This year was my fourth South By South West and before I left for Austin, I was apprehensive about the festival’s status as a relevant music event in its 26th year. Over 2,000 bands visit the Texas capital to try and advance their careers and I wondered why they bothered anymore? Was there actually worth in them playing? Any band who travel the large distance must have a profile, a buzz or are there to strike a deal on Texas soil to make it really worth their while. Bands that travel on blind faith and hope that something will happen for them are delusional and hopefully few and far between these days.

For me, SXSW is a festival that I go to for new music and the opportunity to gorge on it over five or six days. This year a a giant vending machine made the news, commercialism was rampant, Jay-Z playing a gig to credit card customers, Springsteen gave a (mighty) keynote speech while Kanye, Jack White and Skrillex all packed in venues. At the same time, you’ve got an art gallery playing host to a hippy-leaning label showcase, the Boiler Room broadcasting leftfield electronica from a backyard out of town, bands busking on the street and industry chasing the buzz for their own benefit. It’s contradictory, crass, nothing and everything all at once and that means that SXSW is just a pop-up macrocosm of the music industry as a whole.

Bands are more likely to get paid from big corporate companies or tech sponsors like Spotify looking to make a splash as most of the music industry can’t pay you that big money anymore. Other bands won’t get paid at all. Even my party with The Hype Machine was sponsored by Taco Bell for jaysus sake. That’s the music industry in 2012 though.

So it’s best to just focus on the music because no-one knows where we the “industry” is headed. Here are the 20 best bands I saw at SXSW not including the bands that played my party as I’ve covered them before (except for Body Language who deserved a special mention).

Also, pick up a copy of Day & Night with the Irish Independent today to read an article about how my SXSW party came about and went down.


HOLY SHIT. That appears to be the appropriate level of incredulity to assign to what Hudson Mohawke and Lunice have made together as part of their collaborative project. Lunice dropped one of these tunes when he played in Dublin last year but a whole set of them at the Warp Records/ Brainfeeder showcase at Empire Automotive? With massive subwoofers in front? “HOLY SHIT” IS RIGHT.

Hearing these space-age minimal dance cuts at full volume, where you can hear every last nuanced beat and precision use of bass as the speakers push the air into your body, almost blowing you over with force was some experience and an amazing way to finish off SXSW 2012 on the Saturday. These guys are masters. People were going absolutely apeshit as a result, doing the cooking dance, just losing the plot completely at how good these guys are. A combo of super powers. There will be an EP release later this year. It will be epic.