The Best Shit We Saw at SXSW 2016

A week in Texas that featured tacos and margs and hoverboards and networking and, most importantly, music.

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21 March 2016, 5:06pm


DJ Esco the coolest DJ on the motherfucking planet. Photo by Rocco Avallone.

Holy tacos and margs, we did it. We lived through another SXSW, and in true SXSW fashion, we’re really fucking tired. But we also had a great week full of seeing awesome new music and connecting with our friends online. We’ll save you any more bad jokes or observations about what SXSW has turned into over the years, so we’ll just get to the stuff we enjoyed the most. And before you start hollering, we know: We obviously missed too much.

Julien Baker's Quiet Brilliance

This young Tennessee songwriter's debut album from last year, Sprained Ankle, is a treasure: quiet, spiritual, and raw, but suffused with an occasional flash of humor. Her performance on Thursday night at Parish was the same, treated with reverence by the crowd and cut through by Baker's both dry and appreciative comments between songs. It also had a way of yanking out involuntary sobs. Baker's mouth opens up wide like a cartoon character's when she sings, filling up her whole face—which makes sense because her voice is one that fills up a room, that warms it up and pulls magic out of even the dark, cobwebby corners. This music doesn't just let you listen; it takes you over completely. —Kyle Kramer

Gallant’s Angelic Voice

Alt-R&B crooner Gallant stood on a lot of speakers as he performed and made every single person at The Fader Fort want to fuck him in the middle of the afternoon. We’ve had our ears to this dude for awhile—and you probably have too, as “Weight in Gold” is a goddamn smash with a couple million plays on YouTube—but with his debut LP coming in April, it was energizing to see somebody answer genuine hype. And he can fucking sing, man. —Eric Sundermann

Charli XCX Leveling Up to Superstar Before Our Eyes


Photo by Brittany Sowacke

Charli XCX has always been awesome, and we've told you as much. But her collaboration with SOPHIE, as I wrote the other day, felt like watching your Pop Fun Haver Pokemon evolve into a Pop Goliath Legendary Pokemon. And there are probably still evolutions to come! Whatever arena she heads to next, you should be there. —KK

Iggy Motherfucking Pop

A lot of bands still go to SXSW with the delusion that they'll finally gain the trust of Metro Boomin, or at least get one step closer to the false ideal of "making it." None of the them will be as badass as Iggy Pop, and none of us will ever be as badass as Iggy Pop. Still slender, still a machine. When he struts out to the "Lust for Life" drum beat, it's over. Yeah, you pipe up with joy, but your partner begins to look at you different, and you know why. Iggy was taping for Austin City Limits, and being neither an good ol' country boy nor an indie-rock darling, he gave the censors a terminal sentence and got closer to the crowd than anyone before him. I mean, when are Explosions in the Sky or Alabama Shakes every gonna get in your face like he did? He is still an inspiration, however painful it may be to try and emulate him. Andy O'Connor

Mumdance Contextualizing Grime for Dumb Americans


Photo by Brittany Sowacke

Beyond the impact of Drake assuring everyone it's cool, I can't help but think that part of grime's recent crossover buzz in the US has to with people realizing it's not so much the UK version of rap as it is a genre unto itself. Dizzee Rascal and Skepta may have bars, but the beats are way too fast and discordant to have any appeal for someone looking for the same feeling they get from listening to Jay Z or Gucci Mane. Appreciated as the post-garage club music that it is, though, grime rules, and DJ and producer Mumdance offered a set during the SBTV showcase that allowed this context to shine through, playing rattling snippets of tracks that shined for their texture and rhythm. Grime is a mindset, bruv, and I was in it. —KK

Diet Cig (Literally) Jumping


Photo by Rocco Avallone

Diet Cig were easily the most at home onstage of any act I saw. Lead singer Alex kept telling the crowd to hydrate and asked if “anyone would sponsor their band because that's what South By is about right?” In between jumping off the kick drum and bouncing around stage, she came back to the importance of hydration. Maybe they could get sponsored by Gatorade: “Maybe we would make our own flavor, but it would be something weird like Diet Cig Pickle Juice Gatorade,” she joked. —Rocco Avallone

Future Showing Up at the Noisey Showcase for Kehlani and Making the Thinking Guy Emoji Face

It was... so... beautiful.


Photo by Jason Henry

White Lung Giving Us Something to Believe In

White Lung is the kind of band that feels like they’ve been perpetually in buzz for the last few years, so maybe you’re sick of hearing about them as a band you should check out after they slay a festival, but we’re not going to stop shoving them down your throat until you accept it and White Lung becomes the biggest band in the world. Mish Way stood at the edge of the stage with her hand on her hip, commanding and directing the crowd like a conductor, getting swallowed by a fury of sound. The band’s next record Paradise is out on May 6 on Domino, a day that can’t get here sooner. —ES

Alvaro Díaz Showing Why He's the Hottest Rapper in Puerto Rico


Photo by Rocco Avallone

I met up with Alvaro Díaz, the hottest rapper in Puerto Rico, five minutes before he was about to go onstage at a Latin music showcase. We went in a back room, where there were some arcade games, including a Simpsons one and a Ninja Turtles one he grew up playing as a kid. He got called to the stage just after starting to play, but he transitioned from beating on a boss outside the Rusty Barnacle immediately into grabbing the mic and delivering his rhymes at a frenetic pace. The crowd, which had been salsa dancing to the previous act, were now bobbing their heads and embracing the disruptive hip-hop energy his music brings. —RA

Day Wave’s Self-Hating Charm

The dreary, jangly vibes of Day Wave were a welcome way to ease into the madness of SXSW. We already told you that he’s next, but to be honest, it felt good to know our prediction is validated. With his new EP Headcase, Day Wave makes the kind of music that has you feeling like you’re floating into uncertainty, unclear of your direction but confident in your anxiety. —ES

A Surprising Lack of Hoverboarding

We went into the week expecting to see an army of these fucking things. Collectively, we think we only saw like seven or so, which is truly disappointing. Is hoverboarding... over? No. It can't be. We won't allow it. And neither will this guy:


Photo by Brittany Sowacke

Davido Taking Off His Chain so He Could Turn up Better

In this one moment, Davido went from Pop Icon to Greatest Rapper Alive. —KK

Assassin (Agent Sasco) Demonstrating What SXSW Is Truly About

Assassin first caught my eye in the crowd at the same Caribbean music showcase he headlined, tapping his toes ecstatically and singing along to 90s reggae legend Tanya Stephens, who performed right before him. It was the last night of the festival—the last hour—and he looked happier to be there than just about anyone I had seen all week. I didn't know it was him; I honestly didn't have much of an idea of what to expect from Assassin, as my knowledge of his music was confined to his appearances on Kendrick Lamar's and Kanye West's albums. But nothing at SXSW hit me as hard as this final set, a tour de force of onstage energy and vocal talent. Assassin's beats are a dominating, minimal clash of noise, and his vocals are delivered in a deep, gritty, patois that comes straight from his (quite muscular) chest, giving them the potency of a Busta Rhymes performance. At one point, he just sang the word “check,” as in “microphone check,” four times, and it left me open-mouthed and dumbfounded— somehow it was one of the most expressive vocalizations I'd ever heard. In the minimal clang of the production, it wasn't hard to see what had drawn Yeezus-era Kanye to this music. In the warmly delivered but pointed lyricism of “Africa” and genre primer “Reggae Origin,” he hit the same kind of expressive political tone that Kendrick Lamar's recent music has had, drawing the line to that collaboration as well. Overall, Assassin was spellbinding, the kind of magical, dropped-in-the-middle-of-a-crowd-of-a-hundred-people-in-Austin performance that SXSW is all about. He was cut short by the city's bar curfew at 2 AM, but otherwise it very well might have gone all night, the type of show where the energy was so strong and so positive that the rest of the world, and especially the roar of Sixth Street outside, seemed quiet and far away. —KK

Mitski Becoming "Your Best American Girl"


Photo by Rocco Avallone

I'd only ever seen Mitski play solo with a guitar, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her rocking bass in a band and even more excited to see her break out her latest single "Your Best American Girl." The room was empty when she started and packed when she finished. —RA

Bibi Bourelly Ending Her Songs by Exclaiming “Lit”


Photo by Ryan Muir for Fader Fort

Being young is lit. Getting drunk is lit. Singing like hell is lit. This performance was definitely lit. I wrote more about it here, and even writing about it was pretty lit. —KK

Drake, We Guess, Even Though Seeing His Set Made Us Miss Getting Super Ripped and Going to See Bongzilla

Seeing Drake perform a surprise set is never not going to be awesome—even if it's only 13-minutes long. But what kind of sucked was that we had a night planned of getting beyond stoned to go see weed metal enthusiasts Bongzilla tear a hole through the space time continuum, but when the Drake set happened, our lives were shifted and Saturday evening became a night of pursuing the 6 God’s next surprise set (that didn’t happen). —ES

Sheer Mag Continuing Their Reign

Philly rockers Sheer Mag were one of the breakouts of SXSW last year, and after releasing another (appropriately) hyped EP a couple weeks ago, the quartet cemented themselves as one of the most exciting bands in music right now by blasting the shit out of a variety of SXSW Showcases—one of which included a bridge performance. There’s no one-way to say it: this band just has attitude and plays with infectious charm that somehow hits the chords of Springsteen and grimy punk. It’s super exciting to see them grow in popularity. —ES

DJ Dodger Stadium Soundtracking the Future

The duo of JeromeLOL and Samo Sound Boy has embraced the power of unadulterated joy in their jubilant, futuristic version of house music, an approach that recently caught the ear of Kanye West and landed them several production and writing credits on The Life of Pablo. After a brief rain delay Friday night, that spirit was in full effect during the DJDS set, which was a pure clash of noise to get lost in. Samples bubbled up triumphantly, including on their gorgeous single “You Don't Have to Be Alone,” and it felt like both the coolest club night and the happiest house party in one tent on a patio by the river. —KK

Rae Sremmurd Just Kind of Being Everywhere


Photo by Quinton Boudwin

I like to imagine the Rae Sremmurd bros as the Workahloics of music, just kind of always hanging out and being charming and funny and down to hang out and maybe prank somebody. Not only do these two have endless energy and performed like 17 times, they managed to show up at what seemed to be every single showcase to watch. Also, shout out to them saying "fuck Donald Trump" before performing "Up Like Donald Trump" every time. —ES

Wolf Eyes Playing Pearl St. Co-Op

While most was lacking at SXSW this year, as it has been for the past couple years (more on that another time), trip metal was alive and well, thanks to its originators, Wolf Eyes. And, well, trip metal isn't really metal, and yet it was more metal than most of the bands that played the Dirty Dog. Rock clubs aren't Wolf Eyes' thing -- courtyards of student co-ops are. Nobody was swimming in the pool, because noise kids are too cool to swim, but Wolf Eyes' droning desert psych makes for both tripping and cannonballing. The sun set during their performance, and I'm convinced they actually pulled it down. They're the type to wear shades at night, because you look extra badass summoning the ghosts of jazz when you're wearing Geordi La Forge sunglasses. With Iggy Pop the night before, Detroit had a great run at SXSW. All the best shows are unofficial. —AO

Not Seeing Desiigner Debut a Song Called "Pluto" Because Goddamnit He's Just Trolling Us All At This Point But We Did Enjoy Getting Wild to "Panda" at The Illmore Mainly Because of This Dude Wearing a Giant Panda Head


Photo by Ellie Pritts

This guy's career is probably over soon but "Panda" is fun as shit to mob to while really drunk. —ES

Young Thug’s Jewelry

Friday night in Austin got a bit screwy because of some wild storms over the Texas plains, but after the lightning passed, Young Thug proceeded to hold a funeral procession down 6th Street in which he announced Slime Season 3 would be released on March 25. Then he performed at the Pandora House and wore a jewelry store. It was magical. —ES

Antwon and Wiki Getting the World Amped as Hell

This East Coast/West Coast pairing has been a fruitful one over the course of several collaborations in recent years, particularly when it stole hip-hop on Wiki's recent song “Patience.” Antwon is one of hip-hop's most charismatic performers, and his set at the Loma Vista/Body High showcase was fun as shit, even closing out with an enthusiastic dance party to Alice Deejay's “Better Off Alone.” But the highlight was that he brought out Wiki, who is rapidly proving himself as one of the best rappers working right now, and the two traded verses, operating comfortably as a duo. Their onstage chemistry is excellent; I'm amped as hell about Antwon's upcoming album, but I'm even giddier about the fact that these two dudes are on tour together this week because this is the livest hip-hop show of the spring. —KK

Noisey is already planning to connect next year at SXSW 2017. Follow us on Twitter to build.

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