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The 20 best bands I saw at SXSW 2013

The 20 best bands I saw at SXSW 2013

6. Shugo Tokumaru

Photo by James Goulden.
Photo by James Goulden.

I was pretty excited to find out the day before that this Japanese folk experimentalist was even in Austin for shows. I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d never see him. I’ve been listening to him since 2005 or so and over six albums, his folk music has featured a child-like melodic playfulness. In Red 7, the playfulness is literal with his fellow-band member reaching from an actual box of tricks to pull out various instruments. She plays an accordion, a ping pong bat with plastic farm chickens making the beat, a lit-up cylinder she coaxes notes out of, slide whistles, regular whistles, melodica and little handheld drum boxes. Meanwhile, Shugo’s voice carries a soothing Japanese lilt that rises above all the madness. Worth the wait.

7. Le1f

Stalking the stage with a Janet Jackson European tour t-shirt and long long blonde braids which he whips loose halfway through, New York rapper Le1f delivers a powerhouse physical provocateur performance over his DJ’s murky electronic tracks. The highlight, as expected, is ‘Wut’, the clubbiest, danciest track in his repertoire so far but Le1f has a whole lot more to offer. Plus, his dancing upsets the “no homo” guys in the audience.

8. Haim

From 2011 when didn’t get accepted into the festival to SXSW 2012 where they first made an impression to 2013 where the three Jewish sisters were one of the biggest draw of the festival, Haim’s story is an inspiring one for bands. While it was pointed out to me that they’ve had LA pop aspirations for quite a while (two of them were in a Disney-style cringe group called Valli Girls ), I don’t care.

As they stand right now, the three sisters and guy drummer mould a classic rock sound with a pop sheen. On record, like on newest single ‘Falling’, there’s an electro touch to the track but live, they’re all about the rock band dynamics, breaking off to jam out a cover at one point during their Cedar Street Courtyard set.

While the cover is distracting to their actual set (although Pharrell at the side of the stage is loving it), it’s the perfect mix of superior pop rock that wins out. Plus, they’re super charming on stage to boot with one of them coyly saying “This is my first time at SXSW being single… and it’s weird Austin. I’m leaving it up to you guys…”

9. Empress Of

Lorely Rodriguez’s has only been making her own music for a year or so but she has on-stage hip-swinging confidence and excellent cloudy electronic pop songs which are unique enough to stand out at this point. There are plenty of FX-treated oohs and aahs,and a Grimes comparison is likely but there’s a more studious, classical and a steeper musical knowledge at play here. Arbiter of good music, Double Denim is involved in a release, always a good sign.

10. Little Green Cars

Photo by James Goulden.
Photo by James Goulden.

What a joy to see a band who have been working so hard for so long, have it pay off. Little Green Cars had plenty of Austin action from radio station live sessions to acapella videos to shows where their harmonious folk music impressed above all others. The album Absolute Zero is out in the U.S. shortly (it’s out in May in Ireland) and contains some great currently-unknown-but-not-for-long tracks, like this one, ‘Kitchen Floor’. For a full lowdown on Little Green Cars at SXSW, see my Day & Night print feature tomorrow.

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