SXSW: From Accidentals to Songhoy Blues, 7 Breakout Acts
Last week's South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, was a nearly nonstop onslaught of bands, with performances ranging all levels of recognition from Miley Cyrus to complete unknowns. Here, the Billboard staff picks its seven favorites from the week.
On paper, the Accidentals -- a rootsy trio from Traverse City, Mich. -- seem like a tough pick to click. Until you hear 'em, at least. The group gave SXSWers plenty of chance to do that, with at least 10 shows ranging from an official showcase to day parties, displaying a genre-hopping range of influences and some smart songwriting skills to go with their abundant musical chops. Marshall Crenshaw, a hook-meister himself, is helping the group with new material now, so it'll be no accident when the Accidentals build on the friendships it made down in Austin.
Allan Kingdom has traveled far from the lush outdoors of Minnesota to be in Austin on Saturday (March 21). At an intimate private BBQ held at the Patch House Austin, he performed a showcase that included selections from his 2014 release, Future Memoirs, while a crowd of influencers and industry folks treated themselves to some excellent catered BBQ. The close setting allowed for Kingdom to address the crowd face to face, share a little bit about who he was and where he came from in between songs. He capped it all off by playing a cut of "All Day," the brand new Kanye West track where he's a featured along with Theophilus London and Paul McCartney, which has already reached No. 15 on the Hot 100 and has more than 750,000 million hits on YouTube.
The beauty of South By Southwest is being able to catch new and emerging bands at the top of their game before lunchtime. Such was the case when indie pop/rock outfit Cathedrals opened the Hype Hotel at noon on Wednesday (March 18), as singer Brodie Jenkins' bewitching soprano floated with ease, skipping octaves just as often as the chamber-pop arrangements switched tempos. Lead single "Harlem" may be the band's gateway drug (it has more than 3 million streams on Spotify), but Jenkins proved there's many more treasures buried in Cathedrals.
The French-Cuban twin-sister act Ibeyi playing in the Central Presbyterian Church was a much-needed moment of serenity and reflection, a rare respite from the over stimulation that can come from thousands of acts playing mostly EDM, hip-hop and rock descending on a few square miles of Austin at the same time. Their self-titled debut, out on XL Recordings last month, beautifully connects cultures, languages and time spans: French piano-jazz meets ambient samples, lyrics in English and Yoruba sung in traditional West African harmonies, Afro-Cuban percussion combined with hip-hop drum programming and sensibilities, including a Jay Electronica cover. But at SXSW on Friday (March 20), the songs came to life in a brand-new way, thanks to the gorgeous stained-glass altar and its great acoustics, an engaged audience who sat in stunned awe and then thundered with applause after each song ended, and most of all, Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz’s effortlessly intuitive connection -- the kind that only twins could have.
Seinabose Sey took SXSW by storm with her vocal prowess. The Stockholm-born singer-songwriter -- signed to Virgin Records -- popped up at a few SXSW showcases, one being the Fader Fort on Thursday (March 19). Backed with a live band, she garnered new fans by belting songs from her 2014 For Madeline EP. When the band flexed their skills, Sey would look around towards the moving crowd humbly, then coil coquettishly when aware of the concert-goers' great interest.
2015 is going to be Shamir’s year, or at least Tyler Oakley thinks as much when he kicked off the YouTube Awards Monday (March 23). The 20-year-old, who first taught himself to play guitar while growing up in the desert outside of Las Vegas, dominated the scene at SXSW by destroying sets at NPR’s showcase at Stubbs on Thursday (March 19) and again at the YouTube Awards pre-party at the Coppertank where he played “Call It Off,” debuting the puppet version of himself featured in the video that dropped Monday.
Songhoy Blues, a quartet from Mali, take traditional guitar music of the west Africa nation and add Western beats and song structures to give their blues-rooted music a modern twist. Singer Aliou Toure is a captivating showman -- part griot, part '60s soul revivalist -- and he leaves sufficient space for nimble guitarist Garba Toure to push music into comfortable musical pockets familiar to fans of African funk, Led Zeppelin and the Black Keys. Recently signed to Atlantic Records, they'll return to the U.S. in June and the fall.
Reporting by Alex Gale, Phil Gallo, William Gruger, Andrew Hampp and Erika Ramirez