South by Southwest: Best of the Best

AUSTIN, Texas – Of all the bands we saw at this year’s South by Southwest music festival, the following bands had the biggest impression on us. Sure, there were probably countless other shows that we missed and should have seen, but we’re only two people in the midst of thousands of bands that descended upon Austin, Texas, between March 12-16. So check out the following bands, and if you ever see any of them on a bill in a town near you, be sure to catch them live.

Artist: The London Souls (New York)

Genre: Classic Rock/Soul

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Former GW student Tash Neal plays guitar and fronts this rock three-piece from New York City. According to their MySpace page, their music is “meant to be played LOUD”- and it’s no joke. The band played on the top level of a parking garage in downtown Austin, having traveled all the way down to Texas in a vegetable oil-fueled bus with other bands on their label, Green Owl Records. The band has a very classic-rock feel to it, featuring heavy-hitting drums, thumping bass, wailing electric guitar and great vocal harmonies among all three members.

Artist: Skybombers (Melbourne, Australia)

Genre: Garage/Indie Rock

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Not only do the Skybombers rock your face off live, they’re also really nice guys! Upon arriving in Austin, we found them to be our neighbors in the house in front of ours that we were renting. Always up for a drunken late-night game of Jenga or splitting a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon with us, this four-piece from Down Under was able to deliver the goods on stage. Pure energy with youthful rock and roll rebellion collide, as the Skybombers continue to tour around America until their visas run out and they’re shipped back home to the land of kangaroos and boomerangs.

Artist: Be Your Own Pet (Nashville)

Genre: Punk/Garage Rock

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Having just released their second full-length album, “Get Awkward,” the foursome from Nashville came to Austin to destroy the ears and eyes of fans at the Mohawk Patio. Fronted by Jemina Pearl Abegg, wearing a black T-shirt and war paint on her face, the band actually busted the venue’s sound system a few songs in, causing the audience and the band to wait impatiently as technicians scrambled to fix the dead system. Once they fixed the sound, Abegg climbed atop the shoulders of one lucky fan to chant the lyrics to their song “Bummer Time.”

Artist: British Sea Power (Brighton, England)

Genre: Indie/Alternative Rock

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The title of this band’s latest album literally asks the perfect question for those in attendance at this year’s South by Southwest music festival: “Do You Like Rock Music?” For a band that has toured with and been praised by the likes of David Bowie, The Flaming Lips, Lou Reed, Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker – the most obvious answer is, well, “yes.” This was the very last set we saw at SXSW this year, as they played a 1:20 a.m. show on Saturday night, the last night of the festival. Climbing speaker systems, inviting audience members on stage, waving flags and exceeding expectations, British Sea Power was quite an act to catch, living up to the buzz surrounding them.

Artist: The Raveonettes (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Genre: Noise Pop

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This Danish duo now calls New York and Los Angeles home, and their popularity is growing as they continue to travel around the U.S. in support of their latest album, “Lust Lust Lust”. Playing a completely packed show at Emo’s, only one of us was lucky enough to actually get in. The Raveonettes sound something like a mash-up between 50s and 60s rock and modern, chilled-out electronic noise – all with interesting vocal harmonies between Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner. The Raveonettes will actually be playing right here in D.C. this weekend, Saturday at the Black Cat (1811 14th St. N.W.).

– Brendan Polmer

Artist: Yo La Tengo (Hoboken)

Genre: Indie Rock

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Yo La Tengo are gods among … um, bands. They may have been at this since 1984, but despite their age, they still carry all the vitality and relevance of a great band at its peak, as witnessed in their SXSW showcase this year. An indie bedrock band, they churn perfect, noisy pop, full of hooks and a healthy layer of distortion. Their waves of feedback never sound better than when live.

Artist: Atlas Sound (Atlanta)

Genre: Dream Pop

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Based on hype alone, Atlas Sound was a must-see. The band is the solo project of Bradford Cox, lead singer of Deerhunter, taking a dreamier palette of the lush, eerie soundscapes birthed in Cox’s mind. The set was amazing and my mind was blown – it was really gorgeous stuff. Atlas Sound sees the development of an artist with enormously exciting potential.

A Place to Bury Strangers (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Genre: Shoegaze Rock

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A Place to Bury Strangers have been lauded “the loudest band in New York City.” So obviously, this was not a band to miss. While the speakers were not, in fact, cranked to 11 as I had hoped, the band still blasted a barrage of sound. Rather than using the noise to emit ethereal sensations like their Shoegaze predecessors, A Place to Bury Strangers effected a menacing sound of white noise feedback that recalled the turnings of industrial machinery.

Artist: Okkervil River (Austin, Texas)

Genre: Folk Rock

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Though Austin is the birthplace of many great indie bands, Okkervil River was the only local-based band we saw – but it was certainly one of the best. The indie-styled folk rock band saw a surge of popularity with last year’s release “The Stage Names” and earned a place on Stubb’s mainstage for SXSW. In front of thousands of fans, the band was astonishingly dynamic and tight.

Artist: Slaraffenland (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Genre: Indie Rock

Web site:

Denmark may not be known for its rock bands, but along with The Raveonettes, Slaraffenland may be part of a vital, yet unknown indie rock scene. Gaining exposure as a “Band to Watch,” Slaraffenland have slowly gained an audience in America that they surely deserve. Their cacophonous and meandering sound may be initially off-putting on record, but their live sets are a sight to behold. These towering Danes exude a definite physical presence. With several looming male vocalists, Slaraffenland conjured images of viking majesty. One can only hope that this is not uncommon in Denmark.

– Ben Doak

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