The 3rd Annual AU Review SXSW Music Awards!

Another year at SXSW is behind us once more. From March 15th through until March 20th, we’ve seen Australian bands take their international profiles up another notch with impressive showcase performances. We’ve fallen in love with new artists and bands, and old favourites even more. We’ve participated in the classic SXSW traditions of waiting stupidly long in lines to gain access to gigs and eating way too many BBQ meats and tacos.

Now, back in Australia, we bring you our highlights (and lowlights) via the third AU review  SXSW Music Awards – the events that left the biggest impression from the festival in 2016.

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BEST AUSTRALIAN BAND or SOLO ARTIST AT SXSW: Methyl Ethel

The WA band were easily one of the most talked about Australian artists of this year’s SXSW line up and the chatter that followed the showcases of their we managed to see confirmed that the trio have definitely struck upon something great with the Americans they’ve exposed their music to. Their recent 4AD signing no doubt had some influence on the amount of buzz surrounding Methyl Ethel prior to their run of showcases in Austin during the music festival, but the band delivered some standout performances fusing dream-pop with a musical restlessness that was captivating to watch.

Runners Up: Julia Jacklin, HARTS

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BEST INTERNATIONAL ARTIST:  Anderson .Paak

Without a doubt, the Malibu mastermind would’ve walked away from SXSW confident in the fact he’d well and truly made his mark. Popping up everywhere from the Woodies to the Spotify House and sweaty venues in between, .Paak gave the audiences the shows we crave at a festival environment like SXSW: memorable, edgy and wildly entertaining. Switching between smooth R&B and some deft and fast rhyme delivery, .Paak gave audiences the goods with each show – for a record as impactful as Malibu was when it dropped late 2015, the artist brought it to life brilliantly. Definitely going to be a huge year ahead for him.

Runners Up: Miguel, Deftones, CHVRCHES

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BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE: Day Wave

Soon to be in Australia for the first time next month, Californian songwriter and performer Jackson Philips gave SXSW a brilliant introduction to his new project, Day Wave over some very well-received gigs. We spoke with Philips about how his solo music as Day Wave has come together over the past year and to see how his assembled band has brought said material to the stage was definitely exciting – he charms and is very endearing as a vocalist, while the crafting of some dreamy guitar driven indie music as we’ve heard on record recently is realised just as well in a live capacity.

Runners Up: Jack Garratt, Kevin Garrett

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BEST HIP-HOP ARTIST: Vince Staples

Staples is a name we’ve seen in Australia recently, of course with his Laneway Festival shows and hook up with Flume on “Smoke and Retribution”. Seeing Staples performing on American turf however, was an opportunity we knew we needed to take up, even if only for a short glimmer of time. Much had been made about his Spotify House showcase, where the rapper went in on streaming services mid-set, but when you watch him perform, this isn’t any tabloid-grabbing attempt at attention. Staples lets his talent as a lyricist and rapper shine but without blowing smoke up the behinds of the corporate sponsors, rolling over for the conventional or pandering to the state of his crowd. The crowd at the Spotify showcase indeed represented Staples’ approach – passionate, riled up and yearning to be heard.

Runners Up: Tory Lanez

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BEST SOUND: The Roots’ SXSW Jam

When The Roots are setting up for one of the biggest parties to see out SXSW Music, you know you’d best be in for a production to be remembered. Sponsored by Bud Light, the Brazos Hall event disappointed in some ways (read on below) but you can’t fault the set up the iconic group brought to Austin on the final night of proceedings. Their jam session saw The Roots highlight some fresh rising talent as well as an array of longtime favourites of hip-hop and R&B fans, welcoming the likes of Marc E. BasseyEmily KingAshantiToo ShortBig Grams (Big Boi Phantogram), and Naughty By Nature to the stage throughout the night.

Runners Up: Iggy Pop, Methyl Ethel

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THE BUZZ AWARD: Troye Sivan

Sivan’s spot on the SXSW Music line up this year was an interesting one. For the fan base of over four million Troye has to his name, his star quality is more than solidified and has been for quite some time. However, for those who were coming to SXSW with the idea of discovering new bands, indie artists, grime and rap up and comers, Sivan most definitely still fits in the ‘new’ artist category. It would seem that Sivan’s live presence and indeed, his performance range is still developing, understandable when you consider he’s still yet to fully break into the tour cycle for debut album Blue Neighbourhood, but the young artist demonstrated oodles of potential that crowds definitely vibed on during his stay in Austin.

Runners Up: Eliot Sumner, XYLO

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White Lung (Credit: Rick Rodney)

LOUDEST PERFORMANCE: White Lung at Barracuda

The Barracuda venue is deceptively large. From the outside, it looks like a pokey hole in the wall but inside, it boasts a decent stage with an indoor capacity able to hold upward of maybe 400 punters. Enter LA trio White Lung, who have an album coming out soon and displayed a killer desire to give SXSW crowds a taste of what was to come. Urgent, fierce and throttling in delivery, the band slammed down some garage/punk music that picked us back up from our slide into the dreaded day four or five SXSW fatigue and gave us a second wind of energy.

Runners Up: Killswitch Engage at Empire Garage, Iggy Pop at ACL Live

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WagakkiBand – Des Moines Embassy, Live Nation Showcase. Friday 18th March. Credit: Johnny Au.

HELLO ASIA! BEST ARTIST AT SXSW: WagakkiBand

WagakkiBand is an eight piece tour de force out of Japan. Fusing traditional Shigin poetry recitation and Japanese traditional instruments but performed in a rock music style, WagakkiBand is one of the most original acts you will see. Frontwoman Yuko Suzuhana performs with her outfit and hair taking two hours to put together in traditional Japanese style. The music of WagakkiBand is frenetic, fast and bordering on punk metal. The crowd at Des Moines reminded me of the J-Rock crowds in Japan. Fast, fun and furious!

RUNNERS UP…

Zion.T with The Session – (K-Pop Night Out at The Belmont)

Korean hip hop artist Zion.T. More known for his hip hop collaborations the headliner for K-Pop Night Out showed his range of musicianship with in conjunction with Jazz/R&B band The Session. Showing a style not common in Korea, Zion.T with The Session proved to be the musical highlight of a showcase that in the past relied on it pop star power to attract attention.

Rei – (Japan Nite at Elysium)

Don’t let her cute image or age fool you – Japanese artist Rei is very much a performer to look out for in the Blues genre. Vocal and guitar skills thatare light years ahead, Rei’s live performance is polished, skillful and harks back to her Blues contemporaries. Add in a mature song writing style and you have a potential international star in the making.

Deftness play the SPIN SXSW Day Party (Credit: SPIN)
Deftness play the SPIN SXSW Day Party (Credit: SPIN)

BEST SXSW DAY PARTY: SPIN DAY PARTY ft. CHVRCHES, DEFTONES & MORE

SPIN have a penchant for throwing SXSW parties to be remembered (shockingly, given the amount of free booze poured throughout the day…) and their Friday shindig at Stubb’s showed off their talent once more. The sun beat down hard on the crowd as we balanced water with healthy doses of Sailor Jerry and Bud Light, while the two stages brought some killer live music to the masses. From CHVRCHES and an incredible early set delivered by Deftones, to the talented White Lung and D∆WN, the day party line up proved eclectic as it was loud.

Runners Up: Aussie BBQ

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BEST FOOD: Canadian Blast BBQ

There’s something about the Canadian Blast BBQ that sets them apart every year. I think it’s just the simplicity of the set up, and the authenticity of the local cuisine that they celebrate. Mac n Cheese. Brisket. Chicken. Salad. It fills us up and never lets us down.

Runners Up: Rachael Ray’s Feedback (Day Party, Saturday)

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HARDEST ARTIST TO SEE: Drake at the Fader Fort

Once news that Drake was jetting into Austin spread like wildfire, it was just a matter of putting two and two together and aiming attention at the Fader Fort situated outside the main SXSW downtown drag. Weeks off the release of the highly anticipated Views album, Drizzy confirmed the rumours by appearing at the Fader Fort for a few songs alongside the likes of PARTYNEXTDOOR and Majid Jordan, a US tour announcement and general OVO hype that riled the crowd up ridiculously. During the day, driving through the streets surrounding the Fader Fort was near on impossible especially during the mid-afternoon as the intensity surrounding his appearance began to build.

Runners Up: Miike Snow, Sia

Erykah Badu (Credit: Jay Janner/American Statesman)
Erykah Badu (Credit: Jay Janner/American Statesman)

BEST EVENING SHOWCASE: VANS’ 50th Anniversary Series at Mohawk

The SXSW presence iconic skate brand VANS has held has been a long-loved and respected one, so to celebrate their 50th anniversary in Austin this year only pointed to one hell of a party. Being anywhere near the vicinity of Mohawk on Red River during the Wednesday night showcase was a hoot, with the likes of KelelaKevin Morby and more also lined up on the venue’s outdoor stage participating in the live entertainment.

Runners Up: Communion Showcase at the Blackheart, Culture Collide’s series on Rainey

Bloc Party play the Pandora Discovery Den (Credit: Pandora)
Bloc Party play the Pandora Discovery Den (Credit: Pandora)

BEST POP-UP VENUE: Pandora Discovery Den

This phenomenal venue dealt with some line issues throughout the week – as did many venues – but their focus on genres each day and their relaxed vibe of the venue made for one of the best experiences at the festival for yet another year.

Runners Up: Hype Hotel, Spotify House

CHURCHES play the SPIN Day Party at Stubb's (Credit: SPIN)
CHURCHES play the SPIN Day Party at Stubb’s (Credit: SPIN)

BEST PERMANENT VENUE: Stubb’s

Few venues stack up to Stubb’s in terms of its place within Austin’s music and venue history and indeed, it’s spot as one of the most well-respected and beloved SXSW venues has remained steadfast year in, year out. Hosting the likes of Big Boi and St. Lucia at the SXSWIA Closing Party through to bringing the iconic Loretta Lynn to the stage alongside Jake Bugg later on in the week, the amphitheatre has had some fab live shows come through. And don’t even get us started on the food. Lord.

Runners Up: Central Presbyterian Church, Mohawk

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS…

While SXSW is of course, littered with high points and events that will long be talked about after the dust has settled and Austin returns to normal programming, there were also some events we anticipated strongly, only to be disappointed by.

The Roots

The Roots’ much hyped Bud Light showcase, while expertly delivered and curated, had fans lined up for near on four hours and while a good 650 odd (if that) were able to gain access to the main room to see the artists perform, the rest (if you made it in) were relegated to the venue’s rooftop for the show. And yes, while there were a certain number of free beers on offer as well as sheltered heating, waiting that long in line only to ‘watch’ The Roots’ showcase via a TV screen was disheartening to many.

John Legend

Similarly, John Legend’s much hyped ‘only SXSW performance of the year’ at The Belmont on St. Patrick’s Day had hundreds pile on down to the west side venue to see the crooner do his thing. What they were met with was an early performance by Legend that saw him bust out more of a special appearance than an actual set, leaving many fans who, by this point, were hanging over the edge of the upstairs railings disappointed.

Crystal Castles

Meanwhile, Crystal Castles performance at the Sound Exchange party disappointed many as they walked off stage after a couple of tracks – citing sound problems – though making no effort to apologise to the crowd. But even had they continued, it would have been a disappointment – their overall performance was lacking the ferocity and crowd engagement that the band is known for. There are better ways to handle a crappy situation – which they were clearly dealing with – and it definitely rubbed fans the wrong way.

Stay tuned to the AU for more SXSW coverage! Additional contribution to this piece from Larry Heath and Johnny Au.