I’ve never thrown a party I wasn’t still preparing for when the first guests arrived.
Maybe that’s why I can empathize with most unofficial SXSW shows (see: non-$900 badge) getting thrown together in the days, or even hours, before they happen.
A ton of great shows have been announced in the last week or so, and it’s quite likely that many more will be announced by the time this column gets posted. Thousands of people are doing their best to get their band or brand or whatever out there, and I can’t wait to drink it up over and over again.
Ric Wilson: “Sinner”
There’s no better reminder that the Midwest is a hotbed of national talent than seeing Wisconsin/Chicago bands for the first time 1,000 miles away from home. Chicago singer/rapper Ric Wilson is my most anticipated in this category for this year. As sunny as a cookout and remarkably buoyant, the handful of tracks I’ve heard from Ric have me anticipating a set vibrant enough to carry my weary feets through a continuous week of non-stop shows.
Empath: “Soft Shape”
I think my overall most anticipated act in Austin next week is Empath. I haven’t yet seen how Empath’s effective use of production and editing layered into their turbulent pop songs translates live. But given the way every band at SXSW has to set up in about five minutes, it’s quite possible that none of the Empath sets I catch will sound the same anyhow. P.S. There’s a new album coming!! Active Listening: Night on Earth is out April 2 on the awesome Get Better Records.
RRUCCULLA: “Icy Blue Coral”
I’m sure there are going to be some great electronic beat set showcases this year, but my favorite place to see a producer at SXSW is usually stuck onto some weird indie rock bill where they can really take over. Nothing feels crisper than some great programmed percussion after five straight days of guitar music. Spanish electronic producer RRUCCULLA’s jazz-influenced experimental post-vaporwave catalog is full of surprises, and I have her on my must-see list for a much needed refresh from all the ’90s throwback rock I’ll be immersed in for the rest of the week.
Sir Babygirl: “Haunted House”
One of the best things about SXSW is how low stakes everything is. It’s fun to see the things you’re excited about, of course. But it’s also good to know that if you aren’t digging a set, it’ll be over in 15 minutes and there’s probably another good band playing right next door. This makes it a great environment to check out the buzzy bands you’re still on the fence about, which is why I’m including Sir Babygirl here.
The Beths: “Uptown Girl”
I couldn’t see The Beths play in Chicago this week cuz their show sold out, but I’m not bitter. Aside from the craziest of the VIP-grade lineups, most bands playing SXSW tend to be pretty easy to catch — as long as you’re willing to wait in line and do the homework to find out which line is the right one to be in. I’m eager to hear songs from Future Me Hates Me, the 2018 debut from this upbeat New Zealand quartet. They are sure to make their audiences in the Texas sun get a whole lot sweatier. (Can you tell I’m writing this in barely two-digit temperatures?) The Beths will play a Stereogum showcase with Madison’s Disq on March 12.
black midi: [Live on KEXP]
What would SXSW be without gimmicks? The music portion of SXSW is far less heavily branded than it was in its ‘late capitalism’ phase back in the early years of the decade, so we’ve got to look to bands for some of that cheesiness. Ah yes, how’s this: A band of young sneering British boys making mathy post-punk signed to Rough Trade but doing the no-press, no-streaming thing? Sorry, but if you have a publicist and this minimal of a web presence, it’s a gimmick. That said, this does look like it’ll be a good show. I’ll bite!