Mainly Genius

South By Southwest 2010 (Wednesday 17th – Sunday 21st March)

Here’s a novelty: me talking about something up-to-date and cool. In fact, either would warrant stopping the presses (or at least suspending them for a short time) and, as reviews of Kate Bush and Simple Minds will attest, it’s not often that I find myself on the cusp of musical trendiness.

However, today is different. Starting this Wednesday is the South By Southwest (SXSW) music & film festival and, having recently looked at the Black Atlantic’s latest offering, I thought I’d go ahead and see who else is occupying this years line-up and in the process, bring myself kicking and screaming into the musical present.

Hosted in Austin Texas, SXSW is now 23 years old and firmly established in the elite league of festivals in the US. For any Brits who are unsure, it’s closest equivalent back in Blighty is the Great Escape Festival held every year in Brighton. Both feature a variety of bands big and small, rock and electronic, loud and quiet, across a number of different venues in the city all under one banner. SXSW also has an ever-growing film and technology arm but, as a music blog, I will be skimming over that particular aspect.

So, onto this years attractions. Below are a few names out of the 100s performing that jumped out at me. Some you might know and some you might not know but all of them start to give me itchy feet and a sudden want to visit Texas next weekend.

The Boxer Rebellion – A band I’ve been championing ever since I got hold of their second album Union last year. They originate right here in London Town and are a force to be reckoned with live. The band that the words ‘atmospheric’, ‘melodic’ and ‘fucking massive’ were invented for are getting the recognition their music deserves and if you are in Austin this week, make either the Lustre Pearl on Thursday or Maggie Mae’s Rooftop on Friday your priority.

Grand Atlantic – Fresh from a tour of their native Australia, their playing at SXSW marks the end of their subsequent tour of the USA and Canada and shows how far these guys have come since the release of their second album How We Survive last June. A band for the rock purists, Grand Atlantic are the best type of guitar driven pop-rock group and whilst they’re never going to win any awards for originality, they more than make up for that with their enthusiasm, execution and frankly great songs. Catch them at Red 7 on Thursday.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – Along with …Trail of Dead and post-rockers Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River are one of the most exciting things to come out of Texas in recent years and in collaboration with Austin-based singer-songwriter Roky Erickson, form an act that SXSW can be proud of. The pop tendencies of Okkervil River sit nicely with Erickson’s own style whilst the musical twists that they often employ will also appease regular fans.
A sort of homecoming for both of these artists should amount to a great show and one not to be missed. You can see it at La Zona Rosa on Thursday.

Dawn Kinnard – A Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter who I first came across supporting Stephen Fretwell back in 2007 and one who has stepped up a few gears since then (no disrespect to Fretwell). Back then she’d yet to feature on Jools Holland or work with Jason Mraz and it was simply just her and a piano accompaniment. Things may have moved on in the two years that have passed but her music is still powerful, from the heart and genuinely good. The distinctive, gravelly voice is not to be missed so make sure you catch her at the Hilton Garden Inn on Saturday (and stay for Athlete afterwards).

Kill It Kid – We go back to England with Kill it Kid, a rock/pop/country band from Bath. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing these guys in the flesh but if their music is anything to go by, you can rest assured you’ll be in for a good (and loud) time. For all the banjos and fiddles, they’re a band at their strongest when the guitars go up a notch. They may look indie but don’t be fooled. They’ve got enough of twist to stand out but not so much that it won’t gain them new admirers. See them on Thursday at The Driskill.


The Black Atlantic – If you didn’t catch my review of debut album Reverence For Fallen Trees then you won’t know why I’ve included these guys. Suffice to say that most of the reasons are covered in said review but to cut a long story short, all of the great things this band does lend themselves excellently to the stage. First-rate musicianship coupled with a seldom seen band harmony make for a quality live show. Not groundbreaking stuff, but if you need a break from thrashy guitars and the heavy electro then these guys won’t disappoint. See them on Thursday at the Soho Lounge.

Banjo or Freakout – Neither banjos or freakouts feature in what can best be described as electronic post-rock from Italian one-man-band Alessio Natalizia. The songs may not obviously lend themselves to live performance but you can rest assured that what does happen will be well worth the watch. Banjo or Freakout have built up a decent-sized following over the last year and it’s testament not only to the burgeoning post-rock scene but also to the band itself. If you like your music chilled out and atmospheric then you can catch them at Latitude 30 on Wednesday.

Broken Bells – The clear headliner on this list, Broken Bells promise to live up their billing. Formed of The Shins’ James Mercer and super-producer Danger Mouse, their combination of electro and guitar-pop is interesting and surprisingly fresh. I’ve not yet had the chance to fully digest their debut album but the initial signs are extremely favourable. The Shins’ influence is clear from the outset but is never allowed to occupy an undue presence, and with Danger Mouse working his Gnarls Barkley style magic it gives Mercer’s songs a chance to shine and adds a new quality that makes for some moments of inspired brilliance.

Live they’re an unknown quantity but their collective songs and individual reputations should be enough to win round most doubters and with both contributors previous live efforts among some of the best around, this will be a real treat. Squeeze yourself into either Stubb’s on Wednesday or head back to the Lustre Pearl on Friday.


So there it is. I’m certain there are some names that I might’ve missed but I think there are some really exciting acts gracing this years billing and that is the reason why I’ve written a whole feature about them. Nothing against other festivals, but it seems silly not to talk about many good bands individually when they’re all in Austin this week.

Don’t forget to visit the official SXSW site where you can find all the details for bands, tickets and venues.

Below are a couple of tracks to whet your appetite from Roky Erickson & Okkervil River and Grand Atlantic, with the former being a particularly great track from a troubled genius. Both can be obtained below or from the appropriate official websites.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – Goodbye Sweet Dreams

Grand Atlantic – Sailor to the Sea


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[…] their latest venture was in collaboration with aging country rock star Roky Erickson. I mentioned in my post about this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas (from where both artists hail), that they could be an interesting combination and […]

Pingback by Review: Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil « Mainly Genius

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