The world's greatest festival for breaking bands has a lot to offer
AP Childs

10:36 29th March 2017

It started in 1987 as a local $1o music festival, but these days SouthBySouthWest or SxSW is now an institution within the international music industry and a centre-piece cash cow (or Texas Long Horn even!!) for the natives of Austin. SouthBy may indeed assist the city of Austin in “keepin’ weird”, a local mantra for those not wanting to become as conservative and as good ole boy as it’s straighter neighbours Houston and Dallas, but just as importantly keeps cash flow very lively indeed.

There was just over 250 performers back in 1987, whereas the expansion across 30 years later sees it rapidly approaching the 2000 mark. The festival is weighted heavily in favour of newcomers, especially those from the U.S, and because of this it is as positive as it is vital. Something that is necessary given tragic events in recent years as well as this year’s (potentially Trump inspired) heavy handed immigration enforcement for those international artists, who look to the event to pick up stateside industry connections and business leads.

Here’s a few things is Gigwise picked up a long the way this year.

The new Americana revival will come out of Dallas

There is a sharp collective of performers made up from an assortment of upstarts, chancers, hustlers but always second-to-none musicians based in Dallas Tx whose paramount objective is to deliver a new take on Americana. Pivotal to the collective are The Texas Gentlemen who are a group made up of many Texas based bands and artists (Leon Bridges, Jonathan Tyler, Larry Gee, Dovetail, Wesley Geiger, The Misteries, Fortune Field, to name a few), and is also known to be some of the best studio musicians in the region having performed on almost all of lynchpin Beau Patrick Bedford's productions. When they come together they create a brand of exquisitely performed music that is completely unique to them. Claiming inspiration ranging from The Band and Leon Russell to Monsters of Folk and Tame Impala - The ‘TX Gents’ deliver incredible music with a quality that is immediate. Debut album TX Jelly is released in the U.S this coming July and was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals over a 4 day period. Featuring many collaborative performances including Paul Cauthen (pronounced coffin). Cauthen was another SouthBy revelation with a voice that recalls both Elvis and Roy Orbison at their most haunting, and with a stage presence and vigour to match an early Ronnie Hawkins. Managed by the same operation that broke Kid Rock and white rappers of Detroit and Chicago, this group of people are for sure a one to watch. Worldwide is the only word.

Uber does not work in Austin

Nope. The ride hailing app ubiquitous to most was ran out of town last summer following a dust up with the city’s regulators.

In December 2015, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance requiring drivers working for ride-hailing companies to undertake fingerprint background checks on drivers, a stipulation that applies to other Austin taxi companies. Uber and others opposed the rules in no uncertain terms, which extended to the company gathering a petition to force a public vote. It is reported that almost $9 million was spent on an unsuccessful campaign that asked voters to overturn the regulations – just over 55% of Austinites voted against the companies.

But you can still hail and ride. Apps such as Ride Austin and Fasten, playing ball with the city’s regulations, seem to have comfortably fitted in the market place vacated by Uber and others. Same ole stink, different toilet then? Time will see how this one pans out. But as Gigwise sensibly did – one can always hire a bicycle for SxSW. A lot cheaper and a lot more fun, providing you don’t lose it!

If you missed Womps, you weren’t there

Given this band played around 25 showcases over the duration, if you missed Womps you were more than likely not in Austin. Having the likes of Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago on board as well as Glasgow based producer Chris Marshall the duo look set fair to continue with their much-anticipated ascendancy. New single ‘Darling’ might be a little too ‘Dovesy’ in places, but one cannot argue that Womps for sure manage to create heavy-hitting and hook laden tunes that will do well to destroy all comers at the poppier end of the market. Pop music with guts. UK needs this.

The Gift is band that keeps giving

A band who last showcased at SxSW in the early noughties, and outside of Spain, Brazil and their native Portugal have had until recently very little profile. The Gift is a band which crafts clever pop numbers, and after a 20 odd year career to date, a new Brian Eno produced album Altar is the band’s first to sing entirely in English has been presented. Eno also plays keys and backing vocals? Fronted by super energetic disco diva type, Sónia Tavares, the band is spectacular live and her voice is killer. They play stadiums in their home markets, and are a band worthy of global pop phenomena.

Never mind your passport - Don’t forget your VISA!

Yes, despite a letter from the SouthBy organisers freely available to international artists performing official showcases only at the festival; a missive designed to explain to any over keen border guard that an artist entering into the U.S for the purposes of SouthBy is there to perform none fee paying showcases only and not drawing on any other source of income. This year, post Trump, things seemed a little more uptight than ever before and many were turned away, despite having previously approved ESTA (the approved work visa waiver scheme). Dan Bettridge a recent head turner from the UK being one such poor unfortunate.

The Kate Nash balancing act

These days ever the arch exponent of the bitter-sweet delivery, and that do not forget is ‘bitter’ pronounced ‘beetaahh’. Nash’s new guitar stance of recent years still pleases one and all in the room and she will always deliver an outstanding live show. But it does not end with the skilful slightly off-key vocal nuance, and the sing-a-long chutzpah. Nash these days does like to take it a little further, and Austin witnessed acrobatics of another kind a la swinging off audience shoulders and balancing along the ledge of a venue’s bar. She captivates and is a little scary maybe. A little Iggy Pop perhaps, but very Kate Nash. We love Kate Nash!


Homeslice Pizza on South Congress Avenue rocks

South Congress Avenue is a vibrant neighbourhood south of the Lady Bird Lake, but always worth heading out of central Austin for. The Continental Club is neat rock n roll establishment that caters for SouthBy wanderers, and just down the road is one of the best places to soak up the booze, Home Slice Pizza. Home Slice is an independent neighborhood pizza joint serving authentic NY pizza either by the slice or as the full 100. Homemade, hand tossed, real deal pizzas! You may have to queue, but like all god things, totally worth it.

Other notable mentions Har Mar Superstar, Future Islands, Dude York, Delicate Steve, Catholic Action, Alex Cameron, Wheezer, Sorne and many many others.

Photo: Press