SXSW 2016: Day Two In Review

Matt Wilkinson, New Bands Editor

Yesterday was perhaps my favourite day in six years of coming to this festival. Wall-to-wall good music, with an abundance of singer songwriters – not to mention confirmation that one of America’s most hyped bands of the last 12 months really do make the grade.

I mentioned Julia Jacklin in yesterday’s report, and last night I caught her play again, in perhaps the weirdest venue I’ve ever seen an artist this year – a totally faceless, almost empty and soul-sucked hotel restaurant. The performance was spikier than my salad, and to her credit Jacklin didn’t seem too daunted by the surroundings, instead getting on with the job in hand. She had a hint of Patsy Cline about her, pained but true.

From there I saw Julien Baker, a teenage bedroom songwriter from Tennessee. Her track ‘Sprained Ankle’ is really special and has made it onto loads of my playlists of late – think The xx and Laura Marling and you’re not far off her vibe – and to see her perform it live was a thrill. The Parish was packed for her but it was one of those gigs where the entire place falls silent, save for the odd person shouting “You’re brilliant!” every now and then. Why? Because she’s got one hell of a voice and knows her way around a decent tune.

Elf Kid’s show at some dive bar on 6th Street was pretty fun too. He’s the smiliest kid in grime, and just hearing his voice spitting through Texan air was exciting. Section Boyz might have failed to make it through customs (apparently), but tonight felt like a victory of sorts. Climbing all over the PA and playing an extended version of Golden Boy also helped his cause, somewhat.

Over at Barracuda, the Secretly Group held their party with a handful of brilliant acts alternating between the two stages. Seeing Bleached made me realise how much I’d missed them, especially when they played ‘Electric Chair’ at Ramones-pace, while Kevin Morby confirmed himself as one of the most wizened musicians of the festival. His band are super confident, and tracks like ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ and ‘Harlem Mountain’ sounded massive in this setting, with the former garnering a proper lighters in the air moment from some members of the crowd.

Best of all, though, were Whitney. Along with Anderson .Paak, Downtown Boys and Sheer Mag they seem to be the breakout act of the festival. And rightly so – that beautiful mix of brass, Fleetwood Mac-style drumming and Max Kakacek’s virtuoso guitar playing (dude knows the art of subtlety) made for a heady instrumental mixture. Singer Julien sang falsetto, and every person in the audience seemed to fall into a woozy sway when he did. They exude confidence and it rubs off – as a band they’re the real deal.

Jonathan Garrett, Writer
The day starts drab and gray and as if on cue, it pours as soon as Mothers take the stage at the Urban Outfitters venue. Singer Kristine Leschper thanks those of us standing and watching in the rain, wryly pointing out “that’s probably the best way to listen to our songs.” But those expecting Mazzy Star-like slowcore were no doubt knocked off balance by the gale force of Mothers’ live incarnation. Leschper’s wounded wail is very much front and center, but the hypnotic intensity of her backing band truly sets their performance apart.

Beach Slang wear their influences so proudly and unabashedly that it pretty much renders any criticism moot. At one point during their performance at the Pitchfork Day Party, James Alex actually holds up an honest-to-God Replacements record he bought for himself earlier that day. In contrast to, say, Johnny Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls, who was content to pilfer the legendary Minnesota band’s ramshackle sound, Alex fully inhabits the Westerberg-ian, loveable fuck-up role. By the end, he has every single person in the crowd pulling for him.

Lewis del Mar seemingly came out of nowhere toward the tail end of 2015 and have built up a sizable buzz on the strength of a handful of boldly percussive singles like “Loud(y)” and “Wave(s).” Here at SXSW, the duo of Danny Miller and Max Harwood has fleshed out their lineup to a five-piece and display an uncommon assurance that belies the project’s relatively short gestation from the studio to the stage. While the recordings bear more than a passing resemblance to the exacting guitar-pop of Alt-J, live, the band finds a looseness more in keeping with their name (“mar” means “sea” in Spanish), flaunting a Caribbean-inspired rhythmic shuffle that gamely carries the near-capacity crowd along for the ride.

There’s an argument to be made (though not here due to space limitations) that The Drums are one of the most influential alt artists of the past half-decade, and Day Wave, the brainchild of Jackson Phillips, might well be exhibit A. The band’s jangly indie pop has lit up the blogosphere over the past year, and at the StubHub party, Phillips proves his songs go over just as easy in person. At times, it might be almost too easy—the band’s note-for-note rendition of “Ceremony” is a little too comfortably nostalgic. But Phillips’ gift remains obvious no matter how enamored he is with his source material.

Rhian Daly, Writer
I spent most of Wednesday night at SBTV’s first ever SXSW showcase at the Main II, where the likes of J Prince, Shakka, Ghetts and Mumdance warmed up for a crazy performance by Stormzy. On Thursday morning, the grime continued, but this time on board a boat. The SBTV crew had hired a vessel to sail up and down the river while some of the acts they’d brought over hung out, and Elf Kid and Blakey performed. Together, they rapped almost non-stop for a good 15-20 minutes, the likes of ‘Golden Boy’ livening up the grey atmosphere outside the boat. Elf Kid might be the one with all the noise surrounding him right now, but you could do a lot worse than keep an eye on Blakey too – the pair of them have an infectious air to them and bars for days.

@elfisworld and Blakey doing ‘Golden Boy’ on @sbtvonline’s #sxsw boat party

A video posted by NME (@nmemagazine) on Mar 17, 2016 at 11:27am PDT

I caught Yak twice yesterday – once, in the sweltering heat outside at Hotel Vegas and once in the dark and claustrophobic walls of Beerland. The latter was probably the better set, with frontman Oli Burslem riled up and lurching off stage and into the crowd on several occasions. They played new songs from their imminent debut album ‘At Last Salvation’, like the howled and hollered ‘Harbour The Feeling’ and the unrelenting, powerful ‘Use Somebody’. Britain’s most exciting live band is taking on America and winning so far.