Like prior SXSW music conferences, the 2015 edition was again equal parts exhausting, inspiring and exhilarating. It’s equally nice coming out on the other side of the event to catch up on some sleep, soak the feet, reminisce and recap. As with past SXSWs, here we share the names of the Top 10 artists we fell in love with. Some we have never heard of before and others we knew of only one or two of their songs. We hope this helps with your music discovery.
This years edition was very different in that it was notably devoid of massive stars like the previous 3 years (Coldplay, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Depeche Mode etc). This helped bring the focus on what SXSW is intended to be, a music festival focusing on emerging artist discovery.
Here we bring you our TOP 10 performances from SXSW 2015.
Hotel Vegas has been described as “2 dive-bars connected by a courtyard” and it’s where Austin’s misfits and punks parade and hang out to listen to music. It’s as close to a CBGBs vibe you’ll find anywhere these days and the perfect backdrop for the Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green of the Nashville duo Birdcloud. One plays acoustic and the other Mandolin and are ready to offend while making you laugh with their bluegrassy strumming and raunchy yet witty lyrics such as ” just warhsin’ my big ole pu$$y should you want to go down”. This is probably the only artist on this list that won’t find itself on our background music channels because there are no clean edits for this. The performance concluded with one of them “going down” on the other with her big ole harmonica.
9. Knox Hamilton
The alt-rock band Knox Hamilton performed a great set at the Swan Dive. The guys were in great spirits, often seen smiling at the each-other during the performance, and in-turn, putting us all in a good mood with their catchy sing-along songs and sunny vocal harmonies.
Brandon Rush is the charismatic lead singer of the electropop band PRIORY from Portland, Oregon. Sharing his stage-diving nightmare story from a Minnesota performance where he jumped into a crowd of young teenage girls who then parted like the red sea causing him to break a rib, Brandon had us promise that we would catch him before indulging us. (pic from the show courtesy of Sean Sharifi)
7. Madisen Ward and Mama Bear
Madisen Ward and Ruth Ward, a mother-and-son acoustic blues duo from Kansas City, were not only down-home nice people but extremely talented and unique. Thrilled to be at their SXSW debut the duo charmed those of us in attendance at the radio day stage in the Austin Convention Centre with their powerful vocals and country bluesy playing.
6. The Bleachers
Jack Antonoff, the guitarist for FUN., is the frontman for the Bleachers, an indie-pop band he formed in 2013/2014. With a great band, amazing energy and cutoff shirt, Jack channelled Bruce Springsteen in every respect to render the drenched Stubb’s audience and himself into a frenzy and exhaustion. The set included their radio hits “I Wanna Get Better”, “Rollercoaster” and an awesome cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way. Any band would dread at the thought of having to follow them.
Houndmouth is a folksy atl-country band from New Albany, Indiana whose four members lend their voices to harmonies that harken The Band, The Eagles and Mama and the Papas although with darker lyrical content. Their performance was fun and full of life capturing the attention of everyone present at The Gatsby that night. Their current single “Sedona”, the show’s closer, will no doubt find itself on commercials and maybe commercial radio.
4. James Bay
Solo and with only a little help from Larry, his accompanying percussionist, James Bay was mesmerizing at the Radio Day stage at the Austin Convention Centre. Handsome and talented, James not only has the ears of critics but will have the hearts from throngs of teenage girls. There were times you could hear the proverbial pin drop as we all looked on feeling what he was selling. He is destined for Adult Contemporary and Hit radio with songs like “Let it Go” and “Hold Back The River. Sign up for James Bay notifications on your favorite concert app and be sure not to miss him the next time he rolls into town.
You can get a good sense of his performance by checking his live version from the Seth Meyers show:
3. John Legend
If you’re reading this blog you’re probably familiar with John Legend. One of the only established names performing at SXSW 2015 this year and he did it the right way, by focusing much of the afternoon introducing new artists at a label showcase. He then took to the Cheer Up Charlie outdoor stage performing 4 of his hits on piano. The spellbound Austin crowd sang along to every song and cheered at the slightest turn, while he reminded us that all artists need mentoring and a chance to showcase their talents. Isn’t that what SXSW is all about.
2. Catfish and the Bottlemen
Powering through technical problems at a packed house at Latitude 30 on San Jacinto Boulevard, Catfish and the Bottlemen proved, in fact, they are indeed the up-and-coming indie-rock band du jour. The 4-piece combo and critics choice lived up to the hype. They were everything they have been purported to be, British, cool, catchy, likeable and full of swagger. The show was great fun and had the audience believing they had seen the second coming of the Arctic Monkeys.
1. Urban Cone
SXSW is full of great little moments that often transpire on great little stages. For us, Urban Cone was that moment. Performing in a tiny room at Stubb’s, the Swedish indie-pop band was full of crazed energy belting out an amazing setlist of catchy-synthy tunes. Their last song featured a surprise guest performance with Tove Lo, who up until then, was enjoying the show in the crowd. (one of us didn’t recognize her and thought she was a fan trying to get past us to get closer to the stage blocking her for a few seconds).