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A Music Geek’s 14 Must-see Bands at South By Southwest 2015

Team Nerdist’s SXSW sojourn toward Austin is drawing nigh, and we are already having preemptive autonomic reactions to the massive amounts of barbecue and local IPAs that will be consumed, mixed in, inevitably, with the very minimal hours of sleep that will be stolen here and there. But in addition to consuming ungodly portions of food, we also will be thriving on a gluttonous diet of film, interactive events (check out our full event schedule here!), and my personal jam, live music. Like sooo much live music between March 17 and 22. Remember how Hermoine’s school schedule was double booked so she had to use the Time-Turner to go back in time to take more classes? That’s how my current concert google doc looks–yet another reason I wish the rules of Harry Potter applied in actuality.

There is way too much music to absorb at SXSW, so I have taken it upon myself to whittle down a lean list of 14 must-see acts that you should absolutely catch if you happen to be at the festival. And for those of you who will be streaming the event from the comfort of your homes, think of this article as an unofficial guide to cool new music in 2015. Win-win! Let’s do this homies.

1. Leon Bridges is essentially a 2015 Sam Cooke reincarnate whose aesthetic and music feel so authentic, you’ll check to see if that Time-Turner actually sent you back to the mid ’60s.

2. Meishi Smile (Garrett Yim) is a J-Pop humanist/enthusiast. In addition to running his J-pop/electronic indie label Zoom Lens, Meishi Smile is also an extremely capable producer in his own right. His ebullient sound emulates the aesthetics of Maltine Records, Ryan Hemsworth, and the winky-tongue emoji. Check out the mix he made for us above.

3. BØRNS is from Michigan, but I suspect that he is actually from the sky. What I can tell you is that he currently lives in a “treehouse,” he has the voice of what I assume a cherub sounds like, T-Swift is a fan, and that he makes ethereal pop music that feels like a cloudless day in California.

4. Mega Ran is a chip-hop/nerdcore rapper and one of our favorite dudes. Though his earlier work is more gamer-centric, his most recent album Soul Veggies proves that he has appeal beyond the niche that made Nerdist fall in love with him in the first place.

5. Bully is a grunge/alt rock band that has tangible ties to Nirvana. Alicia Bognanno, the group’s lead singer and audio architect, has studied analog audio engineering under Steve Albini who served as the seminal ’90s band’s producer on In Utero. More importantly though, Bully’s music is searing and cathartic.

6. Doug Seegers is a 52-year-old, formerly homeless country singer who sounds like he grew up listening to only Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, and Hank Williams. His sound is vintage and golden, even though he’s shouldering a lot of dusty weight.

7. Lowell, a.k.a. Elizabeth Boland, makes big catchy pop music on one of my favorite labels of all time, Arts & Crafts (home to Broken Social Scene among many others). Her best song, “I Love You Money”, is a feminist anthem that will make you feel like a grown ass woman regardless of your gender/preference.

8. King Tuff ‘s garage/blues rock will make you want to pull a The Who and trash all the furniture in your vicinity/hotel room. If you are a fan of early Black Keys (anywhere between The Big Come Up and Rubber Factory), then you are going to dig his sound. Also, dude has a Spock poster, so you know he’s a solid human.

9. Girlpool don’t have a percussionist and it doesn’t even matter, dude. The band is comprised of two young women–Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker–who make earnest bedroom rock with clever turns of phrases, two part harmonies, bass, and guitar. They had me when I heard the harmonized declaration, “I am nervous for tomorrow and today” in the above track, “Chinatown”.

10. Kaytranada was the king of SoundCloud remixes before he signed to XL (the perennially hip label based in the UK–Jack White, Radiohead, Adele, and Vampire Weekend are also signed to XL) last year. While we all patiently wait for his debut album to drop, you can shake your booty along to his large, diverse catalog. Recommend catching Kaytranada at SXSW if you are trying to dance the nights away.

11 Knox Hamilton make indie pop that will make your heart flutter like high school junior in love for the first time. The group hails from Little Rock, Arkansas, and simply makes catchy, polished music that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear at larger festivals very soon.

12. Courtney Barnett‘s wryly funny worldview has already made her an indie rockstar of sorts. Virtually every single song on her Sea of Split Peas EP and her forthcoming debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit are insightful, funny, and totally rock. Check out “History Eraser” above and you’ll be tempted to listen to everything this Australian songwriter has ever penned.

13. Steve Gunn makes me want to go back to Ohio, where I came from, and just drive around midwestern landscapes in my 2005 Honda CR-V. Gunn’s music is comfortable folk that makes wide-open pastures feel like the only place you should ever be. Listen to the mix he made us above and check out his latest album here.

14. Kali Uchis could very easily be the next big thing. She’s been getting a lot of comparisons to Amy Winehouse (her voice is not as good, but she has the same timbre and vintage soul aesthetic), though she has more of an urban feel to her music. The Colombian performer just released a very well received EP, Por Vida, which you can check out on SoundCloud.

Let us know if any of my picks caught your attention, of if you think I made any glaring omissions (which I absolutely did. There are hundreds of great bands playing, and many of them aren’t even billed on the official SXSW lineup.)

Also give me a shout on Twitter @NerdistMusic and @MattGrosinger with the hashtag #NerdistSXSW. We’ll be tweeting plenty of coverage over the next week and a half!

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  1. Mega Ran says:

    great picks! see y’all out there! 

  2. Kristen says:

    Jukebox the Ghost are totally fun, and definitely worth checking out.

  3. me says:

    What about ABSRDST?!