And just like that, it’s over. With one proclamation of imminent disaster, the city of Austin pulled the plug on SWSX 2020. Regardless of your personal opinions, losing the biggest event of the year stings from a dozen difference perspectives.
But those of us who live in Austin are the lucky ones. We have an incredible talent pool of bands, artists, and musicians who live in our backyard. Even though the official SXSW showcases are dead and buried, many of the bands in this year’s Top 15 will be doing unofficial shows throughout the week and in the future. So why not celebrate some of our local finest? More than ever, come out to a show, buy some merch, and support our local scene.
A few notes:
- Every year, I pick a group of artists never featured in a Top 15 SXSW article. Most of the bands from previous years are playing shows throughout the week.
- I avoid artists I speak a lot of sugar about through the year (Tomar & the FC’s, Melat, Alesia Lani, Jackie Venson, TC Superstar, etc). New-ish discoveries only!
- For all the music feels, check out our Spotify playlist featuring two songs from each artist.
- All picks are in alphabetical order!
1) Austin Basham
The first time I attempted to write about music, it was in the NYC folk scene. Something about soft acoustic guitars, storytelling, and bare emotion feeds a section of my heart impervious to outside influences. Austin Basham’s take on the genre invades that area in stunning fashion. “All is Well” captures the full spectrum of what makes Basham tick as a songwriter. Evocative lyrics, descriptively simple yet effective guitar-picking, and a willingness to switch styles at a moment’s notice.
Not since Adam Torres have I fallen head over heels for an acoustic artist. Feel free to do the same.
Recommended tracks: All is Well, Find a Way
An impassioned call to arms in the midst of political distrust and social injustice, BLXPLTN incites riots. “Start Fires” shotguns gravely CBGB punk into the face of enemies, while “Fema” layers aggressive hip hop across a droning crash-and-bag drum beat. Resistance in the face of unilateral conformity, BLXPLTN fights the good fight through music dosed with raw power and honest truth.
Recommended tracks: Start Fires, Blood on the Sand
3) Bourgeois Mystics
A spiraling blender of funk, ska, hip hop, samba, and anything rattling around the “world” genre, Bourgeois Mystics defies rational explanation. Many bands try to be everything to everyone and fail. Bourgeois Mystics flourishes in being a musical Voltron (or Katamari Damacy for my fellow gaming nerds).
Disparate parts and pieces, all with different design, coming together to create an unstoppable force. If you’re not dancing within five minutes of the set, then check your heart rate.
Recommended tracks: Bourgeois Mystique, War 4 the Status Quo
4) Caroline Rose
If you follow the latest trends, then you know retro seems to be the new normal. Everything old becomes new again. True skill is taking those well-worn rhythms and converting them into something new, not nostalgic.
Enter Caroline Rose and her modernized take on old-school soul and electro jams. “Feel The Way I Want” is a precocious blend of ’80s synth sheen and R&B groove, while the dead-eyed funk of “Do You Think It Will Last Forever” takes a sexy bass groove and pushes it through dry Billie Eilish vocals and spare digital drums. Rose and her kick-ass mashup of awesome genres deserve your time, attention, and patronage.
Recommended tracks: Feel the Way I Want, Do You Think It Will Last Forever
When Mike Lee of “Letting Up Despite Great Faults” fame starts a new project, I immediately turn my head and listen. Another wonderful expression of my beloved indie/shoegaze genre, Fanclub is an emotional rainbow.
“Leaves” balances tight 80s synth and ragged guitar on a soft and punchy drum beat, while “Stranger’s” plaintive wail of “We’re all the same” resonates in today’s social climate. Best served with rainy days and the glistening sun-drenched sidewalks they produce.
Recommended tracks: Leaves, Imprint
Akin to a speed-running anime character hurtling towards a fireball or young lovers embracing at the airport, Flite’s “Joy” is pure, well…joy. Manic pitter-pat percussion hurtles the track to sublime vocal expressions of glory and harmony.
“Tragedy, Humanity” equals the latter’s upward trajectory. Drum and bass get a bad wrap for monotony. Introduce your non-believer friends to this single and hopefully they’ll change their tune.
Recommended tracks: Joy, Fairy
7) Flora & Fawna
Musical first loves are rare occasions. CAPYAC. TC Superstar. Golden Dawn. Flora & Fawna. The moment I heard the icy electro-groove of “Slow Burn,” the hooks were in. The smokey yet soaring “Blame It on the Stars” and “Tempted by the Timing’s” snare-tight electro-rhythms prove the duo isn’t a one-song wonder. Catch a ride on this band’s unique frequency and prepare to be swept away.
Recommended tracks: Slow Burn, Tempted By the Timing
Like finding a lost love in a maze of lesser mortals, fuvk shocked me to the soul upon first listen. Poetic lyrics cooed through a veil of sparse acoustic guitars and the occasional electronic back beat, this one-woman wonder crafts delicate flowers laced with stinging emotion.
Come for the stripped-down honesty of “Anywhere;” linger for “Dec17’s” stinging break up gut punch; fall in love to the sublime “Is There Anything You’d Rather Be Doing.” If I’m listening to fuvk, the answer is nothing.
Recommended tracks: dec17, Anywhere
9) Go Fever
And it’s all come full circle. A band I randomly stumbled across during SXSW 2016 has grown into a pop-rock powerhouse. If I was forced to nail Go Fever’s sound in one word, it would be “alive.” From the desire-soaked anthem “Feel So Much” to the buoyant head-bobber “Come Undone,” this rad five-piece balances upbeat jams with honest emotion. Pure joy distilled into three-minute jewels of heavenly soundcraft.
Recommended tracks: Olivia, Come Undone
10) Ley Line
Followers of my Weekend Concert Picks know I speak a good deal of sunshine about Ley Line. And while I try to avoid perennial favorites in my SXSW Top 15, I’m making an exception. This fantastic female four-piece brightens stages with a complex and evocative blend of Latin, Brazilian, and African influences.
2018’s “The Well” allows harmony to take center stage across subtle shakers and trombone licks, while “Respiracao’s” smooth and elegant dance hall groove is pure beauty. Not to mention the upbeat, uplifting triumph “Oxum” might be the best song I heard in 2019. Four extraordinarily talented ladies producing beautiful music.
11) Mama Duke
Mama Duke is the ever-loving truth! By blending tight lyrics with smooth R&B, Mama Duke breathes pure lyrical fire. Tracks like “All Night” pulse with romantic longing, while “Tell Me” rolls along a chill vibe and showcases Mama Duke’s impressive range.
By creating strikingly personal music, this hip hop stunner bares all on every track. More than worth seeking out during unofficial SXSW or any opportunity thereafter.
Recommended tracks: No Plan B, Tell Me
12) Pleasure Venom
For those who like their punk rubbed with gravel and refinished with a subtle layer of polish, Pleasure Venom turns rage into power, snarl into poetry. This isn’t your standard noise factory. Songs like the sublimely aggro “Hive” and the looming death dirge turned horror-rock anthem “I Can’t Find My Lipstick” cement this fem-fronted five-piece as a force of pure rock spit and grit.
Recommended tracks: Deth, Hive, These Days
13) Think No Think
At the risk of being too rock heavy, the minute I heard Think No Think at last year’s Black Fret Ball, the group’s spot on this list was secured. Blistering punk that casts aside the three chord progression trope of counterparts to create a unique sound.
“Start a War” is a hyperactive trash compactor of slamming cymbals and warbling guitar work, while “Cold Grey Sun” sounds like a The Raconteurs classic. Austin rock at its absolute finest.
Recommended tracks: Start a War, Cold Grey Sun
14) Tito and Tarantula
Every year, I pick at least one no-brainer. Introduced to the world by sound-tracking Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” these legendary Latin rockers continue to produce incredible music. Tito and Tarantula’s seminal classic “After Dark” coyly creates an enchanting web of searing guitars and seductive percussion, while “Angry Cockroaches” boogies and jives through a railroad rhythm and rock-and-roll leads.
Take away the movie star status and you still get two musicians at the top of their game.
Recommended tracks: After Dark, Angry Cockroaches
15) White Denim
Those who only know White Denim for a killer jam in a Nintendo Switch commercial have only scratched the paint on this intricate, fascinating band.
Austin indie rock vanguards for well over a decade, local music fans appreciate the candy store window of styles and influences White Denim pulls from. Soul, funk, blues, rock, psychedelic, jam band. All they need is a conga player and a horn section, and they’d be able to cover every genre known to man.
The latest live record “In Person” captures all of the above and more. Constantly surprising, consistently incredible.
Recommended tracks: Shanalala, At Night In Dreams
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
With SXSW’s cancellation, are you heading out for unofficial showcases? If so, who are you checking out?