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Huw's musings from SXSW - Day 1

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Huw Stephens Huw Stephens | 09:19 UK time, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Huw Stephens blogs from South by Southwest, where he's off looking for new music...

They call it the best music festival in the world. In terms of concrete-fests, with gigs in venues around town, it really has no comparison. South by Southwest continues to bring the best, most diverse line up to Austin, Texas and this year I'm back for more.

First, important stuff: who else was on my flight. In the past it has been Lady Sovereign, Jack Peñate and Gallows. This year on the plane were Chew Lips, Broadcast 2000, Viv Albertine from The Slits, Sion from Cate Le Bon's band and Damian Marley. Exciting times. 

Starting on the Wednesday, the first band I saw was A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Like Architecture in Helsinki from Oz and FM Belfast from Iceland before them, it shouldn't be a surprise to find they're from Philadelphia. Their summery, jaunty pop tunes were a good way to start the day, as the streets started to get busier.

The transformation is incredible; when you arrive at SXSW the town looks fairly respectable, but as the music begins properly and the film and interactive folk start to leave (there's a few branches to SXSW's tree), it begins to look like bedlam.

Next up, MyNameisJohnMichael brought a fuller rock sound over at the Mohawk venue, with that college rock harmony speciality shining through. It was a more hypnotic and psychedelic affair inside where the hotly-tipped War Paint - a female trio with a song called Billie Holiday and a drummer wearing a furry hat inside (even though it was boiling)  - were sounding good, playing their first of ELEVEN shows at the festival.

Some acts come here and play one gig; others play as many as possible. If you're a 'buzz band', hotly tipped by 'industry' 'experts', you could end up playing every magazine, website and promoter's gig if you wanted to. Freelance Whales from New York are one of those and their first gig here was very good. Although not as polished as their online tunes, their warmth and interesting melodies stood out. I thought of Arcade Fire and Passion Pit, but the 'Whales have their own thing going on, for sure. I interviewed them for the show that will be on next week on Radio 1, and their tip to me was Bear in Heaven.

Bear In Heaven

So, over I go to the big Emo's marquee, which, once you've showed your ID, is a great daytime venue. Despite the name, Bear in Heaven turn out to be AMAZING. There's an electronic, emo undercurrent. There's conviction and interesting instrumentation. There are songs that build and explode in the manner of a controlled explosion. It left me very, very excited.

Over at the British showcase, one of Jack White's and Rob Da Bank's favourites, the Smoke Fairies play a lovely set, as do the ever-excellent Everything Everything. The Mancs have this amazing new song called Schoolin and a clutch of songs that could see them do well, I think.

It's rock hard to break America, but Southampton's Band of Skulls got a helping hand when their tune was used in Twilight: New Moon. They're loud, rockin', convincing and full of it today, breaking their fourth amp of their trip and sounding excellent.

Later on, suffering from some indie-gestion (oh dear), I head over to the Stone Throw label night to see Dam-Funk, but end up seeing hip-hop DJ J-Rocc play 45s and create an atmosphere like no other. Over on 6th Street, the main street where pretty much every building is turned into a venue for bands to play, Dylan LeBlanc sings his sturdy, emotional and really rather beautiful songs to an audience that was half enthralled and half talking about when they arrived, when they're leaving and what they had for lunch.

I try and see Swedish group jj play, but they're on late which messes up my plans, and even the fact that internationally-renowned actress Mischa Barton is present can't make me stay for MEN's set. I head over to catch The Morning Benders, newly signed to Rough Trade and a mighty fine guitar band.


The first night finishes over at the Annie Mac Presents night where she brings the noise to Austin and cause a mini frenzy with her huge beats. The headlining set by Theophilus London is quirky, bouncy, refreshing and a good place to leave Wednesday at SXSW.

More from me tomorrow. Check the links!


More posts from SXSW 2010:

Huw's musings from SXSW - Day 4

Huw's musings from SXSW - Day 3

Bethan's SXSW Photo Diary - Day 2

Huw's musings from SXSW - Day 2

Bethan's SXSW Photo Diary - Day 1

Huw's musings from SXSW - Day 1

Bethan's SXSW Photo Diary - Day Zero

South by Southwest, here we come...

Huw Stephens presents highlights from Texas on Wednesday 24 March, 9pm and midnight on BBC Radio 1.



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