SXSW 2024: The Endless Spirit Of Discovering New Music

David Schultz details 10 new-to-him acts that made a lasting impression performing at South By Southwest 2024 in Austin, Texas.

By David Schultz Mar 27, 2024 12:30 pm PDT

The upcoming Rolling Stones’ tour may be one of the biggest spectacles of the summer, an amalgam of nearly seven decades of experience and stagecraft encapsulated into a three-hour show to be enjoyed by packed stadiums across the country. While the nostalgia might be sweet and the showmanship beyond compare, it will not – because it cannot – come close to the palpable excitement of seeing The Stones in a small London club while they were making their bones in the mid-1960s.

The Beatles in Hamburg in the ‘60s, Springsteen at The Bottom Line in the ‘70s, Phish at Nectar’s in the ‘80s, Nirvana at The Central Saloon in the ‘90s; there is something intrinsically special about seeing a band in their relative infancy. Nowadays, when Pete Townshend plays the intro to “Pinball Wizard,” a deliriously excited audience revels in hearing him play what they have long accepted as a classic rock masterpiece. Decades earlier though, The Who were amongst the few that knew it was great and needed to make the audience understand. Setting ticket costs aside, which audience would you rather be in?

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It would be a tremendous exaggeration to say that the future titans of rock ‘n’ roll were lugging their equipment through the back alleys of Austin during this year’s South By Southwest Festival. Nonetheless, from an audience perspective, SXSW thrives on the excitement generated by a band establishing their bona fides and demanding to be heard. Regardless of whether the band grows in stature and/or popularity, there’s an immediacy and vitality that is unlikely going to be there in the future.

SXSW attendees usually have a general idea as to who they would like to see over the course of the week. With an adventurous spirit and an open mind, you can not only have your own hunches confirmed, but you can leave Austin with a broader perspective on the joy provided by live music.

For SXSW 2024, these are bands that caught my eyes and ears.

Bones And Jones (International Day Stage; Swan Dive)

Although named after a compilation CD of songs written by guitarist Brian Jones, the marvelous Bones and Jones from Australia take more after The Stones’ rivals from Liverpool. At the International Day Stage and the Greyline and Awesome Friends showcase at Swan Dive, the Aussies, more often than not, sounded like Oasis from a multiverse where John Lennon joined that band instead of The Beatles, which might have been the true aim of the Gallaghers all along.

The band has a penchant for guitar-heavy indie-folk that truly hearkens back to the looseness of The Beatles romping through “Maggie May” or strumming their way through “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” There’s even a little Primal Scream in the mix. (The Scottish band of “Moving On Up” fame, not the Yoko Ono kind). With wonderful albums like Bees and 2023’s Love You, where The Beatles’ influence is even more pronounced, this SXSW swing, Bones And Jones’ first foray to America, will unlikely be their last.


Tengger (The Palm Door on 6th)

Potentially the Pan-Asian version of The Partridge Family, Tengger, a family band comprised of Marqido (synths/guitar), his wife itta (vocals) and their 11-year-old son RAAI, seemed extremely misplaced on the indoor stage of the spacious Palm Door. To begin the set, Marqido played atmospheric synthesized music from the stage while his wife and son moved patiently amongst the bewildered crowd in matching billowy outfits, making eye contact with each individual and showering them with the tinkling of bells.

What started as something slightly cultish transformed into an extremely compelling experience. Returning to the stage, the trio’s calm and measured New Age harmonics moved slowly into spacey decidedly Pink Floyd-like realms that slowly drew an interested crowd. Where Tengger had to battle the excitement that surrounded the SXSW Opening Night Party at the Palm Door, there were no such distractions at the Central Presbyterian Church, where the solemn surroundings and attentive audience gave rise to a genuinely moving experience that reduced itta to tears of joy.


Rusty Dusty (Chess Club)

On record, Rusty Dusty often sounds like a more reserved version and slightly poppier version of White Denim, their Austin brothers-in-arms. However, that version of the band was not on display within the cozy confines of the Chess Club.

Self-proclaimed purveyors of “Acid Americana,” the fivesome crowded onto the modest stage and unfurled a powerful set of Southern-rock-inflected songs. If this is indicative of a new direction for the band it is surely one on which to stay abreast. Oh, and as any band with three guitarists dipping their toes into the Southern rock swamp are wont to do, they Skynyrded (yes, it is now a verb).


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Population II (Empire Control Room)

It may not be part of their typical stage show but the Empire Control Room’s penchant for trippy lighting, often making the band appear Warholian, surely matched the heady psychedelics of Population II, a powerful power trio from Montreal. As if birthed from the bowels of a dank San Francisco head shop, Population II’s early afternoon set at the Hazy Hump Day party was difficult to pigeonhole. Tinged of Wolfmother, it was too adrenalized and menacing for an acid test yet too trippy for the garage psych-rock purists.

With Tristan Lacombe moving between guitars and keyboards, the songs were propelled by drummer Pierre-Luc Gratton, who also provides the French vocals, and bassist Sébastien Provençal, who looked like a distant cousin of Andy Samberg. With many songs omitting the traditional lead guitar, Provençal played bass in the manner of the likes of Reed Mathis and Doug Wimbish, riffing and taking the lead on many of the songs. C’est magique et c’est magnifique.


BALTHVS (Mohawk)

Although the comparison remains apt, BALTHVS, one of last year’s finds, is evolving beyond the “Colombian Khruangbin” label. Throughout their set on Mohawk’s outdoor stage, guitarist Balthazar Aguirre, bassist Johanna Mercuriana and drummer Santiago Lizcano, skillfully ambled through pulpy surf rock instrumentals that explicitly touched on Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” smooth funk that got a predominantly hipster crowd to move their feet and a wonderfully reverent run through Hendrix’ “Third Rock From The Sun” with the easy-to-forget-they-exist lyrics (well, not all of them).

BALTHVS’ trips to America tend to be few and fleeting, usually centered on a stint in Austin in March. In true SXSW fashion, someone should get them together with Khruangbin’s booking agent.


TV’s Daniel (Side Bar)

Near the end of their afternoon set as part of the annual Hipster Robots day party, the eponymous Daniel Fried of TV’s Daniel gazed pensively into the crowd assembled on the Side Bar patio and assuredly proclaimed himself the spokesperson for a generation. It’s the generation that falls between the ages of 55 and 65, he qualified, but it’s a generation nonetheless.

An insanely compelling frontman, “T.V.D.” Daniel Fried has mastered the rock god in his own mind persona that rarely fails to disappoint. At the very least, he can speak for the Hipster Robots, who have amassed a loyal following with their annual shows at Side Bar, curating a showcase that always features the type of loud, edgy, hard-charging, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll that truly resonates with an older generation. On a bill that featured Perennial, Miranda and The Beat and Jon Langford & The Bright Shiners, TV’s Daniel raised the bar.


The Courettes (Seven Grand; Side Bar)

The Courettes, a feisty gender-flipped White Stripes-style guitar and drums duo, had an extremely compelling sales pitch for their merch. Flavia Couri, the husband and wife duo’s compellingly charismatic frontwoman, simply laid out the economics involved in coming from Denmark to play SXSW. An even better sales pitch was the music itself: up-tempo garage rock that hearkens back to the girl group bands from the ‘60s, only without the harmonies and with much more electric guitar.

The high spots of their sets came from their 2021 release, Back To Mono, including “Hop The Twig,” the closing number Couri customarily takes into the crowd. At the Side Bar, she encountered a poor guy staring down at his phone, the only person in the room oblivious to Couri riffing directly in front of him. Poking him in the chest with the head of her guitar on the two and the four for longer than it should have taken to get his attention, Couri let his monumentally embarrassed expression serve notice that The Courettes are to be ignored at your peril.


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Fat Dog (Mohawk; Swan Dive Patio)

With the late-night crowd at Swan Dive already abuzz, Fat Dog’s drummer, Johnny “Doghead” Hutch, notched it up a level. Before taking his place at the drum kit, Hutch came to the front of the stage, raised a rubber dog mask to the heavens, and to the raucous crowd’s delight, put it on as part of a warped opening ceremony. The wildly bizarre Fat Dog may come from the south of London but they play like a cross between the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Morphine, and an insanely uninhibited klezmer band.

With frontman Joe Love singing in a style reminiscent of Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz over keyboardist Chris Hughes’ swirling electronic thrum, Hutch’s driving drums, and Morgan Wallace’s droning sax, the frenzy built into a weird combination of dance party and mosh pit. Mohawk’s sun-drenched outdoor stage provided the right feel for Hughes and Wallace’s wacky dance routine but the Swan Dive patio at night truly provided the electric atmosphere on which the band is building its reputation.


Color Green (Antone’s)

One of the more interesting bands to play the New West Records showcase at Antone’s, the Los Angeles-based Color Green established its pedigree as a budding jam band-in-training. For a briskly paced set, they alternatively sounded like a band formed by merging “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” with “Blue Sky” and a modern-day version of the James Gang.

Guitarists Noah Kohll and Corey Madden are well-schooled in classic rock riffage. While they can vary the pace nicely, the band is better when they keep everything moving. Their set at Antone’s didn’t end as much as it simply had to stop; in the middle of the lengthy jam, they ran out of time.


HotWax (Swan Dive Patio)

Lead singer/guitarist Tallulah Sim-Savage, bassist Lola Sam, and drummer Alfie Sayers, the preternaturally talented trio of British teens known as HotWax, stayed up past their bedtime to play the penultimate slot at The Line of Best Fit showcase on the Swan Dive Patio. At the close of an eye-raising set, heavy on grunge rock in the vein of Hole and L7, they launched into “Rip It Out,” a song full of teen angst. As Savage and Sam leaned into the hook with Savage shrieking the chorus with urgency, it became clear that HotWax are potential rock stars in the making, even if they must play with giant X’s marked on their hands for another year or two.

HotWax brought Sunflower Bean to mind. Eight years ago, those supremely talented teens seemed poised to dive deep into the well of classic rock only to pull up and chart a more mainstream and less intriguing path. In the future, will the tale of HotWax’s SXSW 2024 shows be told with false “saw them in their club days” modesty? Will it be related to the wistful “they used to rock” puzzlement? Will the story simply be one that stops being told? Regardless of the answer, it’s one of the existential questions that clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the music discovery experience inherent to SXSW.


SXSW 2024 Highlights

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