The South By South West 2015 marathon comes to end, Getintothis’ Peter Guy reflects on the highs, lows and best music from SXSW during a whirlwind in Austin, Texas.
The 29th South By South West Music and Conference and Festival came to a close in characteristic fashion – weary limbs and minds coalesced into mush after an extraordinary 12 days of sounds and spectacle.
This being our first experience it was always going to be hard to prepare for an event of this magnitude but the truth is – having spoken to so many festival veterans – you never really can. More than 3000 acts – bands, artists, DJs, film-makers, street entertainers, speakers – all descended on Austin for official and fringe shows which seeped from every conceivable space the city had to offer.
Front porches, pop up corporate car parks, bars, pubs, back rooms, hotels, conference halls, roof tops, barns, pig sties, alley-ways, theatres and more besides provided the spaces for musicians from almost every country on the planet to showcase their material for fans, execs, industry types and hometown natives. Imagine Glastonbury in a city setting and multiply it by 10 and you’re somewhere close to the scale of this entertainment cauldron bubbling almost 24/7.
The sprawling centre of 6th Street offers a main drag of continual oddities; a guy playing a fiddle which electronically links to his rickshaw ride carrying ten drumkits which sound as he strokes his bow against the instrument’s body – feet away a host of Star Wars characters play the blues as a hip-hop collective jolt around their boom-boxes and a young girl tap dances with a little dog on it’s hind legs. The list goes on…
Like Glastonbury, SXSW sometimes suffers as much as benefits from this mind-and-body-blistering scope. Ridiculous queues are simply an option you must endure should you wish to see an artist with a strong profile. Whether you have a Badge, a Wristband or are simply a paying customer, it’s all a lottery of whether you are able to enter to see a performance. We learnt the hard way on our opening night that queuing isn’t something you should entertain as there’s simply so much on offer, it’s best to sack them off and seek other pleasures elsewhere.
The corporate element too can also inevitably overshadow the characteristic Austin spirit – the locals are truly wondrous folk; sharing much in common with Liverpudlians – keen to help and impart knowledge about their city, direct with little bullshit, open with a cutting sense of humour – some of which escape the city when the festival is on as they’re somewhat tired of the ensuing mess. Those that stay, do so to play, observe or merely get caught up in the hysteria. And the corporations love to impart this hysteria – with their pop up tents they’re keen to ramp up the hype – many in box-like, soulless tents with free food and drink tokens often over-riding any sense of what we’re all really here to embrace – the music.
But here’s where the 2015 SXSW excelled. There was clearly less superstar cameos – Miley Cyrus‘ mini outing with Will, Sremmurd and Future apart, the rumoured sets from Kanye West, Rihanna, Prince and Drake failed to materialise – ensuring the focus returned somewhat to new and rising artists. Of which there were simply thousands.
Here’s Getintothis’ top 15 from SXSW 2015
1. Golden Dawn Arkestra – a twenty-strong collective of brass, Afro/Arabic rhythms combined with space-rock riffs and propulsive drums. This Austin-based collective had Hotel Vegas enchanted for 30 high octane minutes.
2. Pharmakon – Breathless, gut-punching industrial noise twinned with profoundly personal internal horrors pushed right before our very eyes – unforgettable, haunting and a must-see live experience.
3. Girl Band – The Dublin quartet fused ear-splitting noise, a bass-drum combo which strayed into industrial dance and yet managed to retain a fun pop sensibility you couldn’t help but dance to. A real find.
4. Ibeyi – Quite unlike anything at SXSW – which says a lot considering what was on offer. Twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz fused sparse percussion and keys with the Yoruba chants of their ancestors inside the bewitched surrounds of the Presbyterian Church. Spellbinding.
5. Kero Kero Bonito – Ridiculous and sheer fun. Combining Sarah’s lyrical daftness with Gus and Jamie’s minimal beats and a series of custume additions Parish Underground was transformed into a dancehall of delight.
6. METZ – Our first time seeing this lot live and they didn’t disappoint. Thirty minutes of scuzz-fuelled power. Roll on album number two.
7. Hinds – Glitterball pop drenched in lo-fi sunny melody. Hotel Vegas enjoyed its biggest stage invasion too.
8. Twin Peaks – Perhaps the most feral crowd explosion we saw of SXSW. A late evening mess of melody and cartoon posturing. Awesome.
9. Steve Gunn – Languid Americana and cinematic guitar was idealy suited to the late evening position we took up at Mohawk watching the Buick’s and pick up trucks roar into the distance.
10. Viet Cong – Not quite the set we were expecting, but they still had enough to back up what’s still one of our albums of the year. Angular, raw, needling guitar rock racing around a menacing maze of splintered grooves.
11. Leon Bridges – Sure he’s Sam Cooke reborn, but his effortless manner and understated showmanship marked him out as a strong one to watch.
12. Ragtime Willie – As authentic as it gets. Country hussle afternoon blues in The Hole In The Wall was just we needed to wind down on our last day in Austin.
13. The Parrots – Spanish pop rock with the second finest bass lines of the festival.
14. Nots – Horrific Memphis punk which almost blew our ears to oblivion. More please.
15. Tobias Jesso Jr – Sure he was having a slight off day, but his voice and piano-led Randy Newman-inspired stories were still pure blissful magnificence.
There were of course more established acts who impressed too – War On Drugs and Future Islands in the YouTube bunker at Copperbank, Courtney Barnett at Red 7 and Run The Jewels at Stubbs‘ all delivered the goods, while the Levitation (Austin Psych Fest) all-dayer featuring the likes of Moon Duo, Gang Of Four, Deerhoof, Merchandise, Lust For Youth, Thee Oh Sees and much more, was hands down our favourite showcase.