(Originally written for Relix.com1)
Tuesday marked the end of the interactive portion of SXSW, and the start of the Austin festival’s musical focus.
Of course, the word “festival” is far too tidy for what goes on in the bars, diners, warehouses and patios thereof in Austin throughout the week. Festivals are contained events, things you can enter and step away from, should you need a breather. Festivals are finite. SXSW, on the other hand, is endless, or seemingly so. The city is almost entirely inhabited by musicians, like some teenager’s idea for a comic book come to life.
You will walk into a restaurant for some BBQ to find that one of your favorite bands is playing in the back patio in an hour—and then end up falling in love with the opener.
Those moments of discovery are perhaps the most rewarding and exciting ones of the music portion of SXSW. Come with us, as we pull you through the crowds and hone in on the weird and wild new music of 2013’s SXSW.
Spirit Family Reunion
Who likes bluegrass?
Even if it’s not your bread and butter, you’ll probably like the flavor of folk that Spirit Family Reunion serve up. Less Bill Monroe than Old Crow, the six-piece led a stomping and hollering hootenanny at the Newport Folk festival showcase. Their last song of the evening, “I’ll Find A Way,” had an anthemic chorus that turned sing-along lickety-split with a little encouragement from the band, and was a great a little ear-worm that stuck around till the next morning. A great band for your next field party.
In the same vein of traditional bluegrass, Robert DeLong’s uptempo sound conceals some heavy subject matter. That’s where the similarities end, though: his music is best described as singer-songwriter electronica, a genre that he’s made every bit as intriguing as it has the potential to be. The real magic is in watching him live. DeLong could’ve stopped his set at Waterloo Records after the sound cut out about halfway through and still left the crowd in flabbergasted awe. Unlike most other electronic artists, DeLong crafts his songs live on stage, with minimal backing tracks and a host of repurposed instruments, including an array of modified video game controllers. His songwriting is no less essential, and will vie for your head long after his beats have your body.
Like DeLong, Braids had technical difficulties during the Brooklyn Vegan showcase when the lights cut out near the end of their abridged, 30-minute set. But in a way, it worked for them, not against. Despite the 2:30 p.m. Austin sun beating down outside the venue, inside it was cool and dark, the perfect space for the band’s brand of downtempo, beat-driven electronica. Imagine a minimalist, post-nap Lotus and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect with Braids.
The Last Bison
If the seven-piece chamber-folk group The Last Bison look like its members all came from the same rustic church, it’s because they did, kind of. The band is a mix of folks cut from the same swath of rural Virginia, including a pastor, his son and daughter and one of their fellow parishioners. Their sound definitely owes fealty to Mumford & Sons, but as derivations go, it’s good and different enough to occupy a space just left of their center. To put it another way: If the folk craze were to grow exponentially from this point on, The Last Bison would be playing arenas by this time next year.