Every year in March, a small section of downtown Austin, Texas gets completely taken over by this huge beast of a festival called SXSW. Like the busiest bit of Glastonbury condensed and magnified by 100, it is quite simply the most chaotic – and fun – festival I’ve ever been to since starting work at NME.
Favourite memories include: seeing Josh Homme randomly bowl over to a visibly shit-scared Lee from Viva Brother and Justin from The Vaccines before bumming a fag off them at baggage collection at Austin’s tiny airport (literally, this was Stella Street reborn for the new millennium), seeing people trying to throw sand at Nikolai from The Strokes’ pristine white suit, getting locked in a hotel restaurant at 5am with a load of random strangers while a very nice woman cooked and fed us free grub, thinking I was being chased by a coyote but actually just being pissed, seeing brilliant gigs in the maddest of places (pizza parlours, shoe shops, phone shops) by the likes of Suuns, Grimes, Black Lips and the cream of the new band crop. Generally, it’s just a weird, weird place that goes off the scale for five days every Spring.
This year we’ll be covering the bash with our usual Radar takeover where we pick the ten best new bands we’ve seen at the festival, but seeing as it kicks off properly today (March 12) here are our tips for the ten buzziest things happening – featuring both established and unestablished names. Also – check @NME_Radar throughout the week for updates on what’s been good, bad and plain brilliant.
SX is always choc full of rumours about mad gigs by super bands, usually saying they’re about to play some tiny shithole to an audience of about three people. This year’s no different. Head of the pack is ATD-I, and boy, wouldn’t it be sweet if they did end up doing something? The omens are good – they come from Texas, after all, so a nice little pre-Coachella secret gig would go down very well indeed. Also, Omar is already confirmed to attend, to talk about his career as a film director. Nope, us neither… Other rumours include: The Weeknd, Radiohead, The xx and just about every other big act under the sun.
2Jack White returns
Yeah, he played that Nashville party thing a few days ago – but the Third Man Records showcase is really the first proper gig Jack’ll play with his new solo bands, so it goes without saying that it’s a must-see.
3The Brits are coming
There are shitloads of Brit acts coming over trying to pander to the American market, from oldies like Kasabian to newcomers 2:54 and Kindness (both playing NME‘s Brits showcase).
4Mumford & Sons’ film
SXSW isn’t just about the music – it’s kind of like Cannes for music docs too. The biggie this year is the premiere of Marcus Mumford & co’s road diary from their US travels last year – and the band are also set to play a free show right after it too.
We’ve been raving about the grunge newbies for a few months now, ever since we heard their brilliant call-to-arms ‘Sucker’. SXSW will see their first big performance – though unlike most bands, they’re only playing once, at the aptly-named Tiniest Bar In Texas. Gonna be a mad one.
Both Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen are confirmed to play, with Bruce playing a tiny show in some hovel or other to ticket winners, and Jay-Z reprising his role form last year as the fest’s fave megastar.
The buzziest new bands, according to properly scientific calculations then (or, emailing everyone we know who’s going) are: Bleached (Best Coast-esque power pop), Fidlar (skater dudes), Pond (slacker dudes), Bass Drum Of Death (Odd Future affiliate dudes), Blouse (Grimes on downers) and, er, Jimmy Cliff. Who is actually, really playing.
8The Jesus & Mary Chain
What more can we say? It’s JAMC! Playing live!
The Subpop newbies may have slayed it over in the UK recently, but in the US they’re still pretty tiny. SXSW will be their opportunity to properly seize the growing hype and – hopefully, for them – become a bona fide breakout band.
For some reason, there is a never ending abundance of free stuff to be had here. From phones to food to trainers and everything in between. Fuck knows who pays for it, or why, but like I say – SXSW is ruddy brilliant, so…