Sound of SXSW 2015

From Philadelphia to L.A. to Madrid to Melbourne, our picks for the must-see acts of SXSW 2015.

by GENEVIEVE OLIVER < @vittorioe >

And so it begins… since the festival starts in two weeks, the season of inescapable SXSW content is upon us. You will love it and despair! We’ve always prided ourselves on not clogging your feed overmuch, so never fear – tune in to check out some of our recommendations then do your own thing. Follow your bliss. Get in tune with your inner guru. Mine’s telling me to see Pharmakon’s every show so if you see me you’d best talk really, really loud!

Every year I head into SXSW with a list of must-see acts, usually scrawled on the back of my must-catch showcase list as a final deterrent against seeing one band a trillion times (not that it’s ever really stopped me). Voila, the ten bands I’ll be sure to catch at this year’s SXSW: hailing from Philadelphia (what is in the water in Philly right now?) to L.A. to Madrid to Melbourne, busting the meaning of genre, probably currently gearing up to make me cry publically out of love, emotion, and exhaustion. After a lot of astute calls last year on our part (fka twigs, Viet Cong, Perfect Pussy, Angel Olsen), you might want to add our 2015 favorites to your list too. Check them out and we’re sure we’ll see you at their every show.

Sheer Mag

09 Sheer Mag

Based on the rapid-selling four-song self-titled 7” they released last year, we’re pretty sure Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag could easily out-riff any other band at SXSW. Singer Christina Halliday, her bratty vocals distorted and fuzzy, presides over her band’s plethora of hooks with a sneering, charismatic presence and plenty of catchy choruses of her own; the whole affair’s like some unholy, fantastic melding of ‘70s classic rock and the female-fronted punk of the ‘90s. What’s not to love? Added bonus: we’ve heard great things about the band’s live show – they’ve been tapped to open for Parquet Courts – and we can’t wait to dance to “Point Breeze” live.

Marching Church

08 Marching Church

Marching Church is the solo project of Iceage frontman Elias Ronnenfelt, who spent most of his band’s fantastic 2014 LP Plowing Into the Field of Love effectively posturing at a punk-informed, country-fied persona. On This World is Not Enough, his upcoming solo LP, he’s going deeper still – at least, based on seven-minute lead single “Hungry For Your Love,” inspired by and pretty accurately recapitulating Ronnenfelt’s daydream of leading a band while sitting in an armchair with a beautiful woman refreshing his glass of champagne. Even better: said band includes members of fellow Copenhagen punk fixtures Lower, Sexdrome, and Puce Mary. This World Is Not Enough is out March 31; we can’t wait to hear more material from it.

Alex G

07 Alex G

Alex Giannascoli is a young songwriter from Philadelphia who records music in his bedroom and uploads it to the internet as Alex G. Last year, Warren Hildebrand of Foxes in Fiction released Alex’s first actually-mastered LP, DSU, via his label Orchid Tapes, and those of us who don’t have enough free time to exhaustively scour BandCamp started noticing – Alex’s songwriting is unique and beautiful, homespun-sounding and gorgeous, haunting in the dreamy, nostalgic way summoned by the very best of the bedroom pop ilk (listening to DSU, it’s sometimes easy to recall Atlas Sound’s Bedroom Databank). We’ve also heard great things about his live band, comprised of a few Philly friends, and their stage show, so we can’t wait to see what Alex has in store for SXSW.


06 Girlpool

Girlpool is Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, two L.A. friends who met at the storied venue the Smell when they were in high school. Without a drummer, Harmony and Cleo’s guitar and vocal interplay takes center stage as they meditate on everything from friendship to facing life’s challenges to hanging out alone at a show. Since getting noticed with a short, self-titled EP (choice lyric: “It’s not enough to watch a movie / eat me out to American Beauty”) Girlpool have opened for Jenny Lewis and toured with Slutever, so we’re basically witness to their ascendant rise. We’ve also heard great things about their live show – they made a splash at CMJ last year – so you’re definitely going to want to make sure you catch them at SXSW.


05 Hinds

You might know Hinds better as Deers – the Madrid quartet were forced to change their name earlier this year – but they’re still the same animal, just in a different language! The band’s catchy, surfy, garage-y cuts like “Castigadas en el Granero” recall Best Coast circa “Sun Was High (So Was I)” with a little extra punk spirit, courtesy frontwomen Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote trading off saucy vocals like your favorite ‘60s girl group, or like the Black Lips. Hinds are taking their first trip to America to play SXSW this year, and we heartily suggest taking in a few gigs before they finally release their debut LP and take the world by storm.


04 SZA

SZA is making her second SXSW appearance this year –last year, she hadn’t yet wrapped up her trio of short EPs and was still building buzz on the strength of her early material, as well as news she’d just signed to Top Dawg Entertainment. Regardless, she appeared at the Hype Hotel alongside London Grammar, Kelis, and a pre-fame Hozier, and it makes sense to conclude she’s long due for a mainstream breakout that should put her on the level of her onetime stagemates. Added bonus – she’s currently putting together a debut full-length LP, reportedly titled A, which’ll hearken back to her debut EP S with trap beats, aggressive vocals, and production from the likes of Hit-Boy, so we’re sure to hear new material. She’s already been confirmed for a few showcases – let’s hope we hear about more.

A. G. Cook

03 A. G. Cook

The London electro-bubblegum label PC Music has already announced their SXSW showcase, which will feature basically their entire roster – we could probably put any of those musicians (SOPHIE, QT, GFOTY, Hannah Diamond, Kane West, etc.) on this list, but we’ve found ourselves partial to A. G. Cook, who heads up the label as well as being one of its most prolific contributors. It’ll be A. G.’s second SXSW – last year, he delivered a memorable set at Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel presented by Feed the Beat alongside breakout star SOPHIE – but we think this might be his year. He’s just released “Drop FM,” a collaborative single with Hannah Diamond which showcases his knack for fun vocal mixing and maximalist beats, and we’re anticipating hearing a lot more soon. In the meantime, we’ll settle for catching him live eight million times.

Tobias Jesso Jr.

02 Tobias Jesso Jr.

The Vancouver songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr is basically the male Lana Del Rey – he moved to L.A. to play in an unnamed pop star’s band, was eventually axed, and started writing his own heartrending, minimalist, nostalgia-evoking piano ballads recalling the golden gilt of Old Hollywood – including one song that literally goes, “I think I’m gonna die in Hollywood.” His debut LP Goon is out March 17th, in the middle of SXSW, and we’re guessing the festival will give him a push to get the inevitable juggernaut rolling. Can’t you picture Tobias busting out tunes like “How Could You Babe” in Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church? Last year our bet for Most Certain SXSW Tears was on Angel Olsen; this year, it’s handily Tobias’s game.

Courtney Barnett

01 Courtney Barnett

Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett made a splash in the US last year with “Avant Gardener,” her ode to an anaphylactic allergic reaction suffered while gardening, rendered in vivid, hilarious lyrics and plenty of beach-toned guitar. Now she’s gearing up for another LP, the brilliantly titled Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, out March 23rd – you may have heard “Pedestrian at Best,” its firestorming first single. We’re not quite sure how she manages to make brutal honesty so fun and catchy – maybe it’s just that it’s all too easy to identify with her rampaging overthinking – and we can’t wait to see how she does it live.

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