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The 20 best bands I saw at SXSW 2013

The 20 best bands I saw at SXSW 2013

Photo by James Goulden.
Photo by James Goulden.

…and some not so good ones ones.

When I’m asked why I go to Austin for South By Southwest, the answer is basically: to see as many new bands as possible. The festival features over 2000 bands playing over 10 days so I try take in as much as I can. You can see/read myself, Una Mullally, Finian Murphy and 45 Sound’s SXSW coverage over at Red Bull Ireland including some video interviews and sessions.And pick up Day & Night on Friday for an interview from SXSW with Little Green Cars from myself. On with the good stuff…

1. Autre Ne Veut

Photo by brooklynvegan.com

I’d heard ‘Play By Play’, the anthemic leading track from Arther Ashin’s second album of the same name but the New Yorker’s band were beyond my expectations live. At the YVYNYL and Ears of the Beholder-curated MEGABLAAG party in Empire Control room, Ashin stalked the stage with a verve and purpose that got the crowd on his side. His raspy dramatics, his backing singer’s emotional support and the electronic leaning R&B songs were croonsome and infectious. Playing to a backdrop of slow-moving frame-artwork-featuring specially-prepared visuals, the entire set was performed as if it was soundtracking the climatic scene of a very dramatic movie. Epic pop in a new way. Get familiar and listen to the whole album.


Although I only saw the same three songs twice due to logistics and late-set times, MØ left a big impression. Where as Charli XCX still doesn’t really have the tunes and is an engaging performer, 24 year-old Karen Marie Ørsted has both. She plays elegant pop music and dances around Red Eyed Fly like a kid dancing around her bedroom. Really impressive future pop.

3. Majical Cloudz

This Canadian duo pierced the air with minimal electronic soul in Mohawk’s indoor stage. Their threadbare R&B productions and the singer, Devon Welsh’s intense stare are enough to lull the crowd into their captivating submission. Welsh perform likes a man with an edge and his words reveal a dark-side with lyrics like “I don’t think about dying alone” and “the monsters at the end of my crib.” It’s extremely powerful heart-on-sleeve dark side of the soul stuff. They’ve just signed to 4AD. Enchanting.

4. Death Grips

At a warehouse just outside town, Boiler Room brought the likes of Lunice, Shlohmo, Mykki Blanco, Mount Kimbie, Bauuer and Skream under one large roof but it was the visceral set from Death Grips that set the place off in the had-to-be-there stakes. Performing from the middle of the warehouse has its sound disadvantages but somehow the lack of direct speakers added to the abrasive physical experience of the set (speakers were set in each corner of the room). Zach Hill wasn’t actually present so he literally phoned in his performance via Skype instead (see video below) and his movements were shown on two big iMacs while MC Ride kicked and punched two giant pills, the air and sometimes the crowd and howled over the noise in a gutteral fashion. Just watch the video up there. A sublime gut punch.

5. Zebra Katz & Njena Reddd Foxxx

SXSW offers a trio of acts doing something different in rap this year; Zebra Katz, Le1f and Mykki Blanco all play with sexuality and non-traditional modes of communication. In the same warehouse as Death Grips, a couple of days before at the Pitchfork party, Zebra Katz’s set is the best of the three. His ominous deep-voiced rasp is served a perfect female foil in the form of Njena Reddd Foxxx. It’s actually hard to imagine a Zebra Katz show without her (she’ll be there in Whelan’s in May too).

The music is dark and clubby like Nguzunguzu/ Fade to Mind productions and performed by the pair with such vigour and panache (Reddd Foxxx stands on her head and body-pops frequently). ‘Ima Read’ is the hit but their set is equally as engaging throughout.

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