A considerable number of bands play at SXSW, and 148 of them come from Los Angeles. Here is a list of some of the bands I was able to see live, sometimes several times, and you should definitively check them out if you go to SXSW
Bleached: I saw the quartet fronted by sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin numerous times and their songs are often catchy and poppy with lots of vocal harmonies, occasionally unleashing a more or less powerful punk energy, going from Ramones-que sweetness to a certain darkness. Expect a lot of hair whipping and some fun with surf-punk garage rock and dance-y rhythms.
Cherry Glazerr: I saw them many times, and these youngsters are on Iman’s best albums of 2017 (through February). Frontgirl Clementine Creevy looks so delicate and young, but she drives her garage rock with toughness… She can sing ethereal ooo-oos or groan like a grungy rockstar, and the band brings a tough balance between honeyed harmonies and an aggressive delivery, while the mood is rather dark, the surf guitar filled with reverb and dissonance. There are some real finds in these surprising and rewarding songs.
Chicano Batman: I saw them once at Amoeba years ago, and tried to see them again at Echo Park Rising last year, but there was a true riot during their set! Dressed in matching Las-Vegas-lounge-singer-ruffled blue shirts, they manage to throw a lot of things in their songs from early 70s Brazilian bossa nova, to funk, samba, soul, jazz, cumbia and other Latino rhythms. Each song could be a melting pot of about everything, but don’t be too fast at calling them retro.
Cosmonauts: I saw them many times, and their music brings a real punk energy, with shouted aggressive vocals, distortion, and fuzz before becoming all throbbing and thunderous. The result may be somewhere between the Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Daedelus: A DJ who belongs to this Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, The Gaslamp Killer, Baths LA scene – despite his interesting romantic dandy look, the sound was busy and messy, it was roaring, vibrating, jumping. The set can actually sound like a 20-course-meal all packed at the top of each other on the same plate, but, with his chief-orchestra vest and emphasizing hand movements, Daedelus has real style.
Deap Vally: I saw them many times they could be the female answer to the Black Keys/White Stripes despite what Jack White would think of this combination. The duo delivers a raw sound with dissonance and a total badass attitude, as the two girls can slay a bluesy beast, with fumes of danger and sex in the air. These Led-Zeppelin-inspired girls looked like the kind of women who would kick a few asses without even bending.
Death Hymn Number 9: I saw them many times, and I am always surprised by their bluesy bloody zombie punk rock. They are aggressive and in complete assault mode from start to finish, while their ball of fire frontman exorcizes the zombie out of the ghost of rock and roll every time he starts dancing and running during one of their crazy numbers. It’s violent and fun, raw and loud, chaotic and unsafe and exactly how rock and roll should be.
Death Valley Girls: I saw them many times too! Expect a mad house, disorienting and very loud, accompanied by a dark-boogie psychedelic witchcraft, reaching metal-like doom level or psychedelic fuzz. It smelt like hallucinogenic mushrooms and black magic, with a vision of death in the fog, just penetrated by Bonnie Bloomgarden’s high-pitch vocals and a gang of outlaw feisty females yelling their guts out, or asking for a riot at each one of their ferocious howls. So much swagger, so much badassness, a must see.
ExSage:They deliver an aggressive outlaw bluesy Americana with large detours in a furious psychedelia haunted by boy-girl pop harmonies. There is a constant desert imagery emerging from their songs, and this should not come as a shock once you know that their debut EP was produced by Alain Johnannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan).
Froth: Their music oscillates between psychedelia, shoegaze and inventive bits of Krautrock, sometimes going into nostalgic melodies driven by frontman JooJoo Ashworth’s fragile vocals and a pathos evoking Pacific Northwest 90s bands, or at least rainy days and heartbreaks.
Girlpool: The duo’s music is unbelievably stripped down, as Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad just use a guitar and a bass that they sometimes exchange, but the main element of their songs is their vocal harmonies, which have a real fierce girl-power-girl-riot attitude. It’s minimalism with the biggest effect, lo-fi genre for empowerment, and the punk attitude is entirely in the lyrics.
JJUUJJUU: A very psychedelic band in the mysterious sense of the term, since the members of the quartet, which look like ancient priests, install a dense and druggy spell while building heavy layers of psilocybin-infused dance.
Kevin Morby: His commanding voice reigns over calm soundscapes, where a tempest is always dormant and a danger always lurking. His songs often explode into a glorious and tumultuous violence or turn into a Cohen-meets-Dylan-country-folk dream, while his sonic textures are amplified by many luxurious details. I once saw him opening for Angel Olsen.
Kolars: The most striking thing about the wife and husband duo is their astonishing synchronicity and real chemistry. If Lauren does all the heavy lifting, Rob Kolar sings and strums a rollicking guitar, making a full and diverse sound, often upbeat, with a few bluesy southern accents in the guitar, constantly whipped by Lauren’s powerful foot-and-arm drumming.
Magic Giant: Just imagine Matthew McConaughey (the frontman looks a bit like the actor) fronting Mumford and Sons, and a band which had suddenly decided to join an electronic circus owned by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Musically, there was a bit of everything and more, it was actually a very lo-fi affair, a bit like a giant campfire going overboard or an infectious banjo meeting your local DJ and throwing even some rap in the mix,… because why not?
Meatbodies: Expect head-banging, massive riffs and dark psychedelia. Live, they bring an aggressive and complex sound, which goes from sludgy to fast, with roomy instrumentals, many pedal effects and wah-pedal solos. They are from the Ty Segall-school but they bring something of their own, as the music is a victorious mélange of fuzz and distortion with meaty chunks of a very palpable sound, sometimes morphing into a science-fiction space battle ,… But be careful, they are true eardrum fuckers,
The Molochs: Their songs are extremely catchy and toe-tapping, as the six musicians produce a very layered and psychedelic blend of guitars, tambourine and organ. It is something surely destined to make us dream about a beloved 60’s psychedelia, a busy buoyant assemblage wrapped around Lucas Fitzsimons’ monochords and nasal vocals, with the Velvet Underground not too far away at any moment.
Nick Waterhouse and His Tarots: A close-to-perfect vintage music, Nick Waterhouse, with his clean haircut and Buddy Holly’s glasses, plays a vintage brand of rhythm & blues, injected of soul, swing, doo-wop and jazz with the help of his band’s super tight style. His passion for this crisp and retro sound, slightly preceding Elvis and the rock & roll invasion, makes him write songs which sound timeless.
The Paranoyds: Below the shouted at unison vocals and the heavy garage rock vibe, they have a dark psychedelia in the keys going on, and enough rawness and dissonance to be credible. The music is poppy at times, while keeping a sort of dissonance in the vocal harmonies that can remind you about X’s John Doe-Exene Cervenka signature vocals, done in a more girlie fashion. Plus, they are real babes, and their guitar/bass/vocalist Staz Lindes is Yves Saint Laurent’s new muse.
Phoebe Bridgers: She is a very beautiful very young-looking blonde woman, peacefully strumming her guitar, alone sometimes accompanied by her drummer, and singing with a youthful voice. Expect a quiet, melancholic and thoughtful set with some powerhouse moments. I saw her once join Ryan Adams on stage for a song, and her voice was beautifully matching Adams’ melancholic folksy vibe.
The Regrettes: They are as young as the Runaways, although a girl teenager band in 2017 would have the maturity of… let’s say, Sleater-Kinney. As a matter of fact, frontgirl Lydia Night could make a very convincing young Carrie Brownstein, whereas her vocals could remind you about Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. The music had a real pop sensibility with bright hooks played with a punk fury and a real urgency.
SadGirl: They have an aggressive retro-surf sound and they inject a punk energy into a mix of surf-fuzz-doo-wop sound. With his 50s rockstar look, frontman Misha Lindes can calm the fire with plenty of emotion in the vocals during tender-languid slow songs.
The Shelters: Tom Petty’s young protégés, they play an authentic rock’ n’ roll with epic layered guitars and voices… You can almost hear the Petty touch at each guitar riff, and they have plenty of them during their songs full of swagger, backed up by a massive bass and some big drumming. Their radio-hit ‘Rebel Heart’ is as gutsy as a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tune and as catchy as some oldie.
The Sloths: They have a really good come-back story and Tommy McLoughlin’s stage antics shouldn’t make you forget how good the band is. The music definitely sweat rock & roll history and sunset-strip’s glory days, with propulsive rock songs and enduring hooks. Expect a set of bluesy-garage rock songs, as they will probably play their career-start-up single ‘Makin’ Love’.
Smoke Season: I have seen Smoke Season many times and the music, often moody-dreamy then switching to tempesty, is lived with intensity through frontwoman Gabrielle Wortman’s gracious moves around her synth and Jason Rosen‘s atmospheric guitars. They have a unique sonic vision, going from a stomping style to a vague Americana vibe, embracing a full dream pop sound which backfires into another level of epic.
Tennis System: They play a very intense, super moody music, with songs alternating between breezy peaceful moments of bliss and stormy explosions with a maximum of agitation. I have seen the trio several times, and they continue to impress people with these dreamy sequences interrupted by eruptions of dramatic noise. They usually bring a monster of distortion, but sound quite poppy between the hurricanes, and they are more fast and loud than truly aggressive.
WAND: A band on Ty Segall’s Drag City imprint, God?. The music wanders from melodies to heavy monster riffs, massive drumming and a guitar dance straight from the Segall school. It is complex and challenging music, a wild maze with weird noises and crazy distortion at each of their quiet/loud, slow/fast, stop/start detours. They have empowering and propulsive moments, they are amping every riff, and hiding bliss behind lots of distortion, while mixing sludgy doom with ecstasy.
Warbly Jets: Their stormy music is a mix of noisy pop and hard rock with some stage mayhem. Live, they can bring to mind Oasis, Blur and Tame Impala, but they also build a formidable action on stage, as frontman Sam Shea can roll his back or jumps in the middle of the energized crowd… They are working very hard on their future rock star status, but it feels completely natural.
White Fang: They come from the sloppy punk scene in all its glory, they are sweaty and outrageous, with a careless and provocative attitude, and some massive head-and-body banging. Curiously they have some catchy melodies that can surface behind the trashy lazy vulgar boisterous freak clownish attitude.
Winter: The music sounds easy to grab at first, like some new melancholic pop quartet with dreamy vocals, smiling faces and some glitter at the corner of each of the meandrous songs, but soon it turns into something much more complex, looking for dissonance and some occasional white noise, escaping simple description and a well-defined season.
Zipper Club: With a stage-ready attitude, their brand of indie rock can go from 80’s New Wave-y vibe and stomping drum beats to more post-punk-oriented songs, with very distinct girl-boy vocals. I have described them as the Smashing Pumpkins meet Postal Service, but there is more than that.
So if you go to SXSW, you can stay very busy
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