South by Southwest, or SXSW as it is more conveniently known to those typing it out, the music fan's fantasy that occurs annually in Texas, just kicked off a couple of days ago. Operating since 1987, SXSW is an internationally-recognized media showcase, which tends to be most renowned for its musical portion. Members of the music industry, music journalists, and hardcore music fans descend upon Austin, Texas for an intense few days of running between as many venues as possible to suss out who the next big thing is in the music world. Of course, I, like most of the world, barring about 10 000 people, cannot be there to attend. Instead, I stew bitterly at my keyboard amidst thesis bibliographies and semiotics textbooks.
This year several bands and artists that I'm either already familiar with or enamoured with are participating in SXSW. These include the likes of Black Moth Super Rainbow, British Sea Power, Cut Copy, Chromeo, Crystal Castles, Digitalism, The Dykeenies, The Fashion, Frightened Rabbit, The Hourly Radio, Los Campesinos!, MGMT, MSTRKRFT, Jim Noir, People in Planes, Thieves Like Us, The Ting Tings, Tokyo Police Club, The Raveonettes, Shy Child, Simian Mobile Disco, Sons and Daughters, Switches, These New Puritans, The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, The Whip, and from my hometown, The Weakerthans. There are also several big name acts lined up this year, including The Slits (a fact I had to read a few times to believe), R.E.M., Perry Farrell, and Billy Bragg, who will be performing both on his own and with a group of artists billed as Body of War. Rather than re-hash my opinions about artists I already know and/or love, I figured I would try to discover some new bands worthy of a listen - all from the comfort and/or confinement of my apartment. In this way, I shall simulate the experience of SXSW for all of us who are not there.
And so I painstakingly went through the list of registered artists for this year's showcase...
Bodies of Water: This band from California caught my eye because I realized that they're going to be the opening band for Sons and Daughters in Toronto in a couple of weeks (at least that's what my ticket says). They sound a bit like Sons and Daughters used to sound in the Love the Cup days - a bit folky, a bit rock, a soulful female lead vocalist. Although, Bodies of Water also sound a bit like a choir even though there are only four members. They also sound a bit like organized chaos in an Arcade Fire sort of way. The song they included for sampling I Guess I'll Forget the Sound, I Guess, I Guess is as rambling as its title, and in the process, wanders in a number of interesting directions only to come back to a rousing chorus backed by brass instruments. On their MySpace page, you can download their haunting cover of R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts. And anyone who cites The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in their list of influences is bound to get my attention.
The Black Ghosts: Apparently, London-based The Black Ghosts are a new project from Simon Lord (ex-Simian, vocalist on Simian vs Justice's “We Are Your Friends”) and Theo Keating (Touche, ex-Wiseguys). I was bound to like a project that included someone out of Simian, and anyone who likes Simian Mobile Disco, Digitalism, or Justice would like The Black Ghosts. The Black Ghosts differ from these bands in their fey, electropop vocals and less of a focus on fuzzed out, dirty beats. Their sample track, Any Way You Choose to Give It, is representative of the music I've heard by them thus far - catchy electropop.
Deluka: From Birmingham, England, this dance-rock four-piece reminds me of New Young Pony Club and Dragonette - in other words, like a sleazy, but detached female vocalist over top electronic beats and fast guitars. I quite like their song Ike and Tina, a song obviously about an abusive relationship, which can be heard on their MySpace page.
Descartes a Kant: This band from Mexico caught my eye by including two 18th-century philosophers in their band name (because I'm getting more and more pretentious). The more I delved into this band, the more I'm glad I found them. Their influences range from Mike Patton to Regina Spektor to Dresden Dolls to Danny Elfman. The song they included for sampling, My Sweetest Headache Waltz, sounds exactly as the title dictates - Sandrushka Petrova's vocals veer from sweet and childlike to Daisy Chainsaw-like screams and squeals as the song spins around your head. Their music is a cacophony of influences and genres where screaming vocals can flow in and out of Gershwin-like piano strains and rhythms are never stable. Descartes a Kant feels like a child's nightmare. Or like a music box that will open up and eat you. Or like a circus that will appear in the dead of night and steal you. Their MySpace profile has an injured, but adorable rabbit on it, which only made me love them more. I highly recommend this band.
The Indelicates: From Brighton, The Indelicates are a male/female duo with influences including Luke Haines, The Jam, and Bruce Springsteen, and they apparently sound like "Kate Bush in a Weimar era nightclub or Queen fronted by two Morrisseys." The male vocals are definitely reminiscent of Luke Haines and the female vocals are pretty close to Kate Bush's. Supposedly, Art Brut's Eddie Argos described The Indelicates as "Luke Haines and the E-Street Band." Any way you look at it, aside from the Springsteen, The Indelicates sound like they're very much in line with my musical tastes. However, I can see how the expansive "Born to Run" guitars on several of the Indelicates' tracks could generate that sort of comparison. The Indelicates are intelligent and quirky, and I think I'm in love with them.
Fionn O'Lochlainn: Endorsed by Billy Bragg, Fionn O'Lochlainn has shades of Jeff Buckley in his voice and his songs are laced with a keening emotion. O'Lochlainn uses a mandola, which I just learned is not necessarily a mandolin, but close to one. The sample song, Zone, is a tight rock song with country flourishes (very likely because of that mandola), and I quite like it despite my general aversion to country. Of course being endorsed by Billy Bragg means you have some sort of political presence, and O'Lochlainn's MySpace page is littered with political quotes and socially-conscious blogs (I particularly like the blog featuring an article about Facebook). If you like Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, or Billy Bragg, I would definitely recommend Fionn O'Lochlainn.
The Russian Futurists: Hailing from Toronto, The Russian Futurists are one of those bands with an intellectual name and intelligent lyrics to match. This particular band also has a great indie-pop sensibility with catchy melodies. The syncopated chimes of Let's Get Ready to Crumble are fantastically twee while intelligent, poetic lyrics soar along. They're like a more electronic version of Belle & Sebastian with bits of psychedelia stringing it all together.
The People's Revolutionary Choir: Jim Reid-approved band, The People's Revolutionary Choir, reflects the muffled, shoegazey vocals of The Jesus and Mary Chain, but with a background more akin to The La's. They're psychedelic like early Pink Floyd and sound like early Rolling Stones, so naturally, they also have some Primal Scream in them. They end their Band Description on MySpace with a quote from Oscar Wilde: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Endearing.
...And so we come to the end of our little tour of SXSW 2008. There were a couple of bands that I had hoped would be good based upon their names or locations - Canadian band, Birds of Wales, turned out to have trite lyrics bordering on adolescent cliches that overshadowed the fact they had Wales in their name, and as much as I wanted to support a band called The Voom Blooms from Loughborough (bizarrely, I feel as though I have ties to Loughborough after living in the next town over for more than a month, and it also has a music store with one of the best names ever: The Left-Legged Pineapple), but they were just like all those other boring guitar bands and would definitely take my credibility down a few notches. So much for Loughborough.
I can dream that one day I will get to go to SXSW, but knowing me, I'll end up spending all the money I save on a trip overseas before I ever make it to Texas. And even if I did make it there, I have a feeling I would be paralyzed in the middle of some street in Austin, not knowing where I should go next. And, eventually, my head would explode. Skull shards everywhere.
SXSW Web site: http://2008.sxsw.com/music
BBC Introducing Showcase: www.bbc.co.uk/introducing
I Guess I'll Forget the Sound, I Guess, I Guess - Bodies of Water
Any Way You Choose to Give It- The Black Ghosts
Sleep is Impossible - Deluka
My Sweetest Headache Waltz - Descartes a Kant
Julia, We Don't Live in the 60's - The Indelicates
Zone - Fionn O'Lochlainn
Let's Get Ready to Crumble - The Russian Futurists
Do You Feel Like I Do? - The People's Revolutionary Choir