SXSW Music 2023: The Best Things We Saw on Wednesday

A primo Tiger Den showcase, iLe, Hermanos Gutiérrez, and more

From legacy Texas songwriters to New Order’s keynote insights, the Chronicle music team’s Wednesday sightings at South by Southwest Music 2023 stretched from South Congress to campus-area Hole in the Wall and beyond.

Find over a dozen highlights from day three of the weeklong festival below, beginning and ending with standout sets from the marathon Tiger Den showcase at Cheer Up Charlies. Also find our review of the day’s Jazz Re:Freshed Outernational showcase or revisit our Monday and Tuesday coverage.

An Untroubled Look Into Asian Glow’s Emo Headspace

Asian Glow (photo by John Anderson)

The cool neon lights of Cheer Up Charlies tend to shine brightest on similarly showy performers. But at the start of Tiger Den – the Asian diaspora showcase jointly hosted by Jaded and K-pop group Balming Tiger – those garish discoisms gave way to stark modesty as the audience was invited to peer into a scene untroubled by gaudy self-possession. Emotionally, Asian Glow’s set offered the equivalent of a childhood bedroom with the Microphones and Sweet Trip posters on the wall, a laptop open to Ableton blasting lo-fi waves of pre-recorded drums, and a sensitive soul in pajama pants strumming up a gently melancholic storm on top. As you might infer from that description, Seoul’s Asian Glow – aka 21-year-old Gyn – didn’t exactly build their reputation in live performance. But alongside other noise-happy, multi-instrumental internet infants, their bit-crushed passions handily embody the porous sonic reaches of new generation (aka 5th wave) emo. Understandably, music born out of both the intense community and crippling isolation of online spaces made a curious fit for the erratic, fair-weather industry audiences of SXSW. Thankfully, when Gyn busted out a Drain Gang cover late in the set, a group of Zoomers with Xs on their hands and Instagram reels set to record immediately bum-rushed the crowd. – Julian Towers

Son Rompe Pera’s Punk-Minded Cumbia, Poolside

Within a minute of arriving at the mostly unoccupied, resort-style pool on the fourth floor deck of the luxurious Hotel Van Zandt, I start to wonder if I’m at the wrong place. It’s hard to imagine Mexico City’s buzziest and most mischievous quintet playing amid a sea of sun-faded lounge chairs and a minimalist chic color palette of placid blues and bronzes, some feet away from the afternoon barcrawlers traversing nearby Rainey Street. But around 10 minutes ’til showtime, an influx of tatted and pompadoured greasers in black tees reading “CUMBIA IS THE NEW PUNK” settled into the makeshift stage sitting poolside and opened with the agile “Selva Negra,” completely drowning out the ceaseless drilling from a construction site on the adjacent corner. It’s evident that marimba music runs in brothers Mongo and Kacho Gama’s genes. They swoop in beside psychedelic guitar riffs bathed in reverb with intuitive precision, like on the gritty, breakneck-speed fever dream “Chucha” and more traditionally-inclined numbers like “Proteus,” adorning each crest of frenzied sublimity with deep, warm timbres that are sure to win over even the most elitist cumbia purist imaginable. – Nayeli Portillo

Latin Day Stage Imbed Yields El Sonido

iLe (photo by John Anderson)

After eight full bilingual sets Wednesday between noon and 10pm, this Latin can attest to the rise of Spanish assets at SXSW. At the heart of hump day, Seattle frequency KEXP’s Radio Day stage domination at the Convention Center, right around the corner from Flatstock, played out as thrilling as the Latin Grammys. Cycling back after last fall’s spotlight on Boleros Psicodélicos via ATX cottage industry Adrian Quesada (Black Pumas), Puerto Rican artist iLe touched off a five-hour run with unqualified star power. Torch singer leading a quartet of drums, keys, and a pair of guitarists, Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar drew from three LPs in Aterciopelados fashion: electro, feminist, and all hips and shoulders. Best Vibe went to Bogota trio Balthvs next, a bass-dripping, six-string-spidering, funk beats-ripping psych inducement coursing watery liquefaction, exquisite tone, and instant hipgnosis. Dominican Republicans El Gran Poder de Diosa boomed orchestral as a septet that included a French horn. Despite meaty 35/40-minute sets, this ritmo juggernaut only warned up toward the end – a Santana-on-peyote run through Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Fellow Dominican Letón Pé‘s high sweet voice tilted into K-pop registers in a solo J-Lo workout missing her band but not her charisma, physicality, and bangers. Tijuana’s Ramona threw back to Seventies Sam Samudio: garage transcendence, guitar machismo, and Latinx romanticism. – Raoul Hernandez

Ray Wylie Hubbard Gives SoCo Crowds a Texas Baptism

If you ain't singing along to Ray Wylie Hubbard, it's your own damn fault. The Austin-area legend's choruses are laden with the kind of country-rock fusion that begs for singalongs. Closing the first night of C-Boy's Soco Stomp! free show series, which extends through Sunday, Hubbard and his band ran through 45 minutes of quintessential Texas storytelling. At one of the few gatherings of SXSW where cowboy hats were worn without irony, the crowd shuddered at the ending refrain of "Snake Farm." Even newer classics such as 2020's "Bad Trick," co-written with his wife, Judy, had the appeal of your favorite uncle's punchline that you can't wait to repeat. Hubbard is both refreshing and classic in his approach, blending the steadfast even as he makes way for the new: His son, Lucas, stole most of the guitar licks in a set chockablock full of them. At one point, the proud dad kissed him on the head. Even if the unknowable mix of old and new Austin residents and visitors watching had been able to resist the charm of a farther-flung South Austin free show thus far, the closing song served as a baptism. "You'll have Texas cred after this," Hubbard said before launching into "Screw You, We're From Texas." They'll sing it the whole plane (or car) ride home. – Abby Johnston

New Order Discusses the Emotional Boundaries of Music Tech

New Order's Bernard Sumner (photo by John Anderson)

Now more than 40 years into careers as genre-defining synth rockers, the core members of New Order kicked off their Wednesday keynote recalling how advances in music-making technology helped the group find its voice and electronic heartbeat. Singer Bernard Sumner said that the band’s first album – made in the raw emotional aftermath of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide – felt “like a bad-fitting suit.” Rather, the embrace of sequencers and early music software let them discover how to make “club music made with regular instruments,” which reached its pinnacle with “Blue Monday.” Along with drummer Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert (keys/guitar), Sumner recalled the heyday of Eighties Manchester, marked by the popularity of the Haçienda nightclub and scene-maker/Factory Records head Tony Wilson. Asked about the possibilities of new tech like artificial intelligence, Morris compared the songwriting produced by machine learning models to “the autocorrect of music,” while Sumner said removing humans from music will lead to empty-feeling compositions. “It can create a rough sketch of music but it can’t create emotional feelings, because AI can create thought patterns but not actual emotion,” he said. “The machines don’t make the music. If you put cold music in then cold music will come out, creating a rough approximation of a tune, but it won’t have any lasting emotional connection.” – Chad Swiatecki

Hello Mary’s Hauntingly Inviting Grunge

Kicking off the So Young Records showcase at the Creek & the Cave, Hello Mary refused to warm the indoor stage. Instead, the threepiece rock band made an unassuming entrance, took their places, and immediately launched into a grungy blast with the opening riff of “Stinge.” Despite the flames, the Brooklyn trio managed a strangely effortless presence devoid of hardcore headbanging. Aside from guitarist/vocalist Helena Straight’s bright red hair and the group’s monochrome garb, they hardly looked like typical rockers. In place of a riotous command, thick riffs and steady drumming – packing a punch so hard that one cymbal got stuck lopsided during “Special Treat” – still radiated authoritative strikes and blows. Even as the trio stood almost still throughout, you could see their souls trashing out inside them. Alternating between the hauntingly inviting shoegaze melodies and explosive interludes of their self-titled album, the trio turned into hard-rock snake charmers during their sharp 35-minute set. – Wayne Lim

The Zombies’ Simplified Waterloo Records In-Store

When lead vocalist Colin Blunstone and composer/keyboardist Rod Argent took the small stage at Waterloo Records in matching leather jacket and jeans, an older, brightly dressed crowd absolutely flooded the store. In only 30 minutes, the Zombies duo proved their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame status as they performed songs from upcoming album Different Game, which will be released on March 31. The band faced pandemic delays to craft the raw and romantic LP together in the studio, the same way as their iconic 1968 Odessey and Oracle. Blunstone’s deep voice sang soulful yet simply worded philosophical lyrics that Argent echoed and accompanied on keys. Following the glimpse of their new LP, the duo ran through greatest hits like “Time of the Season” and “This Will Be Our Year,” reminding of their sustaining power. With distorted guitars and heavy synths often overcoming popular psychedelic songs today, the stripped-down in-store reminded that straightforward sounds can be equally expansive. The set wrapped with 1965’s “The Way I Feel Inside,” which Blunstone compared to the Beatles’ “In The End.” – Katie Karp

Haley Blais Burns Through the Melancholy

Haley Blais (photo by John Anderson)

The ladies from Boygenius may be floating around Austin this week, but Haley Blais made a solid case for being the “Coolest Fucking Bitch in Town.” The irony, of course, is that Blais (with a silent “s”) crafts devastating bedroom ballads with an understated earnestness, but all the more empowering through their refusal to drown in the melancholy. The Vancouver songwriter led her fivepiece to kick off the Breakout West showcase at Swan Dive, showcasing Canadian artists and packing the bar’s back patio. What the set lacked in length (seven songs in just over 30 minutes), it made up for in impact, with new singles “Small Foreign Faction” and “Survivor’s Guilt” both slowly cooking to a boil before Blais dropped into 2020 debut LP Below the Salt with the slow swaying waltz of “Be Your Own Muse.” “Firestarter” showcased Blais’ true power though, entrancing with a hypnotic hushed trill to deceptively draw you before piercing in unleashed fury: “This is not a love song.” Closing with breakout single “Coolest Fucking Bitch in Town,” Blais led the crowd in chanting the title line, capping an impressive SXSW debut. – Doug Freeman

Hermanos Gutiérrez Taunt Incoming Storm with Desert Spells

Gusts of wind began after 7pm on Wednesday as the Lone Star State’s infamous inclement weather blew in and Thursday postponements peppered the SXSW ticker. Eye of the storm might have resembled Stubb’s big backyard as some 800 strong at a still quiet 9pm on Red River relished a private audience with fast-rising Swiss/Ecuadorian duo Hermanos Gutiérrez. Sitting on the left under a spaghetti western sombrero, Estevan beat out a back beat on his rhythmic guitar disambiguation, while sibling Alejandro drew ringing, stinging leads from the six-string on his lap. Arid instrumentals of crepuscular pacing and neon halo effects mostly hushed the festival revelers as “Hijos del Sol,” “El Jardin,” and “Thunderbird” skirted amid a triptych of full-lengths. Like Dire Straits’Love Over Gold, the European bros reiterated two brands of music – turtle and hare – but picked more specific: desert tortoise and shadowy, loping, ghostly hare. Six years in, despite local sell-outs already and North American thirst, Hermanos Gutiérrez exhibited more promise than proof of purpose. More covers, maybe a fat dollop of distortion, and most assuredly future film soundtracks will build this pair out over the extant wall of hype, yet for a blustery midweek SXSW showcase, they stoked powerful natural elements. – Raoul Hernandez

Shye’s Unbridled Electro-Pop Energy

Shye (photo by Wayne Lim)

“I’m Shye. I’m not shy, but I’m S-h-y-e, Shye,” introduced the 20-year-old Singaporean electro-pop artiste, as if she hadn’t already proven it with her explosive energy and light footsteps in set opener “phonecase.” Injected with sharp, incisive drumming and blustery riffs from accompanying band members, Shye’s self-produced bedroom tracks came to life with newfound popstar potential in her first U.S. performance on the Cheer Up Charlies outdoor stage. From soulful croons (“love u”) to post-punk screams (“999”), the poised performer flexed vocal range, with giggles peppered between lines keeping the night candidly intimate. The young singer-songwriter reflected on the importance of loved ones as safe spaces (“Safe”) and dedicated power ballad “love u” to her mother in the audience. Shye closed her 39-minute set with an unfaltering debut performance of two unreleased singles – “Flower” boasted powerfully alluring vocals, while “Need” brought a technicolor eruption of dance onstage and in the pit. Won over by the rising star’s Gen-Z quips, quiet confidence, and contagious excitement, the crowd nodded, bopped, and grooved to the closing lines and instrumental breakdown. Zero hesitation. – Wayne Lim

Font's Frenetic, Funk-Tinged Chaos

From two thrashing percussionists to a song named after a German chemist, it's only natural for Austin post-punk quintet Font to generate entropy at breakneck speeds. Enthusiasm and fan count ran high at Chess Club late Wednesday night, with one audience member screaming, "Agh, you're gonna kill it, bro!" during sound check. Shortly after, aux percussionist Logan Wagner kicked things off with a ticking cowbell drone before guitarists Thom Waddill and Anthony Laurence slipped in and out of raucous six-stringed consciousness. Across 33 minutes, Font proved their knack for sonic unpredictability, veering into funk-tinged territory, discordant walls of sound, and headbanging tendencies – sometimes all within the same song. "Sentence I," currently the only released track in Font's discography, follows a similar structure, inscribed in Roman Parnell's swaggering bass riffs as lead singer Waddill howled and crooned at lilting intervals. At one point, synths and surprise beat samples led the set. During Font's funkiest and danciest number, "Kekulé," the vocalist ditched his guitar (one string missing) to hammer and twist at the keys. Riotous and unwieldy, "Natalie's Song" concluded the evening, but not before drummer Jack Owens dueled with a drum machine and the band broke into one last twisting cacophony. – Kriss Conklin

Automelodi Stages Polished Italo and Dismal Darkwave

The bleeding goth heart of Elysium was in full form Wednesday night, with local darkwave label Holodeck Records teaming up with the timeless synth-pop label Italians Do It Better for a showcase that stayed true to the venue’s 80’s Night legacy. Best known for his 2019 Holodeck LP Mirages au futur verre-brisé, Montreal’s Xavier Paradis, aka Automelodi, commanded the stage in a way that few electronic musicians can. He took the stage around 11:30pm, surrounded by an arsenal of pedals, synthesizers, and a digital drum pad that added live punctuation to the pre-programmed vintage drum machines. Red, blue, and green strobe lights jittered as Paradis crooned in French, slithering across the length of the stage, pounding out a tom rhythm on his drum pad, turning a million little knobs, and smashing buttons on a sampler to trigger giallo horror death screams. He didn’t stand still for a second. Although it maintained the raw analog spirit common to Holodeck’s releases, Paradis’ polished Italo and dismal darkwave felt miles away from DIY bedroom tinkering. Most importantly, instead of just hiding behind a shadowy mountain of gear like many synth nerds, he performed the hell out of these songs. Expect to see him on much bigger stages soon. – Dan Gentile

Civic’s Tough Sound Confirms Aussie Punk Supremacy

CIVIC (photo by Kevin Curtin)

Wednesday’s 14-hour, three stage Chicken Ranch Records party at Hole in the Wall welcomed too many bands to count, but Civic felt like the marathon showcase’s de facto headliner. A big late-afternoon crowd gathered for the busy Melbourne quintet’s third of 12 SXSW appearances. From the downbeat on opener “Born in the Heat,” they let out an unrelenting surge of proto-punk and raw rock & roll that had townies comparing them to Aussie genre legends Radio Birdman and the Saints, though their wah pedal guitar leads felt pure Stooges. Frontman Jim McCullough, in penny loafers and flood pants, punched the air to shoutalong choruses that peaked with a twofer of cuts from their 2018 debut: “New Vietnam” and “Nuclear Son,” while the swaggering “Taken by Force,” title track of their brand new ATO Records release, also confirmed that Australians rock harder. – Kevin Curtin

Balming Tiger Delivers Exhilarating Tiger Den Finale

Wearing matching red ensembles, Balming Tiger clawed their microphones and stood in K-pop choreography-esque formation for “JUST FUN!” before unleashing 39 minutes of rambunctious vigor powerful enough to command a jam-packed Cheer Up Charlies past 1am. The Tiger Den organizers compacted 10 songs – moshing ensued by the sixth – into the finale of SXSW’s first all-day Asian-centered showcase, merging genres from punk to hip-hop and house. BT members Omega Sapien and Mudd the Student spliced raps that flowed and tore through layers of psychedelic beats (“SEXY NUKIM”). Meanwhile, bj wnjn balanced a coughing, bass-heavy “Kolo Kolo” with honeyed vocals. “It’s your guilty pleasure,” the R&B enthusiast sang. Singer sogumm intoxicated with slurred vocal invitations (“LOOP?”) as the artistic collective hopped and circled around the outdoor stage, inviting showgoers to drink up. Closing their set, five members of the 11-piece, including creative director San Yawn, lyrically motivated audiences to “believe in your vision.” The outpour of energy incited a mostly tipsy crowd to jump and scream the lyrics of “Trust Yourself” in unison. “Y’all witnessed history,” declared the green-haired, multilingual Sapien before the group triumphantly walked offstage, hinting at a festival appearance next year. Austin would certainly welcome this Tiger Balm-sponsored alternative K-pop band back with open arms. – Angela Lim


Catch up with all of The Austin Chronicle's SXSW 2023 coverage.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW Music 2023, Asian Glow, Son Rompe Pera, iLe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Hello Mary, The Zombies, Haley Blais, Hermanos Gutierrez, Shye, Font, Automelodi, Civic, Balming Tiger

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