SXSW Preview: EJL’s Top 10 Under the Radar Bands to Check Out at SXSW

Written by

KCRW Music Librarian and DJ Eric J Lawrence had trouble narrowing his list down – and with all the music he listens to, who can blame him! Check out who he has his eye on for SXSW 2011:

As usual, KCRW will have a big presence at SXSW this month, with Morning Becomes Eclectic broadcasting live from Austin, TX both Thursday & Friday, as well as appearances from a bunch of other KCRW DJs.

The only trouble with such blanket coverage is that somebody has to stay home at our Santa Monica studios to hold down the fort, and once again that duty falls to me!

So I’ll have to miss chowing down on some of the best BBQ in the world with all my music industry pals, not to mention seeing a metric ton of excellent live music.

If you ARE going, here are my Top 10 Under-the-Radar Bands to Check Out at SXSW 2011:

The Brother Kite
The Brother Kite (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

1) The Brother Kite – This Providence, Rhode Island-based band plays a moody, textured version of electro-rock that sound like The Postal Service if they were a Genesis side-project.  The album’s opening cut, “Martyr for the Cause,” is one of my favorite cuts of 2010, so I’d love to see how they translate it live.

2) Delicate Steve – Hopefully guitarist & bandleader Steve Marion isn’t too delicate to make the trip from NJ to TX intact, as it would be great to see him bring his lyrical, instrumental tunes, subtly sprinkled with touches of Tropicalia, sunshine soul and Italian soundtrack sounds, to the Austin stages.

3)      Evan Voytas – Funny to think about travelling to Austin to see an artist from LA, but I’ve yet to catch Evan in our mutual hometown yet.  A regular in the genre-bending crews of Flying Lotus & Gonjasufi, his solo work covers a lot of ground as well, from hooky AM pop to 90s electro-rap to chillwave flavors.

4)      Okkervil River – This decade-old Austin-based indie-rock band are already a familiar name to discriminating music fans, but with a highly-anticipated new album on the horizon, it would be a treat to see them playing some new songs for a hometown crowd before they completely blow up big-time.

5)      OMD – Synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have reunited with their classic 80s-era line-up, and are sure to sprinkle selections from their killer catalog alongside tracks from their brand new album.  I always like to mix in some retro sounds in my SXSW explorations – it gives a little context to what the new bands are up to.

surf city
Surf City (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

6)      Surf City – This New Zealand band is one of those SXSW bands worth making a special effort to see since they don’t make it to the States all that often.  Don’t let the name fool you – they play a catchy, enthusiastic brand of indie-pop reminiscent of their Kiwi predecessors like The Bats and The Clean (with maybe a touch of beach-rock grooves).

7)      Sweet Apple – Indie-rock guitar god J Mascis is getting great reviews for his new acoustic solo album, which he’ll be showing off in Austin.  But his overlooked band project with Cobre Verde’s John Petrovic offers up crunchy, 70s-era rawk songs that are an awesome blast from the past & worth tracking down as well.

8)      Thee Oh Sees – This SF-based garage rock outfit put on one of my favorite SXSW sets a few years back, with a joyously appreciative crowd threatening to collapse the balcony with their pogo-ing.  A clutch of records later, coupled with a relentless touring schedule, I’d expect even bigger and better things.

9)      The Chain Gang of 1974 – More 80s/90s influenced than the name implies, Colorado-based multi-instrumentalist Kamtin Mohager matches New Wave-flavored sounds with a modern production that recalls the glossy, epic pop aesthetic of bands like Phoenix.

10)  Edwyn Collins – This is one in particular I’m sorry to miss.  The former Orange Juice leader suffered two brain hemorrhages in 2005, but has thankfully recovered to the point of releasing a terrific new album and playing a scant number of live US dates, including at SXSW.  If you’re in Austin, you’d be foolish to skip this.

Even if you aren’t making it out to Texas next week, you should keep an eye out for local shows from these bands, most of whom will be touring extensively this year (I’ve already got upcoming local shows from Delicate Steve, OMD and Thee Oh Sees on my schedule).

But SXSW-goers have a great opportunity to catch some cutting-edge music this year, and I can’t help but be a little jealous!