And just like that, it’s over. By the time you read this, the stages will be gone; streets once bulging with scooter-riding tourists will relax; and the city will deflate to normal. All we’ll have is our Instagram stories, swag bags filled with koozies, and the memory of 10 wild days of art, tech, film, and music.
For me, it’s all about SXSW Music. Over the course of six days, I saw over 20 bands, most of which were locals. Some well-known; some just discovered; all of them awesome in their own special way. As I do every year, I invent a random slate of awards you’d normally find in a high school yearbook to celebrate our hometown heroes. And the winners of this year’s Superlative Awards are…
Most Likely to Be the Next Big Thing: Shy Beast
Picking the next breakout Austin band is like selecting a winning race horse. No matter the odds, your opinion is based on taste and the result is largely luck. But the stats on Shy Beast don’t lie.
Popped up indie rock with an electric bent and a penchant for devastatingly delicious earworm hooks is a recipe for stardom. How tunes like the bouncy New Waver “Back With Me” and the sublime “My Stride” aren’t in Top 40 heavy rotation is beyond my comprehension. But if the band’s Saturday night SXSW showcase is any proof, McG and company seem poised to take the next big leap.
Best Reason to Purchase Ear Protection (aka Rock Band): Otis the Destroyer
For one reason or another, my SXSW wandering tilts towards a specific genre every year. This year, it was all about the rock. From Lincoln Durham and Quiet Company’s impressive Black Fret sets, to the lovely Lowin shredding Friends on Sixth Street, my earplugs got a workout.
But of all the intense and emotional rock that invaded my ears this year, Otis the Destroyer continues to be world-class. Starting with front man Taylor Wilkins’ earnest vocals and string-searing guitar prowess, Otis the Destroyer excels in expertly crafting brick walls of layered leads and thumping rhythm, only to demolish them with a sonic battering ram of noise, slam, and power.
Please don’t let the title of this award fool you. If my ears were to die a gruesome death by rock and roll, Otis the Destroyer would be my executioner of choice. A band of stunning musicianship and quality.
Best Pipes: Quincy Cooper of A-Town GetDown
Throughout SXSW 2019, I witnessed enough vocal talent to last me a lifetime. From Austin Music Award winners to up-and-coming crooners, my plate was full. But only one person forced me to drop my camera, sit on the floor, and intently listen.
With a heaven-sent voice that flutters through octaves like a butterfly on the breeze, Quincy Cooper of A-Town GetDown makes singing like an angel sound easy and effortless. Blended with a backing band of some of Austin’s finest soul/funk artists, Cooper’s expressive and beefy alto coos like a sax, and blares like a big band trombone. An absolutely stunning singer I’ll be revisiting multiple times throughout the year.
Biggest Surprise: Grace Pettis
The weather forecast for Tuesday night was all thunder and raindrops. Rather than bounce around Red River like a spastic pinball machine, I decided to do my SX the old school way: by spending the night at The Continental Club. Not knowing much about the lineup, other than Israel Nash, I tempered my expectations. What I got from the opener, Grace Pettis, was nothing short of a revelation.
A craftswoman of soulful Americana, with a knack for tasty hooks and tender feels, Pettis ignited the crowd with a fiery, emotional set. From an apology song to a long lost friend to her defiant declaration of love for Austin, she ticked all the boxes for a standout performance. In the end, the weatherman was right, but my night turned out exactly as a SXSW showcase should: with the discovery of a unique talent I would’ve otherwise overlooked.
Most Colorful/Theatrical: Calliope Musicals
Every year, I look forward to the Black Fret nominee announcement showcase. The lineup is always exceptional; the GSD&M lawn decked out to perfection; and the crowd always a joy to experience music with. This year’s event was no exception. With all the wonderful music, the brightest was from Austin’s own Calliope Musicals.
For front woman Carrie Fussell, it’s not just the flamboyant outfits that make her colorful. It’s the glorious burst of joyful energy flowing from her, through the band, and out onto any audience blessed enough to be in the blast radius. Calliope Musicals’ trippy space rock and on-stage pageantry only works because the music itself is exceptionally crafted, and performed with passion. Fussell doesn’t need a feathered bird coat to glow with every color of the rainbow.
Biggest Life of the Party: Superfónicos
During my Friday night head bang session, I took a quick detour to Russian House to check out Superfónicos, a band I’ve praised numerous times, but never had the good fortune to see live. What I walked into was a celebration of life, love, and positivity unlike any other.
Packed onto a tiny stage, Superfónicos united the crowd as only great music can. The group’s patented brand of Cuban rhythms and Latin funk melted the crowd into a moving, grooving, pool of humanity–all while preaching a message of tolerance, acceptance, and togetherness. And the best part is, Superfónicos calls Austin home. I won’t have to wait until SXSW 2020 to get another fix.
Class President (Best of SX): TC Superstar
Wanna talk about a party? Before TC Superstar took the stage, a packed-to-the-wall crowd at Hotel Vegas buzzed with anticipation. One of my favorite discoveries from last year, this moody yet sweetly innocent synth-pop act has lived on my Spotify heavy rotation for months now. And the band delivered unlike any artist I experienced all SXSW. The performance wasn’t just great. It was transcendent.
Vocalist/guitarist Connor McCampbell lead the way with his moody New Wave vocals backed by airtight electronic beats and jazz/funk guitar leads, as a pair of dancers performed choreographed routines to the delight of the crowd. Not that anybody needed help getting moving. The set was alive and vibrant, all fueled by TC’s uncanny knack for taking a cramped stage and turning it into an amphitheater of fun and infectious good times.
With all the amazing music I saw over the last 10 days, picking a favorite is more about feel. And with all the gushing I’ve done over the past year, maybe I’m a fanboy who’s still tingling from the electric shock of positive vibes and explosive energy. All I know is I haven’t dug a band this hard since CAPYAC. Big things are in store for this little-known synth-pop act, and I can’t wait to hear what comes next.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who was your class president of SXSW Music 2019?