Every March, Austin, Texas is transformed into a carnage-ridden view of all that's to come. Enjoy our pick of the best...
For more on SXSW, including video interviews with the buzziest bands, head to the Radar blog.
10The Smith Westerns
The Smith Westerns are a true SXSW fairytale. The four 17-year-old garage-glammers drove the nine-hour journey from their native Chicago alone: no manager, no agent, no label. They shall return home with numerous hefty options for all of the latter. Why?
Well, partly because the tense, yet low-slung delivery is the most intrinsically fly thing on show anywhere in Texas this spring; the likes of ‘Be My Girl’ have indie-smash emblazoned all over them in humungous paint-roller splashes. But also partly because their clique has the startling combined powers to make even the freshest-faced muso-savvy hepcats appear embarrassingly try-hard corpses.
Today, they come on strong like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys had they been raised in a trailer park on a diet of Marc Bolan and crap pot. Not buying into these perilously petulant urchins’ rock’nroll dream just isn’t really an option.
9The Middle East
A little way from Austin’s bustling main drag, crawling as it is with already-pissed punks, police on horseback and the seemingly infinite scores of teenage emo-boppers that line its curbs day and night, next big nu-roots thang The Middle East’s show tonight could be anywhere in the world.
The quiet, shady surroundings of the venue, the hushed appreciation of the onlookers and the songs’ intimate intensity and twinkling, scenic lushness foster an atmosphere that feels almost more communion than rock show.
A seven-strong rag-tag folk orchestra of sorts, Jordan Ireland and co coax strangely visceral, sweeping hooks from delicate folk fumblings in a way that calls to mind a less knotty, pastoral Fleet Foxes or the Balkan-tinged drama of Beirut.
Unsurprisingly, it’s recent breakthrough single ‘Blood’ that really sees them hit their stride, the point around six minutes in when the ascending horns hit and you can see the room shake with a collective shudder of wonderment.
Driving 872 miles across the States to play in the freezing cold outside a tattoo parlour to their manager, three idle inkers, and an NME representative is nothing for East NYC’s realest hardcore saviours.
Last month they played a ‘Canadian tour’ which consisted of one date to a seven-strong crowd in someone’s basement, a total of 23 hours’ driving, and the loss of $200 trying to sneak singer Honor through border control without proper ID and a criminal record. It’s this kind of incident, paired with an onslaught of the most belligerent, buoyant, spirited home-styled hardcore punk that are quickly making a name for Cerebal Ballzy as the freshest breath of air the scene has had since Fucked Up.
Today, wincing through the perplexing sub-zero temperature, CB may as well be within a steaming circle pit of ferocious proportions for the welly given during closer ‘Sk8 All Day’. The set is cut short as Honor is forced into staggering behind the drumkit to projectile vomit against the parlour wall. Well, if you will start necking Sparks at 11am...
Graduating from Buzz Phase One "Bloggy Pre-Hype", to Buzz Phase Two "Full Blown Blossoming Promise" are New York frolicboom girl/boy duo Sleigh Bells. Earlier demos were charmingly rough, making total sense within today's low-fi centric indiescape.
But tonight, from the gravitas of the gong-sirened intro to the arena-posturing rawk thwacks of "Infinity Guitars", Sleigh Bells' assembly du jour of blanketing sub-bass, post-hardcore menace and cloud-splitting hooklines seem primed for the all-American Bigtime. A less edgy, heavier proposition than we figured but all the more necks a crackin' for it.
Following on from his zeitgeist-defining ‘Life Of Leisure’ EP, Georgia’s Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, comes to SXSW carrying an expectation that would faze many. Not this glow-fi monarch, though.
With likeminded New Yorkers Small Back as his backing band, his hazy, sun-warped dream-dance has never seemed more at home, the loping bass, sticky Balearic synths and slo-mo carnival percussion of holiday jams like ‘Feel It All Around’ glowing in the sun.
It may be in Austin’s tiniest bar but the sing-a-long, arms-aloft reception could be mistaken for Knebworth.
It probably makes sense that the effects of global warming should be felt most strongly in good old gas-chugging Texas itself. The weather has switched from stifling heat to bitter cold in under 24 hours, making the proposition of hanging around in a car park with a beer less appealing.
Try telling John O, aka Diamond Rings, that this is anything but stardust and moonbeams though.
Sporting a quiffed shock of peroxide hair, Adam Ant-gone-goth eye make-up and electric-blue spandex leggings, he shimmies through a set of doomy, melodic power-pop and glossily romantic new-wave like a fabulous drunk karaoke queen.
A twinkly Casiotone Sebadoh cover mid-set pretty much sums it up. It’s all so fun and sweethearted, O’s croon so deep and soulful, that the crowd, now huddled under blankets can momentarily forget the chill.
“I wouldn’t want you to get cold”, sings O in ‘All Yr Songs’. Little chance of that in the presence of a talent so radiant.
Anyone who’s felt themselves frozen out by arena-chasing indie should look no further than wide-eyed orchestral-doo-wop troupe Magic Kids for their salvation.
Jaw chiseled from diamond, six-foot-six of gangly double-denim and shaking his shoulders like Elvis with a limp wrist, leader Bennett is a bona fide superstar in the making. His deep, dreamy croon – part Edwyn Collins deadpan, part Dennis Wilson coo – is complemented by bandmate Will’s ’50s-inflected rock’n’roll and playful sunshine pop compositions that graffiti melodic motifs onto surprisingly bulky wall-of-sound dynamics.
The pink Cadillac pop of first single ‘Hey Boy’, with its sweet schoolyard call-and-response trilling and deep-fried southern guitar twang, gets the best reception but it’s set closer ‘Cry With Me Baby’ that’s the most exciting here.
Every song tonight is pre-empted by excitable yelps of “Magic Kids from Memphis!”. It won’t be long before such introductions are unnecessary.
Crunk-folk duo JJ’s first live ‘appearance’ away from Scandinavia certainly polarises reactions at tonight’s ramjammed showcase. NME is intrigued but not convinced.
Elin’s voice is spellbinding, no doubt; in debt equally to Janis Joplin’s ravishing howl, her high-school choir teacher and, most uniquely, Lil Wayne’s Auto-Tuned druggy spew. But the arrival of producer Joakim and his lack of any contribution bar smoking a fag like he invented the concept does little but bemuse.
The mid-bill slots at a SXSW label hoedown are where you get to witness acts testing the water as they tentatively move their bedroom experiments into the live arena. Understandably this isn’t always to instant fireworks and fanfares. The synth-doom malevolence of Radar’s favourite unsavoury Michigan trio Salem was always going to be hard to translate.
Numerous factors don’t help our pucker-faced pals tonight: firstly, it’s not loud. At all. Secondly there’s no attempt at the ‘extras’ that might ‘enhance’ a live incarnation of such brooding, atmospheric music: visuals, a light show, or even the trippy vocal effects that massacre Jon’s dead-eyed incantations on record. Lastly, nothing’s in time, the three members seeming to play at entirely different paces.
It’s semi-redeemed by Jack’s lolloping rapping mid-way through, but mostly this will be chalked-up as a building block for – let’s hope – much grander darkness to come.
Brace yourself. The girl that got you into Nirvana, the sixth form college ‘one that got away’, and the studious cousin you never told anyone you fancied have formed an unholy alliance of eternal charm to torment you forever.
They consolidated their bonds via ritualistic slumber parties, gorging on a diet of early Cocteau Twins dream-pop, the muddy bass twang of grunge and the sassy, honeyed mantras of R&B in order to write songs about toying with your heart for sport.
If you’re able to envisage something even half as terrifyingly perfect as this, then you’re close to understanding the magnetic appeal of Los Angeles’ party-psych girl gang Warpaint.
Peering out from beneath matted, never-been-to-bed hair, the four enchanted babes that make up the band cut stark figures in yeehawing BBQ-land. With their choral ghostscapes, high-fiving gang mentality and sincere exuberance, Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa are the beautiful sore thumbs of this year’s SXSW.
“We started the band in a really naive way,” says Emily of their genesis three years ago. “Sometimes we’d just jam on the same four chords for days until something more solid emerged, but we knew it would, we always knew we were different and special and so we persisted.”
Everything about Warpaint feels organic and unforced. “I met Theresa at choir when I was 11,” says Emily of their fittingly serene first encounter.
“I immediately knew we’d be friends. Likewise Stella, our new drummer, has only just joined the band but it felt perfect immediately. The more we play, the more we feel like our ideas communicate themselves in an unspoken, natural way.”
If a meeting at a choir-club doesn’t seem like the most punk rock of genesis stories for a band that have emerged from The Smell – LA’s notorious nerve-centre of debauchery and regular haunt of No Age, Mika Miko et al – then that’s because, well, it’s not.
Like all truly important bands, Warpaint explode these clichés. Intermittently emerging from plaintive moods into harder rocking, they play expansive, lushly-harmonic psych-rock songs with enough time-changes to satisfy even the most beardy prog-rock bong-tokers.
This is experimental music that yearns to get its party on.
“I think it was an advantage to us that we weren’t the most technically proficient when we were starting out. It would have left no room for playfulness, for silliness, and that would suck. ’Cos look at us. We’re the world’s biggest goofs,” offers Emily, looking as demure as ever.