On Myspace, I Listened to 500 SXSW Bands So You Don’t Have To. Here Are 25 You Can’t Miss, the outcome of my listening sessions from the other day.
On Billboard, SXSW 2013: 10 Bands to Watch, which spotlights some bigger acts.
SXSW! SXSW? SXSW. I need a nap.
There are thousands of bands playing SXSW. Thousands. Every year, I skim a few hundred of them beforehand in hopes of finding some hidden gems—then spend hours rigorously hunting down the potentially least populated parties to see the year’s better buzz bands. Below, you’ll find the most honest list of interesting SXSW bands I can give you, sorted by how easy I think it’ll be to see them. One of the fun parts of SXSW is seeing how many people actually care about these bands in real life, so I don’t have a crystal ball for show attendance, just my gut instincts and many, many hours of research. If Body Parts blow up and leave you waiting in line all night, I apologize.
This is an excerpt from my ebook guide to SXSW 2013. You can pay what you want for it on Bandcamp; it also includes a daily party guide, tips and tricks for surviving the festival, food and drink, and basically everything else you need to know this week. And without further ado:
Good Bands Nobody’s Really Heard Of Yet
So Many Wizards
The Eastern Sea
Brothers in Law
Boy + Kite
Dead Leaf Echo
Good Bands Who Might Have Some Blog Hype But You Can Probably Catch Relatively Easily
Good Bands Who Have More Blog Hype Who Might Be Hard To See
Fear of Men
Chelsea Light Moving (Thurston Moore)
Autre Ne Veut
Good, Once-Popular Bands Who Have Been Around Long Enough That This Is A Cool Opportunity To Catch Them
RZA (RZA and Ghostface could be packed but they’re playing tiny spots—could go either way. They could also be playing a secret Wu-Tang set at the Scoot Inn on Thursday, so plan accordingly. Rumors!)
Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer)
Third Eye Blind
Good Bands Playing the Radio Day Stage Which is Really Easy to Get Into With a Badge
Iron & Wine
Good, Currently Popular Bands You’ve Probably Seen Already Or Should Catch Elsewhere
The Polyphonic Spree
Toro Y Moi
Ridiculously Popular Bands I Will Personally Try To See Anyway Because #YOLO
Tegan and Sara
The Zombies (!)
Pretty Good Bands I Will Catch If Nobody More Interesting Is Playing
Get the full guide on Bandcamp.
An excerpt from my guide to SXSW Music 2013:
Here’s a full rundown on where to stay, show-going strategy and how to plan your daily schedule.
Rooming: Get a hotel/couch/floor as close to downtown and the Convention Center as you can. Most of the concert action is there, particularly around Red River and 6th. If you are south of the river and have to take cabs or the shuttle, this is a major bother and will interfere with your quality of life—you are going to be exhausted and want fast/easy access to your hotel room for nap breaks, a shower and a change of clothes, which isn’t worth sitting through traffic for. If you can afford it, it’s worth the extra money—think about how much you’re saving on free shows. SXSW books out most of the hotel space for badge-holders and press months in advance, but people are always changing their plans: ask around on Twitter if anyone’s heard of an empty bed, or take a look at Airbnb to rent a room from a local.
Taking the shuttle: Shuttles do, however, run as regularly as they can with the traffic. If you’re not in downtown, you should get a pass. At the very least, you’ll meet some interesting drivers. Ask them about the SXSWi attendees and you should get an earful about “nerds.”
Walking: Once downtown, you can walk nearly anywhere you’ll need to go in Austin. I suggest not going too far for a show because if you don’t get in, you’ll have to walk all the way back, but there are a number of interesting venues on both ends of town that you’ll be able to catch sparsely attended shows at. On a big day, you might walk four or five miles. Give yourself time to cross the bridge to South Congress for the food and shopping. And wear comfortable shoes! I bought a pair of New Balance 574s last year and they’ve served me well.
Cabs and alternate transportation: A cab in from the airport to the south-of-downtown hotels is about $20. Don’t bother taking one around downtown—it won’t be faster than walking. If you’re particularly wiped out, catch a pedicab, but they’ll charge you an arm and a leg. Pro-tip: If you take a taxi to the Ihop at three in the morning, it may be a serious walk to get to the freeway crossing to get back to your hotel. Worth it.
Wi-fi: Wi-fi at the south-of-downtown hotels/motel can be poor, at least at the Clarion and Courtyard Marriot—the sites of my first two stays. Pro-tip: walk over to the regular Marriot and find yourself a chair, it’s much faster. Once downtown, you’ll find it at the Convention Center, coffee shops and the more tech- centric venues.
Electricity: There’s no shortage of outlets around town, but since scheduling is everything at SXSW, do yourself a favor and pick up a spare phone battery or a portable charger—this year, I’m bringing an iTorch. Otherwise, your phone will die and you’ll need it to figure out where the hell the Gorilla vs. Bear party is later.
The Convention Center: There’s always fun, weird stuff happening in here even if you don’t have a badge, like a record fair or guitar exhibition. Sometimes there are free snacks. If you’re desperate, you can buy a terrible sandwich here for a quick lunch. Definitely the best place to run into random people you know.
Breakfast: Many of the hotels offer free breakfast (pro-tip: no one will ask to see your room key if you walk in) but you’re not going to be up that early, which means you’ll probably also miss the breakfast tacos the occasional day parties will offer. If you’re a morning person, though, take advantage of the protein. Look for a full restaurant guide in a few pages.
Weather: SXSW’s generally warm and sunny during the day, though it will cool down at night—and there’s the occasional rainy day. Grab a hoodie at the hotel before you head out at night and stock up on sunscreen and water during the day.
Social Networking: This is as much fun as seeing any of the bands. If you keep an eye on Twitter, you’ll get a feel for what bands are starting to get buzz or are tanking throughout the week as they play multiple shows. Tweet at people! Meet them! Buy somebody a craft beer! SXSW is basically music-geek summer camp. Make the most of it. Plus, maybe they’ll get you into that show later.
RSVPs: Sometimes, online RSVP requests are just to score your email and gauge how many people might show up to the party. At others, there will actually be a list at the door that you’ll have to be on to get in. It’s hard to tell which will be which, so if you have the time, play it safe and sign up for larger events like the Hype Hotel and the Fader Fort. For weeklong party spots like these, you can then drink there free for four days straight. (Four-day parties are the new one-day parties lately, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find a home base.) They may also ask that you come pick up a separate wristband for the week, as well. Frankly, looking for VIP treatment’s a waste of time—the best RSVP is for the party where you don’t have to deal with this stuff and you can just walk in and watch a band, then do it again.
Getting Your Wristbands: When you get in to Austin, go handle all your badge/wristband/bonus wristband stuff immediately. Better to wait in line at the Fader Fort on Tuesday afternoon than Wednesday night.
Getting Into Shows: We’ve discussed badges, wristbands and showcases vs. day parties. Keep those factors in mind and make sure you have enough cash on you should you need to pay for a night show.
Three things matter here: time, location and band/promoter popularity. Events start to fill up, especially on Friday and Saturday, from the mid-afternoon until around midnight. Pro-tip: The really late shows (where you can catch some big-name bands, such as Spoon and Broken Social Scene in past years) tend to empty out a bit, so it’s a breeze to walk into Stubb’s at 12:30 a.m. and nearly impossible at 11. Keep this in mind for your must-see bands. Same goes for the really early ones: major artists such as Iron & Wine are playing radio broadcasts as early as 8 a.m., which is at least four hours before even the most devoted fans have slept off their hangovers.
Certain major, buzz-heavy events will be very popular. According to Billboard, the unofficial Fader Fort— then in its 11th year—saw 58,000 attendees over four days in 2011. That’s three times the number of people who registered for SXSWi, or enough to fill up a day at Coachella. Consider your tolerance for cramped spaces. You can guess the rest of these: NPR, Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, Hype Machine—if the site gets more traffic than you and one of your Gchat buddies, their party is going to be busy. The same goes for the bands: in 2010, I tried three times unsuccessfully to see Cymbals Eat Guitars. Try to see the bigger acts during the day or after everyone’s bedtimes. (Look for a guide to band buzz below.)
Getting into the bigger Red River venues (Stubb’s, the Mohawk) is a nightmare during peak periods—but not impossible. Manage your schedule wisely. Pro-tip: the farther east or west you are away from Red River, the less crowded the show could potentially be. It’s worth the walk to Mellow Johnny’s or the French Legation Museum. Generally, I opt for bands who are actually under-the-radar and the super-late headlining acts, which makes for a pretty satisfying, if exhausting, festival experience. You can’t really lose—if one spot’s booked, go catch something else. The band will be back tomorrow.
When Should I Take A Nap Or Break For Dinner?: Around 6 p.m., when the day parties wrap up and the venues get ready to start up the evening showcases.
More of this and a party guide, bands you might actually get in to see and much more in my complete guide, available for pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp.
My complete guide to SXSW Music 2013 is live. Download it for free/pay what you want. Among the highlights of these 16 pages:
82 Bands To Watch You Might Actually Be Able To See
14 Killer Parties
9 Can’t Miss Venues
11 Delicious Bars/Restaurants/Shops
Plus tricks on scoring free breakfast, why you should go to Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, how to (possibly) get into the Pitchfork party and much more.
Turns out Haim is playing a Tuesday night show across the street from the Blogger Karaoke bar, EVERYONE’S A WINNER
Hey, Max Blau wrote the definitive story about SXSW 2013.