South by Southwest (SXSW) has become one of the most influential music festivals in the world. For artists like Erykah Badu, Leon Bridges, White Denim and countless others, this week-long showcase of music was the catalyst that jump started their careers. The festivities kickoff in just a little over a week and with over 1,500 acts to sift through, figuring out who to go see can be quite intimidating. So besides the KCRW showcase, which takes place on Weds, Mar 15th, here’s a list of a few artists that are not to be missed!
C.W. Stoneking – C.W. hails from the small city of Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia. You probably didn’t even know that Australia had a state called Northern Territory. Yet, somehow from this remote location, Stoneking found himself falling in love with Chicago and Hokum blues, Ragtime, American Gospel and Calypso. His voice sounds like he was raised in the Mississippi Delta, with a fusion of Muddy Waters and Washington Phillips. To say this cat is unique, is an understatement. Stoneking has 3 albums to date and all sound as authentic as his influences. Listening to his recordings immediately transports you to the juke joints of the American south of the 1930s & 40s. So you can only imagine what seeing him live must be like. I have no doubt that this guy’s performance will be one of the standouts for anyone fortunate enough to catch his set in Austin.
Khruangbin – Similar to C.W. Stoneking, this trio also comes form a remote locale. Burton, Texas has a population of about 300 people, it’s land locked and not a hotbed for diversity. Despite all of that, Laura Lee, Mark Speer & Donald Johnson create music that sounds like the soundtrack to an imagined 1960s Southeast Asain surf film. The trio began the Khruangbin project after collectively discovering Thai funk cassettes from the 60s & 70s. Most of their music is instrumental and is equal parts, dreamy, ethereal and psychedelic. Infusing elements of funky bass lines, twangy and fuzzy, wah-wah guitar riffs, 60s soul and traditional Asian melodies. Khruangbin creates compositions that can only be described as – seductive. All of these ingredients make their music sound familiar yet distant at the same time. I’ll tell you what, not sure what the weather is going to be like in Austin during the festival, but if you’re looking for a bit of a tropical refuge, make sure to check these guys out.
Yussef Kamaal – With the recent success of Hiatus Kaiyote, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, BadBadNotGood and of course Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”, jazz has resurfaced as a force to be reckoned with in popular music. The London based Yussef Kamaal is a great example of this current trend. Drummer Yussef Dayes & keyboardist Kamaal Williams teamed up to make one of the best albums of 2016, with their debut “Black Focus.” It even made a few of our top ten lists of last year, including mine. If you combine Herbie Hancock & Maravishnu Orchestra with Flying Lotus & Bugz in the Attic, you get Yussef Kamaal. YK incorporates jazz funk, spiritual jazz, world music and of course being from London, aspects of broken beat and jungle. Their unique time signatures, delicate melodies and progressive chords create a trance like listening experience. Many outside the U.S. think of the southern part of the country, quintessential America. Well, there are few things more Amerciana than jazz, so it’s only appropriate you go see Yuseef Kamaal in Texas.
Eric Biddines – It’s irrefutable to say that the south has dominated hip hop over the last several years. So for a southern rapper to be able to standout with a unique voice and sound…it’s quite impressive. That’s exactly what Eric Biddines, who is from Northern Florida, has accomplished over the last few years. His music fully embraces the southern black experience of today, and yesterday. A perfect example of this is “Railroads Down 3.” As you can hear, Biddines doesn’t shy away from putting his southern drawl on full display and the production is fashioned after something you’d hear from a chain gang in the early 1900s. However, the quality of the sound is clearly only something that can be created with modern technology and machinery. The combination of these elements is similar to what Outkast was able to achieve in the early to mid 90s. They introduced the world to a perspective, a voice & a sound in hip hop that was unique in a landscape dominated by the coasts. I have no doubt there will be an abundance of great hip hop acts to check out during the week but if you have to choose one to see, it’s Eric Biddines.
Flamingods– If Dead Can Dance and TV On the Radio had a baby, it would be Flamingods. The quintet is now based in the UK with four of it’s members having grown up together in Bahrain and the fifth, from Dubai. Their music is just as unique as their unlikely beginnings. Flamingods music focuses on exploration and experimentation with influences from different cultures around the world. They have a substantial collection of instruments from Japan, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Tanzania & Turkey which help to define their sound. Similar to Khruangbin, Flamingods has an obvious affinity for psychedelic surf rock. In fact, they cal their music “exotic psychedelia.” I have a feeling these guys will put on a fun show.