Sunday, 9 March 2014

10 acts to see at SXSW 2014 (and how to see them)

It's time for my pick of this year's acts for you to see at SXSW. I know it can be a bit of a maelstrom, especially if it's your first trip to Austin - by the time you've worked out who you want see, and just how far apart Waterloo Records and the Mohawk are, and how everything you want to see is on at the same time, you might think you're not going to achieve anything. So before we get to my pick of the bands, here are a few tips on how to go about it:
  1. Most bands will play more than once. This is particularly true of the lesser-known acts, so if you see someone on the schedule that you want to check out, then scout around and see when else they are on. They might be only be playing one or two official showcases, but if they're going all the way from the UK or further you can pretty much guarantee they'll be playing a few parties as well. I've seen bands play 6 or 7 shows over 4 days, so you should be able to fit your key acts into the schedule.
  2. Social media is a must. Get on twitter, follow the official SXSW feed, accounts like SXSW Baby & SXSW Party List, and the bands you're interested in for all the latest news of who's playing where. Plans can changes at the drop of a hat, with new shows being added and last minute acts being announced, so make sure you're across the social platforms for all the latest news.
  3. Eat on the hoof (especially if it's free!). There's some great food to be had at some of the day parties, especially at the British Music Embassy and some of the other big parties in Brush Square. Free food while you're watching a band - what could be better? If not grab yourself a pulled pork sandwich or a taco on your way to the next show. If you do want to sit down and have a meal then the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill on Red River Street is a great place to go.
  4. Keep your eyes peeled if you want to spot some of your favourite bands around town. Is that J. Mascis walking to his next show with his guitar in his hand? Are you walking behind Bob Geldof while he shouts at someone on his Blackberry? Is that Har Mar Superstar walking towards you on 5th Street (and will he high-five you as you pass)? All of these things happened last time I went (including the high-five!).
  5. And finally - be flexible. For all the great plans you might have made, sometimes the best times to be had at SXSW are those where you just go with the flow and live in the moment. You start talking to someone at a show, they've got the same musical taste as you, and they say they're about to go and see the best new band you've never heard of - go with them! What have you got to lose, they might become your new favourite band.
And now the acts to see:
  1. Drenge. A two-piece rock'n'roll outfit from Sheffield, Drenge (Danish for 'boys') are the two Loveless brothers, Eoin & Rory. They're full of energy, have got great melodies and hooks, and live it certainly sounds like there's more than 2 of them playing. They've got 4 shows at SXSW, culminating in a headline show at Latitude 30 on Saturday night.
  2. Marijuana Deathsquads. Possibly the most amazing live act you'll see, featuring somewhere between 2 & 4 drummers, heavily distorted vocals, keyboards, members of Poliça & Gayngs, and maybe even Har Mar Superstar. This collective has been described as 'Poliça's older, uglier bother' and once you've seen them I guarantee you'll never forget them.
  3. Damon Albarn. With his first ever solo album coming out next month Albarn will be bringing his new band to town to play through his new material. Having seen him play what will probably be the same set last week, I can say that the new songs are mature and extremely well written, mostly autobiographical and pretty laid back. Don't expect any Blur hits, but you're likely to get a few Gorillaz songs and a few other interesting moments thrown in.
  4. Vancouver Sleep Clinic. Unbelievably young (they're 17 but look about 13) this Australian trio sound a bit like Bon Iver, and a lot like they've got a very bright future ahead of them. The visas for their full tour were refused on account of their age and inexperience, but they are going to make it to Austin for a few shows, so make sure you see them.
  5. Withered Hand. One of the best singer-songwriters you'll find, Dan Willson has a good line in self-deprecating lyrics and a great ear for a tune. His second album 'New Gods' is out on 10th March. He's got a couple of official showcases, including of course one at the British Music Embassy.
  6. Teeth of the Sea. Like your rock proggy, spacey and tripped out? Then head for Teeth of the Sea at the Soho Lounge on Thursday. Having released their fourth and best album last year they're primed to take Austin by storm with their psychedelic rock masterpieces.
  7. Little Dragon. Having featured on the most recent albums by Gorrilaz and DJ Shadow, this Swedish act are about to hit the big time with the release of their next album 'Nabuma Rubberband' in May. Electronic music with a soul. 
  8. Eagulls. No strangers to controversy and column inches in the music press, Eagulls recently won an NME Award for best video. Unremarkable perhaps, until you know that the video on question featured timelapse photography or a rotting pig's brain that they'd left in a friend's basement, and which caused the Yorkshire police to become involved when someone mistook the decomposing object for a child's body.
  9. Lizzo. Not only can she rap the pants off you, but Lizzo sings like an angel and twerks better than Miley Cyrus. Go see her - I promise it'll be the most energy-filled show you see all week.
  10. Har Mar Superstar. It's always good to end with a party, and I've never been to a Har Mar Superstar show and failed to have a good time. With his latest album 'Bye Bye 17' receiving critical acclaim you'll be dancing, singing and smiling throughout.

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