It’s easy, among the likes of Coldplay, Bieber, Kanye, Julian and Gaga, to forget that SXSW is primarily about breaking new bands. That’s still the official line here at the festival, and for me personally it still rings true.
Although things don’t really get into fifth gear until today (Wednesday), yesterday was still heaving with punters, bands and pissheads snaking through the hub of the city while an endless array of acts played 20 minute sets anywhere that would allow them. Best thing I saw? together PANGEA, who I’ll mention in a minute. Weirdest thing? Take your pick: A dog skateboarding up the street, the 25 minute version of ‘Get Lucky’ some guy played on marimba in the busiest place imaginable, or maybe just Chance The Rapper walking around with a pair of disgustingly huge dungarees looking really baked.
Anyway, onto the actual music. The first act I caught were NYC trio Wet, who played the Spotify House at noon to a fairly meagre, and very hungover crowd. The band have improved tenfold since I last caught them playing a hometown gig about six months ago, and even though the setting didn’t do them any favours – they’re at their best in the dead of night, bathed in dark visuals, rather than a big white room with overbearing green letters everywhere – there was still something beguiling about the way singer Kelly Zutrau conducted herself. She sounds like Madonna, circa ‘Like A Prayer’, which is great because even the way she gawped at everyone – sullen, sulky, pissed off but still a bit playful – had a touch of Ms Ciccone about it too. Last time I saw them there was none of that, but here, against all the odds, they were full of attitude.
DD Dumbo‘s ‘Tropical Oceans’, released last November, ensured his set at BD Riley’s pub was packed out with UK and US industry, and even though he was competing with the Arsenal game in the background, the Australian still won most people over. I always find the one man band setup (of the loop variety, in this case) hit and miss, but his mixture of scratchy, aggro guitar lines and blissed out beats ebbed on the right side of being weird and interesting. One new song, ‘Cortisol’, was particularly good, the standout line “I used to dream when I was young / But now I don’t feel a thing” delivered in a devillishly caustic way.
After that it was one of LA’s poppiest new bands, James Supercave, at Empire Control Room. The set was standard synth fare for the most part, but the bit where they all stopped dead in their tracks and froze for a good 30 seconds – leaving the audience wondering what the hell was going on – was a nice touch.
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Fellow LA-er Banks endured a nightmare set at Haven around midnight, the sound cutting out completely on several occasions, leaving her looking as if she was about to either cry or smack someone. When she’s good though, like on ‘This Is What It Feels Like’, she’s undoubtedly got the charisma to carry it off – a yank Jessie Ware, if you will.
The same venue had already seen The Preatures slay another eager festival crowd, just like they did time after time at last year’s CMJ in New York (despite suffering the same sound problems here as Banks, that is), while the aforementioned together PANGEA closed proceedings at about 2am. Playing to no more than 30 people by this point, Fidlar’s touring mates basically out Black Lips’d the Black Lips. Funny, cocksure, camp and really, really rocking, they were the only band I saw all day to genuinely not give a fuck. As a result it felt like they were hitting you at full pelt, which is exactly what’s needed here sometimes. Bassist Danny Bengston was fucked, but even that didn’t curtail things, with ‘Badillac’ – the title track from their excellent new record – a total thrill live. If they can last the week, they should do pretty well out here.