The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015 (Part 2)
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 andA$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 and 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 andFKA 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. You can see the first part of this series here.
1. Vince Staples
For Fans Of: Chance The Rapper, Travi$ Scott, Mac Miller, Odd Future, ScHoolBoy Q, Vic Mensa
A member of the group Cutthroat Boyz, rapper Vince Staples surfaced in the early 2010s with a spate of promising appearances on Odd Future-related recordings — including Earl Sweatshirt‘s “epaR,” Mike G‘s “Moracular World” and Award Tour EP, the Jet Age of Tomorrow‘s “Lunchbox,” and Domo Genesis‘ “Elimination Chamber” — as well as the 2011 mixtape Shyne Goldchain. In 2012, the rapper released Winter in Prague, a mixtape issued as a free download with the production work handled entirely by Michael Uzowuru. A darker, more introspective mixtape, Stolen Youth, arrived in 2013 with a co-billing to Larry Fisherman (a Mac Miller alias) and verses from Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q, Mac Miller (as Mac Miller), and Cutthroat Boyz partner Joey Fatts. Staples then performed as the opening act on Miller’s Space Migration tour. Among Staples’ assists in 2013 were verses on Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris and Jhené Aiko‘s “The Vapors.” The rapper continued his steady ascent in 2014 with a fourth mixtape, Shyne Goldchain, Vol. 2 and contributions to Common‘s Nobody’s Smiling — specifically on the key single “Kingdom,” as well as on the deluxe edition bonus track “Out on Bond.” He just announced a tour later this year opening for Earl Sweatshirt.
For Fans Of: Superhumanoids, Oberhofer, Suckers, Yellow Ostrich, Reptar, Zella Day
Rub-ble-buck-et [ru-bul-buck-it] Noun 1. A vessel in which workers collect waste materials on a construction site; We need a rubblebucket for all this rubble. 2. A wild art-pop band from Brooklyn, NY; I’m jonesing for the new Rubblebucket album Survival Sounds. 3. The condition of having hard nipples, or riding a mean yes wave; He has great Rubblebucket. Verb 4. The act of uncrossing one’s arms and letting loose, while strange, new feelings and sounds flood mind and body, leading to uncontrollable dancing, possible injury and definite sweat; Man, we really put the rubble in the bucket last night.
My experience with Rubblebucket goes way back – to the summer of 1987, when I was born and first met lead singer and baritone saxist Kalmia Traver, then four. Kalmia was already well on her way to being a multi-instrument prodigy (penny whistle, recorder, alphabet burping), and I was already drowning in the ginormous shadow that she cast just by breathing. When she put our brother in a dress, blonde wig and heels, let me put on his lipstick, then forced his elastic micro-limbs into a diva pose, I knew she was a natural performer.
Kalmia met Alex Toth (band leader, trumpeter, guy, brother-from-another-mother, Jersey) in a latin jazz combo in Burlington, VT. I’m assuming she also dressed him in drag, because he liked her and they became friends, painting the town with their loud horn playing. In 2006, they moved to Boston, where they did respectable things for money. Kalmia nude modeled for art classes, and Alex was hustling marching band gigs at $50 a pop, for which he was required to wear a black shirt and march around for six hours at a time OR NO PAY NO WATER NO DINNER. It was like that scene in Oliver Twist. Naturally, out of this hot, tarry, magical, broke-ass time, Rubblebucket emerged like a huge, slippery, post-afrobeat baby. Alex had met trombonist Adam Dotson at one of these marching gigs, and the three began composing and playing the first songs in Rubblebucket’s repertoire. Soon, they were joined by three more friends – guitarist Ian Hersey, drummer Dave Cole, and 15-seater van Puppy – and started taking the Rubblebucket show on the road.
The first time I heard Rubblebucket perform live, two things happened: I realized this was the coolest thing on earth, like the lovechild of a unicorn and the Tom Tom Club, and I asked them if I could sell their merchandise at shows. You know what they say – those who can’t do, sell merch. Night after night, standing behind that table of CDs, thongs and beer cozies, while Rubblebucket transformed the crowd from a skeptical wall of people into one big, happy, silly, jiving, open-hearted mass was an unforgettable experience. Their music does that – it just does. You can’t know it until you see it. And everyone who sees it, knows it. Like Paste, who said it best: “music that will make anyone with a pulse dance.” (I’ll annotate this by extending it to you pulse-less readers. You, zombie. I know you’re out there.) The Rubblebucket condition has spread, melting cares in its way. It barges in like an escaped rhino and triggers everyone, everywhere, to let loose and feel. Arm-crossing be damned!
I’ve been to many Rubblebucket shows. But it wasn’t until I was mid-crowd in NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and heard a guy in front of me say to his friend “the singer looks so hot tonight” (but? Gross? That’s my sister?) that I knew Rubblebucket had made it. The experts will tell you that, actually, this was when they released their 2011 album Omega La La, with its headlining tracks “Came Out of Lady” and “Silly Fathers,” and reached a whole new, larger audience. Or, when they flew out to LA to play on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and got free pizza and Alex almost puked backstage. Or, when their song “Came out of a Lady” appeared in the movie Drinking Buddies, and I was suddenly one giant leap closer to meeting Anna Kendrick (that’s when I knew I had made it). Or, when their green rooms started stocking guacamole. Or, when their 2012 and 2013 EPs Oversaturated and Save Charlie introduced fans to the next and the next evolution of Rubblebucket, and more and more people fell in love. Now, much to my drool and dire impatience, the band is hovering on the knife’s edge of their next highly anticipated album release, Survival Sounds (Communion Records, Aug. 2014). Prepare yourself, universe.
Rubblebucket is many things and nothing at all; it’s a mindset, a legend, a feeling, a mystery; a mischievous, playful, boundary-smashing blast of sound that you can sit still and wonder at, or turn off your mind and move wildly to. Or both at the same time. As Kalmia said, when she handed me one of her now-famous peanut butter, cheddar cheese, cabbage, honey tacos, “This is the weirdest, most delicious thing you will ever taste.” And if you won’t take it on my authority, take it on the authority of a small, but reputable publication called Rolling Stone, reporting from Bonnaroo: “Rubblebucket revved up like an indie-rock Miami Sound Machine, dancers, horns and all.” And if you won’t take it on Rolling Stone’s authority, cleave to the words of guitarist Ian: “Our music is like being at a raging party, but in the center of it, there’s this beautiful painting that you’re staring at, trying to wrap your mind around.” Or the words of our dad, Tim Traver: “Kids these days.”
– Mollie Traver
Photo by by Jaret Ferratusco
For Fans Of: Bass Drum Of Death, Rubblebucket, FIDLAR, Twin Peaks, Mikal Cronin, King Tuff
Any working rock and roll band will tell you that the path to success— however you choose to define it — is rarely easy. In the case of Oklahoma band BRONCHO, the path leading to the release of their excellent sophomore album, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman, is one characterized by lots of luck (both good and bad) and a series of left turns that no one could have predicted would end up resulting in one of 2014’s most unexpectedly superb rock records.
Formed in 2010 by Ryan Lindsey, BRONCHO made a name for themselves playing in and around Oklahoma before recording their debut album, 2011’s Can’t Get Past The Lips. That record, which instantly called to mind gritty 70’s punk and glammy surf rock vibes, helped the band stay on the road for the better part of two years and generated the singles “Try Me Out Sometime,” “I Don’t Really Wanna Be Social” and “Record Store.” Still, just as momentum was building for the band their record label very unceremoniously collapsed, leaving them out on the road with no real support. For a lot of young bands, this might have been the death knell, but for BRONCHO the experience proved to be oddly liberating. “It was really no one’s fault,” says Lindsey, “Just one of those things. We decided to just keep trucking through it and to focus on making new songs. We really believed in these new songs. There was never any moment when we thought about quitting. If you are a musician, you just keep making music. That’s what you do.”
Label woes aside, things eventually turned around for BRONCHO. In a nice bit of serendipity, one of the band’s new demos — the unstoppably catchy “It’s On” — found its way to GIRLS creator Lena Dunham who used the song as the end title for the season three premiere of her series. “We couldn’t believe how much attention that gave us,” recalls Lindsey. “Suddenly there was all of this renewed interest in the band. Our feelings about what we were doing had never wavered, but now people were paying attention again.” Seeing their fortunes turn once again, the band eventually worked out a new label deal with Dine Alone Records and set about putting the finishing touches on album number two.
Just Enough Hip To Be Woman is a bold step forward for BRONCHO. Though it certainly bears the hallmarks of their previous work — fuzzy, guitar driven rock – the production and energy of the record moves into decidedly sleeker and decidedly more new wave directions (think Cheap Trick meets the Drive soundtrack meets every great song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets the greatest after-hours party you’ve never been to). Tracks like “Stay Loose,” “NC-17” and “What” are the kind of pop-rock that could have easily been beamed in from the same universe that gave rise to The Cars (or a looser version of The Strokes), while the album’s first single, “Class Historian” — with its unstoppable “do do do do” vocal refrain is the kind of song that seems scientifically engineered to stick in your brain forever and is arguably best played loudly over a car stereo with the windows down and your long hair blowing in the breeze. Clocking in at just more than 30 minutes, the eleven tracks on the new record are a potent statement of intent: an effortless sounding rock record that dips its toe into a variety of different styles without every succumbing to any of them. It’s a record that sounds like the summer. Or the future.
For Lindsey, making Just Enough Hip To Be Woman was more than just a labor of love; it was the culmination of a lifetime of playing around in bands and spending a million hours kicking around in rock clubs. Having just made one of the year’s most infinitely playable records, BRONCHO will spend much of the fall on the road, which is just fine with the band. “Playing live is the entire reason you start a band,” says Lindsey, “We always want to change things and keeps things new —and I’m really proud of how this record came out and the ways we were able to push things forward — but playing live is always the test. We want people to hear us. We want everyone to have a good time.”
They recently toured as the opening support for Billy Idol. You can see our recent interview with the band here.
4. Moon Duo
For Fans Of: White Fence, Night Beats, Crystal Stilts, The Black Angels, Thee Oh Sees, Psychic Ills
Moon Duo’s third album, Shadow of the Sun, is out March 3rd via Sacred Bones.
After the release of 2012’s Circles LP, Moon Duo’s Sanae Yamada and Ripley Johnson relocated their critically acclaimed psych band for the second time since its 2009 formation in San Francisco, this time from Blue River, Colorado to Portland. Yamada and Johnson had been touring extensively as a duo for the entire lifespan of the band, but they decided they wanted to try something new and add a drummer in advance of their European dates in summer 2013. That drummer ended up being John Jeffrey, who was hired sight unseen after meeting Moon Duo’s manager in Berlin. “The dynamism and flexibility that a drummer brings to the stage held great appeal,” Yamada said. “John turned out to be an ideal fit.”
The highest apex of psychedelia, be it art, music, drugs or literature, is to induce a prolonged consciousness shift that affects the consumer far beyond the time they were privy to the act. Moon Duo’s third full-length LP, Shadow of the Sun, was written entirely during one of these evolving phases — a rare and uneasy rest period, devoid of the constant adrenaline of performing live and the stimulation of traveling through endless moving landscapes. This offered Moon Duo a new space to reflect on all of these previous experiences and cradle them while cultivating the album in the unfamiliar environment of a new dwelling; a dark Portland basement. It was from this stir-crazy fire that Shadow of the Sun was forged.
Evolving the sound of their first two full-length records, Mazes (2011) and Circles (2012), Moon Duo — Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada — have developed their ideas with the help of their newly acquired steam engine, Canadian drummer John Jeffrey (present on the band’s last release, Live in Ravenna). The unchartered rhythms and tones present on this record are reflective of Moon Duo’s strive for equilibrium in this aforementioned new environment. You can hear it is the result of months of wrangling with a profound feeling of being unsettled – there are off-kilter dance rhythms, repetitive, grinding riffs, cosmic trucker boogies and even an ecstatically pretty moment. Mixing with Jonas Verwijnen in Berlin, allowed for a creative catharsis and dissolved the album’s formal technique into a cool and paradoxically sane sound of confusion.
In a nod to a great pop tradition, “Animal” will appear as the A-side of a 7-inch, packaged with each copy of the vinyl edition, and exist as the final track of the album on the CD and digital versions. The song has an early West Coast punk viciousness to it that is entirely unique to the Moon Duo catalog.
“Moon Duo’s previous albums are visceral yet dreamy and Shadow Of The Sun follows suit beautifully. What makes this the best Moon Duo record to date is the way Johnson and Yamada have plumbed ever deeper into their droning, elemental psychedelia.” – NPR Music
5. Leon Bridges
For Fans Of: Charles Bradley, Honne, Sharon Jones, George Maple, Alabama Shakes, Oh Wonder
Singer/Songwriter Leon Bridges is from Fort Worth, Texas. Blending southern soul and gospel. Modern talent… classic sounds of 60s. Young man with an old sounding soul that melts your heart like something you have always known… something that seems so familiar yet so new – it catches your ear completely off guard. Soft, strong and beautiful in its deepness voice easily wraps your mind in warm feeling of nostalgia.
He is best known for his song “Coming Home” which received regular airplay and was also a Top 10 Most Viral Track on Spotify.
Bridges began his career by writing songs and learned guitar in order to play simple chords to accompany his lyrics. He played locally at open mic nights in the Fort Worth area while working as a dishwasher until being signed by Columbia Records in 2014. It was his song Lisa Sawyer, a soul song he wrote about his mother’s baptism in a river, that became his music style. Bridges began writing and performing 1950s and 60s style soul music that was described by Austin 360 as “a transmission straight from the heart.” He began to attract followers and his break in the music industry is attributed to a run in he had at a bar with White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins. The duo discussed clothing at the bar and a few weeks later Jenkins and bandmate Joshua Block ran into Bridges during a performance in north Texas. It was the performance of his original song “Coming Home” that caught the attention of Block and Jenkins.
Bridges worked on his first few tracks with Jenkins and Block as producers. Block and Jenkins were working on a project at the time to record an album with vintage equipment, using an artist with an authentic, old sound. Local musicians played on the album with Bridges on vocals. Artists included The Orbans, Quaker City Night Hawks and Patriot. Bridges released two demo songs on Soundcloud in late 2014. The song “Coming Home” received regular airplay on radio stations ranging from locally on KKXT and internationally in London. Both songs received more than 800,000 views and attracted the attention of more than 40 record labels with Bridges eventually signing with Columbia Records in December 2014.
Bridges’ began his first national tour in January 2014, playing shows in Texas as well as playing support for Sharon Van Etten in New York. His first official single, “Coming Home” was released on Columbia Records in February 2015. The song continued its success of the demo version and became a Top 10 Most Viral Track on Spotify the same month as its release. Bridges toured with Jenkins and Block prior to them resuming work with White Denim. He also played at the Sundance Film Festival. His debut album is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2015 and has been referred to as a 2015 Album to Look Forward to From Texans by The New York Times.
For Fans Of: Marian Hill, WALK THE MOON, The Griswolds, Royal Teeth, BØRNS, Capital Cities
Priory is a project born of two young artists—Brandon Rush and Kyle Sears—betting on themselves. The pair met while living in a trashy bachelor pad in their hometown of Portland, Oregon, and finding in the other kindred musical spirits. After years of juggling day jobs and courting other hobbies, they quit their day jobs and went all in, putting in the hours and the blood (quite literally selling plasma to survive), sweat and tears to create something wholly their own. Written in a studio built from the ground up in a former cement factory, the resulting output is a unique and powerful collection of neon-lit new wave pop cut with modern rock aesthetics, led by the ebullient and catchy single, “Weekend.” It’s the sound of a band emerging triumphantly from the trials of their past and looking fearlessly into the future.
For Fans Of: JJ, I Break Horses, Little May, Air Traffic Controller, Walla, CEO
Having grown up in the U.S., the Amason was a Volvo model that passed me by, but in Scandinavia, it was a popular car in the 1960s. Named after the fierce female warriors of Greek mythology, Volvo adopted a Swedish spelling for its design and the band has followed suit. Perhaps the spirit of a female warrior coupled with the liberatingly swinging ‘60s is a suitable description of this five-piece band of Swedish-born and based touring musicians. Or perhaps their name, chosen spontaneously by Pontus Winnberg of Miike Snow, is just one aspect of this multi-talented, musically minded group of friends that first came together in 2012.
The security and strength offered in Amanda Bergman’s vocals is reminiscent of a warrior, but the whole picture of Amason (“Amazon” for the Americans in the room) carries much more depth than a single simplicity can encompass. The story of Amason begins with brothers Pontus and Petter Winnberg, whose father was a music teacher and classical musician. When Petter was 16, he studied at a jazz music school, where he met Nils Törnqvist, and from then on the two have played together in a multitude of musical constellations, including Little Majorette. In 2008, Nils saw Amanda playing a gig in Gothenburg with her band Hajen, and was so blown away by the power of her performance that he just had to tell Petter and Pontus about her. Pontus contacted Amanda through Myspace, and the two recorded a few tracks together. A few years later, Pontus met Gustav Ejstes of Dungen through Stockholm-based music collective INGRID. Within this open setting, they started speaking about making music together. When Pontus played Gustav a tape of him and Amanda, who currently writes under the name Idiot Wind, as she howled along to a drunken piano, Gustav also was blown away by Amanda’s voice, her way of expressing herself, and began thinking, “Let’s make something together.” Which is precisely what Pontus posed once the tape had finished. At the tail end of 2012, these five finally arrived in a musical space together.
Having arrived in a collective sonic space, they all hopped aboard a vehicle, with their past paths and divergent musical tastes thrown into the mix, and found this was more than enough to fuel Amason forwards. A sound created out of collaboration, with each member inhabiting an equally important space. Be it Nils on drums, Gustav on organ, guitar and vocals, Pontus on piano and pedals, Petter on bass and vocals, or Amanda on synth and vocals, these simpatico souls share the creative ground as Scandinavians share their land. Everything is everyone’s. And the music is all the greater for it.
When Pontus first booked time in the studio and miraculously managed to get all five of them there during that time, the rest clicked into place. They started out by putting an idea on the drawing board, thrashing it out on their instruments, recording the tracks, writing a melody and lyrics, and swiftly had some finished songs to present. The first song to hit the Swedish airwaves, “Margins,” was soon followed by a self-entitled EP released in August 2013 on Stockholm-based INGRID, complete with single ”Went to War.” In February 2014, Amason released “Ålen” (The Eel) and on October 28th, 2014 they released their single “Duvan” (The Dove) worldwide on Fairfax Recordings and INGRID. Their debut album, Sky City, was released in January 2015.
With lyrics in both their native Swedish and the Swedish musical language of choice, English, Amason create in the moment, record almost instantaneously, and soon after scan the horizons for a stage, where the music truly comes alive, where they can share their collected collective moments. They fill their together time with sound, with music-making, with production and lyric-crafting and the joy of the song. Not to say that they don’t have to work to create what they get. Bringing five busy people together and getting crafted songs down in a state of permanence is a mammoth undertaking in and of itself. But as the old adage goes, where there is a will, there is a way. And the Amason will, the Amason way, is celebrated and magnified and revolves around the power of music. While the classic Volvo Amason still motors onwards in its intention to take people places, so too will a pure love of music drive Amason the band far into the future.
You can see our recent interview with the band here.
8. Viet Cong
For Fans Of: Eagulls, White Lung, Perfect Pussy, Ex Hex, Iceage, Total Control
Viet Cong is a canny fusion of four quite distinct voices from their home town of Calgary, Alberta. Featuring former members of the much-loved —but sadly defunct— band Women and members of Chad VanGaalen’s backing band, Viet Cong offers up an intriguing mixture of sharply-angled rhythm workouts and euphoric ‘60s garage pop-esque melodies. This open-ended framework is balanced with a penchant for drone-y, VU-styled downer moments, altogether spinning what has been called “easily one of the best new Canadian bands in quite some time.” On stage, Viet Cong is hugely engaging, delivering pop gems and instrumental acrobatics with equal aplomb, clearly delighting in the navigation of these catchy, intricate songs. Viet Cong’s self-titled debut LP came out on January 20, 2015 via Jagjaguwar Records.
9. The Districts
For Fans Of: Ghost Beach, Lucius, Ages and Ages, Little Green Cars, The Wild Feathers, Desert Noises
The Districts are a four-piece indie rock band from the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania. The group formed in 2009 while members Rob Grote, Mark Larson, Connor Jacobus, and Braden Lawrence were all still in high school. The energetic rockers released their first EP, Kitchen Songs, in 2012 followed by Telephone, their debut full-length, the following year. Their mix of indie Americana and blues-inspired rock caught the attention of Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records, which signed the Districts in 2013. In January 2014 Fat Possum issued the band’s self-titled third EP, which contained three remastered songs from their Telephone album along with two newly recorded tracks. The Districts joined the band White Denim on their headlining tour as direct support in February 2014, leading them into an enormously successful introduction at SXSW after their insanely buzzed about sets at the Paradigm, Spotify and other showcases that week. NME magazine named them “The Band Who Owned SXSW”, along with rave reviews from many other media outlets. The Great Escape in Brighton Beach, UK welcomed the band with the same praise after their electrifying set for the NME Radar showcase, as did their sold-out headlining show in London’s hip Shoreditch neighborhood earlier that week. The band faced a few major setbacks in the early summer, including gear and van theft in St. Louis and the departure of founding band member Mark Larson. The band picked up the pieces and recovered the van, sans all of their gear, and welcomed Pat Cassidy of the Philadelphia band Keepers, into the family as Mark’s replacement. With a tougher skin and their morale stronger than ever before, the band proved their worth gracing many festival stages this summer with rave reviews in the U.S., Europe and UK, most notably at Lollapalooza, Shaky Knees Festival, Outside Lands Festival and Forecastle among others in the US, and Oya Festival in Norway, Reading and Leeds and End of the Road Festivals in the UK, Haldern Pop Festival in Germany and Electric Picnic in Ireland. Right now the band just completed the process of recording their first debut album on Fat Possum Records with Grammy award winning producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Cloud Nothings) at Seedy Underbelly (formerly Pachyderm studio) in Minnesota and then shortly after, heading out to play both Austin City Limits Festival weekends, followed by a tour with fellow Fat Possum label mates, Temples. The Districts’ are working hard to deliver honest, raw, energetic rock and roll music and have proved to be unstoppable so far in that endeavor.
Keep your eyes open for a BBC Sessions Live EP from the band, recorded at Maida Vale Studio in London (6 October release) and an early February full album release worldwide.
10. Son Little
For Fans Of: Shamir, Waterstrider, Benjamin Booker, Arum Rae, Lo-Fang, Arthur Beatrice
You know that old saying about how people who truly live full lives forget more than most of us will ever learn? Son Little knows that feeling. So he writes to remember.
“I was always a writer,” says the man formerly known as Aaron Livingston. “Before I really learned music, I was serious about writing. Didn’t matter what it was. Just playing with words.”
Considering how long he’s been making music, that’s saying something. Born in Los Angeles to a preacher and a teacher, as a kid he absorbed songs from dusty family records and learned saxophone and piano, though he felt more at home inventing his own language on those instruments rather than following the lesson plan. Adapt or die, as they say.
Cycling through jazz, rock and R&B history, the hungry young son was beginning his true education. A few years later, the Livingstons moved to Queens, introducing Aaron to the active arts of hip-hop, basketball and city life. High school in suburban Jersey left him wanting more, so he headed to Manhattan and Columbia University, where he discovered art, recreational substances, and girls, girls, girls. He dropped out, got a job, got sad, kept journals. He moved to Philly, enrolled at Temple University, met the legendary Roots crew, even played music with them; they put his voice on an album, undun. He had a daughter, then a son. He was happy, still writing all the while.
Then, slowly, the music stalled. Faded. He got another dead end job. He checked out of days. He got sad again. He forgot how to adapt.
But, as it has the ability to do, the songwriting saved him. It was in his blood, he remembered. Coltrane. Hendrix. Santana. Tribe. And this time he vowed to never let it go. That’s not to say he’s always happy; he’s human, after all. But making music helps keep things in perspective.
“I feel the weight of life as I always did, as everyone does,” he says. “But I feel the weight lifted, because I love doing this. And the more I do it, the more I love it.”
Son Little writes everywhere, every day, finding inspiration on the train, in a car, on the street, in the supermarket, with his children. Sometimes the ideas are fresh. Sometimes a tune comes from his past, a single spark. Nothing is off limits.
“It could be just a thought, and everything else comes from that,” he says. “In one of my books could be a phrase that later is a song, and then the song becomes a whole catalog. It’s gotta germinate from somewhere.”
Inspiration firmly struck, the song begins to bloom. There are many channels to Son Little’s broadcast, varied stops on the dial, from blues to soul to funk to folk, and jook-joint jazz and chamber pop and back again. His voice—raw, weary yet alert, grave and gravelly, Marvin and Otis and Stevie all at once—soars and creeps, cracks and moans. His songs haunt, thrill, yearn and stomp like all the best work of his heroes.
And the learning never stops. Little has collaborated with highly respected artists like The Roots and the producer/DJ RJD2, mentoring under the former and creating a duo with the latter called Icebird, which allowed him to flex his considerable vocal chops and song arrangement skills.
“I’ve always loved the studio, but RJ helped me see how I can use it more effectively and find ways to challenge myself, and be inventive with sound. And The Roots, it’s hard to quantify what I’ve learned from them. Everything from how to rehearse to how to occupy the stage and command it…two things that are very fundamental in this business, and they are masters.”
This fall sees the release of the first recorded output from Son Little for Anti- Records, an EP called, wouldn’t you know it, Things I Forgot. Six songs: three babies (released first as videos), two twins, and an RJD2 remix. It’s all there, all those misremembered things: Triumph and trophies, hardship and heartache, soft sentences, loud chapters, facts and birthdays, faces and places and scrapes and scales, nights and weeks and years all lost, gone into the ether, slipped away, out-sizing our normal human bandwidth.
“The singles, ‘Cross My Heart’ and ‘Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches’ and ‘The River,’ were more or less written consecutively,” he says. “And so I think they were sort of internal responses to one other, complements. It’s harder to place but I’ve been tinkering with the other two, ‘Joy’ and ‘Alice,’ for a long time. They’re sort of akin to one another in terms of mood. This is a small collection and maybe it’s not as much a singular vision…it’s more of a handful.”
A grip of memories; Things He Forgot. Son Little writes to remember, matching the disparate vibes of his full, full life with a patchwork blanket of sound, experience and inspiration. Inventing, observing, adapting. And still, it grows.
“I don’t see any end to the learning,” he says. “And to understanding more of something that you immerse yourself in. Could be anything, again. Right now I’m immersed in this music and I feel that my understanding appreciates and changes scope and perspective. It’s really rewarding in its own way.”