SXSW wrap up: Packed clubs, predictions and new sounds
As SXSW comes to a close, the crowded streets of Austin will return to a more relaxed status quo. But the musical party that began here last Tuesday will keep on rippling outward to the world for the next few months as thousands of press outlets report on which acts wowed them.
Metro’s published a list of “must see” acts last week was spot-on, if I do say so myself. Nick Cave put on an epic performance in an out-of-character venue. Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving played their most intriguing gig with skateboarders riding a half-pipe in the background. King Tuff proved he’s even tougher live than on record, while Jim James took people by surprise with his new direction.
After seeing close to 100 bands, there are a few notable acts that I was especially happy to have caught.
Our award for The Best New Foreign Act goes to the band Indians. Music emanating from the mind of Copenhagen’s Søren Løkke Juul, he admits he only had three songs to his name before he signed to 4AD last year. “I never even thought about making a record,” he said after one show. “I just made songs because I felt like I needed to express something.” Playing eight shows in five days, Juul performed with a band this time, filling in his somber synth songs with shimmering atmospherics and heavy-handed electronic drums.
The Most Energetic Show was delivered by Pangea at a club called the Volstead. Talk about surprises — Pangea wasn’t even on the schedule. Somehow word must have gotten out because the small room was packed and pleased. Playing a set somewhere in between punk and metal, they varied speeds, but always remained heavy. The drummer hit so hard it didn’t seem like the skins could sustain the beating. The crowd followed along with the passionate performance by moshing and crowdsurfing. At one point, the speakers almost fell over. I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen anymore. But it did. And it was special — but is not for the faint of heart.
The Best Overall New Band is Wildcat! Wildcat!. I had a feeling about them based on the name alone. And wandering into one of their many shows, I was totally taken. A four-piece, each with a mic, two keyboardists, bass and drums, the band lies somewhere between rock and electro. Their four-part vocal falsetto harmonies make them stand out and add warmth to their summery sound. While the band has known each other since they were kids and each have played music together before, I was intrigued to learn the band only began last year and have only released two songs. One of the hardest working bands at the festival, they played 10 shows in five days and seemed to be having more fun than any other band I saw. Oh, and they covered the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Everybody does, but these guys just might get to.
Long gone are the days of walking the streets of Austin with a printed schedule and a highlighter. In an atmosphere that is already all about sensory overload, technology ruled SXSW this year. Parties were announced via Twitter, there was an app for schedules and oftentimes when you got to the shows most of the audience members had their heads down to text or tweet. Also, if you didn’t have a platinum badge, the only way to get into the Prince show, was to have a Samsung Galaxy phone and complete a scavenger hunt.
Prince was not the only mega star to get Austin buzzing. Green Day, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl also took part in the action, playing exclusive shows held in venues way smaller than they are used to playing.