For my first South by Southwest, I hit the ground running… or rather, biking. On the advice of NYLON TV's Jay Buim I rented a bicycle, and that was probably the smartest decision I made all week. Well, that and not having that third watermelon margarita at Manuel's on Friday night after our NYLON party at the W Hotel. Anyway… In the three and a half days I was in Austin, I saw 27 bands—23 of them for the first time. My goal was to see as many new bands as possible and I was blown away by how good they all were. But, of course, some were better than others, so here are my picks for the best new bands of the fest.
The Head and the Heart
These Seattle folk-rockers put on my favorite show of the week. I've been listening to their self-titled debut album for about a month now, but it never grabbed me; live it was a different story. Their earnest Americana songs came to life on stage—the harmonies were bigger, the fiddle more fun—and the five band mates couldn't have seemed happier singing and clapping and getting the crowd to shout along. Much like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, they just make you feel good.
The Good Natured
I saw British synth-pop group the Good Natured play in one of the worst possible venues at SXSW: a brightly lit carpeted annex of the Austin Convention Center. But singer Sarah McIntosh treated the space like it was an underground Berlin blub. With her short black hair completely obscuring her eyes, she slinked her way through the crowd, trailing her mic cord behind her and pausing every now and then to run a hand across some guy's chest and sing a line just to him. Her aloof sexiness was electric, just like her catchy tunes.
Though he's only 26, Diego Solórzano, a.k.a. Rey Pila, has been a fixture in the Mexico City rock scene for a few years now as the leader of indie band Los Dynamite. His solo project, though, is sure to make him just as popular on this side of the border. He was an absolutely magnetic performer—jumping into the crowd and posing for pictures with cute girls as he continued to sing his funky electro-tinged pop songs. Also, with his unruly mane of kinky black curls, he wins the “sxsw best hair” award, hands down.
These Louisiana youngsters are impossible not to like. They're basically like a happier and less quirky Dirty Projectors, with a dash of Vampire Weekend thrown in for good measure. Watching them perform at Emo's, I thought they might explode with joy. Singer/guitarist Taylor Guarisco bounded across the stage like he was on a pogo stick, and singer/ukulele player Tiffany Lamson was smiling so big that her face must still be hurting today. But besides just being cute, they have the music to back it up. They just signed to Glassnote and I can't wait for their debut album.
Machine Gun Kelly
I knew absolutely nothing about this Cleveland rapper when I caught his set at the Fader Fort on Saturday (my friend had to talk me into leaving the comfort of the Converse lounge), but afterward I wanted to find out a lot more. With a rapid-fire rapping style (apparently it's called raging? New to me), I had no idea what he was saying, but I nodded along and raised my hands up just the same. He ran across the stage, climbed on top of the 15-foot speakers, crowd surfed, and sprayed the audience with silly string. He's only 20 years old (he has “established 1990” tattooed across his chest) and I heard that Diddy just signed him, so I'm guessing we'll be hearing a lot more of him.
Boy & Bear
I'm a sucker for tight harmonies, acoustic guitars, and folk melodies, so it was inevitable that I would like Australia's Boy & Bear. They're headed into the studio now to record their debut with Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, My Morning Jacket, The White Stripes) and if he's able to capture the mellow, beach-folk vibe of their show, then their album will likely be the next Sigh No More.
James Blake was arguably the hottest act at SXSW. In order to get into the Fader Fort to see him on Saturday night I had to promise someone my firstborn child. But just hearing him sing “The Wilhelm Scream” made it worth it. I can have other kids.
I think this is Australia's year for music. I saw five bands from down under and each of them was amazing. I had heard of Cloud Control, but never actually listened to their music, and I immediately fell for their sweet melodies, playful harmonies, and bouncy rhythms. I've been playing “Nothing in the Water We Can't Fight” and “Gold Canary” on repeat ever since.
I first heard the Jezabels in the hit YouTube video for street trials pro Danny MacAskill and was instantly smitten. Hearing them play the “A Little Piece” live was a definitely a highlight of the week. I got chills when singer Hayley Mary jumped an octave to the soaring chorus. Dressed head-to-toe in black leather, she dramatically glided across the stage, making it next to impossible to take a good photo of her. So I stopped trying and just enjoyed the music.
I already swooned over Jamie Woon on nylonmag.com after I saw him on Thursday night, so I probably shouldn't say much more for fear of embarrassing myself. Just trust me: he's great.
The Naked and Famous
After lunching with this New Zealand synth-pop crew (and after listening to their debut album nonstop for the past couple of months), I was super-psyched to catch their set. Annoying I only saw the last two songs (I got a little lost), but that was enough to secure them a spot on this list. Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers gave their giddy jams added oomph with their soaring dual vocals and the screaming synths shot through the crowd like sunshine. It's safe to say everyone there was yelling “yeah ee yeah ee yeah ee yeah” on “Young Blood.” I'm still singing it.
The Vaccines guitarist.
The Good Natured.