The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015 (Part 1)
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. The 29th annual edition of the SXSW Music Festival takes place this year from Tuesday, March 17 – Sunday, March 22, 2015.
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 entertainment. And you can certainly count on the festival scene to not only continue, but to expand and grow. There are currently over 60 taking place in America each year alone.
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 2015, one of the best methods of discovering new music. Essentially every artist plays here at some point as a rite of passage.
Some bands that have previously played at SXSW have been Vampire Weekend, Cloud Nothings, Kendrick Lamar, Wavves, Foster The People, 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 this year like Passion Pit, Gang Of Four, James Bay, Earl Sweatshirt, Thee Oh Sees, AWOLNATION, Twin Shadow, King Tuff, Surfer Blood, Bleachers, Future Islands and Run The Jewels.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 once again put together our annual list of choices for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015.
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 to folk. 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 Rae Sremmurd, Tei Shi, Ryn Weaver, Joey Bada$$, Twin Peaks, Tkay Maidza–but we already covered them in last year’s The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2014 (see here).
Why trust us? The best reason is who we have placed on this list last year–artists like Jagwar Ma, Wet, G-Eazy,Bear Hands, Wild Cub, Vic Mensa, Perfect Pussy, BANKS, Angel Olsen, Sam Smith, Bad Suns and FKA Twigs (see here).So in our best and on going effort to cover the best in emerging indie music, we present our picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015! The list is not presented in any logical or sequential order whatsoever.
Halsey, a combination of lovable pop and provocative grunge could have been better engineered in a lab. The moniker of 19 year old Ashley Frangipane was conceived from the “Halsey” stop on the L train to Brooklyn, is an anagram of her first name and the title of her alter ego. Halsey seeks to combine honest, unashamed, and androgynous lyrics with the sugary feminine allure of pop music. Her sound is hook bait catchy, and unapologetic in nature. “Ghost”, her lead single, is a perfect example. She plays no victim, instead exploiting the tragic and laughable intimacy of human relationships. Signed to Astralwerks/Capitol, Halsey has all the undeniable makings of a pop star, with a bitter after taste that is tongue in cheek.Halsey, a VEVO DSCVR artist, ended the year (2014) on top as the #1 artist on the Billboard Trending Twitter Chart and #3 on the Billboard Emerging Artists Chart. She recently signed with Astralwerks, releasing her debut, Room 93 to great acclaim; Halsey’s self-assured charisma related immediately with fans and the track went into heavy rotation on Sirius radio. Both free-wheeling and bull-headed, Halsey is an uncensored refresher whose music is “simple, right on point and fresh” (The 405), “an absolute must-hear” (Hilly Dilly) and “expectantly unnerving” (Idolator).
She is currently on a mostly sold out co-headlining tour with Young Rising Sons and later this year will be the opening support for Imagine Dragons.
2. Years & Years
Photo by Mike Massaro
For Fans Of: Bipolar Sunshine, Ryn Weaver, Josef Salvat, ASTR, James Bay, Wet
In 2013, the trio of Years & Years set themselves an ultimatum: it was all or nothing. With a song called “Real” written and ready to go, they intended to throw everything and more at this release to determine their creative destiny. “We were running out of money,” explains lead singer Olly, “and we needed to see if this could ever work. We had one more EP with Kitsuné and we wanted to try and blow everyone’s minds. We spoke to different producers, pulled in favours, worked hard and just went for it.” ‘Real’ deservedly exploded, receiving over 1 million plays on Youtube and Soundcloud, earning them shows in Japan and drawing the attention of Polydor. Years & Years were on a totally new path.
Olly (vocals), Emre (synth and beats) and Mikey (synth and bass) made their way into music in different ways. For Olly, his great grandmother leaving her piano to him ignited a childhood songwriting spark within, and set him off exercising an extraordinary self-styled vocal range. “I ended up writing a song for my school assembly. It was about heartbreak, which I suppose really set the tone,” he laughs, “then I got into songwriters like Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.” Mikey met Olly at a mutual friend’s dinner party, but when Olly asked to be in the band Mikey respectfully declined, only to u-turn when he heard Olly singing in the shower. “I wasn’t there when they met, but I was already in the band” admits Emre, “and I remember thinking ‘oh god, who is this guy?’ But then he started singing and I realised he had quite a voice.”
Thanks to its bizarre, Lynchesque narrative and a starring role from Ben Whishaw, the video for ‘Real’ drew the attention of Dazed Digital and Interview magazine, gathering even more attention for the track. Olly admits he had to lean on his acting career a little to pull in the names: “We decided to come up with an idea for the video ourselves. It’s about being judged, so I liked the idea of us being judges of other people. I wanted to have dancing in it, and I’d just finished working with Ben Whishaw. He’s an incredible dancer, but in a very weird and unique way.”
Most Years & Years tracks begin with Olly at the piano, before being forged into their final woozy, electronic indie form. The latter quality of Years & Years can be traced partly through Emre, who is primarily known as the band’s beatmaker. “When we first got together, I was a guitarist, but it was getting to a point when I picked up a guitar and felt like I’d already done all the patterns that were coming out of me. I started getting into synthesisers, beats and making music in a very different way. Our tastes as a trio were collectively moving in an electronic direction, and I took up the production side.” The beats are born from house music and a touch of glitchy electronica – offsetting Olly’s impassioned vocals with hard and hypnotic rhythm. Think Antony Hegarty guesting for TEED, or a Flume with a broken heart.
The sound that embodies a trio who feel most inspired within the confines of electronic music, but retain these more traditional backgrounds. Mikey, for instance, grew up almost entirely on diet of what he called “classical and Dr Dre” and even played in his father’s Argentine tango orchestra. As a result, their conventional hook heavy and emotive songs are expressed through pulsating house and r&b structures, resulting in a fluorescent and addictive pop compound. That said, much of their traditional past has lived on through their performance ethics: “It’s important that our music is made mostly on instruments and not laptops. It’s the way we write, and we always want to keep that band aspect” says Mikey.
Their next release looks to harness the impact of the last, and lead track ‘Take Shelter’ is engineered to incite and excite. The track is built around an infectious dancehall beat that combines synths, a pitched down vocal riff and a marching snare sound to vibrant effect. Emre explains it’s conception: “I found this new software that looped my voice and pitched it up and down. It spat out this weird vocal loop that sounded really odd and eerie. I sent it to Olly and he wrote a song to that riff. The best ones always happen quickly.”
The release of ‘Take Shelter’ is complemented by two other tracks. One, a stripped back version of the lead single, offering an insight into how Olly forms the songs at his piano. The second, an unexpected cover. “We wanted tracks that show our different sides, so we chose ‘Breathe’ by Blu Cantrell. Covers are always tricky, but I thought it would be cool to do a song that people remember, but wasn’t a massive hit. You don’t want to cover a track that’s similar to you, and that song was anything but.”
Ask Years & Years for their influences, and one is volleyed with a all sorts of things: Flying Lotus, Gus Van Sant, Anne Carson, Edward Hopper and Phillip Lorca diCorcia. It becomes clear that they have a shared obsession for duality in their art, and capturing those moments – like on ‘Real’ – that are both joyful and sad. When lead singer Olly reveals the lyrics behind ‘Take Shelter’, it further emphasises the point. “I was in a relationship that ended badly,” he explains, “the song is written about that thing you do when you go back to someone and you know it’s wrong and you shouldn’t, and it’s going to end badly, yet somehow you get solace even from knowing it’s going to fuck you up.” It’s what band member Mikey describes as music to make you “cry and dance.” They have even covered HAIM‘s “Don’t Save Me”.
Signing to Polydor has finally meant that all three members can quit their jobs and focus entirely on music. They have already toured with pop gem Mø, sold out their own London shows, and garnered some fanatics on the way. “We have one super fan called Olivia…” starts Olly, “she either comes to the gigs, or sends someone on her behalf. At the end of a show someone will appear with M&Ms, stamps or gifts with our faces on,” he laughs, “all they say is: ‘Olivia sent me’.”
With a summer of even more shows ahead, their schedule casts a long, but exciting shadow of producing and performing. “The plan is to release an album early 2015,” concludes Olly, “songs are forming, but we want to get it right. We want it perfect.”
The trio just won the BBC Sound of 2015.
For Fans Of: HAERTS, Foxygen, Hospitality, BRONCHO, Mikal Cronin, Broods
Alvvays (ȯl-wēz) can be found under the overpass, jingle-jangling sun-splashed fuzz pop. Molly Rankin (lead vocals/guitar) and Kerri Maclellan (keyboards) grew up as next-door neighbours in Cape Breton, lifting fiddles and singing folk-songs. Different kinds of heartbreaks soon came calling: as teens they discovered Teenage Fanclub and the Jesus & Mary Chain, Dolly Mixture and Belle & Sebastian. The same noisy melancholy wafted over to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, finding Alec O’Hanley (guitar), Brian Murphy (bass) and Phil MacIsaac (drums).
Their music is fully grown, muscular and hides surprising grit in its bittersweet lilt. Rankin’s melancholic melodies are framed by meticulous arrangement, needlepoint guitar and an unwavering voice.
Alvvays are two women, three men, a crate of C-86 tapes and a love of jingle-jangle.
Convening in Toronto, the group have been making music since since dusk or maybe dawn, when stars were appearing or fading off. As a result, their debut self-titled album is both sun-splashed and twilit — nine songs concealing drunkenness, defeat and death in tungsten-tinted pop that glitters like sea glass.
With needlepoint melody and verse, Rankin and O’Hanley’s songs were recorded at Chad VanGaalen’s Yoko Eno studio and mixed by Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) and John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile).
The resultant album is loud and clear and sure. Flood your ears. The self-titled record was released on July 22nd on Polyvinyl Records in the USA and on Royal Mountain Records in Canada. In Europe, the record was released on Transgressive Records.
4. Sleep ∞ Over
For Fans Of: Soft Metals, Holy Other, Nite Jewel, Pictureplane, Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy
Stefanie Franciotti and Andrea Cowan make music. Sleep ∞ Over is a young redhead with quite the set of pipes accompanied by rich, masterful productions from a multitude of producer collaborators. Her name is Miranda Rae and after recording the intoxicatingly fresh and jazzy summer album The Sun, she continued to branch out into other genres and musical explorations. Sleep ∞ Over’s haunting vocals could be compared to Bjork, Radiohead, Coco Rosie, Ella Fitzgerald and Portishead.
For Fans Of: Tei Shi, Zella Day, Fyfe, Josef Salvat, Basecamp, SBTRKT
18-year-old Raury is ahead of his time. Reading his interviews and deciphering his lyrics really shed a light on how mature his viewpoints on life, music and success truly are. As a self-proclaimed “Indigo Child” Raury considers himself a member of a generation of adolescents, all products of the internet age, who quickly gain an understanding of life’s challenges and opportunities due to their endless access to information. That being said, it’s safe to say that Raury is poised to be one of the leaders of this generation.
Raury was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where he developed a passion for music and leadership at a very young age. As a kid Raury spent a lot of his summers at what is called the C5 Music Foundation, a Coca-Cola-sponsored camp that offers kids the chance to grow as leaders through workshops and activities that stress the importance of understanding others and working towards a common goal. From his adventurist lyrics to his overall message of empowerment and even his trademark sunhat, the influence of these summers couldn’t be more evident in Raury.
Raury began writing songs when he was three, before he even knew what it was he was doing. At the age of 11 Raury picked up a guitar and proceeded to teach himself how to play chord by chord, unaware that he was playing untuned for the entire first year. By the time he was 15, Raury was locked in; writing and producing his debut project, Indigo Child and balancing time between never-ending studio sessions and high school days. Raury’s music embodies innovation and experimentation with new heights and sounds. He cites Phil Collins, Kid Cudi, Bon Iver, Andre 3000 and Coldplay as some of his musical influences. All of these influences combined with Raury’s distinctive approach all come together to produce a sound that is unlike anything currently on the airwaves.
In his young career Raury has already been championed by the likes of cultural staples such as Vashtie, Karen Civil, A-Track, Mac Miller and Diplo. He’s also taken the internet by storm, garnering excitement from Billboard, Complex Magazine, The Source, Vibe, GoodMusicAllDay, HYPETRACK, Noisey, MTV and Huffington Post, to name a few. He aims to radically change the soundscape of music, all the while bringing more and more “indigo children” along with his movement. Raury said it best himself in a recent interview with the Huffington Post: “I just want to make as many people aware that the world is yours,” he says. “The world is really yours. People come down on my generation so often, and I know that’s probably how it works with each generation before it, but I just want to prove them wrong.”
His debut mixtape Indigo Child dropped last summer in 2014. He is perhaps best known so far for working with SBTRKT on Wonder Where We Land.
6. Catfish and The Bottlemen
For Fans Of: Royal Blood, Dog Is Dead, Saint Raymond, Peace, Little Comets, Wolf Alice
Catfish and the Bottlemen’s debut LP The Balcony was released January 6th via Communion Records. The breakout band’s lyric video for the album’s single “Kathleen” is premiered on The Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog. The video features live footage of their many festival appearances throughout 2014, which The Wall Street Journal praises as a “triumphant year” for the band.
To celebrate the U.S. release of The Balcony the band made their late night television debut performing “Kathleen” on “Late Show with David Letterman” January 7th. “Kathleen” recently reached #1 on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation and is also charting in the top 20 on Alternative radio chart. In addition, the band just won the Introducing Award for “Best New Act” at this year’s BBC Music Awards.
The Balcony was produced by Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele) and includes tracks off the band’s acclaimed EP Kathleen and the Other Three as well as new, never-before recorded songs. The record was released earlier this year in the U.K. and Europe and charted in the top 10 on the official U.K. albums chart.
The release The Balcony follows a year of extensive touring for the British rockers. They played to massive crowds at over 30 festivals including Reading and Leeds, Latitude, Ibiza Rocks, Austin City Limits, Governors Ball and Life is Beautiful. The band will return stateside to tour throughout the winter.
Catfish and the Bottlemen are Van McCann (lead vocals, guitar), Johnny Bond (lead guitar), Benji Blakeway (bass) and Bob Hall (drums). Hailing from North Wales, the band signed to Communion Records in 2013 and made a splash onto the London music scene soon after, playing over 100 shows in 2014 alone.
“Some of the Strokes’ tautness and new-wave underpinnings in crisply told
tales of romantic friction.”—The New York Times
“Combining the garage-pop-disco sensibilities of bands like The Strokes and Phoenix with narrative hip-hop-esque lyrics inspired by The Streets.”—NYLON
“A force to be reckoned with.”—Noisey
“Intoxicating drums and mesmerizing guitar solos.”—MTV
“You feel this lot could do something pretty big.”—NME
7. All Them Witches
For Fans Of: Dead Meadow, Red Fang, Sleep, Reignwolf, Pallbearer, Om
The most interesting bands are those that defy neat categorization and All Them Witches are definitely in that category. A band that weaves their Nashville hometown into their fuzzy psych-blues, dubbed “psychadelta” blues by fans. The same way Kyuss embodied their desert stomping grounds, All Them Witches infuse their music with that moody, dripping sense of the South.
They just released their new album Lightning at The Door, which Brooklyn Vegan said is “a heady brew of swirling tones and heavy blue-eyed blues rock”. They played last year’s Scion Rock Fest, Nashville’s Live on the Green and Midpoint Music Festival. They recently taped a Daytrotter session and also just got done on tour as opening support for Windhand. They have also performed with BRONCHO.
The eight-song album finds the young band’s sound much more evolved, merging their psych-background with the rustic inspiration their stomping grounds afford. A sweaty, Southern rock outing, the band was so inspired during the demo process they recorded Lightning At The Door in mere days.
Unexplained phenomena of all kinds can be attributed to magic. Music is among those marvels. When a group of unrelated individuals of different backgrounds gets together and locks into a sonic unity, there must be some sort of mysticism at work. That’s the only way to properly explain it. The members of Nashville’s All Them Witches would agree too. That energy even courses through their moniker, which unsurprisingly comes from Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby.
“The name can be interpreted in many different ways,” explains singer and bassist Michael Parks, Jr. “It could be a person’s view on what the forces of good and evil are or even how we interact with each other as human beings. There’s a little bit of witchcraft in everybody’s life. Just waking up is pretty magical—you’re alive another day. In terms of the music, we’re so loose, and that’s where the magic comes from. There’s no controlling factor. We do exactly what comes naturally. We go in a room without any idea about what will happen, get in the groove, and it works. That’s supernatural.”
All Them Witches began conjuring up music together in 2012. Foregoing theater school to focus on songwriting, Parks traded New Mexico for Nashville at 19-years-old. The Shreveport, Louisiana native met drummer Robby Staebler while the two shared a shift at a “corporate hippie store”. Robby showed Parks some music he and guitarist Ben McLeod had written, and it inspired the singer to jam—which he adds, “I usually never do. It made sense though”.
Adding Robby’s longtime friend Allan Van Cleave to the fold on Fender Rhodes, All Them Witches cut their debut Our Mother Electricity. Almost immediately after, they began working on its follow-up Lightning At The Door. Recorded live in a matter of days with producer and engineer Andy Putnam, the boys tapped into a distinct energy, mustering bluesy soul, Southern swagger, and thunderous hard rock all at once.
“We tracked everything live in the same room,” says Parks. “We got a lot of bleed from the mics and the amps being together. Everything felt organic. We got a lot of bleed form the mics and the amps being together. You get us untainted on the record.”
The first single “When God Comes Back” swings from a Delta-dipped groove into a striking riff juxtaposed with Parks’ transfixing delivery. It’s as hypnotic as it is heavy.
“Sometimes, I get visions, for lack of a better word, that lead to songs,” the frontman admits. “I’ll be doing a mundane task at work, walking somewhere in the woods, or driving, and I’ll get these narrative flashes in my head. Personal experiences play into those narratives. This song is about our egos coming to break us down and destroy everything. We try to govern each other and turn the only landscape we have to live in into a parking lot. There’s no room for anybody. So, when God comes back, he’s going to be really mad.”
Elsewhere on the album, one story connects the expansive and entrancing “The Marriage of Coyote Woman” and “The Death of Coyote Woman”. The tracks twirl through rustic instrumentation and muscular distortion before building into a wild climax.
“It’s a two-part song that follows one character in my brain that has its own trials and tribulations to go through,” Parks goes on. “It also discusses how and where I grew up. It’s a hodgepodge, and the lyrics and music just came to me while I was driving.”
“We can take so many different paths,” he adds. “The music is ever-shifting. None of us grew up listening to the same music. In Louisiana, I heard a lot of ZZ Top and Blues band. Allan was raised on classical, almost exclusively. Robby and Ben listened to a ton of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. When we came together, it simply works.”
Ultimately, everything comes back to that certain magic for All Them Witches. “Not to sound too much like hippie, but I hope everybody can ride our vibe,” Parks leaves off. “We’re very simple people doing something we really love. We have such a short amount of time on this earth. Everybody should be doing what they love. If there’s a message here, it’s that.”
All Them Witches is Ben McLeod (guitar), Michael Parks, Jr. (vocals/bass), Robby Staebler (drums) and Allan Van Cleave (Fender Rhodes).
8. Springtime Carnivore
Photo by by Eddie O’Keefe
For Fans Of: Arum Rae, Sylvan Esso, Girlpool, Alvvays, HAERTS, Landlady
Evoking a mellow high on a warm Sunday afternoon, where everything is magnified and glows in Technicolor, the debut album from Springtime Carnivore (aka the nom de tune of Greta Morgan) is a dreamy work of ebullient pop and looming psychedelia, evoking a mellow high on a Sunday afternoon, where everything is magnified and glows in Technicolor. Produced by Morgan and sonic wizard Richard Swift (The Black Keys, The Shins, Foxygen), the album crackles with warmth and employs faded strings, blown-out drums, fuzzy guitars and pawnshop keyboards to adorn widescreen vocals. It builds on a foundation of classic folk and pop songwriting, synthesizing those roots with capricious production that turns and careens unexpectedly, casting her melodic songs in varied light and from surprising angles. The songs sound familiar and utilize classic approaches, but are skewed and distinctly modern.
There’s an index card tacked to the wall of Morgan’s rehearsal space. It reads “no cheap tricks,” and its command is heeded on Springtime Carnivore’s 14 heavenly songs.
They have also toured as the opening support for Generationals and most recently with The Dodos and have also performed with of Montreal.
For Fans Of: VÉRITÉ, Josef Salvat, The Griswolds, Little Daylight, Jack Garratt, Sir Sly
BØRNS may hail originally from the lower peninsula of Michigan but his dreamy blend of folk, glam and electro rock sounds like it comes straight from the cosmos. This tree-house dwelling LA transplant will be bringing his angelic voice and dynamic live show across the U.S. this fall. Do not miss a chance to catch this unique, otherworldly talent. BØRNS will soon begin touring as the opening support for MisterWives.
Photo by Diwang Valdez
For Fans Of: Chief Keef, Waka Flocka Flame, Young Thug, Future, Rich Homie Quan, Ty Dolla $ign
While their rise to fame was somewhere between fast and meteoric, the Atlanta trio Migos are steeped in the Southern tradition of hip-hop groups, having come together due to their shared love of acts like the Hot Boys and OutKast. Members Offset, Quavo and Takeoff came together in 2009 under the name Polo Club, with the name Migos becoming official in 2010. In 2012 they released the mixtape No Label, which featured the cut “Bando,” a regional hit that caught the attention of producer Zaytoven and Kevin Lee aka Coach K, the manager who launched the careers of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. The year 2013 was a whirlwind as June saw the group drop its Young Rich N*ggas mixtape, which featured the instant hit “Versace.” That same year, Coach K got them on the Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash, a popular Atlanta festival where Migos came across their newest fan, Drake. The rapper added a verse to the “Versace” remix and put the cut on his 2013 album, Nothing Was the Same.
In 2014 they dropped their newest mixtape Rich N*gga Timeline, which was their fifth. In 2015 they are gearing up to release their debut ablum YRN via Quality Control Music.