The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2014 (Part 4)
Who doesn’t love a music festival, right? It’s all the best parts of a concert–music, friends, alcohol and drugs…just lots and lots more of them! Each year, more and more of them are popping up all over the place. More than just a fest, South By South West has become the industry standard of showcasing today’s best music. It’s fitting that it takes place in Austin, the live music capital of the world.
No matter how bad the U.S. economy might be doing, there are always certain things you can depend on. We will always spend money on food, technology and electronics, vacations, and music. And you can certainly count on the festival scene to not only continue, but to expand and grow.
Anyone who has ever been or considered going to experience a massive event like this knows how overwhelming it feels like when looking at the schedule. It can almost feel like reading a foreign language, seeing bands listed that you have never heard of. That’s where we come in to help. Live music festivals are still, despite all the advanced technology of 2014, one of the best methods of discovering new music. Essentially every artist plays here at some point. Some bands that have previously played at SXSW have been Vampire Weekend, Cloud Nothings, Kendrick Lamar, Wavves, Danny Brown, Yuck, Purity Ring, Skrillex, The XX, Local Natives, Alabama Shakes, Waka Flocka Flame, Walk The Moon, Flosstradamus, Two Door Cinema Club, Grimes, Future, Surfer Blood, Gotye, Ty Segall, Freddie Gibbs, A-Trak, Theophilus London, and A$AP Rocky.
This can be used as a planning guide for deciding who to catch for those of you lucky enough to be able to attend. For everyone else, this is intended to be used as a primer for diehard music fans to discover some of the best new music before everyone else! Many other music websites and blogs list a top 10 or top 12 picks, but with so many artists there are too many great choices to have a list that small. And what if you can’t see the artist you want to? You need more to choose from! There will be thousands of musicians there, we want to help you make the most of your time and money, and to filter through the best. And sure, everyone is excited to see already established, well known acts like Sleigh Bells, Imagine Dragons, St. Vincent, Against Me!, Kurt Vile, Chance The Rapper, Dum Dum Girls, Perfume Genius, Action Bronson, Schoolboy Q, and Off!
But for each of these, there are a ton of massively talented, vastly underrated artists they don’t get the attention they deserve, or that most music fans simply don’t know about yet.We have decided to put together our list of choices for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2014. This is part one in what will be a five part series. The list includes everything from pop to hip-hop to rock to EDM. And yes, we know it’s impossible to see all 50 acts during these few days. But these are the takeaways we believe you should most be familiar with. If these up and comers aren’t on your radar yet, they should be now. These are who most of us will all be listening to in the soon to come weeks and months from now. We love new bands that are popular this year like Speedy Ortiz, Betty Who, Eagulls, NONONO, holychild, Vic Mensa, Haerts, and ASTR–but we already covered them in last year’s The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2013 (see here).
So in our best and on going effort to cover the best in indie music, we present our picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2014! The list is not presented in any logical or sequential order whatsoever. You can see Part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. And make sure to check out the Spotify playlist below.
1. FKA twigs
For Fans Of: BANKS, Autre Ne Veut, Jessy Lanza, Blood Orange, Glasser, SOHN
Crafting ethereal electronic pop that evokes the heyday of Tricky and Massive Attack and the spare 2010’s aesthetic of the XX, London’s FKA twigs is the project of Twigs, a half-Jamaican native of Gloucestershire. Surrounded by farmland during her teens, she studied ballet and sang on tracks recorded at a studio in a Jamaican youth club. By the time she was 16, Twigs — whose nickname comes from how loudly she can crack her bones — began writing songs in earnest; though she moved to London to pursue a career as a dancer at 17, she soon realized she really wanted to be a professional musician. Along with working as a bartender, Twigs spent as much time in the studio as possible and ultimately self-released her self-titled EP in 2012 via Bandcamp. After changing her moniker to FKA Twigs at the request of another artist named Twigs, she returned in 2013 with EP 2, a striking set of songs featuring production from Kanye West collaborator Arca.
For Fans Of: Atlas Genius, Surfer Blood, Lonely Forest, The Neighbourhood, Robert Delong, Youngblood Hawke
Los Angeles-based Blondfire released their new album Young Heart on February 11, 2014 on Tender Tender Rush; and the self produced album was mixed by Wally Gagel (Muse, Folk Implosion, Family Of The Year, Best Coast).
Yes, she knows it’s an odd name. To Erica Driscoll, Blondfire’s ethereal vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist, its invention was happenstance. “We were driving around with friends and someone said ‘I smell a bonfire,’” she recalls. “We thought they said ‘Blondfire,’ and at first we kind of jokingly said it should be our name – but it stuck. We liked the fact that it was masculine and feminine at the same time. It represented who we are in a cool way.”
That push-pull of elemental forces is fundamental to the band’s sound, which marries Driscoll’s winsome, melancholy vocals to massive melodies, jagged shards of guitar, and propulsive beats. You might think of any number of strong, female-lead dream pop heroines from the golden era of indie rock (The Cardigans, Ivy) and you wouldn’t be wrong, but Blondfire is a modern and unique musical hybrid. On their Modern Art/Warner Bros. Records debut, Young Heart, Driscoll offers infectious pop tunes with real punch.
The formula has resonated strongly with listeners and helped Blondfire build a loyal following. They made their name in 2008 with the indie release My Someday and a series of residencies in their adopted home of Los Angeles. Local radio stations KROQ, KCSN, 98.7, and KCRW provided early support and helped them become the first unsigned act to hit the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Alternative chart. They also became one of those extremely rare, unsigned artists to be added to the Sirius Alt Nation playlist. This feat was largely due to the strength of the evocative, bouncy, and irresistible “Where The Kids Are” and its eccentric, charming, and panda-filled (yes, panda-filled) video. “I submitted that song to a few blogs and it just took off online,” Driscoll marvels. “According to Hype Machine, we became the number one most talked-about band on the internet!” “Where The Kids Are” is now the lead single on Young Heart. Their music has also been heard in the films Besties and Get a Job; on TV via ESPN’s Australian Open Tennis, The Client List, MTV’s Awkward and The Collection, and in an ad for Ecco shoes.
Driscoll and her younger brother Bruce co-wrote and recorded the album in about a week at their home studio and at Hollywood’s historic Wax Studios (formerly TTG). The children of an American father and a Brazilian mother, the Driscolls grew up in a musical family (dad played guitar; mom is a classically trained pianist). Their home rang with hard rock, ’80s pop, Bossa Nova, and atmospheric film soundtracks, the latter a favorite of Bruce’s (“My dream was to score a Batman movie someday,” he remembers) — all of which found its way into the band’s music.
“There isn’t much to do in Michigan, especially in winter,” Erica says, “so we just holed up in the basement, writing songs and recording them on our four-track machine.” They began gigging locally soon after as the duo Astaire, until a note from the Fred Astaire estate put the kibosh on that. And while Blondfire has come into its own in Los Angeles, with Erica as the outstanding front woman, there’s still an element of their Brazilian-American childhood in the mix. “You can hear it in the way we use melodies,” she says, “and in the way that Bruce likes to put all kinds of variations into his beats.” Bruce adds that he leans toward certain chords that lend a melancholy feel one could trace back to Antonio Carlos Jobim and other Brazilian songwriters. “It’s not obvious,” Bruce says, “but it’s in there.” And just part of the one-of-a-kind recipe that makes Blondfire sound like no one else.
Photo by Shawn Brackbill
For Fans Of: Pity Sex, Merchandise, Whirr, Diiv, Deafheaven, True Widow
Rolling Stone recently tipped Nothing in their ‘New Artists You Need To Know’ feature and had previously tipped Nothing as one ‘CMJ 2013’s 10 Best Discoveries’ after seeing them perform live; since then the band has toured with Whirr, opened for Cold Cave for Red Bull Music Academy Sound Select, and opened for DIIV on New Years Eve. Now, Nothing will be embarking on new tour dates including a run down to SXSW with Weekend and spot dates with Ty Segall, Pup, and Solids.
Nothing was formed in 2011 by Domenic Palermo. Previously Palermo was the brains behind the early 2000’s hardcore/punk act Horror Show. In 2002 Horror Show was put on hold after Palermo was incarcerated for a stabbing that eventually led to a 2 year prison sentence. Upon his return Palermo would take a lengthy hiatus from music. In 2011 Palermo released a demo tape titled “Poshlost” under the moniker NOTHING. After several attempts at constructing a solid lineup for the band Palermo met Brandon Setta. Setta would bring a lush, rich soundscape and a fresh approach to Palermo’s vision for Nothing. Setta and Palermo would handle the writing for the next release, a very rare 12″ EP that was released on Japanese boutique label Big Love Records called Suns And Lovers(A play off of the D.H. Lawernce book). It was limited to 300 copies and the bands share was donated back to the label for a Tsunami Relief Charity. The next release, Downward Years To Come was a 5 song EP and was recorded at the Rubber Tracks Studio in Brooklyn with Kyle “Slick” Johnson. The record was released by Baltimore Label A389 Records in November 2012. Written by Palermo and Setta, the concept behind Downward Years To Come was a dedication to several different poets who had taken their own lives. Setta and Palermo would again head into the studio, this time with Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recordings to write their debut LP, Guilty of Everything, and sign with Relapse Records.
The new album Guilty of Everything came out March 3, 2014.
4. Auto Body
For Fans Of: Ishi, Bear Mountain, Neon Indian, Ghost Beach, Dark Rooms, Ghostland Observatory
Conceived in and birthed from Austin’s steamy underground houses of Rock, Auto Body is live Electro Fusion. Fueled by their shared bloodlust for sonic divinity, and armed with a war chest of synthesizers, samplers, rattlesnakes, and a bass guitar, Tibaut Bowman (DJ Thibault) and Felix Moreno (Future Rock), crusade the universe in search of the electronic Holy Grail.
The two went their whole lives with the feeling that there was something……..someone out there that would complete their personal set of creative skills, and help form some kind of music super being. Some say it’s a super group, some say it’s an abomination of noise and machinery.
Two people say it’s about time. You can call it Auto Body. They have performed at Fun Fun Fun Fest, and just released a new EP Too Late For Words.
5. Diarrhea Planet
For Fans Of: Pujol, Parquet Courts, Turbo Fruits, Speedy Ortiz, Bass Drum Of Death, BRONCHO
Diarrhea Planet is a six-piece rock and roll band from Nashville, TN. Their sound has often been described as The Ramones holding Van Halen hostage with an arsenal of fireworks and explosives. Diarrhea Planet’s four guitarists provide enough riffs to make Jack Black squeal like a schoolgirl, while lead singer Hodan delivers enough hooks to straighten the curl out of Justin Timberlake’s hair. In a world of unintelligible lo-fi recording, reverb drenched vocals, and tuneless guitars, Diarrhea Planet aims to put the backbone back into rock and roll.
The band initially formed in the Spring of 2009 with drummer Casey, and two guitarists Jordan Smith and Evan P. Donohue. That fall the band decided to flesh out their sound with bass and a third guitar, adding Mike Boyle and Brent Toler. They self-released the five song EP, Aloha, in November. The album sounded like a mix between an uncontrollable college party and a gut-wrenching Tae Bo workout. With the Mediafire link popping up on a variety of blogs, Aloha became a sleeper online sensation. Perhaps due to the unusual band name, the EP garnered around 1,500 downloads in its first week online. By the time the band took down the Mediafire link early the next year, The EP had collected over 10,000 downloads.
In the summer of 2010, Evan P. Donohue decided to focus on his own music and left Diarrhea Planet. The band quickly adopted shredders Evan Bird and Emmett Miller, generating Diarrhea Planet’s most empowering line-up. The band shifted some of their focus from delinquent party rock to slightly more sophisticated songwriting and guitar theatrics that will make every living guitar hero cry out of joy and/or despair. After this change-up, the band played an exhausting amount of local shows. They have opened for acts such as Wavves, Fucked Up, Jeff the Brotherhood, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Defiance OH, Jacuzzi Boys, The Spits, and The Coathangers. They have also played a variety of basements, warehouses, frat bars, and dorm rooms. The overwhelming volume and sheer brutality of their live onslaught satiates those who crave power and thunder, while the meek grovel on the beer-soaked floor. The wall of heavy riffage and intricate shredding infuses audiences with enough electrical energy to stave off sleep for the rest of the weekend. Despite their leanings towards punk and heavy metal, Diarrhea Planet swears by the Bible of pop. With a distinct emphasis on vocal hooks and harmonies, their shows often morph into massive, drunken sing-alongs.
6. Tove Lo
For Fans Of: Betty Who, The Chainsmokers, Black Light Dinner Party, Josef Salvat, Bear Mountain, Walla
As anyone with ears will tell you, Sweden is quite good when it comes to fostering amazing pop talent. With Stockholm’s Tove Lo, however, the typical mould of elegant heartfelt electropop has been beautifully corrupted by the sort of lyrical honesty and rawness that not only ruffles feathers, but makes you want to clutch your hand to your chest and wail along at the top of your lungs. Having self-released two examples of her unique take on pop – the clattering blood-letting of Love Ballad and the raw, but disarmingly melodic Habits (the latter earning respect from everyone from Pitchfork to Popjustice) – Tove Lo is ready to take her pop confessionals to a whole new level.
Music was always going to be something Tove Lo was involved in. Her high school, for example, wasn’t like most high schools. Run by teachers whose motto apparently was “fuck reading, let’s play music”, it was here that Lo met both of Icona Pop, forming bands left, right and centre and learning how to write songs. Singing in bands was something Lo also took outside the school gates, fronting a math rock band and playing what she affectionately refers to as “shitty” venues. “I wanted to write but couldn’t play anything and the guitarist in the band put music to my lyrics so that’s how it all started,” she explains. “It was such hard music and it would change key and tempo all the time. You had to understand it, like mathematical rock. We’d play all these awful bars where there were no monitors or anything. It was always pretty rowdy, so I got a lot of stage experience.”
At the same time she also started working on her own demos in-between earning money as a session singer. “I think I just started to feel like I wasn’t really into that music anymore,” she explains of her need to spread her wings. “I wanted to experiment more with other sounds and not keep it so organic. I was into the electronic stuff that was happening and the guitar player was very against that sort of stuff. I started producing my own songs on my computer which was fun.” Perhaps as a sign of her intent, those early recording sessions took place in a freezing cold shed turned makeshift studio. “My cousins had a shed outside of their house. It wasn’t heated so I had this heater in there and sometimes in the winter it would be minus ten,” she laughs. “The days I didn’t have a session I’d walk my dog there and just sit there all day and produce my own songs. Habits and Love Ballad were kind of started there actually.”
In-between living her life, writing songs about the various ups and downs in her life (break-ups, drink and drugs, raucous nights out and emotionally barren mornings after) and earning a living, Lo also set about cultivating her songwriting career. At a party held by her friends Icona Pop to celebrate them signing a record deal, Lo decided it would be a good idea to harass some people from said label. “I just walked up to someone and said to him, ‘you have to hear my songs, they’re amazing’,” she giggles. “It was just to get some feedback from someone. He was like ‘who the fuck are you?’, but I forced him to give me his email address and so I got that and sent him some stuff. He replied saying there was something there and we sort of planned a meeting in Stockholm.” From there she signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell and before long she found herself being flown out to LA to hang out at pop songwriting legend Max Martin’s house via newfound friend, and fellow songwriting legend Alex Kronlund. “It gave me so much more confidence because at the beginning you don’t know what you like. If someone says it’s good you almost immediately believe them.” The impromptu meeting has since resulted in Lo becoming part of Martin’s pop songwriting team, working on some of the biggest forthcoming pop releases.
But it’s with her own songs that Lo’s real songwriting chops come to fore, as evidenced on her excellent debut EP, the tellingly-titled Truth Serum. At its core is Habits, which garnered so much blog buzz it lead to not just a deal with Universal but the attention of hugely-respected pop label Neon Gold, who are releasing a special limited edition of Truth Serum on vinyl in America, as well as hosting Lo at their SXSW showcase. Shifting effortlessly from verses that detail the lengths people go to to forget their pain (visits to sex clubs, casual sex with strangers, lots of drink), to a chorus that soars with barely restrained anguish, Habits is anchored by Lo’s impassioned vocal as it wraps itself around the line, “you’re gone and I’ve got to stay high all the time to keep you off my mind”. “Habits is about my ex,” Lo shrugs. “It was a lot of passion and pain clouded by smoke and it was chaos. Really up and down. He then changed his life around and joined a Buddhist movement and I wasn’t ready for that at all so I left.” Did she ever think of restraining her honesty in any way? “I don’t like to filter it. I get into a flow and get it out, but if I stop myself I just think ‘why? Why be subtle? Just say it as it is’. It’s not ‘I’m a single girl, let’s party all night long’, it’s more ‘I’m really destructive right now and I don’t care’. I think my honesty bothers some people.”
Raw, unbridled and packed full of sky-scraping pop hooks, the rest of Truth Serum follows Habits’ lead. From the sleek, electronic pulse of the ludicrously catchy Not On Drugs to the jungle and drum’n’bass influenced Paradise, to the devastating melancholia of the musically upbeat Over, it’s a collection that not only showcases a sharp new talent but sets a new standard for emotional pop music. The EP closes with perhaps Lo’s catchiest moment so far in the shape of Out Of Mind, a song that rushes along over a mesh of fizzing synths while Lo defiantly picks at a relationship, the chorus repeating the line “you’re out of your mind to think that I” before the resolution of “could keep you out of mine” brings with it a sort of heartbreaking resolution. It’s another example of Tove Lo’s greatest strength; the ability to cloak emotional honesty in the sort of songs you want to jump about a room to, drink in hand, singing out your emotions with a big tear-stained grin on your face.
For Fans Of: Quilt, The History Of Apple Pie, Drowners, Speedy Ortiz, Cheatahs, Parquet Courts
British neo-psychedelic band Temples make trippy psychedelic pop that combines the experimental sound of bands like the Move and mid-period Byrds with the classic song craftsmanship of the Beatles. Formed in Kettering, Temples centered around the talents of songwriting duo vocalist/guitarist James Bagshaw and vocalist/bassist Thomas Warmsley. After adding drummer Sam Toms and guitarist/keyboard player Adam Smithto the band, they released their debut single, “Shelter Song,” on Heavenly in 2012. After a busy 2013 spent playing shows, recording the album, and releasing two singles (“Colours to Life” in June, “Keep in the Dark” in October), the band’s first album, the Bagshaw-produced Sun Structures, was released in early 2014 via Fat Possum.
Hotly tipped Danish songstress MØ aka. Karen Marie Ørsted is stirring up a buzz throughout the global blogosphere these days. Tastemaker media such as Pitchfork, The Guardian and NMEwrote about her and she just returned home from CMJ in New York after playing some widely praised shows.
With no albums out and only 2 online tracks the 23-year- old MØ recently faced a bidding war, which ultimately led to signing with Sony for the Scandinavian territory. Now MØ is being pursued by some of the most respectable labels in the UK and US. Scandinavia, it seems, has done it again!
MØ is spending the fall in the studio, wrapping up her highly anticipated debut album with Ronni Vindahl of Danish producer entity No Wav.
Listeners can expect a lush, warm and soulful production, however MØ brings the Scandinavian cold/cool and a street vibe edge to the songs, which makes for a sonic juxtaposition.
Her unique mix of indie, pop, hip-hop, electro and soul is hella fresh sounding and it genuinely sounds like MØ is fighting a battle of mixed emotions inside of herself.
The Guardian named MØ ’band of the day’ and hailed her as ’the next Grimes’ and having played alongside acts such as Purity Ring and MS MR, it seems like MØ might just be the next indie act to break through to the mainstream masses.
There is not much info out there on MØ who tends to let her music do the talking, but her facebook biography reveals a glimpse of her current state of mind:
”The snow nation is eating your brain and your young heart – dark as the apocalypse. So just go perish in the snøw. mø mø mø MØ MØ MØ”.
For Fans Of: Broods, Say Lou Lou, Banks, ASTR, Nikki & The Dove, Sam Smith
9. Travi$ Scott
At only 20 years old, Travi$ Scott’s music has already taken him quite a few places, even if he isn’t famous enough to be recognized in any of them yet. He’s lived on the east and west coasts, as well as the “third coast” of his native Houston, Texas, but has seen exotic locales while traveling with the most famous of his early fans, Kanye West. Since meeting early last year, the two have spent countless hours in the studio, the fruits of which can be heard on “Sin City,” Scott’s standout contribution to the G.O.O.D. Music compilation album, Cruel Summer. In his verse, Scott paints a vivid picture of a girl caught up in the allure of the fast life: She stepped into hell, cause when it got cold/Don’t look in her eyes, you might see straight to her soul/Don’t say yes to that good cause you’ll never know/Cause we lost in the city, where sin is no biggie! he raps. The charge is something Scott himself can identify with, his music career having taken flight at an astronomical speed over the course of just a few short years.
Travi$ Scott grew up in Houston the son of a drummer and grandson of a music scholar, bitten himself by the music bug after witnessing the showmanship of late 90’s rap videos from Mase and Diddy and then later on, experiencing the revolutionary production of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Scott began making beats when he was just 17 and sought out the tutelage of the local names he had access to, who just so happened to be dirty south hip-hop legends N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. It wasn’t long after that he would venture out to New York to see what he was actually made of. “I’m really into depicting what’s in my life,” Scott says. “Anything I say in these verses, that’s who I am. Those are real stories.” Things didn’t quite take off the way he imagined in New York, Scott having to couch surf when money got low, so he bounced to Los Angeles for another fresh start. The leap of faith paid off with Scott catching the ear of the “King of the South” himself, T.I., who signed him immediately through his GrandHustle/Epic imprint. With Scott working with T.I., it wasn’t long before Kanye West got wind of him, both superstars still utilizing the young prodigy whenever possible.
And though he continues to work on music with his mentors, Travi$ Scott’s own Owl Pharaoh EP is soon to set the world ablaze, Scott using everything he’s learned from his forefathers to make the project he’s sure will satisfy a rapidly growing fanbase. “People are gonna feel the imagery, what my life consists of, what the world of Travi$ Scott is,” he says. “What is this kid thinking? Who is this kid? What is he trying to tell us? That’s what they gone feel through these songs.” So far they’ve had only morsels to chew on, but the demand grows with each leak like “Blocka,” the song he co-produced with Young Chop and raps on with Pusha T, or the super-stylized “Quintana” video or the riot-inducing, Mike Will-produced, “Pus$$y,” which features Chuck Inglish, Fredo Santana and Gunplay. Travi$ Scott has collaborated with some of the biggest names in rap and he hasn’t even released his EP yet. “It’s like becoming friends,” Scott says of his music. “Once people get to hang around you more and more, they’ll start to understand you. They’ll either catch on or they’ll get left behind.” And soon enough, the world will know what so many of our favorite rappers already do: That Travi$ Scott is the future.
For Fans Of: Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West, Odd Future, Kendrick Lamar, Casey Veggies
Born and raised in Los Angeles, this R&B princess has all the unmistakable signs of a superstar in the making. From her distinct style to her breezy attitude and a sugary, sun-dripped voice that sticks in your head like a wad of pink bazooka bubble-gum, LIZ is an artist you don’t want to sleep on. LIZ is one of a kind when it comes to twisting together Y2K Pop with a modern melody. She has been featured and recognized by numerous music publications such as Pitchfork, Mix Magazine and The Fader to name a few, as well as received ongoing support from renowned artists and producers across every genre and toured with Charli XCX.
LIZ shatters all barriers with the highly anticipated release of Just Like You EP. Featuring 5 brand new never-before heard tracks and her last two singles “All Them Boys” and “Stop Me Cold,” Just Like You puts LIZ’s originality and talent on display like we’ve never seen it before. She teams up with a diverse group of a-list producers including Lido, C.Z., Mr. Carmack, Djemba Djemba, The Picard Bros., Yung Oji, r.i.c. volta, Swørd, Colta, WEEP and Mike Parvizi to give us 7 unrivaled tracks that pull from R&B, Pop, Bmore Club, UK Garage influences and more. About a year ago, Mad Decent signed its first release with LIZ on Jeffree’s, excited to have the opportunity to showcase her unique approach to songwriting and style to the world. The release of Just Like You marks the enormous moment we’ve all been waiting for.
For Fans Of: What So Not, Ryan Hemsworth, Cashmere Cat, Mykki Blanco, sZa, RL Grime