Well it's that time again, the music portion of SXSW is about to start, so naturally everybody is desperately waiting for me to decide what this year's "thing" is. If you're unaware, "the thing" is just the major trend I've noticed while listening to hundreds of the bands that will descend upon our fair city during SXSW. Last year, it was eR&B and believe me, there’s no shortage of that this time, but this year, I’m going to declare that the "Electro Duo" is officially this year's thing.
Not surprisingly, an "Electro Duo" is two people making electronic based music, most likely for you to dance and/or groove to. Just like last year’s thing, this isn't a new concept that I'm introducing, two person electronic acts like Phantogram and Daft Punk have been mainstays of this category for years but the number of two person bands that employ either two laptops hooked to each other or a drum in the back (usually a dude) and a singer in the front (usually a lady) playing electronic based music this year is staggering.
Let's start with the former: the double laptop duos. For some reason this category of bands is 99.9% male dominated and most of them look like they’re going to have lower back issues by the time they reach their 40's from haunching over their laptops and MPCs and doing this sort of weird middle back hunchback thrust. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. So why does it take two full-grown men to simultaneously press play on their laptops you might ask? Well, it’s a fair question, but you’ll see from my suggestions below, that we don’t recommend you go see anyone who takes the easy way out. Instead, the following artists find clever ways to transform their software-generated jams into live shows that will hopefully be a thing to behold at this year’s SXSW:
- Odesza: This is probably no surprise to anyone who has been following SXSW this year. This might be one of the most talked about electronic bands coming this year. If you haven’t listened to their most recent album, In Return, do that immediately or feel completely left out. Similar to a past hippohonk favorite, Flume, these guys know how to take a variety of slower musical elements and layer them in such a way to make a more fast paced modern dance song. While they do employ some EDM tricks of the trade, such as building moments that end in slowed down grooves, for the most part they try to put out music that is unique and fresh and I for one plan on dancing like a fool to this.
- Klangkarussell: My first impression of this band, after only listening to a dozen or so measures of their first song, was that this was going to be your run-of-the-mill dance “banger" DJ band that could be immediately forgotten the night after an all-night club binge. Then, about a minute in, out of know where, I hear an acoustic guitar strumming a quick tune and then a few moments later, what’s this? African tribal music? Don’t mind if I do. A few more songs in and I was hooked. Hopefully, this Austrian duo will bring more band members across the pond to play the instruments featured in their music, but if not, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get down. Also, seriously watch the video I posted below, it's insane.
There are plenty of other DJ duos I could mention but we need to move along so let’s talk a little about the drum in the back, vocal in the front electro-duo; the sort of musical-mullet if you will. The electronic portion of this usually comes in the form of some combination of the drummer using drum pads to create synthetic beats or in the form of a laptop (sometimes with fun stickers on it) providing a bass line, side beat, lead guitar or backing vocals. Usually the lead singer isn’t playing any instruments so she (or scarcely, he) is free to move about the stage and get the crowd riled up. Yes, even sometimes they manage to get a SXSW crowd moving, which by the way, is no easy feat. So which dynamic drummer plus diva duos do we think deserve your precious festival time this year?
- Rangleklods: Back in 2012, I had the pleasure of going to Reykjavik, Iceland to attend Iceland Airwaves (basically a miniature SXSW) where I was fortunate enough to catch an up-and-coming electronic one-man act named Rangleklods. OK, not really one-man, he had a singer, but the show was primarily focused on what he was doing on his table of musical gadgetry. I’m pretty sure at one point he was using lasers to change the pitch of the song, no joke, LASERS. Let’s just say, I was impressed and I’m excited to see his latest endeavor under the same name which is now officially a duo. Basically, from what I've read, the singer that I mentioned before eventually became an integral part of the band and so I assume that this time I will be splitting my live music gaze between the two of them.
- ASTR: Frankly, if you’re an Austin local, you’ve had your chance to see ASTR, they were at SXSW 2014 and then again at Fun Fun Fun Fest and if you didn't you should be ashamed of yourself. No worries though, if you missed these New Yorkers, it’s time to redeem yourself and see their high energy show. The front-woman, Zoe, moves around the stage like a boss, but the kind of boss who has some sort of strange kick-ass-white-trash gear on. I can’t really describe it, it’s fantastic though. The guy in the back, Adam Pallin, plays the keyboards and the drum pads and does that hunchback thrust I mentioned earlier through most of the show to great effect.
Some duos don't fit either mold or are a hybrid of the two. Sometimes one or both band members will play a multitude of instruments including whatever machines are responsible for giving them their electronic sound. Here are two bands that we recommend who do just that:
- Cathedrals: San Francisco's Cathedrals, for example, are made up of one guy who plays several instruments (mostly bass) and a lead singer who has an incredible range. Together, their sound has an almost gothic feel to it but doesn’t stray too far from the eR&B fold. It’s possible they’ll also have more members than just the two of them which should add a richer sound to their live show.
- Humans: Three years ago, while nursing hangovers and creating new ones, some of us hippohonk folk were at a day party outside of Guero’s on Congress. We were there to see Team Me, Lost Lander and Humans because, from our yearly research, we were hoping they would be good live shows. All three bands delivered and put on great shows, however it was obvious we weren’t really ready for Humans, it was just too early in the day. We were already planning on catching their official showcase but when one of the band members, Robbie I believe, leaned over and somewhat creepily muttered “you guys should come to our showcase, it’s gunna get weird” we knew we needed to take it up a notch. So we managed to pull a fairly sizable crew from our mostly dispersed group of friends to their showcase where we proceeded to dance our asses off to their fun-spirited electro-jams. We did it again the next year after they gave us free beers from the stage. That’s right, not only do they put on an amazing show, but they might just give you a free beer. Bottom line, these guys turn knobs, they play guitars and they sing with various vocal effects to create a non-stop dance party.
So that's it for this year. The electro duo will be in full effect and should make for a fun and lively SXSW. If you see us out there dancing to one of these bands, or any band really, feel free to join in, possibly create a middle-school-style dance circle with us or challenge Natalie to a dance battle, you'll be glad ya did.
Every year for SXSW, we come up with a short list of bands that we all enjoy but, for whatever reason, have a really low popularity score. We call them "value artists" because we believe they will deliver quality live shows without making you wait in long lines at the venues they're playing at.
In case you're wondering, we get our popularity score from Spotify and normalize it to our simple 1 to 5 rating system (5 being the most popular). If a band isn't in Spotify, they get a lower score because that's a good sign that they're not well known. This year's most popular band in our system is Pitbull because, you know, everyone these days is goin' timber.
For this list, we first let our scripts pick the top 50 value artists according to, well, math, and then us humans combed through that long list to find what we consider the top 10 bands that are still flying under the radar. So if you're looking to be on the bleeding edge of band knowledge or you just don't want to wait in lines, here's the list for you:
Rusty Maples Las Vegas NVNicely paced indie rock with occasional strings and choir-like singing from the entire band.
Mideau Salt Lake City UTMellow indie pop duo with pleasant female vocals.
COIN Nashville TNFun indie pop with hooks that remind me of Phoenix.
The Standards Bangkok THAILANDIt says they're from Thailand, but they sound very British. It's fast paced indie rock with deeper male vocals.
Zella Day Pinetop AZIndie folksy pop with a female vocal that goes from whisper soft to pop diva in a flash.
Tallows Oklahoma City OKSpacey, layered alt-rock similar to Minus the Bear. Kind of sounds like Band of Horses/Modest Mouse in the vocals.
Float Fall Leuven BELGIUMIt's emo electronic very similar to The XX but they seem to break out into more aggressive song structures.
Watercolours Auckland NEW ZEALANDDreamy and ethereal slow pop tunes with a female singer
Teenburger Halifax CANADATwo Canadian old-school rappers, Ghettosocks and Timbuktu, got together for a side project that's fun, laid back and pretty rad all at the same time.
How Sad Montreal CANADAPoppy and upbeat, this electronic music features a falsetto male vocal and is actually pretty happy. I guess How Happy doesn't have the same ring to it.
Last year I told you about Witch Synth, a phrase which denoted bands with dark female vocals and synth backgrounds and since then, the term has taken the world by storm. OK, maybe not, but If you look back at the bands I suggested in that post, you'll see that a majority of them are now hipster household names. It might even be fair to say that I'm not too far off when I'm calling these popular genre shifts.
So what's this year's genre de jour*? I'm calling it "eR&B" for Electronic Rhythm and Blues. I made the "e" lower-case because that's just what you do for anything tech-related. Obviously.
Honestly, this isn't a completely new category: artists like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd fit this mold and have been around for a couple years. This is, however, the first time I've noticed it as an actual SXSW trend. While more artists might fit this genre, there are a select few who are doing it really well.
Before I get into the artists I actually enjoy from this category, let's talk a little about some of the pitfalls I find with traditional R&B:
- The concerts can quickly become a disastrous sing-along. It's natural since R&B lyrics are generally easy to understand and the melodies and vocals are so smooth that anyone with a shower or a car will have inevitably tried to one-up the singer with their dramatic renditions. For the record, I might be one of those people and I won't apologize for it. I won't.
- The lyrics can get real cheesy real quick. In most genres, lyrics can be 'metaphors to nowhere' and people seem to be fine with it. In R&B, for whatever reason, people expect the lyrics to be more literal and speak of some past love, a current love or the possible finding of a future love that will inevitably be lost. I get it, the B stands for Blues, and you got them, but let's try to come up with something better than "I been staring at you in the moonlight too many times" <-- actual lyric.
- Auto-tuning. It can work as an embellishment here and there, but it's not 2010, we're over it. Put it down. Walk away. Thank you.
So which bands avoid these genre shortcomings and will be gracing our beautiful city in March?
- Basecamp: when you think of R&B hometowns, you probably immediately think of, say it with me now, Nashville, Tennessee. So of course that's where these three guys are from. You can download their debut EP for free after liking their facebook page (something I generally try to avoid) but let me tell you, it's worth it. The lyrics ooze with drama and the synths and drum pads create this smoky, cavernous atmosphere that will envelop you for 21 minutes. Do yourself a favor, pour yourself your favorite drink, turn out the lights, put on a nice set of headphones and dive head first into this.
- Dems: For some reason, London makes a little more sense for this type of music and that's where these three guys hail from (I guess three's the magic number of people to have in a band of this nature). Not only are these guys putting out some great eR&B jams but they are accompanying them with some fantastic videos that help convey the general theme of their music. They are a little more experimental than Basecamp with the electronic backing and to match that, they add in a few vocal manipulations that add a little more drama and interest.
- Sam Smith: Another Londoner, this guy is, for starters, just one guy and not the three we've become so accustomed to over the last two bullet points. As far as I can tell from watching videos of live performances, he performs either acoustically or with a guest band so I'm not exactly sure what his SXSW performances will have in store for us. Whatever it will be, it's his vocal range that will impress so his backing isn't quite as relevant. Unfortunately, he is by far the most popular of the three I'm mentioning here, he's a full 4.6 on our 5 point popularity scale. When you listen to his music, you'll realize that he has a lot of commercial appeal. This of course means that seeing him might be a little more difficult, however one can hope that he's just popular across the pond and doesn't have the same following here.
- Ghost Loft: No idea what to write here. This band has basically zero things about them online. All I know is that they're from LA and I bought all their songs as soon as I heard them; all two of them. They're one of those bands that make music that other bands immediately want to poach and remix, which I'd consider to be a really good sign for any up-and-coming new artist. Take five minutes out of your day and listen to all of their hazy and seductive eR&B songs and tell me that they won't be incredible at SXSW, I dare you.
- Banks: If there is a quintessential poster girl for eR&B, it's Banks. Full name, Jillian Banks, she's basically gone from someone no one has ever heard of, to having over 30K twitter followers and millions of youtube views in a single year. Her debut EP is called LONDON even though she's actually from LA. The name makes perfect sense though, the EP is gray, it's distinguished, it's concise, it's London.
I'll add more to the list if I run into more quality eR&B artists, but for now, I think that's enough to digest. Tell me what you think of these guys. Am I missing any other potential eR&B'ers who are coming to SXSW? Is there another genre trend that I'm completely missing?
*I realize "de jour" refers to just the day and not the whole year but I give zero cares.
Y'all. It's February 1st. SXSW is officially next month and we here at Hippohonk have a lot of work to do to get ourselves ready for this year's festival. Because this isn't our first rodeo, we wanted to give you a heads up about some things you should be doing right now that will help ensure you have a successful SXSW. And if you know of any magical substances that can cure a hangover and only require you to sleep for 4 hours, please do let us know. Please.
- Do your band homework. Maybe this is a no brainer, but we really can't stress enough how important it is to put in a little bit of work to find some new bands to check out during the festival. How do you think Hippohonk evolved into this weird and glorious music chart? We wanted to make sure we were prepared for the festival, and then we decided to share that knowledge with you. Because we're nice like that. So, whether you use our recommendations or take the time to listen to all of those bands yourself, get after it! Because honestly, you should have started this part months ago.
- RSVP for parties. It's hard to believe it's already time to start RSVPing for those free day parties, but we've already had a number of notifications hit our inboxes. Don't have time to worry about RSVPing to 100+ parties? Let our friends over at RSVPster handle that for you. $40 gets you on the list for every single party from March 7-16. Sounds like a steal to us!
- Buy some comfortable shoes and break them in. It's a fool's errand to worry about looking cool during SXSW, but let's face it: we're all going to try anyway. Shoes are obviously key to looking cool, but getting new shoes to impress the meandering hoards of Lone Star-filled hipsters last minute will only lead you to a painful and blister-filled SXSW. So seriously: buy some shoes that are both comfortable and sufficiently hip as soon as possible and spend the next month breaking those puppies in.
So that's your homework, folks. Do it now or suffer the self-inflicted consequences.
If you happen to be throwing a party this year at SXSW, first off, can we come?
Secondly, if you're sitting there wondering how to make your party the best it can be, we here at Hippohonk have five friendly tips to help you succeed.
- It's all about the music. Sure, there are plenty of people at SXSW who just want to get drunk and flop around, but the majority of us are there because we want to experience the latest and greatest musical acts from around the world (while getting drunk and flopping around). Don't assume that we will get on a boat that cruises around for hours with cheap beer and terrible music just because you have a boat and beer. You're already on our site, so try going for some of those top acts we recommend. You can even tweet us if you want, we chat with some of these bands and we might just be able to hook you guys up.
- Maybe don't let EVERYONE in. It might seem strange, but us party-goers actually like some sort of structure to the parties we attend. ticketbud.com who can handle ticketing and registration for your event. They're a great local Austin company with a straight-forward pricing structure (as low as free if your event is free). They are also extremely knowledgeable on SXSW as made evident by their popular survival guide and they can help you if you have any questions on ticketing or venues. Speaking of venues...
- Stay within city limits. We're like party gypsies out there, we travel from place to place in a haze of free booze and music so make sure you don't venture too far out of the downtown area. If your party is during the day then it's mildly acceptable, just make sure there's a bus route that can take us back to town.
- Free booze. Obviously.
- Amenities and convenience. Make sure we're not waiting in longer lines for the bathroom than we did to get into your party. Also, whatever you can do to get the booze (hopefully the free kind) closer to us, the better. Some SXSW parties will have servers who bring party-goers drinks which is above and beyond. If you can't do that, having some quick access bars scattered around will work just as well. Just make sure that lines going into the bathroom or to the bar aren't somehow in the way of people trying to watch the act on stage. You might think this is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised.
It's really that simple. If you can knock out at least four out of five of these, you're going to have a good time and you'll have people talking about your party for years.