South By Southwest--the music industry's spring break, an annual orgy of bands, beer, and BBQ buffets in Austin, Texas--kicks off this Wednesday, March 12. While this music-biz pow-wow (lovingly nicknamed by those in the know as "SXSW") originated as a showcase for unsigned acts to land record deals, nowadays it's more of a springboard for up-and-coming indie bands looking to boost their buzz (i.e., the Kills, the Black Keys) or established artists hoping to generate some excitement for their latest comeback projects (2006's Morrissey, last year's Iggy & The Stooges, this year's R.E.M.),
Anyway, this means hundreds of acts will soon descend upon Austin in an almost American Idol-like attempt to capture tastemakers' increasingly gnat-like attention spans. They face a lot of competition--because along with all the regular artist showcases in the evening and educational industry panels ("Resolving Webcasting Fees," "Music Placement In Video Games") during the day, there will also be countless unofficial soirees battling for punters' precious party time. And let's face it, when the average industry schmo has a choice between a regular concert or a record-label-hosted bash boasting an open bar and all the world-famous Salt Lick barbeque one can eat...well, what do YOU think he's going to choose? Let's face it, "open bar" are two of the most popular words in the music business. And "free food" are the other two.
However, some SXSW 2008 artists thankfully have what it takes to distract conventioneers from the keg queue. There are more than 10 artists, of course, but this starter list is enough to keep anyone headed down to Austin pretty busy. Enjoy, y'all!:
Nicole Atkins - You may have seen this New Jersey chanteuse (and Rolling Stone "Artist To Watch") in a recent profile-raising American Express commercial, but those 30 seconds didn't properly showcase her goosebump-raising voice, or her thrillingly unique sound. Her gorgeous debut album Neptune City, easily one of the top releases of 2007, is a lush, Lesley Gore-ish, '60s-retro affair that sounds like what Phil Spector would produce if he could actually get his act together and make a real return. Hopefully people who see Nicole in Austin will immediately and enthusiastically break out their American Express cards to buy Neptune City.
PLAYING: Friday, March 14, 11p.m. @ Pangaea / Saturday, March 15, 8p.m. @ Austin Convention Center
The Cribs - The crown princes of, and default spokesboys for, U.K. indie (they were famously quoted in the NME as saying, "The mainstream attitude of indie bands today is a bigger problem than global warming"), this Yorkshire trio--whose member Ryan Jarman dates British indie princess Kate Nash--is guaranteed to keep it real at SXSW.
PLAYING: Friday, March 14, 11p.m. @ Stubb's
Does It Offend You, Yeah? - Deliciously obnoxious electro-punks with either the best or worst band name ever, DIOYY? just might be the hardest working band at SXSW this year, as they're slated to play two official showcases and about 43 parties. It's a good thing that conventioneers will have so many chances to catch them, as they are not to be missed. Seriously, DIOYY? have been known to cover Devo's "Whip It" in concert and have a single titled "Let's Make Out," the chorus of which consists of the title being screeeeeaaaaammmmed with neck-vein-bulging, stalker-like insistency: "LET'S MAKE OUT! LET'S MAKE OUT! LET'S MAKE OUT! LET'S MAKE OUUUUUUUUUT!!!!!" What's not to like? And considering how many hookups happen at SXSW, there may be no better SXSW mating-call anthem than "Let's Make Out" this year.
PLAYING: Wednesday, March 12, 12a.m. @ The Parish / Friday, March 14 , 9:30p.m. @ Emo's
Duffy - Last year, Amy Winehouse was the talk of South By Southwest. Well, this year, Dusty Springfieldian ingenue Duffy, who recently had a #1 single in Britain, might be SXSW's golden girl--and, unlike Amy, she'll probably show up to all of her scheduled SXSW gigs! Like Amy, Welsh diva Duffy traffics in retro pop 'n' soul (her interest in singing was reportedly inspired by her father's videotape of the 1960s TV music show Ready Steady Go!), and she was even included in a U.K. newspaper article announcing "The New Amys." However, as of this writing Duffy has not made headlines for drinking, drugging, or having an incarcerated husband. Let's hope her inevitable post-South by Southwest U.S. success doesn't send her down a Winehouse-like spiral, because this lady is one serious talent.
PLAYING: Saturday, March 15, 8p.m. @ Stubb's
Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong - Yes, their name is even more tongue-tying than Does It Offend You, Yeah?, but this babyfaced gang of nattily suited, shag-haircutted, Pipettes-associated mod boys are worth remembering nonetheless. Sure, their pretty-boy looks have earned them the label "the new Duran Duran" (matinee-idol-handsome Joe used to be a teen actor, and even had a part in The Tudors), but don't hate them because they're beautiful. With an arsenal of sharp, spiky pop tunes clocking in at a positively Buzzcockian three minutes or less, they sound as fresh and snappy as they look.
PLAYING: Saturday, March 15, 9p.m. @ Emo's
Kid Sister - This Kanye-endorsed Chi-town rapper's "Pro-Nails" is to acrylic manicures as Lil' Mama's "Lipgloss" is to Bonne Bell. Yep, it's all about nails--no subtext, no big social statement, just nails. Fun, fly, and funky-fresh, Kid Sister brings back the carefree hip-hop days of Salt 'N' Pepa, Young MC, Kid N' Play, and the Fresh Prince, and she's the cutest new Kid on the block. She's sure to nail it when she performs at SXSW.
PLAYING: Friday, March 14 , 12:10a.m. @ Emo's / Saturday, March 15, 11:20p.m. @ Volume
Lightspeed Champion - A former member of the unfortunately named indie/thrash band Test Icicles, Dev Hynes has undergone a complete sonic makeover and reinvented himself as ambient-folkie troubadour Lightspeed Champion. And true to his new moniker, it's a winning formula. Expect his prime-time SXSW show (on a bill with fellow buzz bands Simian Mobile Disco, Sons & Daughters, and the Kills) to be packed, so hurry there at lightspeed, indeed.
PLAYING: Wednesday, March 12, 10p.m. @ Antone's
Santogold - This totally badass Brooklyn MC has been labeled "the American M.I.A.," and that's not too far off the mark--though to be fair, Santogold is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Signed to Downtown Records--the same label home of the aforementioned Kid Sister and smutty underground rapper Spank Rock--Santogold makes club bangers for both skinny-jeaned indie kids and hip-hopheads alike.
PLAYING: Friday, March 14, 9p.m. @ Stubb's
The Ting Tings - One of the fest's most hyped acts, this Manchester boy-girl electro duo was #3 on the BBC's tastemaking "Sound Of 2008" poll. (FYI: Duffy was #2, Vampire Weekend was #6, Joe Lean was #7, and Santogold was #10.) It's a good thing they're playing three SXSW showcases, because one would not be enough to accommodate all the lookieloos who will line up to see these guys.
PLAYING: Wednesday, March 12, 12a.m. @ Buffalo Billiards / Friday, March 14, 8p.m. @ Stubb's / Saturday, March 15, 5p.m. @ The Bat Bar
Vampire Weekend - Fresh from their star-making performance on Saturday Night Live, Brooklyn's bookish Afrobeat/indie/punk/whatever combo is without a doubt THE band to see at SXSW. You might as well catch an early flight to Austin and go stand in line now, people.
PLAYING: Friday, March 14, 11p.m. @ Antone's
Tiny Masters Of Today - Sorry, had to sneak in one more. Any boy-girl punk duo formed by an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, and responsible for an album titled Bang Bang Boom Cake (and single called "Stickin' It To The Man"), deserves some props. Kid power!
PLAYING: Saturday, March 15, 8p.m. @ Cedar Street Courtyard