Shoegaze melancholy and churning punk percussion meet in Philadelphia's Suburban Living, whose debut Almost Paradise coalesces cinematic Eighties synths with dense reverb and layered walls of soaring fretwork. Los Angeles proto-punk outfit Sextile hovers at the grim periphery where vocals curdle at the back of the throat, barraging guitars strum violently, and a cacophony of razor-wire bass plucks and brute beats gather tension behind desperate and sobering narratives. Girl rocker quartet Potty Mouth offers a nostalgic Nineties take on punk with a gilded-pop veneer, jangly melodies of distorted guitars cutting cleanly through casual and soft tones in their EP Sun Damage. Straying from the straightforward punk bill, Tomás Doncker & the True Groove All-Stars disseminate celestial Afrobeat blues and Sixties/Seventies funk with a "fight the power" narrative. Politically charged, their The Mess We Made assumes James Brown-like boogie instrumentation and a gospel choir. Airtight percussion and bursting basslines pulsate beneath lovesick timbres and washed-out synthesizers for leather jacket heartthrobs Tennis System. Crafting songs packed with spacious atmosphere, Cosmonauts in A-OK! fashion lo-fi instrumentation and droning mood rock into slinky space tunes with a garage jangle.
– Alejandra Ramirez
Annually, local imprint Chicken Ranch Records lines up some of the best, quirkiest talent to help light the fuse on another SXSW. NYC/Austin citizens Peelander-Z, that batch of shrieking, hysterical, expat Japanese cartoon superhero punk rockers and subjects of recent rockumentary Mad Tiger, top the poultry bucket, but keep scrolling. Indie rock vets Moonlight Towers lend out charismatic, literate frontman and songwriter James Stevens for a solo troubadourish turn, while recent local transplant David Vincent, ex-Morbid Angel/Genitorturers industrial/death/grind hero, steps out on his own, dabbling in country music. Mr. Lewis & the Funeral 5 challenge ATX post-punk poets Churchwood as local kings of cross-fertilizing Tom Waits' Dada blues with old-school swamp grooviness, and Broken Gold finds Riverboat Gamblers guitarist Ian MacDougall going widescreen, jangly, and pop-oriented without losing rock & roll muscle. Long-running Athens, Ga., alt-rock heroes Five Eight, the missing link between Cheap Trick and the Ramones, and Houston's Tontons, featuring powerhouse vocalist Asli Omar and a dynamic indie attack, build a showcase foundation.
– Tim Stegall
Sorry, y'all, no cheesesteaks. Philly garage rock foursome the Districts masters the soft/loud dynamic, deftly leaping from plaintive kick drum and guitar strums to adrenal power chords. R&B crooner Son Little (né Aaron Livingston) prioritizes pristine pipes on the sunny "Lay Down," bolstered by a New Age gospel choir. Fellow soulman Bilal injects hip-hop swagger, particularly on "Ghetto Walkin'," his and Kendrick Lamar collaborator Robert Glasper's riveting rework of Miles Davis' "The Ghetto Walk." Suave poptimist Julian King ascends his vocal range in Chris Brown fashion, bolstering the indelibly soulful electro-pop of EP Sing for You. R&B quartet Good Girl stormed 2016's America's Got Talent auditions, falling short of the finals but using the momentum to shop their brash, sultry melodies and amplified dance tracks. Psych rock revivalists Queen of Jeans' spacious drum fills, humble chord progressions, and cheeky vox propel the imperative "Dance (Get off Your Ass)." Native Parisian twosome Dove & the Wolf waft ghostly harmonies atop a blend of neo-folk and dream-pop on 2014's lilting "The Words You Said." Between sets, DJ Aktive crafts frigid, electro-rap beats straight out of Kanye's Graduation, such as 2015's "Devil in a Sundress."
– Bryan Rolli
Once again the live music capital's municipality presents its own showcase, one ranging far and wide to demonstrate the range and creativity of musicians calling Austin home. Here's what A-town offers on a nightly basis. Maggie Mae's main stage boasts an international vibe, while their Gibson Room stages all roots music from folk to soul to country. The Rooftop features rockers. 2015 Austin Musician of the Year Gina Chavez matches Latin pop with adventurous rhythms spanning the Americas. Horns and assorted Afro-Latin beats drive Continental Drift, Money Chicha, and Cilantro Boombox, all three expansive and adventurous. Barbara Nesbitt and Whitney Rose both released highly praised offerings featuring traditional and contemporary country earlier this year. Charlie Faye & the Fayettes bring back the girl group sound of the Sixties with a modern twist, while the genuine soul sounds of Tameca Jones buzz smooth and silky. Onetime Nashville-trending country rockers the Wagoneers are still led by hit songwriter supreme Monte Warden. On the rock side, expect long-running instrumental sextet My Education to introduce new material from March 3 release Schiphol. One of Austin's most exciting new acts, Calliope Musicals uncork a circus atmosphere accompanying psychedelic pop. Emily Wolfe could be Austin's breakout artist of SXSW 2017 as she wraps a commanding guitar style, potent songwriting, and forceful vocals into an unbeatable package. Just 20, Hunter Sharpe's band features Charlie Sexton's son Marlon as the young quartet raises an alternative rock ruckus on their debut EP.
– Jim Caligiuri
Modern Outsider's become an imprint of note locally over the past five years, quickly building an eclectic roster boasting some of Bat City's best talent. Quiet Company kicks off with a roar as the quintet unloads epic indie anthems behind frontman Taylor Muse's howl on 2015's fourth LP Transgressor. Garage psych quintet Mirror Travel previews its second LP and the warped, ripped textures of last year's standout Cruise Deal EP, while Jess Williamson likewise followed up stellar bow Native State with last year's mesmerizing Heart Song EP. Boasting a rich and lingering voice that slides between intimate moments with a fierce clarity, the songwriter continues to rise a substantial musical voice. Hard Proof unloaded its new Afrobeat funk LP in January, Stinger showcasing the 10-piece outfit's suave rhythms and explosive, horn-blasted grooves lined by an incomparable percussive backbeat. 2015 debut One established Leslie Sisson's Moving Panoramas as a leading light of the local scene with dreamy melodies that packed emotional punch, the quartet balancing barrages of guitar with mellow, shoegazed reverb. Eclectic alt-popper Walker Lukens closes out with rising star promise behind upcoming Ain't Got a Reason EP, a Jim Eno-produced platter jabbing with Spoon-inspired pop grooves and sharp riffs.
– Doug Freeman
Three-time Grammy winner/sorceress Erykah Badu co-headlines a stacked card at the Moody. She'll perform under her DJ alias, DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown. Providing chilled outernational sounds since 1995, DJ collective Thievery Corporation (Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) are still going strong on their dub-drenched 10th full-length, The Temple of I & I. Somehow finding their way into a D.C.-specific set, legendary wild card Wu-Tang Clan celebrates the 20th anniversary of second full-length Wu-Tang Forever, but which of the nine members will participate? Go-go staple Backyard Band have spun the genre forward, with covers of Adele's "Hello" and Solange's "Cranes in the Sky." Over 40 years in, go-go/hip-hop stalwarts Rare Essence show no signs of letting up now that they released 2016's Turn It Up, first studio album in 16 years. Colorful alternative folk trio Magic Giant is best known for its Spotify-charting single, "Set on Fire." Ethiopian-American and Rastafarian rapper Ras Nebyu refuses to be boxed in by the "conscious rapper" label. Singer/songwriter/poet Reesa Renee unifies pop and R&B with trap drums and rock guitars. DMV spinners Mathias and DJ Money rock diverse sets to open.
– Kahron Spearman
King Cayman is a cacophony of fuzz mayhem and aggressive guitar jerks wheelbarrowed through a frantic drum roll slaughter. Punk for the future, the one-man band warps his voice from a flanged whisper to a demonic scream that shotguns through a maelstrom of jigsawed distortion and razor-sharp leads in fourth LP Death. Crisp production, anthemic choruses, and sweeping chords make up Los Reyes Vagos' galvanizing pop-rock. On Sin Gravedad, the Guatemalan heartthrobs incorporate classic love ballads ("Junto a Tí"), propulsive arena-ready rock, and earnest atmospherics ("Planetas"). Donned in cowboy hats, mariachi garb, and ponchos, Mexican Juligans coin "punk de rancho" by taking a punk blueprint and incorporating elements of Norteño music. While screaming Spanish expletives, expect mariachi yelps and Mexican folklore dispersed between rollicking riffs and tense drum fills. Urgency manifests in Aurum's pop as reverb-cloaked riffs suspend and militant drumbeats multiply behind soaring vocal credos. The trio discovered a palpable, emotional ballast that's meant for stadiums on their fifth album Edén. Wandering from moments of chaotic rock, spacey electronic, and dilating psychedelia, Sierra León diverges into different paths on No Somos los Mismos. The Tepic, Mexico, quintet coalesce bursts of congas, buzz-sawed riffs, zigzagged keys, and wah-wah progressions into third-eye Seventies epics.
– Alejandra Ramirez
The long strip of Chile houses a conglomerate of artists ranging from saccharine pop jangles to caustic political punk. Singer-songwriter Yael Meyer drips honey-sweet sounds over a tapestry of tropical instrumentation, introspective acoustics, and somber piano ballads. On Warrior Heart, Meyer shifts from ruminating heartbreak ("Carry On"), lamenting nostalgia ("When the Road Ends"), to a soaring crooner ("Yo Soy"). Riding the success of their Chilean Lollapalooza performances, Protistas fuses bubbling synths and driving distortion into casual indie rock on Nortinas War (2010), Las Cruces (2012), and Nefertiti (2014). Natalia Vásquez Grimaldi's voice of Mora Lucay soars to a dulcet falsetto, broods to a deep hush, and breezes a cool timbre. The quartet converges from multiple paths of tropical guitar reverberations, funk shuffles, polyrhythmic Afrobeat percussion, and footloose bass grooves in 100 mg (2015). Suited for the dance floor in sequin splendor and bubblegum pop electronics, Planeta No delivers nü disco arrangements with a pop twist of razor-sharp guitar loops and bouncy grooves.
– Alejandra Ramirez
This island-sized political flashpoint in the South China Sea boasts a fertile indie music scene. Taipei's Zooey Wonder plies an esoteric blend of breathy folk and sleek ambience that landed her "Wonderland" in the Armando Bo short "Lifeline." Indie quartet Hello Nico have come a long way since their live debut at the 2013 Hohaiyan Rock Festival. Their emotional anthems alternate between guitar and synth with a constant center in powerful vocalist Zhan Yuting. Hailing from Taitung City in southern Taiwan, Matzka combines reggae, R&B, and rock in the indigenous Paiwan tradition. A dynamic live performer, he opened for Guns N' Roses when they played Taipei in 2009. Jade Eyes enlivens downtempo beats with skittering pop guitar riffs, sleek synthscapes, and smooth vocals to evoke the sensation of urban insomnia. Among other things, ravenous 2011 DMC Taiwan champion DJ Questionmark scores music for video games, fashion shows, and ice skating exhibitions utilizing everything from sewing machines to espresso makers. Queens-born rapper Miss Ko absorbed both the local hip-hop aesthetic and the culture of her Taiwanese immigrant parents, allowing her to shift effortlessly between English and Mandarin. Her 2012 debut, Knock Out, topped Taiwan's indie chart.
– Greg Beets
Spoon, Austin's most enduring indie outfit, launches its forthcoming Hot Thoughts LP with an entirely new concept both for the band and for SXSW: a three-night residency. Britt Daniel and crew's equipment will remain set up onstage at the Main Tuesday through Thursday, previewing new tracks like brand-new single "Can I Sit Next to You," a slinky, sighing, Prince-like slab of sex funk oozing queasy strings. For the occasion, the band cheekily renames the venue Eno's, both after long-serving drummer Jim Eno and the building's onetime status as the original location of Emo's. Filling out the bill are different lineups each night, handpicked by the band, including one special, surprise guest. This night: the noisy bashing pop of Boyfrndz; Big Big Love, tuneful youths who prove the indie rock revolution has reached deep into Mexico City; the Bright Light Social Hour, one of Austin's most seasoned psychedelic offerings; and Daniel's (and hipper Austin's) favorite punk band, A Giant Dog. Seeking invention and variety, Spoon's residency kick-starts Hot Thoughts in grand style.
– Tim Stegall
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