SXSW 2011: Ten Acts We’ll Still Be Talking About Six Months Later, Including Dirty Beaches, Austra, and Yelawolf’s Tattooed Torso

JEFF the Brotherhood

Words and Photos by Aaron Richter

I’d like to preface self-titled‘s South By Southwest wrap-up with a disclaimer. I made a simple rule this year: to follow my own tastes–strictly want-to-sees, no supposed-to-sees. Some of these happened to coincide with mass quantities of beer, but that’s besides the point. Here are 10 artists I’m actually looking forward to hearing more from this year…

Only after a certain number of Lone Star tallboys can I really feel comfortable hurtling myself into a rowdy pit with three grand in camera gear stowed rather unsecurely over my shoulder. But JEFF is one of those bands that just makes you want to be in it all, as close as possible and holding up singer Jake Orrall as he crowd-surfs with his three-stringed guitar. Despite a few mic problems, their Saturday show at Mohawk probably had the best, fullest sound of anything I caught in Austin. Note: I came to town with relatively new, embarrassingly clean Chucks; this set dirtied ’em up proper.

I never managed to catch a full Yuck set, yet probably heard all of their songs scattered throughout three shows I straggled to late. My music-fanatic teeth were cut on ’90s alt radio, and Yuck adheres so perfectly to my nostalgia receptors for the sort of post-DIY modern-rock crunch an In Utero–shirted, Columbia House–subscribing grade-school Aaron loved discovering.

I’ll admit to a budding man-crush on Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai, who can hold his own on a stage all by his lonesome, playing guitar and singing like Roy Orbison over dreamy, Suicide-style loops. I’m a strong booster of the idea that music should be cool, and Dirty Beaches–all slicked-back hair with a comb in his pocket and rockabilly lip curl–is certainly that. But he backs up his image with moody execution, giving songs that might be more apt for late nights at home an edge of captivating intimacy. The set’s highlight was a haunting cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun.” We’ll start a campaign now to make it the soundtrack to the next Gaspar Noé flick.

Let’s just say I’m somewhat of a dissenter when it comes to our issue No. 9 cover star Zola Jesus. Canadian singer Katie Stelmanis, on the other hand, does gothy, Fever Ray-ish dance music in her newish act Austra without alienating those who’d prefer their high drama tempered with pop cues, à la Bat for Lashes. And the best thing about it: Austra has singles–huge, massive ones that you can’t help but wonder when you’ll hear them graduating to big-room venues like Webster Hall. So much potential here. Can’t wait to see where it takes them.

Nothing quite makes me want to boot a blogger in the throat quite like the “I had no idea what to expect” lede when “reviewing” live shows. But I’m gonna do exactly that right here. (Fuck off:I’m tired.) I really had no idea what to expect with King Tuff, his full-length being one of my absolute favorites in recent years. This project by Kyle Thomas–who also sings in Happy Birthday and Witch–always seemed much more like a sorely missed myth than an act I’d one day see live. The full band was rowdy, the bassist rocked a Carbonas tee, and Thomas bubbled with goofy charm. Gotta love a group that smiles onstage as much as these guys–no pose, no untouchable pretension, just a whole lot of dumb fun.

Caught these guys (and girl) twice in Austin after falling for them hard at a show in Atlanta this past year. Canada’s White Wires are for anyone who shed a tear at the demise of Exploding Hearts–tight, energetic power pop with infectious bubblegum choruses. The best test of a fest like SXSW is which band you’re listening to the week after you get back, and I’ve had the band’s White Wires II and Girly Girly Girly albums on repeat since touching back down in Brooklyn.

At one point during Yelawolf’s blistering Fader Fort set, I paused to contemplate licking him square across his tatted torso. Nothing much more needs to be said, though during self-titled‘s official SXSW panel discussion (alongside Pitchfork, The Fader, XLR8R and Kill Screen), Fader publisher Andy Cohn made a point about how eye-numbingly boring it is to see magazine covers that purvey in chiseled abs:at which point we both took a moment to acknowledge that Yelawolf is absolutely welcome to take his shirt off on a magazine cover any day without our judgment.

I remember my first time seeing Bloc Party–some Silent Alarm–era Coachella past–and being blown away at how fast they played their songs live–the guys just locked in and took off and you really had to hang on to keep up. Any band that can rocket-charge the tempo of their songs onstage earns an instant edge live, and Twin Shadow transfers what is essentially an intimate one-man bedroom-pop record into an exhilarating full-group stage show.

Michael Cera, playing bass live with this Sub Pop group, gets the most cheers from the crowd. But Mister Heavenly will earn its share from the undeniable chemistry between its core members, Man Man’s Ryan Kattner and Islands’ Nick Thorburn. Hearing them play together at Emo’s, it’s clear that each have a yet-unindulged musical itch that needs a serious scratching.

If anyone deserves to carry the Jay Reatard torch, it’s this Texas group, who’ve gained remarkable stage presence as a trio since I last caught them about a year ago. Or maybe that extra confidence arrived via the all-too-familiar liquid variety in the case of guitarist/singer Orville Neeley, who seemed pretty obliterated onstage at Shangri-La on Saturday. Not that it hindered the music at all; in fact, his already-ferocious guitar playing sparked with added vitality, and for Bad Sports’ sputtered brand of shredded punk, a sloppy, blurry-eyed show should be worn like a badge of honor.