And just like that, it’s over. Ten days of music, film, activations, parties, and enough tourists to fill a small city completely have receded back to the cultural ocean. And throughout my travels, I listened, learned, and discovered. Despite the massive inconveniences, I still maintain SXSW is a worthwhile experience and a tentpole event on the Austin calendar. There’s simply nothing like it.
As I do every year, I’ve distilled my experience into a series of silly awards much like you would find in a high school yearbook. Because what better way to celebrate a week and a half of musical exploration than give our local music community the high five it deserves in the silliest way possible?
Biggest Overachiever – Why Bonnie
As anybody who’s ever performed at SXSW will tell you, it’s all about the hustle. Most official artists will play multiple shows aside from their SXSW set, which could be at a small club at 1:00 AM. It’s not uncommon to hear of a band doing five or six shows throughout the week. If you’re making the trip to Austin from anywhere around the world, you might as well make the most of the trek, even if it’s exhausting.
Which makes what local indie dream pop band Why Bonnie did damn near miraculous. The five-piece did a whopping 12 shows over the course of six days. Their busiest day was Thursday where they played three shows in the span of six hours. And when I saw them at midnight at the 13th Floor, you would have never known they were doing show number six in the three days. They still delivered a moving, groovy set in the midst of SXSW mayhem. Why Bonnie, I salute your drive. Here’s hoping this week brings rest after the performance marathon.
Genre of the Year – Latin/Cumbia/Salsa
SXSW offers a rich tapestry of musical styles and genres. It’s the main reason why I love it. But out of the eight festivals I’ve been lucky enough to cover, this year, there was a clear cut winner in the genre wars (if such a thing exists): Austin’s ever evolving Latin music community. Initiated by Grupo Fantasma and surged forward by the likes of Gina Chavez, Los Coast and Cilantro Boombox, every cumbia, salsa or Columbian funk showcase I experienced this year was pure fire.
From Carmelo Haze’s hip swaying set at Stubb’s to an incredible Hotel Vegas dance party fueled by Superfonicos, Money Chicha and El Cumbo Oscuro to Como Las Movie’s electric Saturday night Sheraton BACKyard showcase, south of the border sway was in full display. Along with hip hop, Latin music’s rise to tentpole of the ATX music quilt is nothing short of meteoric and most of all, welcome. My 40 year old hips and knees still ache from all the swaying.
Most Likely to Have a Breakout 2023 – Pelvis Wrestley
When Pelvis Wrestley completed their Saturday night set as Esther’s Follies, I made a point of walking up to frontman Benjamin Violet and thanked him for making my end of SX special. By blending campfire country with synth pop hooks and adding a dash of the dramatic, Pelvis Wrestley concocts earworm tunes laced with honest emotion and depth. Starting out as a random band I checked out based on the strength of their name and convenient set time, this fascinating four piece is my the Lord Friday the 13th of SXSW 2023 – an incredible discovery I can’t wait to experience again.
Class Bad Ass – BONDBREAKR
When I selected thrash metal upstarts BONDBREAKR for my yearly SXSW top ten article, I knew I had to experience them live. And what better way to do so than in the cramped dingy backyard of Latchkey on East 6th. Even in the midst of the most blistering sets SXSW showcases can be a staid, orderly affair. Groups of people standing quietly, rocking out on the inside.
BONDBREAKR broke through. Fueled by lead vocalist Gerilyn Hayes-McColskey’s primal screams and force of presence, the small space turned into a mosh pit, locals and conventioneers alike thrust themselves into a metal frenzy. Bodies slamming bodies in the midst of BONDBREAKR’s pure mayhem reminded me of the power of good metal – cathartic, powerful and transformative.
Best Couple – Jane Leo
When Jane Ellen Bryant moved from sensitive Austin country/blue to fem power pop, I saluted the move. When Leopold and his Fiction disappeared from my eyeline after an amazing SXSW 2017, I wondered where he went. Now that the two have paired up, the result is the best of both worlds. By linking Bryant’s buoyant vocals with Leo’s flair for the dramatic and rock star charm, the duo put forth a shining set during the chilly Saturday afternoon 101X day party. A pairing and a performance not soon to be forgotten.
The Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award – Chaka and Qi Dada of Riders Against the Storm
If you were pressed to pick a top 10 most influential Austin artists list, there are some obvious choices. Willie, Stevie, Roy. Maybe throw in Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, and anything touched by Mr. Quesada. And for good measure, toss in Spoon, Sabrina Ellis, and Shakey. No matter your list, you have to leave in Chaka and Qi Dada of Riders Against the Storm.
During this year’s festival, Chaka’s DAWA (an organization dedicated to supporting fellow groups serving the un-homed and homeless) showcase at Stubb’s, proved not only his influence on the Austin music community, but his heart for unity, giving and the city as a whole. A tireless advocate for the underrepresented, both Chaka and Qi Dada are vanguards of local philanthropy and civic change. And their music still bumps with the best of them, as evidenced during their Saturday set at Speakeasy Ballroom. An incredible duo both behind the mics and in front of government.
Class President – THEBROSFRESH
The yearly Sonic Guild (formally Black Fret) SXSW day party is the perfect mid week palette cleanser. As somebody who spends their entire journalistic endeavors in the local music community, one relaxed place to listen to Austin artists is a unique treat. And while the concerts are rarely raucous parties, at least by SX standards, the vibe is one of respectful good times.
THEBROSFRESH, the New Orleans turned Austinite duo of Torrence and Thurman Thomas changed the tone for the better. By unleashing wave after wave of Louisiana boogie mixed with ATX blues/rock and soul-ladden R&B groove, the Bros transformed the good natured Sonic Guild crowd to a true SXSW day party. And that’s what the festival and conference is all about. Discovering new and exciting music that transforms the polite gatherings into dance-offs, showcases into jams. And they do so with skill, chops and pure showmanship. Of all the incredible SXSW showcases I experienced last week, THEBROSFRESH left the biggest mark and as such, earns the most coveted superlative award. Congrats, my bros. Looking forward to huge things from you in 2023.
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