SXSW: The Music Begins!

So SXSW kicked off it’s first official day of music today, Wednesday March 16th. Now, they actually opened some showcases last night, but with the slew of movies I still had not seen, I dedicated one more night to the midnight screenings. Today, however, I was at first flustered with the impossible task of picking which bands to go see. Down the road is a band I know and love, but the bar I’m currently passing seems to have some really good sounds coming out of it as well. I decided to choose the latter. This is my wrap up of the bands that I discovered (yes, just me!) on this day in Austin.

The Royal Bangs:

I had briefly heard one song by them on their MySpace when doing some research for SXSW. So, it’s fair to say that they were already on my radar. Having seen that they were playing a few times this festival, I wasn’t sure which show I would actually catch them at. It worked out that I bumped into them at a day show playing at Mohawk, opening for Foster the People, which I will divulge on in a second. The Royal Bangs are an indie band from Knoxville, TN. The three piece can best be described as the soulful sounds of the seventies (think Bob Seger) meets the progressive rock notes of some of today’s bigger pieces. The two sounds mix so gracefully, easily flowing from the past to the present with ease. This band time travels with their instruments! I was immediately impressed with how tight they were together. I was really surprised at how heavy they sounded by only being a three piece without a bass. They had about a half hour set and it was the first band of the day to really get me excited about the next four days being filled with sounds like this. Go check these guys out and be sure to check out their music here.

Foster the People:

Following Royal Bangs and closing out the set at Mohawk for the day show was Foster the People. Most have probably heard of them by now with their single “Pumped Up Kicks” flooding the airwaves by now. My thoughts on the song was that it was catchy and cool to hear every now and then, but if you were to judge the book by it’s cover, or rather the band by it’s single, they were not really for me. That was completely wrong. From the first song, they were much heavier than the single would lead you to believe, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The small stage was packed with free standing instruments ranging from keyboards to drums for the members to shuffle around on. Songs involving floor toms really get me pumped. They played a range of songs from their debut album, “Torches” available May 24, 2011 and saved their single, “Pumped Up Kicks” for last, which a lot of people sang along to, but by that point, I was over the song and ready to hear the other songs on the album again. For those unaware, Foster the People is a trio consisting of Mark Foster, Mark Pontius and Cubbie Fink. The band could be related to the sounds of Muse with Mark’s falsetto singing. This was one of those bands where I felt lucky to have seen them in such a close proximity, because I believe they have what it takes to fill arenas. If it was only for the fact that they have some catchy songs that appeal to the masses, seemed to be bubbling with charisma and the front lead is pretty cute. Lucky for them, they also make some great music along the way. Go check them out now, before the ticket price starts climbing. For more information, go to their site


After the day show wrapped, I headed to the CNN Grille to get my grub on before the showcases started for the evening. It was a bit of a wait, so they guided me to their basement area, which was hosting hand-picked music and serving free drinks. Can’t beat that, can you? So, I figured I could at least get some work done while I waited. The biggest lesson I learned in that basement was to never be without your camera at SXSW because you never know what you will miss. Such was the case for a young newly signed talent calling themselves Miguel. Miguel is the front man doing all the singing and swooning, but there is also a full band behind him. The first song was really impressive as Miguel, the guitarist and the bassist all moved in synchronization. After that little wake up to the talent that was before me, the song was really impressive as well. I’m not a girl that will ever go to a rap or country show, but R&B is ok in my mind. Miguel, however, was not just R&B. He was somewhere between that and rock and it really worked well. One of the highlights of the set is listening to Miguel talk to the audience with his LED infused mic stand. The remote-operated pole lights up a bright red or blue during the song and helps to infuse a bit of cheer into the set somehow. Miguel’s greatest talent, behind his singing voice and sensual moves on stage, is his ability to tell stories that lead into the next song. One of my favorites from the set was a story about why he goes to the supermarket. He proclaimed to never need food, but that he goes to search through the produce section… because that’s where all the ladies are. Miguel’s debut album, All I Want Is You is available now, and this is another artist to see soon, or you will pay the price, literally.


For the first showcase of the night, I just had to splurge and go see AWOLNATION one more time. I had seen them in Kansas City a while back and they freaking blew my mind. Aaron Bruno’s ability to control a crowd of that size was mesmerizing, the story here isn’t much different. The bar, Rusty Spurs, was packed to capacity and beyond and there was still a line around the building of people wanting to get in. I managed to finagle my way in from the back and slowly, but surely, made it to nearly the front. The crowd was stacked in shoulder to shoulder and back to chest, had there been a fire, we surely would have all died. The crowd was once again giving control over to Aaron as he sang new songs from his full length debut album “” available now. He encouraged a vibe of the 90’s when crowd surfing occurred frequently and the crowd obliged. It was fairly easy considering the sardine quality of the crowd.

The songs sounded good and loud and the crowd already knew most of the songs to sing along to. It was rather upsetting in the end though. He announced that his last song for the night was “Burn It Down”, a favorite among most and right as the song kicked in, the sound crew turned off the microphones. He had run out of time and the crew wasn’t even letting him finish the song for fear of putting the other bands behind schedule. I call bull shit. I guarantee you that after AWOL finished, that crowd cleared out and they weren’t even half as full the rest of the night. I don’t see what it would have hurt to go two and a half minutes over the time limit. The crowd reacted as well, yelling and booing at the tops of their lungs and then beginning to chant “AWOLNATION” over and over in hopes of convincing the crew to reevaluate the situation. It was to no avail however, the set was done and that was that. He did get to announce that he is playing again at Stubbs on Saturday. I guarantee you that most of these fans who were robbed of their favorite song will most definitely be at Stubbs (a much bigger venue) to see it again, or rather for the first time. I might even stop by to hear my favorite song, “MF” AWOLNATION’ album is available now, for more information go to

Darwin Deez:

Darwin Deez is a band that I saw by happenstance. I had made plans to enter the Latitude Thirty for the final two bands, Grouplove and Summer Camp but I ended up enjoying these guys too. First thoughts on the band, “what is with this guy’s hair?” The dude’s hair was being held down by those annoying headbands that strap over the forehead and his curly hair was sticking out from all sides around it. After I got past that, I heard the pop/rock music. This is a group that purely plays music for fun, and it showed. Their music was pretty catchy, mixed with experimental tones. They had this really funny gig where before every third song or so, the quartet would put down the instruments and line up on the stage for a minute of synchronized dancing to older songs from the nineties such as Enya, mixed in with Rage Against the Machine. It was funny and lighthearted and it woke me up when I was beginning to feel tired from the long day’s walk. I was most impressed with the fact that I hadn’t heard of them before I was physically hearing them, yet most of the crowd was fully singing along to two or three of their songs. In fact, I actually learned a bit of the song myself. I would suggest checking out “Radar Detector” and “Constellations”. Most of the band comes from New York City, so that could explain why there were so many well versed fans. Either way, I had a great time, and have been checking out their songs and videos on their site and so should you.


Next up at Latitude Thirty was a group I was excited to see after hearing some of their songs in preparation for SXSW. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed by the live show as I thought I would be. The five piece band crammed onto the tiny stage with their many instruments and began almost without warning. The set was slow to take off and they had quite a few technical difficulties, but that didn’t bother me. In fact, what got my attention more than anything was the chemistry between the two leads Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper and the way they made eye contact with each other; they are in love. That’s great for them, but it was hard for me to really get into the music with the googly eyes being shot between them. Although, in another way, that love in the room vibes well with their songs as they are mostly about love. I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t love them as much as I thought I would. Their songs only started to pump me up by the end with “Tongue Tied” and their final song, “Colours”. Their EP Canvasback is available now. For more information, go to

Summer Camp:

Last but not least is Summer Camp from the UK. I had only briefly heard a song from them on my research days before SX, and honestly I couldn’t even remember what they sounded like before the show started. I just knew that I wanted to check them out and I’m glad that I did. The set was very simple. Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey are a digital band, except for a keyboard and vocals. This is a trend I can see growing with the technology we are surrounded by. Elizabeth also hooked up her iPhone for a personal slide show of family photos ranging from the 60’s to the late 80’s (not her family, I’m sure). The photos were to set up a look of a grungy 80’s-esque vibe and their clothes followed suit. The most impressive thing about Summer Camp is Elizabeth’s voice. Jeremy had some back up vocals, but Elizabeth could entertain a room acapella, if need be. Their songs were highly influenced by the digital age of Lady Gaga with a more soothing tone like that of 90’s rock music.  Their first album Pure Juice is available now, for more information go to

by Angela Davis

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