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SXSW RECAP: MAKING AUSTIN WEIRD AGAIN


While it seemed to come together entirely last-minute for a large percentage of those involved this year (as it certainly did for me), SXSW 2023 was full of déjà vu moments. On one level, there’s just too much history here for it not to—you can walk around and say, “Here’s where the Ozomatli conga line got detained, here’s where some guy punched a police horse at the Death From Above 1979 show and, hey, remember the crush on the Driskill steps when there was a rumor of a Skrillex after-set?”

But beyond those kinds of ghosts, there’s a rhythm and a ritual to a zillion bands cramming into every available room in town to show whomever might be here to listen to what they’ve got. And now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Penske acquisition and years of gradual overindulgence (corporate, megastar and just in general), there’s a back-to-basics vibe, with a larger proportion of truly developing artists (many hailing from overseas) putting in the work.

My own itinerary was largely focused on new co-management clients Overcoats, who came for a brace of shows in advance of their album, Winner (4/7, via Thirty Tigers), including a joyously packed Women That Rock showcase, a closing jaunt at the venerated Paste party and appearances at showcases for High Road Touring and A2IM. In these, the band was joined by a breathtaking variety of acts, including Nashville singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian, the increasingly ubiquitous New West breakthrough Sunny War, high-lonesome acolytes Sarah Shook & the Disarmers and one of my own must-sees, Canadian songwriter William Prince.

As has increasingly been the case amid the festival’s evolution, the international element was pronounced, with a wide variety of acts including Aussie rockers Civic, a revamped version of krautrock classicists Tangerine Dream (anchored by Ulrich Schnauss), Britain’s punishingly beautiful Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (pictured in tease), Seoul’s Asian Glow (above) and Canadian indie power poppers Kiwi Jr.

While the ebb of celebrity traffic has blunted the festival’s hip-hop edge (anyone remember seeing an early, early Kendrick Lamar set with Mobb Deep?), there was a Jadakiss sighting, and Killer Mike lived large at the Spin showcase at Stubb’s. Yes, boygenius (below) played the airport baggage claim, and a slew of acclaimed acts ranging from Margo Price to Superchunk to The Zombies (top) passed through, but even some touched by celebrity are, in fact, developing acts—be it The Bad Ones (whose record features once-upon-a-time R.E.M. drummer Billy Berry) or Stone Gossard’s limber rock project Painted Shield.

Other notable emerging artists included Rett Madison, Revenge Wife (featuring Liz Nistico from Holychild), Evan Bartels, shredders Poison Ruin, LA/NYC’s thrilling Near Beer, the fast-tracking, post-hardcore Militarie Gun and kindred Philly spirits Soul Glo. Blondshell, The Nude Party, Rachel Ana Dobken, Madison McFerrin, Michigander and Sudan Archives further populate a list that goes on more or less ad infinitum.

While my own obligations and traffic pattern limited my firehose dosage, SXSW is here and back for the taking, and at my own time of departure in the wee hours of Friday morning, I’m leaving it still in full swing. But, hey, I think once again every spring, we can start to close the Seders of the music business with the phrase “Next year… in Austin!”

Photos: Shannon Johnston, Renee Dominguez/Getty Images and Diego Donamaria/Getty Images for SXSW

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