SXSW Wednesday Round-Up: The Districts, Kelela, Slaves

While much of Austin is waking up and taking stock of last nights terrible car accident, the festival itself is very much still moving forward. There’s undoubtedly a sombre mood downtown, but at the press conference with mayor Lee Leffingwell this morning, the message was clear: this city prides itself on community, and the fact so many people pulled together last night is a testament to that. Although a host of shows around Red River, where the accident took place, have been cancelled or moved, the rest of the festival is continuing as planned.

With this in mind, we’re continuing our round up of what music we’ve caught while we’re out here. Today, NME’s Kevin EG Perry writes about the most interesting new acts he’s seen so far:

“My Wednesday at SXSW 2014 started with the surreal experience of wandering into a rented kitchen in the east of the city to find Kelis hard at work preparing jerk chicken and other tasty treats for her own food truck. Be assured that her ‘Feast’ line of sauces are no ordinary celebrity endorsement – Kelis is a trained saucier and the sort of boss that all her kitchen staff refer to her as ‘chef’. We’ll find out today whether her jerk chicken brings all the boys to the yard.

“Still, it was a fitting first taste of Austin, a city that prides itself on ‘Keepin’ It Weird’. On our way back to 6th Street to check out some bands, we ended up hailing an ‘electric taxi’. The conversation with the driver went like this:

“NME: “Is this just a golf buggy you’ve put sides on?”
Electric Taxi Driver: “I don’t really know what it is. [Pause] How do you like Austin? Do you want to go shoot some guns?”

“He couldn’t have been more stereotypically American if he’d served us apple pie and piss-weak beer. Still, we couldn’t fault him for getting us to Austin’s ‘British Music Embassy’ just in time to catch Dinosaur Pile Up closing their set with the heavy-as-a-sack-of-dumbbells title track from their last album ‘Nature Nurture’.

“Next up were Slaves, playing at 3pm after already storming the same venue at 1am this morning with their first ever show outside of Britain. Slaves seem to have been one of the names on everyone’s lips so far this year, and their pair of high-intensity shows shot through with brilliantly observed story-telling and caustic wit have sealed their reputation as one of the smartest and most entertaining British bands around.

“However, they had to share the award for most impressive performance of the day. An hour later and a couple of blocks away, American teenagers The Districts played the sort of show that would have been mind-blowing even if it had come from a band twice their ages. The fact that frontman Robbie Grote just turned 19, and that the oldest bandmember is still only 20, means that the only really plausible explanation is that the band are literally possessed by the spirits of great rock’n’rollers. Their music packs Nirvana grunge with the emotional wallop of Neil Young, and looking around the Red7 courtyard where they played it was difficult to escape the feeling that you were at the birth of a huge new American band. They weren’t even distracted by the oversized Twinkie mascot taking selfies in the crowd, so the guys are clearly already pros.

“After that pair of seismic performances the rest of the day could only really feel like winding down. Blouse were what Americans call “vibey” and the rest of us would probably call “chilled” over at the Portland party taking place out east, although of course it seemed to be exclusively attended by extras from the TV show ‘Portlandia’. John & Jacob, who played Lambert’s Pub, sound like late-era Eagles, for which your mileage may vary. Later in the night, Kelela’s powerful performance proved she’s worth keeping an eye on during her enthralling set at Empire Garage.

“There’s still the best part of a week to go, but the contrasting sets by Slaves and The Districts will both take some beating. Must run now though. I’ve got to see a man about shooting some guns.”