The 11 Best Acts We Saw at South By Southwest.
Is South by Southwest what it used to be? For the most part, no.
But it can be. Here's the thing: There are so many ways to experience this festival that how you choose to do so is completely up to you.
Want to wait in line for four hours to see music's brightest stars? You can do that. Or you can head off to smaller parties and shows and see plenty of up-and-coming acts in more intimate settings — the way this festival originally intended that you do.
That's how we tried to manage SXSW during the better part of trip to Austin last week. And here are our picks for the 10 best acts we saw.
From the jump, Lunice was feeling himself. And he knew that it was only a matter of seconds before the at-capacity crowd packed into the Empire Garage Room would be feeling him too. The Montreal producer — who's earned substantial acclaim as one half of TNGHT along with Hudson Mohawke — went above and beyond the standard tactics of most knob-twiddlers, who appear to be chained to their DJ table. He thew down with the crowd while progressing his mixes, which featured acts such as Rick Ross, Meek Mills, Partynextdoor, Kanye West as well as a guest performance from Deniro Farrar. — Mikel Galicia
Just last month, this U.K. singer was the winner of the Critics' Choice Award at the Brit Awards. He was also the voice of Disclosure's breakout hit, “Latch.” So, it's fair to say, anticipation for his SXSW shows were high. In the performance we caught, without much ado, while standing rather still and for the most part expressionless, Smith quickly showed off why he's such an attraction, effortlessly showing off his high range with “Money on My Mind” and his personal rendition of “Latch.” — MG
Although he's had the backing of artists like MF Doom and J. Dilla for some time now, it's completely understandable why, at just 17 years old, Bishop Nehru would appear nervous in front of a fervent crowd anxiously awaiting established hip-hop stalwarts such as A$AP Mob, Flying Lotus and Nas at the Austin Music Hall for Mass Appeal & Groovshark's SXSW Takeover show. During his short 15-minute set, the old-school-embracing young rapper performed with shoulders shrugged and his eyes closed for the most part. He still wowed the crowd, though, finishing off his performance with a rapid-fire a capella. Later in the night, Nas took time out of his set to let Bishop Nehru showcase his talent once again. After a cosign like that, Nehru delivered even stronger and much more confidently. — MG
Future Islands are not a new buzz band by any means. They've been around the block for a bit now. But with the upcoming release of their fourth album, Singles, and a noteworthy performance on Late Show With David Letterman, the band is buzzing more now than it ever has before. Good as the music is, the attention here is really all about frontman Samuel Herring and his rather epic gyrations, facial expressions and every-so-often growls. It's a sight to see, and during the Spin's day party at Stubb's, Herring kept up the routine — and he couldn't help but comment on the folks who's jaws were dropped, either. — MG
If cloud rap is a sub-genre we're willing to recognize, Deniro Farrar is its Freddie Gibbs. But no matter the sub-genre, it seems like rap music has very few narratives in it. Farrar, however, is a storyteller, painting portraits of the struggle the rapper is going through on a given day. Whichever the narrative, good rappers deliver with undeniable authenticity, and Deniro Farrar does just that. Letting the crowd know that he and his squad drove 22 hours from North Carolina to Austin for the festival, Farrar continuously made his struggles and hell-bent intentions on fame quite clear. With a deep, raspy flow and and chiseled frame covered in tattoos, Farrar has a menacing presence that commands a crowd's attention. — MG
Seeing L.A. was one of the happy accidents that makes SXSW imminently enjoyable, despite any hangups you might have about the direction the festival has taken. I was sitting in the Lit Lounge — one of the seemingly innumerable generic Sixth Street bars that host some of the smaller showcases — waiting with Fort Worth's Ice Eater to start their 10 p.m. set when L.A. came on. I knew absolutely nothing about them, and, after some intensive Googling, all I managed to find out was that the band hailed from Spain, despite its English-language lyrics. They came on and did their indie rock out thing, quickly saving a night that had threatened to go bad. Pink Nasty, the first band on the bill, had done nothing but talk shit about the sound guy and aggravate pretty much everyone in the room. L.A.'s set pressed the reset button before Ice Eater went did their own thing, which is something we'll tell you a lot more about later this week. — Stephen Young
Things didn't go particularly well on the Maggie Mae's rooftop Thursday night. Due to a couple of interminable sound checks, the venue was considerable off schedule as festivities wore down. One of those soundchecks belonged to Until the Ribbon Breaks, but once Pete Lawrie's electro project kicked into its brief performance, all was forgiven. U.T.R.B.'s music sounds like the soundtrack to your coolest friend's favorite movie and the best mixtape you ever made. This effect employs synths, multiple drum machines and oddly, a trumpet. After midnight, completely exhausted, it was just what I needed. I was impressed enough to want to check out a longer set the next day, and the band's turn at Latitude 30 didn't disappoint. It had better sound and a less stir-crazy crowd, so the degree of difficulty was lower, but the tightened up performance was still relentlessly well executed. — SY
I will admit a very strong bias when it comes to The Baseball Project. The indie supergroup, which is made up of Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey and Linda Pitmon, is a ridiculously talented group of musicians that makes intricate, often hilarious songs about the legends and absurdities of our national game. Despite The Continental Club being about three miles from the heart of SXSW, the venue as at capacity for the band's set. The big crowd got a treat too; the full room singalong to “Ted Fucking Williams” was the most fun I had all week. — SY
Slothrust is a Brooklyn-based power trio of classically trained musicians that met at Sarah Lawrence and has a really stupid name. But they are amazing. Crunchy, heavily blues-influenced riffs, sardonic, word-play filled lyrics and just enough noise — Slothrust has the whole thing and it showed Friday night at The Palm Door. Working primarily from last year's Of Course You Do with the notable exceptions of a Black Sabbath cover and a noisy intro instrumental, the band showed off its extensive chops, especially on “Magnets Part One” and “Magnets Part Two.” These songs make up an almost nine-minute suite on Of Course You Do, and it was a little surprising that the band decided to perform them, given SXSW's brief sets. It was a risky move, but they nailed it, much to the delight of the maybe 20 people in the audience. If it's possible for a band to still get discovered at SXSW, Slothrust is the type of band to whom it should happen. — SY
On Saturday night, I made up my mind to see a big act on a big stage, so I waited in line about an hour and a half to get onto the roof of a parking garage to see Phantogram record their opening set for Snoop Dogg's Guitar Center Sessions. The New York trip-hoppers excelled, too, taking advantage of an extended set time allowance and the gorgeous downtown backdrop to put on a bewitching show. Phantogram is the big band that people thought should get bigger at SXSW, an expectation that seems to be perfectly reasonable based on this performance.
Fat White Family came into SXSW with a reputation for notorious live performances and a critically lauded album, last year's Champagne Holocaust, in tow. They lived up to the hype. Taking the stage at about 3 p.m. at Holy Mountain's Laneway Festival-sponsored day party, all six members of the band appeared — and I only say appeared because they looked slightly better-for-wear leaving the venue — out of their mind drunk. They completely disregarded the instructions of the sound guy, quickly stripped off their shirts and ripped holes in their pants and continued to drink heavily throughout the set. The music was great — think '70s grooves meet garage rock, but that won't be what anybody remembers. They'll remember frontman Lias Saoudi evoking Iggy Pop in a way that was so visceral it felt organic rather than cloying. They'll remember feeling that it was inevitable that he would go full-frontal, as he does at most of the band's gigs. They'll remember that he barely restrained himself in the slightest deference to the the crowd's utter shock. They'll remember the raw sexuality. But, most of all, they'll remember the stench. Saoudi and company have lived harder than their years, and you can literally smell it. It was rock and roll and its grimiest, which can also be when it's at its most powerful. Filthy rock and roll lives. Fat White Family makes sure of it. — SY