Monday marked the start of Austin, Texas’ 30th annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, an event that draws over 2,000 artists from around the world. With dozens of showcases per day housed in the relatively small city’s many venues, things can (and will) get chaotic, and it’s often difficult to organize your schedule and select the sets you want to catch. This free-for-all aspect is all part of the fun though -- you might catch a Dipset reunion in the backyard of a suburban mansion or run into Nardwuar in an alley behind a Migos show, as was the case when I went a few years back.
For 2017, MERRY JANE’s here to help organize the chaos. We’ve selected ten must-see artists who are all relative newcomers to the music industry, and represent a variety of genres. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of G-funk or post-punk; there’s something for everyone here. For your convenience, we’re compiling songs by all ten acts into a Spotify playlist.
If you’re in Austin this week, be sure to check out MERRY JANE’s various SXSW happenings at the Reddit x Twitch house. We’ve got a “Grow Room" for the r/trees community, which will simulate a greenhouse experience including all of of Snoop Dogg's favorite cannabis-related items. We’ll also be showcasing a short piece entitled "Munchies: The Origin Stories of Your Favorite Stoner Snacks" where you can get your photo taken with larger than life “munchie” foods. But most importantly, we’re promoting an SXSW-specific campaign called #LegalizeAustin to bring awareness to the lack of cannabis regulation throughout the city and state.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and comment #LegalizeAustin on our contest posts for chances to jump the line for SXSW shows with Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Uzi Vert, and more! Get the complete lineup of shows for which you could be a VIP and details on more ways to enter our contest at www.merryjane.com/legalizeaustin.
Read on to get the scoop on our ten must-see SXSW acts.
Power Pop, Seattle
Dude York are a Seattle band with a song called “Something in the Way” on what’s poised to be their breakout album, but that’s about all they’ve got in common with Nirvana. The band’s Sincerely, released last month, is populated by sugary pop/rock that’s fueled by meaty riffs and yelpy boy/girl harmonies — the perfect antidote for the seasonal affective disorder that afflicts many in their rainy region. Single “Tonight” showcases the three-piece at their buoyant best, with bassist/singer Claire England providing a pitch-perfect kiss-off to a groveling ex: “Let’s wrap this up, there’s somewhere else I’ve got to be tonight.”
West Coast Rap, LA
Blowing up last fall with his excellent Shit Don’t Stop tape, South Central’s G Perico emerged on the scene like some bizarro mashup of DJ Quik and Eazy E, complete with a jheri curl. He fully, charismatically inhabits minor-key bangers that pull from LA’s rich history while booming and lurching in entirely new directions, speaking to multiple generations at a time. The tape’s title track, an eerie stomper that makes unlikely bedfellows of G-funk’s theremin-style synths and 808 Mafia’s signature siren, is among its finest moments. Perico may be young, but you can hear the harrowing hood tales of past generations weighing down his every word.
If you’re any one of the following, you’ll love Jay Som’s new album, Everybody Works: a guitar tone nerd, a romantic, a deep thinker, a fan of wooshy, effects-laden tunes. The solo project of multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte, Jay Som cranks out some the freshest shoegaze we’ve heard in years, applying the acerbic, indie kid wit of a band like Speedy Ortiz to the heavy-lidded sonics of Slowdive. The 22-year-old Duterte is wise beyond her years in terms of both studio prowess and philosophy, and it’s likely she’ll be a fixture in alt-rock circles for years to come. Check out the dreamy “Bus Song” off of Everybody Works to get the dose of Jay Som you didn’t even know you were craving.
Stoner Metal, Rochester
Lest we forget, SXSW isn’t just home to indie rock and hip hop — recently metal’s carved out a big presence there, too. Upstate New York’s King Buffalo is definitely on the chiller end of the metal spectrum, incorporating more elements of southern-fried blues and psychedelia than, say, grindcore or black metal, but they still go hard as fuck. Last year’s Orion is a sprawling opus that plays like a Cormac McCarthy novel, simultaneously desolate and rich with detail, blistering riffs crashing headlong into passages of lysergic meandering. Highlight “Kerosene” will give you a taste of the band’s full scope in six minutes. Come for the slide guitar, stay for the chaotic breakdown towards the end.
Poetic Boom Bap, Chicago
First introduced to the outside world via some show-stopping guest verses on Chance the Rapper tracks, poet-turned-rapper Noname is now fresh off a sold-out, cross-country tour, her very first. Listening to last year’s Telefone tape, it’s easy to see how she scooped up such a vast fan base so quickly. Her words effortlessly glide out without seeming attached to any cut-and-dry rhyme scheme, instead forming organic fractals around twinkling, low-key beats. Although she often calls upon her preternaturally talented circle of friends for help on choruses and verses, Noname is unquestionably the tape’s nucleus, never unable to captivate with a soft-spoken presence that rarely rises above an inside voice. “Diddy Bop” is an ebullient jam among generally more introspective and, in the case of “Casket Pretty,” mournful cuts. It’s a joy to hear Noname devote her poetic gift to such uplifting music.
Genre-Bending R&B, South Bend
Who is October London? That’s a tough question to answer, because he seems to change identities with each ensuing release. On January’s Methadone, he’s a slinky singer remaking Dr. Dre tracks. On last December’s Codeine Christmas, he’s dipping his toes into trap and dousing his voice in auto-tune. On last fall’s Color Blind: Love (his best release to date), he’s a retro-soul crooner attacking issues of race in the tradition of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. The most powerful track on that last release is undoubtedly “Black Man in America,” a smoldering slice of 12 bar blues on which London airs grievances personal and general about the way this country treats him and his family.
Most people remember post-punk as the austere music of Ian Curtis and John Lydon — what they’re forgetting is that some of the most playful bands of all time are also housed under the genre’s umbrella. Omni’s herky-jerky rhythms and bright, VCR-distorted guitars recall Devo, Pere Ubu, or The Flying Lizards. Coincidentally, a highlight from their debut album, last year’s Deluxe, shares its name with another OG post-punk innovator: Wire. This particular “Wire” alternates between nimble verses, jaunty bridges, and a locked-in, deliciously infectious chorus, displaying the band’s groove dexterity in a shockingly short amount of time. If you want to simultaneously dance and feel smart, catch Omni live.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Jangle Pop/Surf Rock, Australia
Hailing from the same Melbourne scene as breakout star Courtney Barnett, this five-piece takes indie rock sounds that have slowly slouched towards the middle of the road in the States and restores a pulse. Interweaving guitar lines give their new release The French Press a dreamy, coastal feeling that’s brought back to solid land by peppy drumming and lyrical realism that’s missing in so much escapist indie rock these days. Led by three guitarist/singer/songwriters, RBCF is a versatile band that nevertheless has a distinct vibe and sonic palette — the second you think you’ve settled into a comfortable verse/chorus structure, an entirely new guitar lead emerges like a rip tide and drags you out to unexpected depths. Title track “French Press” drags us all over the timeline of a tattered relationship before settling loose a squall of furious strumming.
Head-Spinningly Wordy Rap, St. Louis
What better time to drop a debut album than the week of SXSW? Midwest wunderkind Smino just unleashed his long-awaited blkswn earlier this week, and it’s a doozy. Just try to keep up with the dude’s flows on this one. It’s impossible. And he sings too! Over backdrops equally influenced by J Dilla, Soulquarians, and future bounce, Smino tightrope walks, backflips, soars, and all-out sprints his way through more deliveries than most rappers muster in an entire career. The hilariously-titled “Edgar Allan Poe’d Up” pits him alongside great Chicago singer theMIND, and hearing these two young dudes cook up flows and harmonies together should make any rap fan very optimistic about the genre’s boundary-expanding future.
Garage/Glam Rock, Louisville
Guitar heroes White Reaper titled their upcoming album The World’s Best American Band, a boast even more bald-faced and cocky than Migos calling their last album Culture, so they had better be good. Luckily they are — hair-raisingly so. Something like a less excessive Diarrhea Planet with more of an affinity for hair metal and Cheap Trick, the Louisville four-piece sound like nothing if not a good time, or as they might hyperbolize, the best time ever. We’ve only heard one track, the blazing “Judy French,” from their new album, but at least for me, its blend of heart-in-throat pathos and rip-roaring power was enough to elicit an immediate preorder. Don’t attend any of their SXSW shows if you hate being unceremoniously drenched in PBR.