Screaming Females

SXSW 2014: 15 Bands to See

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 03.05.14 in Lists

First things first: Don’t see Coldplay. It’s not that we’ve got anything against Coldplay, necessarily (Imagine Dragons, the other big band on that same bill, are another story). It’s just, why would you see them at South by Southwest? When there are thousands of other, smaller and arguably more interesting bands playing — many of whom rarely tour, because they can’t afford to? The lineup this year is so crammed with great, fun, breathlessly energetic bands that narrowing must-sees down to 15 was almost physically painful. For those of you who don’t feel like running all over Austin and just want to park at one place and stay there, Beerland, Hotel Vegas and Dirty Dog Bar are probably where you want to be. But there’s so much here to hear, in absolutely every niche and sub-niche, micro-movement and mini-wave, that staying still is a sucker’s game. So here are our 15 can’t-miss picks for this year’s festival. But whatever path you choose, there’s going to be something to satisfy your musical curiosity.

Just, don’t see Coldplay. Seriously.

Photo by Anna Webber for WS

Against Me!

Against Me! have never strayed too far from their scrappy punk roots, with dizzying politics-driven shout-alongs that lend themselves perfectly to a live setting. Their first LP in nearly four years, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the first since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, is perhaps their most direct, but also one of their most powerful. The group's gone through numerous lineup changes lately, but Grace is a commanding enough presence to make an impact on any stage. — Laura Leebove

Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile's 2013 album Wakin on a Pretty Daze practically screams nice, springy weather. It's not that his songs are all smiley, per se, but they feel light and breezy. Amid the chaos of SXSW, the Philly songwriter and his tight backing band the Violators will be a refreshing chance to chill out and get lost in winding guitars, slyly hilarious lyrics and enough "yeah yeahs" to last the rest of the week. — Laura Leebove

Chance the Rapper

One of the 2013's biggest breakouts, Chance the Rapper blends a nimble delivery with brain-shatteringly complex rhymes. (His own description of his delivery and skills? "I swallow them synonyms like cinnamon Cinnabon.") He commanded attention with just a pair of mixtapes to his name the most recent of which, Acid Rap, oscillates between wry slice-of-life narratives and clear-eyed recountings of sudden, tragic violence. Hip-hop was once polarized — backpackers to the left, radio hits to the right. Chance bridges the gap between the two, reasserting the truth that the best music is often the most complex. — J. Edward Keyes


Coachwhips - Hands on the Controls (Reissue with Extra Tracks)


Before The Oh Sees, there were Coachwhips, John Dwyer's manic synth-punk outfit known for sonically demolishing any venue into which they set foot. And now, as it turns out, there's Coachwhips after Thee Oh Sees, too. With Dwyer's manic garage punk outfit on indefinite hiatus, this brief run of Coachwhips shows — only a handful have been announced outside SXSW — are the only opportunities to catch his mad genius in action. The band was criminally overlooked during their lifespan, making this quick reunion the perfect opportunity to catch what you may have missed the first time. — J. Edward Keyes

Perfect Pussy

There's an expectation that, when a vaunted underground band signs to a Proper Label, they clean up their sound to make it more palatable to a mass audience. What a relief, then, to hear the first few seconds of Perfect Pussy's Captured Tracks debut Say Yes To Love to discover the band still possesses the same proud indifference to fidelity they had on last year's sonically-scalding cassette I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling. But as excellent as they are on record, it's impossible to truly experience the band without seeing them live, where the guitars suffocate and frontwoman Meredith Grave windmills her arms and heaves her whole body into every syllable she shrieks. To say they are one of the best live bands around is an understatement. See them now; if their reputation keeps growing the way it has been, it may be impossible to in the very near future. — J. Edward Keyes

Schoolboy Q


Schoolboy Q

Schoolboy Q is the most unpredictable member of the Black Hippy crew, the loose collective that boasts Kendrick Lamar at its head. He's the most violent, the most irresponsible and maybe the most fun — his 2012 single "Hands On the Wheel" made driving while blind drunk seem not only consequence-free but possibly fun and worth trying. This dangerously unstable energy courses through his sneering Interscope debut Oxymoron, which pinwheels between party jams and songs where Schoolboy shivers and pukes on the bathroom floor from prescription-pill withdrawal. Live, he lunges, jumps, and clears more space than you would think possible for a guy so fireplug-short. He's a snarling blur with a neck beard and a bucket hat, and he will snatch your dignity. — Jayson Greene

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

Dylan Baldi transformed from bedroom popsmith to wiry neo-grunge earth-wrecker seemingly overnight. 2012's Attack on Memory was an incendiary blast of burnt-edge power chords and heart-attack percussion, yanked mercilessly forward by Baldi's ruined-larynx holler. This year's Here and Nowhere Else matches that record's velocity, but adds a sense of tunefulness and a deeper understanding of song structure and dynamics. Live, the group delivers a breathless, full-body pummeling, an out-of-control rollercoaster of sound that nails every hair-raising hairpin turn. — J. Edward Keyes

Jessica Lea Mayfield

I Wanna Love You

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Jessica Lea Mayfield has written two fine records of heartbroken folky-Americana tunes, but if her two new singles are any indication, she's ready to leave much of that behind. "I Wanna Love You" is heavier on the rock than the roots, with the brooding chorus of "I'm insane/ I wanna love you/ you're gonna find this out," and "Oblivious" uses grungy electric guitars and reverbed vocals. The forthcoming album's not out till April 15, but hopefully she'll offer up more of a preview. — Laura Leebove

Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek is not an extrovert. For a handy Exhibit A, see this recent Q&A he conducted, after a fashion, with Wondering Sound. Despite this, we'll be up front when he takes the stage at SXSW. His 2014 album Benji has already been written about as exhaustively and beautifully as any record that will likely come out this year; it is a simply massive piece of work, and it will still be sitting like a lump in our throat five years from now. Seeing him performing these emotionally coruscating, relentlessly autobiographical songs about death and love and disappointment at SXSW makes good sense; after you've felt the void yawning open at your feet while contemplating the lives Kozelek details in "Micheline," you can stumble out into the sunshine and plunge back into the fray. — Jayson Greene

Sylvan Esso


Sylvan Esso

That a vocalist for the spare, traditional folk trio Mountain Man (Amelia Meath) would collaborate with a dude from Megafaun (Nick Sanborn) is not at all surprising. What's maybe not quite as expected, though, is that as Sylvan Esso, they're making minimal electropop. A full-length record is coming May 13, but for now they've got a few promising singles floating around, the best being "Coffee." Sanborn's production offers bells, shakers and a low-bass beat, and Meath's soulful alto fits perfectly on top. — Laura Leebove




George Mitchell, lead singer of the punk outfit Eagulls, has a magnificently ugly bark, one with an edge of yelp in it, like a stray Pitt with a wounded paw. Tall, blue-eyed and blonde, he looks more like he should be chasing Ralph Macchio across a beach in a skeleton outfit than fronting this glowering crew of misfits, which only makes his onstage demeanor more compelling. He has an angry-ringleader vibe, and the songs on Eagulls' terrific self-titled album burst with big, anthemic choruses. Expect genuine explosive energy here. — Jayson Greene


Don't let the ridiculous band name stop you from listening to Tacocat's new LP NVM because it's a blast. In short blasts of jangly pop-punk, the Seattle band covers shitty jobs, snow days and the woes of surfing the "Crimson Wave" (listening to the Cramps has never been so relevant). — Laura Leebove


If past EMA shows are any indication of what to expect out of current ones, then it's likely that you will either be peeking through your fingers or pumping your fist when Erika M. Anderson takes the stage. She likes unstable energy, and to be frank, her early shows succumbed to it entirely. Anderson heaved and flailed her arms and struck rock-star poses while her band barely held her songs together. She's tightened up her band in the interim, but loosened the screws on her songwriting: Her new album, the careening and vividly angry The Future's Void, is like a wooden roller coaster. Who knows what kind of show you'll get, but it's one you'll probably be talking about animatedly, one way or the other, over beers later in the night. — Jayson Greene


Windhand come from Richmond, Virginia, one of the crucibles of vital American metal bands right now, and they play down-tuned guitar chords that hit your chest like coughed-up balls of mucous. This is slow-metal that hurts. They call this rumbling, sensual stuff "stoner metal," but this is more like Robitussin metal, slow and viscous and sickly sweet. Live, they rattle your skull plates gently and lovingly. — Jayson Greene

The Blind Shake

Arguably Thee Oh Sees' heir apparent, Minneapolis marauders the Blind Shake have all of that band's wild, untempered fury, but pair it with a palpable sense of menace. Live, they cut an imposing figure -- three bald-headed gentleman pounding and hollering bleak omens from the stage as a typhoon of guitars whips and thrashes behind them. Their shows are a mad flash of blinding fury, the equivalent of being suddenly heaved into a wind tunnel and having to frantically paw the walls, holding on for dear life. — J. Edward Keyes