The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015 (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. 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. You can see the first part of this series here and part two here and part three here.
Photo by Ben Matusow
For Fans Of: Capital Cities, Little Daylight, Big Data, Ghost Beach, Saint Motel, Trails and Ways
After a 2014 that saw the release of their debut EP, festival appearances across the U.S. and their first late night television performance on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Joywave are back to kick off 2015 in a big way.
The band announced the release date of their debut album How Do You Feel Now?, which is set for April 21st via Cultco Music/Hollywood Records. News of its release comes in conjunction with the band’s announcement that they will be joining Bleachers on a U.S. tour this spring, prior to the records’s release. They previously toured with Bleachers for the first time last year in 2014.
Creating a sound that deftly jumps between genres, Joywave’s music is grounded in classic songwriting, often injected with house music’s energy, the playfulness of disco and an overarching hip-hop spirit. Their How Do You Feel? EP (released on the band’s Hollywood Records imprint Cultco Music in March 2014) demonstrates the bands pointed talent for originality while blending influences.
Where any other band might lose its identity in the quest to experiment with so many different sounds, Joywave’s all-embracing approach puts their distinct personality front and center while reinforcing the band’s stance that they are not aiming for the middle. “Music should engage the audience. If we have not elicited a response of some sort, we have not done our job.”
Being from Rochester, NY, Joywave acknowledges that they are somewhat isolated from the mainstream music scene and that’s how they like it. “We’re able to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in big cities but exist outside the trends and can be creative doing what we genuinely like without being overly influenced by other artists.”
Joywave’s distinguished sound is already paying off, they’ve received high praise from Rolling Stone, The Fader and Nylon, to name a few, and have been generating a substantial fanbase on the road nabbing slots with The Killers and RAC while performing at some of this summer’s biggest festivals including Lollapalooza, Osheaga and Bunbury. To top it off, Joywave made their TV debut on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” performing not only their hit song “Tongues,” but also performing with Big Data on their collaborative alternative radio hit “Dangerous (feat. Joywave).”
Last fall, Joywave brought their live show across the U.S. as they toured with Betty Who, Night Terrors of 1927 and St. Lucia.
Mac Dre. Too $hort. E-40. These are some of the names that come to mind when you think of Bay area rap. Now, San Francisco native, Gilbert Milam Jr., better known in the rap game simply as, Berner, has his eye set at being the next great artist to put on for the Bay. Starting off participating in rap battles at local coffee shops and open mic nights in the San Francisco area in 2007, Berner took things to the next level by turning his passion into his career.
This story truly embodies every aspect of the phrase “grassroots.” After creating his own label, Bern One Entertainment, Berner soon after released his debut album, Track Money & Pack Money, a joint effort with fellow Bay Area rapper, Equipto. A true testament to his never-ending grind, Berner has released 10 independent albums, several of which have charted on Billboard’s “Top Rap Albums” chart.
In March 2012, Berner teamed up with Wiz Khalifa and signed to his Taylor Gang Records, joining the thriving roster which includes the likes of Chevy Woods, Juicy J, Lola Monroe, Courtney Noelle, Tuki Carter and more. Urban Farmer, Berner’s first collection to be released on Taylor Gang Records, was released on October 2, 2012 and quickly took the Internet by storm. Urban Farmer captures the essence of Bay Area rap on tracks such as “Shut Up (feat. Chris Brown and Problem).”
With an impressive list of artist collaborations on his resume, ranging from rap legends Bun B and Wyclef to Chris Brown, Migos and even fellow Taylor Gang members Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Berner is showing no signs of slowing down in the near future. In fact, he’s just getting started.
Always one to master multiple entrepreneurial ventures, Berner isn’t stopping at just music. He has two lifestyle/street clothing lines in the works with “FreshKo” and “Cookies,” as well as his own line of hemp water, appropriately titled “H20.” All told, Berner is letting actions speak louder than words as he is on his way to becoming the future of the Bay Area rap scene.
And he’s making sure you hear him, loud and clear.
3. Young Rising Sons
Young Rising Sons and Halsey will be co-headlining The American You(th) Tour which kicks off March 11th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Tickets for the tour went on sale January 9th and sold out in just a few hours prompting the tour to move to bigger rooms in Nashville, Chicago and Detroit. Following The American You(th) Tour the four piece will join The Kooks on some of their April and May dates.
New Jersey rockers Young Rising Sons released their self-titled debut EP on Dirty Canvas/Interscope Records in July 2014. The four-track set includes the blissed-out, whistle-laced first single “High” which went viral on social media in a digital storm of shares last summer. The band spent most of the last year on the road sharing the bill with Bleachers, Little Daylight, Miniature Tigers, The Griswolds, Kongos, The Neighbourhood and most recently The 1975. Young Rising Sons are putting the finishing touches on their full length set which will be released later this year.
Music creates feelings. Be it intentional or not, songs often have the potential to bring the listener to the highest high or the lowest low. Most songs, however, leave us somewhere in between. While some bands choose to ignore the way in which their music might impact the mood of their listeners, the four ambitious youngmen who make up Young Rising Sons fully embrace it.
At a time when cynicism and moral outrage are quite common in modern music, Young Rising Sons choose to focus on the brighter side of life. According to lead singer/guitarist Andy Tongren, the Red Bank, New Jersey band’s debut single “High” was created with the intention of writing a “soulful pick-me-up, an honest account of life’s ups and downs, all with a glimmer of hope.” Tongren adds that the recently released “High” is the perfect example of the “feel good disposition” that shapes Young Rising Sons’ view on life and music.
Tongren matter-of-factly rationalizes the band’s approach of writing with the listener in mind, “music is here to make people feel something, so why not try and make people feel good?” Tongren describes “High” as a “song about letting go and enjoying the better times in life.”
Staying true to that mantra, Tongren and band-mates Dylan Scott (lead guitar), Julian Dimagiba (bass), and Steve Patrick (drums) firmly believe that the best music is inspired by personal experiences. As a result, the video for “High” was filmedright in their own backyard. “It made sense to shoot “High” in Red Bank, by the Ocean,” explains Tongren. “We wanted to film it where we spend our time together.”
Like most young buzzing bands on the rise, Young Rising Sons have benefitted from the counsel of more experienced industry experts. Shep Goodman and Aaron Accetta of Dirty Canvas Music, home of American Authors and The Karma Killers, discovered Young Rising Sons in 2013. Shep and Aaron recently brought the band to Interscope Records where they released their debut EP last summer.
After playing together for several years, Young Rising Sons have grown into their current sound. “We grew up with The Beatles, The Temptations and Bruce Springsteen,” says Tongren. “I believe our songs walk the line between avant-garde and pop, blending influence from those acts.”
CRUISR began in 2012 as the solo project of Andy States and quickly morphed into what it is today; an indie-pop band whose summery, feel-good hooks are infectious and stadium ready.
States wrote and recorded the band’s first EP in his Philadelphia bedroom, obsessed with the idea of what it means to craft a pop song. “I have an obsession with writing pop music and the idea that songs can transcend people.,” States says. “I saw that producer Jeremy Park started writing blog articles about how he recorded Youth Lagoon, so I wrote to him and sent him my songs asking for advice and knowledge. He wrote back and loved my stuff and helped me produce the first EP.”
The six-song self-titled EP was released in the summer of 2012 and quickly garnered attention online and in the press. With all the newfound awareness Andy promptly realized he needed a band to bring his songs to the stage. “Jon was always my sounding board. I’d show him songs in the making and get his advice. It only made sense that he’d become part of CRUISR,” Andy notes. With the addition of Kyle and Bruno the quartet set out performing whenever possible. And of course, they continued to write.
“The writing process definitely changed once we became a full band. I’ll work on my computer and bring the idea to Jon. By that time it’s structured and has a backbone, guitars are figured out etc. Jon elaborates on the idea with drums and it goes from there.” In late 2013 CRUISR released a new track online, “Kidnap Me,” which attracted even more positive attention than the EP. Representative of CRUISR as a cohesive unit, “Kidnap Me” was the first track written as a band and showcases what CRUISR does best; sunny, warm, indie-pop. “It’s funny because we’re from Philadelphia and we write songs that sound like summer, which is a fleeting season here. I guess it’s just because Philly is where we feel happiest, and when we’re happy we write happy music.”
Fast-forward to present day when CRUISR recently released their second EP, All Over, which features definitive recordings of “Kidnap Me” and “Don’t Go Alone” as well as the brand new title track “All Over”; all of which were produced and mixed by Andrew Maury (RAC, Panama Wedding, Ra Ra Riot). All Over demonstrates how fantastically Andy’s mind is able to translate pop hooks. “How does pop music make everyone like it so much?” States laughs, “Little kids hear it on the radio and just go crazy, singing stupid songs. There’s something that’s so smart about it, and a lot of things that people don’t notice are the key ingredients to writing a pop song. I’m just really into trying to decipher what those things are and trying to make pop music in our own way.”
All Over was released on September 23 via Vagrant Records.
CRUISR is Andy States (vocals / guitar), Jonathan Van Dine (drums), Kyle Cook (bass), Bruno Catrambone (guitar). They have toured as opening support for The 1975.
For Fans Of: CHVRCHES, Phantogram, Zella Day, MØ, Noosa, Zhu
Cathedrals is a story of unlikely synthesis. Their sound marks the meeting place of organic and electric, the sublime and the physical; their narrative starts at the convergence of a city and a collective, a boy and a girl.
Brodie Jenkins grew up in sleepy California wine country in an old farmhouse that echoed with folk, jazz and soul. Before her fifteenth birthday she was signed and touring with her mother and sister in an Americana-steeped family band. Johnny Hwin, the son of Vietnamese refugees, taught himself piano by ear in a small town called Hercules. He played open-mic nights and made beats for hip-hop groups in high school; after finding success on the business end of the music industry, he was back in the studio full-time by 25.
The prodigious and wildly individual lines of their lives snaked and wove around San Francisco—the two of them attended Stanford simultaneously but never met—and in the summer of 2012 a mutual friend corralled them together at the fabled San Francisco artist collective, The SUB. Johnny, with his distinct electronic sensibility, had a vault of tracks and an endless string of ideas; Brodie, a soulful crooner with folk roots and a Gothic heart, found an uncanny rapport. They layered their instincts and experience over one another, their frequencies combining to yield a sound completely their own: equal parts sultry, soaring, long-lost and totally new.
Drawing simultaneously from Swedish pop and nineties trip-hop, indie dreamwave and pitch-black trap, Cathedrals effortlessly merge these disparate pieces into the gorgeous geometry that defines their kaleidoscopic debut EP. It’s the surprising but perhaps inevitable product of two people who grew up drawing on divergent, stratospheric facilities, whose lives are now steeped in the granular collectivity of a profuse artistic space. Cathedrals sounds at once cinematic and warmly, immediately human: in this web of juxtaposition, the duo’s music coheres like a stained-glass window, a bouquet of roses blooming in the night.
They are already getting attention from Spin, Ear Milk, Interview Magazine, and Indie Shuffle.
VÉRITÉ made a grand arrival in the music world when her debut single “Strange Enough” instantly became the #1 most viral on Twitter and crowned her as the #1 artist on Hype Machine. Her second single, “Weekend”, matched those accolades on Hype Machine and Twitter, and built up to her debut EP, Echo, which has collectively racked up 3,500,000+ streams online since its release just a few months ago. She has been featured by Buzzfeed, Refinery29, NYLON, Idolator, and countless other tastemakers including The Line of Best Fit who called her a “rising pop star ready to make her mark”, and Neon Gold who said she is “steps towards pop royalty”. VÉRITÉ will be releasing a follow up EP surrounding both a U.S. and UK tour in spring/summer 2015.
Dance pop producer SOPHIE presents a precise sonic assault of pop hooks, hyperreal sound design and club rhythms, synthesized and sculpted live from raw waveforms on hardware equipment. Super sweet sugar candy hooks over visionary bass driven productions for the easyjet generation. Shake it up and make it fuzz. She was worked with Diplo, A. G. Cook and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Noisey recently called her one of the most incredible DJs they’ve ever seen.
SOPHIE returns with a new single of feisty, sugar-high bass contortions for Numbers. “Lemonade” lurches between minimal blips and all out, maximal pop fireworks, its squeaky clean sound somehow making the whole thing more unpredictable and wild. Over on the flip ‘Hard’ is all toying vocals and sharp, candy-coloured edges, bass high kicks and glossy synths pulled into an excitable whole. Yet another knockout release from the producer.
“From the start, ‘Lemonade’ shows that it’s far from prototypical with its bizarre sample choices, including the sounds of underwater bubbles and a tea kettle whistling. Later, song veers off the rails when it abruptly changes tone from hypnotic and beat-heavy to saccharine, overblown pop. Overall, it’s a crazy but thrilling listen.” Consequence of Sound
“‘Lemonade’ is a bouquet of ephemera, and we shouldn’t be surprised that SOPHIE hid a firecracker in the bundle.” Pitchfork
“It is, once again, one of the best things I’ve heard all year.” Stereogum
“SOPHIE is currently responsible for some of the most unclassifiable future-pop music out there right now.” CMJ
“‘Lemonade’ is the most bonkers track we’ve heard all year.” The Guardian
“Like SOPHIE’s best stuff to date, it sounds like literally nothing else in the world.”Pretty Much Amazing
“The over-caffeinated ‘Lemonade’ stands far above the rest . . . a precious piece of pop music straight out of the uncanny valley.” SPIN
“Impossibly infectious.” Gorilla vs. Bear
“Candy-coated pleasure for your ears.” Refinery29
“A sharp, sugary tang. The rush of bubbles up the nose. That fizzy feeling . . . At under two minutes, it’s all over in a flash but the aftertaste lingers like Haribo Tangfastics: a sweet ‘n’ sour sugar crash that fogs up the brain, then has you dipping back in to kick your system back into gear.” The FADER
“SOPHIE always manages to make my favorite single of the summer.” Impose Magazine
“SOPHIE BIPP tune of the summer” DIPLO
“on closer inspection, “Bipp” is a classic case of an artist scrambling conventions and creating a next-level, irresitably fun club track in the process.” PITCHFORK BEST NEW TRACK
“Bipp has experienced underground music’s equivalent of going straight in at number one. Pitchfork made it a best new track, almost all the top magazines and blogs got in there, BBC Radio 1 played it on prime time, and Diplo said it was his “tune of the summer”. But not only does Bipp have that almost unattainably rare combination of high inventiveness and popular success, it’s one of the best signs yet of a new surge of life in the UK’s dance music underground.” DUMMY MAG
2013 END OF YEAR ROUND UP:
The Guardian: THE MUSIC STARS THAT WILL BREAK THROUGH IN 2014
Pitchfork: Ryan Schreiber’s End of year list
Popjustice: Top 45 Singles of 2013
Buzzfeed: 25 Pop Records That Made Everyone’s Life Better In 2013
XLR8R: #2 Best of 2013: New Artists
FACT: #7 100 Best Tracks Of 2013
XLR8R: #1 Best Tracks of 2013
Dummy Mag: #3 The 20 best tracks of 2013
Resident Advisor Poll: Top 50 tracks of 2013
Drowned In Sound: 2013′s Best Electronic Tracks
Boomkat: #4 Top 100 Singles
Mixmag: #41 Best Tunes Of 2013
Gigwise: Tips for 2014
9. Alex Wiley
For Fans Of: Vic Mensa, Chance The Rapper, Pell, The Cool Kids, Casey Veggies, Isaiah Rashad
Since the May, 2013 release of his debut mixtape, Club Wiley, Alex Wiley has been winning over fans and critics, emerging as an exciting and talented new artist. While he flew somewhat under the radar as he found and developed his own sound, Alex Wiley is quickly garnering the spotlight as well as finding comfort in his music and identity as an artist. His growth and sense of discovery is reflected in his music as well as how he connects with listeners.
“I wanna make someone feel the way I felt when I heard Kanye or Cudi for the first time,” Wiley says about his music, most specifically his 2014 release, Village Party. His intentions shine through not only in how he makes music, but also how it’s released.
Alex routinely sends his music out directly to his most engaged fans before it is released to the general public or the press.
Torres knows the darkness. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter otherwise known as Mackenzie Scott waits until anything—an idea, an emotion, a memory—gnaws at her, tearing at her fingers and throat until she releases it in song. Her husky voice strains against its human biological constraints like a wild-eyed horse, whispering desperately “Don’t give up on me just yet” on one end and yowling about jealousy with unnerving intensity on the other. Following her self-titled debut in 2013, Torres pushes herself to even noisier extremes on Sprinter, a punishing self-examination of epic spiritual and musical proportions.
A keen awareness of Scott’s place in her family and in the world suffuses Sprinter, contributing to themes of alienation throughout. “You’re just a firstborn feeling left behind,” she sings on the ominously brewing “Son, You Are No Island,” which references one of Scott’s influences on this record: English poet John Donne’s 1624 poem Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Scott’s tortured wailing circles spirals downward around itself, reflecting in a dark mirror the feelings of an adopted child. “Whether it be abandonment, or fear of rejection, or perhaps inability to connect with people, comes down to that fear of isolation, of not being good enough,” says Scott. “Those are themes that have cropped up in my personal life, in my writing.”
But Scott escaped the confines of her churning mind in order to find herself by recording Sprinter in the market town of Bridport in Dorset, England; and then at the Bristol studio of Portishead‘s Adrian Adrian Utley. With his guitar riffs and synthesizers lingering in the background like a lowland mist and PJ Harvey‘s Robert Ellis and Ian Olliver on rhythm—the two fortuitously reuniting 23 years after the release of Dry, and in Scott’s 23rd year of living—she crafted a “space cowboy” record. “That’s as simply as I can say it,” says Scott, who cites inspirations as diverse as Funkadelic and Nirvana, Ray Bradbury and Joan Didion,. “I wanted something that very clearly stemmed from my Southern conservative roots but that sounded futuristic and space-y at the same time.”
It seems like an odd thing to look for in the picturesque seaside green, rolling hills in the south of England, but Scott had never been there before, and as a stranger in a strange land she found what she was looking for: a lost childhood. Sprinter was recorded in a room that had formerly been used as a children’s nursery, which combined with the alien landscape fuels the self-searching that roils Torres’ music. “Cowboy Guilt” perfectly encapsulates the contrast of Deep South conservatism with future sounds, juxtaposing George W. Bush parodies with wearing one’s Sunday best, bouncing on a mechanically whimsical melody.
After all, it was Scott’s Baptist upbringing 4,000 miles away in Macon, Ga. that gave her a voice in the first place. When her parents gave her an acoustic guitar at age 15, after giving her flute and piano lessons before that, she would sing church hymns at the local nursing home to get over her stage fright. As Scott moved away from organized religion toward something far more real and personal (“I still think of myself as quite God-fearing,” she says), she ranged farther from home, to Nashville—where she grappled with her outsider status yet again, faced with an insular music scene as hard to break into as if it were surrounded by England’s famous hedgerows—and then to New York, where she finally felt another semblance of being at home.
“Nashville was just a bit too small for me,” she says. “I don’t really like walking down the street and knowing everyone that I see along the way. I was raised in a small town and there are very special things about it, but I don’t prefer to live that way. I like the chaos of the city.”