I think about death every time I fly. Traveling down to Austin, TX for the massive music conference known as South by Southwest always begins with the sobering thought that I may end up in a flaming pile of airplane wreckage somewhere in rural Arkansas. To paraphrase Don DeLillo’s “White Noise,” humans are the only animals that are aware that their lives must end someday. It is a trade-off for having such phenomenally developed, large brains. The upshot, of course, is that we get to realize how amazing it is that we are alive, and that we have been blessed with the ability to experience music. Music enhances life and has the ability to remind us of what we’re capable of feeling. It is something that makes us feel more connected to one another through its shared experience, whether it evokes happiness, pain, excitement, or even terror.
After being bombarded on every side by the music of 63 bands over the course of 5 days with little pause, I’ve come away with a renewed awe of the power of music. Japandroids told me not to worry about dying. Andrew W.K. told me to party like I’m ready to die. Liars gave me goosebumps. Billy Bragg made everyone around me well up in tears.
I have probably waxed overly philosophical at this point, and I think words do not necessarily relate well to music. After all, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” So here are my picks from SXSW 2010. It would take me a month to write a full review of every group I saw, so I’ve excluded the performers that didn’t really stand out to me (but even they were difficult to weed out), and for the rest, I’ve come up with an icon system. With the exception of very few, I would see every performer on this list again, and I don’t believe that any of them are objectively “better” or “worse” than others.
(no icon) = made the list, therefore go see them live if you can
m/ = see them live and obtain their music
m/m/ = see live and obtain music + various superlatives (hella rad, wicked good, most-excellent, etc… choose your own)
**#%@#$&!$%@!!!!!!!!11** = completely melted my face off and should not be missed under any circumstances barring global thermonuclear war
m/m/ Bit Shifter - 8bit. Does things with a Gameboy you never thought possible. Will shift your face off.
m/ Japandroids - Loved them. Just drums and guitar. Loud, fast, infectious. Thoughtful lyrics.
m/ Javelin - Fun. Dancey. Have an excellent time on stage which makes them great to see live.
m/ Japanther - Real loud awesomeness. Bass and drums and telephone receivers. People in the audience got hurt. To quote a friend, wear a helmet to their show.
**#%@#$&!$%@!!!!!!!!11** Andrew W.K. - Completely epic. Broke stage. Must see. That is all.
m/ Danielson - One of my favorite groups for a long time. Strange pop.
The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt - You don’t need their album, but you need to see their show. I hope it’s what it’s like when I die.
m/m/ Anamanaguchi - Nintendo + Rock = <3
m/ The Chapman Family - Great for bad moods.
Shout Out Out Out Out - Dancey, electro-pop. Fun.
m/m/ Sweet Apple - Yeeessssss!!! Featuring J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Face-melting, classic.
m/m/ Oh No Ono - Another favorite. Incredible, other-worldy psychedelic pop.
Tobacco - Of Black Moth Super Rainbow. Dreamy, strange electronic accompanied by bizarre and disturbing video art.
Mariachi El Bronx - Double as both punk/rock and mariachi. Missed the punk version and caught the mariachi. Good stuff.
**#%@#$&!$%@!!!!!!!!11** Billy Bragg
Yacht - Electronic, dancey fluff.
m/m/ Trampled by Turtles - Crazy bluegrass with a punk spirit. Loved them.
m/ Justin Townes Earle - Country, singer-songwriter. Fantastic.
m/ Deer Tick - Excellent country/rock. Very good live presence.
m/m/ Lucero - Great way to finish out the country showcase. Just a great band.
m/ Joan of Arc - Angular, and dissonant, but beautiful at times. Probably not for everybody, but I loved them.
Jukebox the Ghost - Cleverly crafted piano pop.
Free Energy - Positive, energetic rock.
m/ Rogue Wave - Excellently constructed gems of pop songs.
m/ Titus Andronicus - Loud, punky goodness + shouting.
m/m/ Wave Machines - Caught me totally off guard. Listen to them. Do it. Now.
She Keeps Bees - Someone actually held up a note saying “The White Stripes called, they want their dynamic back” during the show. A jerk move considering they totally hold their own.
Lady Dottie and the Diamonds - Another one of those life-affirming moments at this year’s SXSW. This lady is a total badass.
Ok that’s it! Go listen to some music or make some noise!