Lone Star state hosts galaxy of talent
Friday 26 March 2010
It's getting increasingly difficult to navigate not just the 1,200 or so bands on the official programme at the annual SXSW festival in Austin, but also the hundreds of others who have descended on the Texan capital to play unofficial showcases at pubs, clubs, restaurants, record shops and house parties.
The good news is that if you miss the band you want to see on day one, there's a good chance they'll be playing on day two, three or even four. But that still doesn't mean you're guaranteed to spot the "next big thing". In truth, it's become the pot-luck dinner of the music industry.
Last week, sets by established artists including Muse, Courtney Love and She & Him (whose vocalist is the indie film-star Zooey Deschanel), vied with sets by rising stars. On Saturday, as Brooklyn electronic rock band Bear in Heaven's tunes ran the gamut from Mogwai-ish synth numbers to bass-heavy tunes reminiscent of early Cure, the audience knew they'd just witnessed one of the best acts of this year's festival.
Meanwhile, new Rough Trade signing Warpaint were unaware that the crowd that had come to see them was so big that people were trying to get a glimpse of them through the doorway. This female quartet from Los Angeles, due to play their first UK shows in May, have been name-checked by Billy Zane and the late Heath Ledger (former Warpaint drummer Shannyn Sossamon was in A Knight's Tale with Ledger). The hype proved to be justified, as singer Theresa Wayman writhed about to their hypnotic post-punk psychedelic rock.
Playing right in the heart of Austin's music district were Real Estate, the New Jersey four-piece tipped for great things by Nylon magazine which said "dreamy lo-fi pop is having a moment". They produced a lovely sound: all jangly guitars and hook-laden melodies, most notably on stand-out track "Beachcomber". Three people even climbed a tree to get a better view.
When the film-maker and musician Don Letts hovered around outside the British Music Embassy, it was a sign that something good was about to happen inside. A few minutes later V V Brown made a suitably grand entrance, wearing a feather mask. She showed why she's been the subject of so much attention back in the UK – presumably in an attempt to replicate her success over here. Although Marina Diamandis announced she was losing her voice, it didn't affect her set – the highlight of which was "Hollywood" where she sings "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America".
Usually YACHT comprises Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, but for SXSW this fantastic electro-pop band from Portland became a four-piece. Bechtolt's 1980s haircut was gelled in place in defiance of the wind, while Evans, looking like a young Annie Lennox, danced around the stage encouraging the audience to sing along. Their set turned out to be one of the most exciting at SXSW. There's a buzz about this band that's entirely deserved
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