For various reasons my SXSW attendance was restricted to just three days (3/12-3/14) this year. But, despite that, I was determined to cram as much music into those three days as possible. I had a music wristband, which gave me secondary access to all official music showcases, and I was ready to go.
I drove down to Austin, Texas Tuesday morning, March 12, to make sure I arrived in time for the day shows. Day shows at SXSW are all generally open to the public, I prefer venues that have two stages so that when one is done the other is starting—this maximizes the amount of music I can see! I rolled in, checked into my hotel, and went straight to the Mohawk for the “All Are Welcome Party presented by Oculus”.
One of my favorite sets I saw at that showcase was Brooklyn band Barrie. This band has it. Their music is firmly pop, but with that daydream feel. My favorite song they performed was “Darjeeling”. Though they’re not big talkers or super active on stage, their music spoke for itself. Another set that I enjoyed was Elder Island – they have a Sylvan Esso/the xx vibe with a female lead that has immense natural vocal talent. Elder Island is a trio that offer some deep synths and danceable beats. The show itself was marred by some technical issues, but they pushed through and still had a great set.
Day 2 for me, Wednesday, March 13th, was my favorite. The day shows I caught included sets from Miya Folick, Pink Sweat$, CHAI, Durand Jones & the Indications, Ambar Lucid, Cautious Clay, the Black Angels, and the Strumbellas – all at the Paradigm/SoundExchange showcase at the Mohawk. Each of the artists had something amazing about their set, but more specifically, my day was blasted to another world when I saw CHAI. I don’t think my words do justice to this all-female Japanese pop band with indie sensibilities. They have coordinated outfits along with some choreography, the music is tight, well performed, and danceable. It’s not traditional J-pop in any way, except maybe the vocal delivery. CHAI have an incredible sense for entertaining, and the crowd bought into everything they sold us.
Another standout was Cautious Clay. Ahead of SXSW, Cautious Clay had quite a bit of buzz building around him. He captivated the room with his soulful voice and by playing both the saxophone and flute. There’s just something about a multi-instrumentalist showing his skill on stage that will make any room pay attention. I always think it’s difficult to turn a loud room full of talking patrons into a listening room, paying careful attention to your more mellow, R&B sounds. Cautious Clay did that.
My Wednesday evening was spent at Empire Control Room for the Neon Gold showcase. I have been to this showcase several years now, and somehow it continues to amaze me with just mountains of talented artists. I caught sets by Robinson, Donna Missal, Alphabeat, bulow, Odette, Charlotte OC, and Wafia while there.
This showcase was primarily comprised of pop artists, but that was a nice change of pace from the previous day. Robinson was truly impressive with her polished pop and stage presence; her performance will likely skyrocket her to success. Donna Missal has the ability to win you over with her sheer vocal strength and skill. However, the dance party started with Alphabeat, a Denmark pop act. They rose above the other artists, maybe because they were clearly the most veteran act at the showcase, but regardless, if you see them live, you won’t regret the absolute fantastic time you’ll have dancing into the night.
My final day was filled with more established acts. During a day showcase by Austin’s 101X radio station, I caught mostly stripped back sets from Judah & the Lion, Mobley, Mansionair, and Flora Cash. In the evening at the Ticketmaster showcase, I saw Durand Jones (again), Cherry Glazerr, Car Seat Headrest, and King Princess. Of this day, Mobley was the stand-out. He might be one of the most thoughtful and creative artists I’ve ever seen. Mobley is a one man band that does the work of a full 5 or 6 musicians during his show. Rotating between his drum kit, his Nord, and his guitar, he will loop sounds and sing all in perfect synchronization to the video projected behind him. He mashes up electronic sounds with soulful musicianship; some people just play their music live, Mobley thinks through every aspect of audience experience and leaves you with your mouth wide open – impressed.
On Friday morning, I got up at 6 am and drove home. It was a bit rough, but I left knowing that I had crammed all the music that I could into my time at SXSW 2019.