For seven days in the middle of March, Austin becomes the epicenter of the music world. Over 2,000 artists will play official SXSW Music showcases this year. And that doesn’t count those playing unofficial shows, parties, festivals or busking on Sixth Street. Thousands of musical dreamers road-trip to our city with nothing but a song and the desire to get it out to the masses.
But of the 2,000 officially invited artists, 244 are our hometown heroes. From DJs to punk rock, electro-pop to indie, ATX is well represented at this year’s festival. And I listened to every single band to bring you my Top 15 list of Austin bands playing SXSW 2017. Enjoy the list, enjoy SX and–most importantly–enjoy local live music.
Before we dive in, a few notes:
- Every year, I make a point of picking a new crop of artists I’ve never featured in an Austinot article. Many of last year’s picks are playing official and unofficial showcases this year. Check out my SXSW 2016 list and my ACL 2016 Preview to check out those Austin artists.
- Concerned about that 1 a.m. start time? Many of the bands on this list are playing multiple shows. Check out their social media accounts and websites for more information.
- This list is in alphabetical order, not best to worst.
- We’ve created a Spotify playlist and Freqsho video playlist of our picks for your listening/watching enjoyment.
1/ Adam Torres
There are few things more magical than when a song takes you somewhere. When I first heard Adam Torres’ sweet, sensational “Juniper Arms,” a serene memory of an early dawn sunrise illuminating frozen New York streets popped into my brain. Channeling Fleet Foxes with a touch more sensitivity, this local artist’s carefully crafted dream folk manages to paint extraordinary pictures with the simplest of tunes.
Recommended Tracks: “Juniper Arms,” “Morning Rain”
Official Showcase: March 17, 2017 @ 8 p.m., Lamberts (401 W. 2nd St.)
2/ Alex Napping
There’s a fine line between coy and cutesy. Veer too far into one lane and you become pretentious; veer too far into the other, and you become annoyingly saccharine. Alex Napping’s wry, clever and tightly wound indie rock hits that beautiful middle ground. Lead guitarist and singer Alex Cohen’s sweet, expressive vocals dance with varied indie rock arrangements, creating a sound that’s as surprising as it is catchy. Plus the video for “Catcalls” has singing felines. Rad.
Recommended Tracks: “Catcalls,” “Living Room”
Official Showcase: March 14, 2017 @ 9:15 p.m., The Sidewinder Outside (715 Red River St.)
3/ Bee Caves
The moment I first saw Bee Caves perform during a Black Fret concert, I mentally penciled them in for this list. Master creators of sonic rock landscapes, Bee Caves churns trippy fuzz rock, traditional folk, layered electronica and the occasional blues into a blended milkshake of musical power. Touching when quiet, overpowering when they blast, Bee Caves leaves an indelible impression on anybody lucky enough to check them out live.
Recommended Tracks: “Running Home to You,” “Heaven and the Come Down”
Unofficial Showcase: March 16, 2017 @ 6 a.m. during the KGSR Morning Showcase at the W (200 Lavaca St.)
4/ The Bright Light Social Hour
Take the meandering madness of psychedelic head music, tighten it with structure and sharpen the sound with a rock-n-roll whetstone. Start there, and you have a portion of what makes The Bright Light Social Hour so interesting. Whether they’re building soundscapes with layered instrumentation or pounding out head bobbing party jams, this fascinating foursome continues to rise in the ranks of Austin’s music scene.
Recommended Tracks: “Infinite Cities,” “Sweet Madeline,” “Back and Forth“
Official Showcase: March 14, 2017 @ 10 p.m., The Main (610 E. 6th St.)
During last year’s SX, I meandered into Empire Control Room on a Tuesday evening whim. What I found was my biggest surprise of the festival. A brilliant blend of Daft Punk electronic dance and P-funk groove, CAPYAC sets stages a-blaze with irrepressible body-shaking rhythm and uplifting synth. My office chair is worn out from the amount of seat dancing I did while listening to CAPYAC. A live performance not to be missed.
Recommended Tracks: “Speedracer,” “Talk About It,” “Mixed In“
Official Showcase: March 18, 2017 @ 1 a.m., The Iron Bear (121 W. 8th St.)
Atmospheric without being stifling, aggressive while remaining musical, Darkbird is a rock band worth traveling long distances to see. Vocalist Kelly Barnes’ expressive, theatrical vocals seamlessly meld with crunchy guitar and pounding drums. If Shirley Basset fronted a big, blustery rock band, you’d get a portion of what Darkbird is all about, but leaving it there would be a disservice. An authentic band with power and chops.
Recommended Tracks: “All There Is,” “Vigilante,” “Poison Arrows”
Official Showcase: March 17, 2017 @ 12:15 a.m., TenOak (409 Colorado St.)
7/ Edison Chair
When you listen to over two hundred bands over the span a few months, they occasionally blend together. Imagine my joy when I clicked on Edison Chair’s video for “I Hope You Get Everything,” and was promptly blown off my chair. Featuring the heart-stopping one-two punch of vocalists Rachel Thompson and Ellen Gruber, the band combines classic rock-n-roll, blues and soul into a sound all their own.
Recommended Tracks: “I Hope You Get Everything,” “I’m Leaving You”
Official Showcase: March 17, 2017, 8:50 p.m. at TenOak (409 Colorado St.)
8/ The Kraken Quartet
Maybe it was memories of percussion ensembles and rudiments swimming to the surface, but The Kraken Quartet immediately caught my ear with their sensational chops and unique sound. Comprised entirely of drums, percussion and mallet instruments, Kraken is equally as musical as they are rhythmic. Truly Austin weird, truly Austin awesome. Now to work on my double paradiddles.
Recommended Tracks: “Chance the Dog,” “House 11,” “Ox“
Official Showcase: March 15, 2017 @ 1 a.m., The Hideout (617 Congress Ave.)
9/ Letting Up Despite Great Faults
Retro without being derivative, classic without sounding like a cover band, Letting Up Despite Great Faults blends 80’s new wave and early 90’s shoegaze into a thoroughly modern sound. Songs like “Wrapped” would be at home on a Postal Service record, while tracks like “Visions” and “Bulletproof Girl” feel like B-sides from The Cure. Moody, emotional and endlessly catchy, Letting Up is the soundtrack to the John Hughes movie you never knew existed.
Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped,” “Bulletproof Girl,” “Visions“
Official Showcase: March 15, 2017 @ 1 a.m. at Speakeasy Kabaret (412 Congress Ave. D)
10/ Otis the Destroyer
Sometimes you just need to rock. Layered fuzz guitars and foot-tapping rhythm balance out lead singer Taylor Wilkins’ plaintive tenor. The result is a pleasantly aggressive sound that would be at home opening a 70’s-era Led Zeppelin concert. Part rock groove, part head trip psychedelic, Otis the Destroyer is rock and roll in its purest form. An act worth appreciating.
Recommended Tracks: “Gravity Something,” “Gold Fame“
Official Showcase: March 18, 2017 @ 1 a.m. at Javelina (69 Rainey St.)
11/ S U R V I V E
One of Austin’s most respected synth acts, S U R V I V E’s moody, dark and evocative electronica sounds like it belongs in a David Fincher film. Mood music with punch, EDM with soul, S U R V I V E immediately draws comparisons to Ghosts-era Nine Inch Nails, Sidewalks and Skeletons, and John Carpenter soundtracks. Remember the show “Stranger Things”? They scored it. A fantastic opportunity to discover how warm synth music can be.
Recommended Tracks: “LLR002,” “RR7349,” “Copter“
Official Showcase: March 16, 2017 @ 11:55 p.m. at Hotel Vegas Patio (1502 E. 6th St.)
Like Gina Chavez from last year, including Spoon in a Must-See list feels like cheating. Legends of the Austin indie rock scene, Spoon has achieved massive critical and commercial success for over 20 years. But this isn’t a nostalgia tour. The band continues to crank out toe-tapping, diverse indie rock that jumps from the speakers with head-snapping funk and unassuming swagger.
Recommended Tracks: “Can I Sit Next To You,” “Don’t You Evah,” “Inside Out“
Official Showcase: March 14-16, 2017 @ 1 a.m., The Main (610 E 6th St.), also at the KGSR Morning Showcase
13/ Sweet Spirit
Ever since Wild Child broke into the Austin scene in 2011, every band with a ukulele tried to mimic their quirky sound. With clever lyrics, bouncy songwriting and an ear for a killer hook, Sweet Spirit has come the closest without sounding like a copycat. A touch Vampire Weekend, a smidge Matt and Kim and, yes, a scooch Wild Child, Sweet Spirit fills stages with bright, sprit-lifting indie pop.
Recommended Tracks: “Baby When I Close My Eyes,” “Baby Doll”
Official Showcase: March 15, 2017 @ 12 a.m., Maggie Mae’s Rooftop (323 E. 6th St.)
14/ Tje Austin
For the second year in a row, an Austin artist featured on “The Voice” makes my SXSW list. Television appearances aside, Tje’s smooth R&B delivery serves everything from acoustic guitar ballads to jazzy soul. The song “Whiskey,” in particular, drips with the sort of mournful, 2 a.m. regret found only in empty glasses of bourbon and shattered love. Quite a voice indeed.
Recommended Tracks: “Whiskey,” “Away From You,” “Lately“
Official Showcase: March 15, 2017 @ 12 a.m., Saxon Pub (1320 S. Lamar Blvd.)
15/ Wood & Wire
Modern bluegrass has become commonplace in the ATX scene, but Wood & Wire separates from the pack by sticking close to the genre’s roots. Soaked in Tennessee moonshine and dance hall boot-scootin’, these pickers draw immediate comparisons to Trampled by Turtles, Sour Bridges and anything front-manned by Chris Thile. Energetic, down-home dance music certain to get your shoes moving.
Recommended Tracks: “Greener Grass,” “Anne Marie”
Official Showcase: March 17, 2017 @ 8 p.m. at The Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave.)
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Which Austin band are you dying to see during SXSW Music 2017?