SXSW Music 2015 “It’s entirely possible to have a wildly different experience to the person next to you based on tiny factors like your friend’s love of Ludacris and TV On The Radio.”

In the 11 years I’ve been going to SXSW, a lot has changed. The giant Doritos machine stage came and went. Austin’s economic boom is pretty obvious in the almost obscene amount of new construction and hotels climbing up into the skyline the past few years. Police presence is a lot higher and more intimidating in the wake of last year’s tragic drunken driving hit-and-run deaths. When I first started going to this thing, I was working in college radio and was delighted to just sit on the patio at a less-than-crowded day showcase and talk to radio promoters. Real! Live! PEOPLE WORKING FULL-TIME IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY! And they were talking to you! You, too, could work in the music industry! You’d keep running into people at shows enough times that, for the few days you were there, you were SXSW BFFs and you’d hang out and go to more shows together and then never see each other again. It was like a magical, low-budget, coming-of-age movie.

Sure, nowadays you still meet people at the same showcases and bond with random fellow travelers for a few days, but they’re a lot harder to bump into because this thing is so damn crowded. Now that I’m older, wiser (ha ha ha), and have moved away from my hometown, I find myself splitting the festival almost equally between music, far-away friends, and my dedicated list of Tex-Mex must stops. (Perhaps next year TMT will let me write a SXSW guide consisting solely of breakfast tacos and enchilada reviews.) This year, I walked back and forth from my hotel on South Congress to East Austin nearly everyday, when in previous years people had warned us that we needed to take a taxi to the Scoot Inn, not because (as I had mistakenly assumed) it was far away, but because this part of the city was dangerous. So, some of the changes are wack (RIP Las Manitas, the best restaurant) and some are great (helloooooo East Austin), but if you’ve been going to SXSW long enough, by this time it’s in your blood. “I love this shitty street!” I yelled when I got to 6th Street the first night. And it’s true: with the weird crowds and random bro bars, it can be a shitty street, and yes, I love it in spite of that, because often enough, that’s where the magic of SXSW occurs.

Oh yeah, I also saw some bands I really like, and for the first time in awhile, I stumbled across some bands that were totally new and surprising to me. Below is my account of SXSW 2015.


I was waiting to meet up with a friend to grab a drink and was sick of standing around by myself like a loser. So I ducked into Hotel Vegas, thinking, “They always have cool stuff there, right?” Which almost always means you’re going to hear the worst ska-funk bagpipe band ever (I swear I actually heard this band a few years ago). Instead I caught the last few songs of this L.A.-based shoegaze four-piece’s Wednesday afternoon set and was instantly hooked. Swirling dream pop gradually turned down into grunge rock-style feedback and distortion. This is the type of show where a bunch of older dudes rush the stage afterward, chattering like excited teens to tell the band how great they were, which happened in spades, and was totally true. Why I hadn’t heard of this band before is beyond me.

The Mystery Lights

This is another band I discovered through happy accident. “Oh, the Mystery Lights are playing!” said my friend. “Who?” I replied. This New York garage rock duo makes the sort of rough, raw, and riotous garage rock that was synonymous with the genre before it got all poppy and all the songs were suddenly about pizza, skateboarding, and failing geometry or whatever. These guys project Sonics-ian cool and rock & roll DGAFness. In other words, they’re my new life role models.

Rae Sremmurd

I tried to go see Rae Sremmurd but the line was too long. “Who?” a label rep we were hanging out with asked. “You know, “No Type”? “No Flex Zone”?” I found “No Type” on YouTube and made everyone listen to it on a street corner while I danced along because it’s a stone-cold BANGER and how could you not dance? A valet from the hotel across the street ran up to us and was like, “Do you need a cab?” This was definitely the best valet service I’ve ever experienced in Austin, but nooooo I did not need a cab, Mr. Judgy Dude, I just like dancing to Rae Sremmurd. Apparently Miley Cyrus was at this show? I blame Miley for me not getting in. So much blame here.

The Pop Group

I was kind of scared to see the Pop Group because, you know, older band making a comeback. Ummm this was the most punk-rock experience I think I had all week, so basically I am a fool and idiot for underestimating the mighty Pop Group. They played in Hotel Vegas’ outdoor area and all the dancing I didn’t get to do at Rae Sremmurd happened in the service of these guys until… The sound blew out on (I think) “She’s Beyond Good and Evil.” A wave of disappointed moans washed across East Austin. Somewhere in a different dimension they are still echoing today because this was and would have been amazing.

Lust For Youth

I jokingly said I would see Lust For Youth like five times, and pretty much did. (OK, more like three times, I think. But who’s counting?) They were awesome. Even on the one really horrible rainy day, where my shoes were soaking wet and everyone was wearing ponchos, every single person in the tiny room at Cheer Up Charlie’s was dancing. No one was standing still. Clearly this band is super New Order/Happy Monday/Manchester scene-influenced, but they’re also moving it forward instead of dipping back into the waters of nostalgia and mimicry that have yielded so many boring, derivative, lesser bands. Do you ever sometimes see a band that makes you feel glad to be alive? That’s Lust For Youth.


Pharmakon closed out the Levitation/Sacred Bones showcase in typically terrifying fashion. I love this abrasive demon-woman. She gives a great artistic argument for not giving a fuck. May we all be so bold and brave and just straight-up cool as Pharmakon.

Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood’s music taps into something wordless and yearning that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life, and now with her newish album The Innocents, people are starting to give this lady her due. Onstage her sound seemed more confident, fuller, and lusher than before, with a bigger crowd to match. Her set at Cheer Up Charlie’s was tight and powerful and more accessible than when I had seen her in the past — which was fine because she deserves a bigger audience. Also, she donneda really, really cool American flag jacket.

Marie Davidson

Marie Davidson will save us all. I told every single person I knew at SXSW this year to go see her and I think only one did. This was my pitch: “Remember that 70s/80s French coldwave comp that came out a few years ago? She’s like that, but NOW. And from Montreal.” So I was surprised to see what a crowd she pulled into the Madison. Davidson is another inspiring and brave performer who makes incredible art, puts it all on the line, and doesn’t really seem to give a fuck.


Noveller makes excellent, atmospheric music ranging from the ethereal and ambient to the brutal and almost dance-worthy. This was another discovery for me, even though she’s the darling of many a storied newspaper and blog (such as this one). She’s a filmmaker and composer in addition to being a high priestess of solo guitar warping. But then, you already knew that.


Sometimes you just want to see a band that’s rowdy, rough, and sweaty. That’s these Danish post-punk kids. Almost as enjoyable as watching this band was standing next to the teenage girl in the audience who told her friend, “I just wish he knew how I felt inside.” I want to go to every show with her.

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