Top 5 bands I heard at SXSW 2014

Each year, thousands of bands flock to the massive Austin music festival known as South by Southwest. It’s the optimum chance to check out buzz bands from the past year, see favorite acts that hardly tour and ultimately, to discover new music. I caught around 50 bands during the nine days of the festival, and have somehow managed to pick my top five.

Tourist

photo by Ashley Stanford
Photo by Ashley Stanford at the 405

The UK-based electronic producer played his first Texas show this SXSW, and I, of course, was there. I will never forget when I jammed to Disclosure’s first Texas set during the 2013 festival before they blew up on everyone’s radar. If there’s ever a testament as to how awesome SXSW can be, it’s seeing an act like Disclosure front-row multiple times as well as being able to chat with the guys, whereas now it would take quite some effort to even get near them. I will be as bold as to say that I put Tourist in that same vein. As a pretty big fan of house music, it can be hard for me to even begin to accurately describe or classify what I’m hearing — all I know is that it’s damn good.

Banks

L.A. songstress Banks was one of 2013’s buzz bands I was most excited to see. Despite being the singer’s first festival and with only a couple EPs under her belt, she did not disappoint. Her sexy vocals paired perfectly with her playful, awkward stage presence to create a powerful set. One of the highlights was when she broke into a cover of “Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah, after humbly admitting to messing around with covers of inspirational singers to calm her nerves. Despite the sound issues present at the Filter Tumblr party I saw her perform at, and given that she’s still in the early stages of performing, her potential is unmatched. I would love to see what she could do in a headlining set.


Jagwar Ma

From the band's Twitter following their SXSW show
From the band’s Twitter following their SXSW show

Aussie electronic-rockers Jagwar Ma’s debut album “Howlin'” took many by surprise last year, myself included. It’s liveliness and originality brought something fresh to the music scene, and it most certainly caught my eyes, ears and attention. Their sole SXSW appearance was at Thursday’s Red Bull SoundSelect show, opening for Twin Shadow. I was pretty stoked to be able to catch them live, but I was hardly prepared for their mind-blowing performance. The trio came at it with an unparalleled energy (which, truthfully, put Twin Shadow’s set to shame). Combine that with the awesome stage setup: two levels of screens, great sound and a beautiful Austin night, and a dance party was bound to erupt. If you have a chance to see them live — don’t think, just go.


Panama

Panama playing at the Aussie BBQ showcase at Maggie Mae's
Panama playing at the Aussie BBQ showcase at Maggie Mae’s

Australian label Future Classic’s Panama is the second band from down under to make the cut. Self-proclaimed “purveyors of nostalgic electronic sounds,” they  incorporates live elements such as drums and melodic piano with synths and atmospheric sounds to create smooth house that comes to life when performed live.

Roosevelt

This year was a good one for electronic music, and German artist Roosevelt was one happy accident. I was able to revel in their last SX show at the Mohawk, after I had unknowingly missed them at both the Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan day parties; and I’m glad I did. I’m a huge fan of bands who choose to combine electronic elements with live guitar or drums, and Roosevelt stood out among them. It’s funky nu-disco to feel good electro-pop at it’s finest.

Bonus:

Questlove

I will admit that it took me awhile to appreciate Questlove’s musical genius. A couple months ago I finished his stellar book, Mo’ Meta Bluesafter which I acquired a newfound respect for hip hop. He happened to be DJing a Microsoft interactive party on the first night of SXSW that I knew I had to find a way into. Success was had, and at a small party filled with dancing tech nerds, I had never heard a better DJ in my entire life. The way he seamlessly moves his sets forward and effortlessly transitions from 90s House of Pain to The Police to The Beatles is absolutely amazing. Most of the people there probably had no idea the kind of musical legend in their presences — and even he would probably disagree with that label — but I could have listened to him for hours.

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