The Best Bands NME Watched At SXSW 2013

Two observations from SXSW 2013. First, there seemed to be more established acts playing than in years previous. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Prince, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, Vampire Weekend elevated the line-up to what would be a pretty magnificent roster for a major non-new music festival. There have always been a smattering of big acts at SXSW – last year Nas, Jack White and Bruce Springsteen played, for example – but this year it felt more prevalent. I can’t complain about seeing some of my favourite artists, but I do wonder if younger, newer acts suffer from industry hotshots and press deciding they’d rather see Prince than “Western Medicine”.

Second, the branding and corporate presence was pretty insane. Witnessed most starkly in Prince saying “a very special thank you to Samsung” during his set on Saturday evening, there was sponsorship from big business all over the place. I enjoyed my fill of Mountain Dew and Oreos and hanging out in the ‘Haus Of Hipstmatic” and the Doritos stage, but I wonder how far this’ll go. Sure, the music industry is financially screwed and needs bucks, but it will be disastrous if we start to see an artist’s creative vision edited or manipulated by what a client wants them to do for money. From the looks of SXSW this year, it looks as if we’re at a tipping point – which makes me feel uneasy.

A few acts lashed out at the business side of the festival. Zachary Cole of DIIV attacked the corporate gang-bang and “branding, branding, branding” with a “Fuck SXSW” Tumblr post . The frontman was not impressed by the “Drunk corporate goons and other industry vampires and cocaine,” but later admitted he’d been having fun,

Orlando Higginbottom, of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, added his tuppence via Twitter.

I feel the need to say that SXSW felt overly corporate, severe lack of underground surprises and adventure. Big companies showing off mainly

I had a chat with Jehn from Savages after their show on Saturday, who aired her concerns:

It’s good for weather but terrible for music. It’s not about music. Music is just a front. It’s about business and people having meetings. It’s the first time and the last time I’ll do it. You get a ten minute sound check and you’re just cattle. It’s the antitheseis of what we are and what we are trying to do

Despite all that, it is still the ultimate place in the world for an intense injection of music, new and old. Here’s hoping the festival has strictures in place to prevent the Japanese knotweed-like branding spreading too far. Here’s NME’s picks of the festival starting with my own.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds played songs from their new album ‘Push The Sky Away’ and old classics ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ in the back garden of a BBQ joint. Why so magical? For a start, the alchemy of the band. I could watch Warren Ellis play the violin all night and I don’t even like the instrument. Then there’s Nick Cave’s astonishing way of telling a story. Hearing the poetry ‘Higg’s Bosun Blues’ in all its chilling, beguiling glory – he watches Robert Johnson make a deal with the devil before seeing “a hundred black babies runnin’ from his [Lucifer’s] genocidal jaw – dissolved my jetlag and made me feel alive. Prince was obviously brilliant (despite not playing guitar), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mac Demarco, Sohn and Earl Sweatshirt were other highlights. Sweatshirt’s show with hypeman Flying Lotus (as well as Kendrick Lamar’s show earlier in the day) made me believe in contemporary hip-hop again.

Dan Stubbs

Seeing Merchandise for the first time at the Thrasher party, in a shack next to a skate ramp. They were intense and wonderful – and had much more in common with US punk live than their British-indie influenced sound on record.

Matt Wilkinson

Merchandise(again – they were that good). Believe the hype, they are incredible.

Leonie Cooper

Waxahatchee. Turns out the world does need another stripped back, solo electric
guitar strumming lass after all. Katie Crutchfield was rightly one of the most talked about artists at SXSW, for a tough but tender take on the singer-songwriter, like Sharon Van Etten after a powercut.

Mischa Pearlman

Iggy Pop. Being right at the front and him grasping my hand for about 20 seconds during ‘No Fun’ was my absolute highlight, because, well, he’s an absolute legend.

Jonathan Garrett

Haim. Opening for Vampire Weekend, they played to an audience 10 times the size of their biggest audience at last year’s SXSW and proved they could easily command a stadium-sized venue in another year’s time.

Read more of our coverage of the festival and pick up the magazine on March 30 for a full round-up

Prince At SXSW 2013? 2 Many Funk Jams, Not Enough Prince

SXSW – Music Films You Need To See This Year
50 electrifying photos of SXSW 2013

10 bands you can’t miss at SXSW 2013

12 Cool Things That Happened On Day Three
12 Top Moments Of Music And Insanity