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.”

As a first-timer, SXSW seems eerily close to Disneyworld: there’s way too much stuff to possibly do in a week, everyone’s kinda drunken because normal rules of life don’t apply when you’re waiting four hours to huddle in a tiny box-o-entertainment, and 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 (an actual showcase) or that wicked sunburn from yesterday. It’s overwhelming in the strangest way — once you realize you’re going to miss out on something incredible no matter what, it’s easy to experience the whole thing as remarkably consistent throughout. Good music is left and right, so why stress?

I shot myself in the foot before I even got there because, unlike Disneyworld, kids aren’t allowed. By a profound act of oversight from which I’ll never recover, I managed to get a press badge without realizing how many of the official showcases I was interested in were happening at clubs. And funnily enough, club bouncers actually aren’t into 19 year olds trying to convince them how much they need to see Ben Aqua, so here we are. In a perfect world, I might have written about Cascine, Cómeme, #Feelings, and PC Music (though Mike covered that last one brilliantly), but instead I got the weird mixture of DIY and unofficial stuff you have before you, and I wouldn’t have changed a second of it.

Tuesday: Club (Not) Goin’ Up

Hudson Mohawke at the Mohawk? How could I say no? After they announced the full lineup featuring Suicideyear, SOPHIE, and Obey City the day before, this one jumped to the top of my to-do list. After waiting for a couple hours with an (un)surprisingly higb number of 15-year-olds in sadboy garb, my friends and I were treated to a lovely warmup session from LuckyMe resident The Blessings that featured the increasingly standard cocktail of Jersey club and maximalist “beats.”

Suicideyear followed with a ridiculously strong set of trappy, grimey club tracks. Never one to make a weak impression, he filled his set with vocal anthems, like Waka’s now-classic “Hard In Da Paint” and BeatKing’s quickly rising “Stopped.” By the time he closed with a hardstyle edit of Blink-182’s “Dammit,” I was enraptured. Honestly though, the energy level of the rather gutsy ending was entirely too high for much of the crowd, which resulted in a weird division between the quarter of the room absolutely losing their shit and everyone else checking their Twitter and crossing their arms.

After deciding to take a break from the stuffy inner room to check out Waxahatchee’s lovely, intimate solo set outside, I came back to find the room packed wall to wall with people supposedly psyched about Hudson Mohawke. Awkwardly forcing myself toward the center over the course of “Chimes,” I found a similarly unenthusiastic dancefloor. Ross “HudMo” Birchard delivered his typical brand of hype with arm-thrusting bravado, but the room largely remained stagnant save for some big singalong moments to Kanye’s “All Day.” That didn’t stop Birchard from swinging for the ceiling though, and the crowd showed appreciation for it when thunderous applause got an encore out of him. When the throngs of people hilariously dissipated right after Mohawke ended, Obey City aired out his sumptuous beats to a largely empty room. It’s a pity, as his most recent Merlot Sounds material sounded lush and radiant on the soundsystem.

Wednesday: Drink-It-Yourself

Part of the fun of SXSW for me was experiencing the festival not just as a concertgoer, but as a concert-thrower. The entire reason I even ended up in Austin was because I helped put together an unofficial showcase for my college radio station. Usually I’d object to cross-pollinating jobs like this, but in this particular case, we managed to book acts I cared about long before working for either this site or the station. Plus, unofficial showcases are where the heart of SXSW lies. The bands are able to afford attending because of the corporate sponsorships, but it’s the tiny house shows that make it worthwhile.

After the living room was cleared of couches for the comically aggressive house band Crème de la Booze, the draw of the speakers quickly became clear. Add in free beer and the Animal House vibes of the Eden House, and you’ve got everything you need. L.A. psych-heads Nacosta had great fun conjuring up their folk atmospheres as the room filled up. There couldn’t have been more than 50 people there, but watching a group of cheesy, bearded Californians play to a cramped foyer with people peeking in from the patio, it felt like the place to be. Orange County punks GRMLN followed with a set packed with material from their latest record, Soon Away. Their low-key flavor of pop-punk worked wonders on the room, even though moshing was certainly out of question given the lax atmosphere.

When North Carolina bedroom pop wunderkinds Elvis Depressedly showed up, the energy in the room was clear. Maybe I’m biased, but Mat Cothran was a total star in that space. Like a gaggle of children at a One Direction show, the audience sang along to every word, save for the shoegazey unreleased material they played. He may play a grump on his Twitter, but watching Cothran’s lyrical heart of gold materialize in that room was nothing short of breathtaking.

Thursday: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Line

I waited for eight hours outside the Empire Garage only to not get into the PC Music showcase. Hilarious, right?

Friday: No Lines Ever Again

After being traumatized by Thursday’s events, I decided I needed something I could depend on (read: all ages), and it just so happened that our friends over at Portals decided to deliver. Thrown at a quaint little farm (replete with goats) outside the city proper, the environment was a rare mix of chill and hype. Everyone who made it out there was excited about the artists involved, and the self-selection involved in that process ensured a relatively low turnout. When the heavy rain started and the event had to move inside, it only got cozier. Genuine vibes like that are hard to come by, and it resulted in Portals’ unofficial showcase being my personal highlight of the week.

A photo posted by portals (@portalsmusic) on

Early in the afternoon, before the rain, Girlpool churned out another one of their perfectly poised sets full of their distinctive take on grrl pop. Honed into a stylistic razor over the years, their two-voice-two-guitar approach has finally taken hold on a audience outside Los Angeles.

The switch to recent Cascine signing Et Aliae was next, a funny transition representative of the whole lineup’s rather even split between laptop musicians and actual bands. Her set was total fire, winding up with new single “Only U” and culminating in strong edits of tracks like Tinashe’s “2 On,” Zedd’s “Clarity,” and Kero Kero Bonito’s “I’d Rather Sleep.” While it felt a little weird standing in a circle watching her just add some keys to backing tracks, I can’t deny I loved everything about getting pummeled by sparkly melodies and cutesy percussion as it began to drizzle.

After Et Aliae ended, a friend turned to me and whispered “Holy shit, there’s an incredible Makonnen lookalike here.” Turns out it was Makonnen, there to perform a track with the next act, Phantom Posse and Nadia. He took his place behind the band, naturally bedecked in OVO gear, silently checking his phone and looking at the ground. Meanwhile, most of the audience (including me) stood some distance away to avoid the rainfall. When Makonnen got up to deliver his guest performance, people ventured into the rain again, only to leave right after. It all felt kind of weird (due in no small part to Makonnen’s typically overbaked vocal style clashing with the generally lowkey vibe), and I walked away feeling like Phantom Posse got the short end of the stick on that one. Props to them for toughing it out.

The event moved inside afterward for Kero Kero Bonito, far and away the best performance I saw. While Augustus (known to some as Kane West) and Jamie provided their sick beats, Sarah commanded that living room like the diva she is. Trotting out silly props like a giant pink phone and a graduation cap/diploma set, she was DIY pop incarnate. There was something about the whole thing that just clicked, as that whole living room went bananas to “Picture This,” nearly collapsing the wooden floor in the process (pop can be very punk). Synchronized dances and all, KKB will certainly be on their way to bigger venues and crowds soon enough, but I’ll be damned if that performance didn’t have the energy of a proper basement blowout.

I spent the rest of the night waiting around at the WorldStarHipHop showcase, hoping that anyone from the announced lineup that included Young Thug, Lil Herb, PeeWee Longway, Lil Durk, Young Chop, and basically every other TMT favorite would interrupt the endless cycle of hypemen. But of the five hours I spent there, I only got PeeWee and Fetty Wap, the latter of whom wasn’t even billed. On the bright side, “Trap Queen” was precisely as good as it should have been, but I left around 11:30, confused but pleased. A bit of a metaphor for the whole festival really. Where else in the musical world can you miss seeing everything you wanted and still walk away feeling like it couldn’t have been otherwise?

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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