/singing my name. Well, two can play at this game. NICK MOTRENEC!! NICK MOTRENEC!! NICK MOTRENEC!! NICK MOTRENEC!!

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