The 20 Best Bands We Saw at SXSW 2016

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The 20 Best Bands We Saw at SXSW 2016

We did it. We survived another year in Austin. From tacos to torrential rain storms leaving us stranded on Willie Nelson’s Ranch, South by Southwest 2016 was certain an adventure. And yes, of course, we witnessed some incredible live music. Here are the 20 best bands we saw at SXSW 2016, in alphabetical order.

1. Anderson .Paak
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Curious if SXSW had a clear-cut winner? Here’s your guy. Anderson.Paak is a destroyer. We profiled him in a Best of What’s Next back in December and man-oh-man was that sentiment confirmed at SXSW. Paak brings an R&B infused hip-hop style, whether he’s dancing across the stage singing through his brilliant LP Malibu, or whether he’s playing the drums and singing at the same time. His set opened with him and BJ The Chicago kid (who’d played just before him on the same stage) doing “Waters” off of Malibu and Paak went on to run the gamut on the album. The 9th Wonder & Callum Conner produced “The Season/Carry Me” is one of this year’s finest productions and Paak’s “Heart 1985-86 World Tour” T-shirt came out when he tore of his blue and orange leopard print letterman jacket. The dude has crazy style (and even wore a jacket emblazoned with Bart Simpson heads at a later set at Pandora’s Discovery Den.) At that same Discovery Den set, Paak switched up the setlist from the earlier show and dropped “Animals” from Dr. Dre’s Compton album, in which he was prominently featured as a vocalist throughout. This was an artist you wanted to see more than once and for a dude who was already riding high after his recent signing to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, he’ll likely leave SXSW as music’s newest bona fide star. “Yes lawd!” —Adrian Spinelli

2. Beach Slang
“Hi we’re Beach Slang and we’re here to punch you in the heart!” singer James Alex said as Beach Slang opened the day with a noon-time set on Friday. Alex’s charisma is through the roof, his velvet sport coat was a staple all week and Beach Slang held their own when I saw them across multiple showcases during the week. The power-punk outfit from Philadelphia demanded attention on stage and got it every time with tracks off of 2015’s Polyvinyl release The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. They’re a pop punk that you want to keep listening to, ‘cause despite the moments when they might be reminiscent of late 00’s radio bands, Alex is still as punk as they come. —Adrian Spinelli

3. Bambara
Bambara is loud, in the best possible way—the kind of loud where you feel the noise-rock trio’s music in your entire body, with those frantic drums replacing your heartbeat. Their set on Saturday afternoon was like a much-needed jolt of energy to carry us through the final day of SXSW. —Bonnie Stiernberg

4. Charlie XCX & Sophie
This was one of those sets that you’re only gonna see at SXSW. It was English pop starlet Charli XCX’s first time playing live with digi-pop producer Sophie (a product of the futuristic label PC Music’s roster) and it was a face-melting affair. Extravagant lights flashed (nobody did lighting better than Hype Hotel throughout the week), smoke machines breezed across the stage and it seemed as if every time I looked up, I’d catch a different glimpse of XCX’s silhouette. There was mystique, there was the 1 am set factor that turned Hype Hotel into a quasi-rave for an hour and there was Charli XCX owning the stage like a fucking pop star. She made it seem easy and had confidence levels that were ready to blow through the roof of the indoor stage. The J-pop forged PC Music beats from Sophie paired so well with Charli and the result was pop music like we’d never heard it before. —Adrian Spinelli

5. Day Wave
Oakland’s Day Wave positively must be on your radar. The band, led by frontman Jackson Phillips has dialed-in a brand of indie pop that’s been getting them air play across the globe and tracks from the new Hard To Read EP were money. Phillips and guitarist Kevin Friedman (who was also a part of Phillips’ last band, Carousel) have really smooth vocal harmonies and cuts like “Gone” and OG single “Drag” are flat out good pop songs, devoid of the douchiness that some pop rock bands sport. Get into ‘em. You’re welcome. —Adrian Spinelli

6. Diet Cig
Ahhh…my SXSW spirit animals. The NY-based wild punk duo lifted up the spirits of every room they played in. Diet Cig was the only band I caught three times over the course of the week and they were a much-needed shot in the arm every time. Early Saturday afternoon—the festival’s final day—I was struggling until I made my way to Do512’s showcase and watched singer Alex Luciano bounce around on stage, singing and pushing her guitar to the limits. Drummer Noah Bowman was breaking sticks left and right and it was like we’d stepped into a page out of Where The Wild Things Are, the indie rock edition. Luciano is never not smiling ear to ear and I had more fun watching these kids play than just about anything all week long. Their set punctuates with the catchy single “Harvard”, where both band members are at their finest. I dare you to see Diet Cig play live and not totally fall for their happy-go-lucky energy. I double dog dare you. —Adrian Spinelli

7. Dilly Dally
I had rushed off for a brisket sandwich in between sets and luckily got back just in time to see Canadian punks Dilly Dally torch the day time stage at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Wednesday. In an afternoon that featured the pared down vibes of Frankie Cosmos and Waxahatchee just before them on the outdoor stage, singer Katie Monks—wearing a badass over-sized silver pendant around her neck—and company totally shredded through tracks off of 2015’s excellent Sore. Guitarist Liz Ball was in her own world, head down, hair often draped down the front of her head and just wailed on the exit solo to “Desire.” But Monks’ nasal, scratched up vocals and general IDGAF aura, usher in a new form of post-punk that riled me up. —Adrian Spinelli

8. Hinds
I caught the last half of Hinds’ set at the Hype Hotel, but their no-frills three-part harmonies were echoing through the surrounding ‘hood when I walked up to the venue. Garage rock with a buoyant undertone, these Spanish up-and-comers made the cavernous makeshift venue feel like a house party—in a good way. Their sound may be unrefined, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the ride. —Dacey Orr

9. Iggy Pop
On Wednesday night I witnessed a 68-year-old man stage-dive. That man was Iggy Pop. It was, of course, incredible, as was the rest of his set with Josh Homme. The emphasis was on material from their new album, Post Pop Depression, but there were plenty of Iggy classics like “Lust for Life,” “The Passenger,” “China Girl,” and “Nightclubbing” tossed in for good measure. Homme is the perfect musical partner for Pop, holding his own on the hits, and the new material sounded strong among the timeless stuff. Iggy seemed truly appreciative of the large crowd at the Moody—so much so that he ran about a half hour long. —Bonnie Stiernberg

10. Lissie
We were met with a treat in the Revival Tent, where Lissie had taken to the stage with a bottle of wine and an acoustic guitar and begun making the best of it with a truly chilling unplugged set. The thunder added intensity to Lissie’s howling vocals and pleading lyrics while a rapt audience clung to her every word. The storm worsened and worsened during her performance, but it added a rapturous element to every note. “Further Away (Romance Police)” ran particularly hot, and I heard multiple people say they were happy the whole storm thing had happened—the first inkling that weather wasn’t going to stifle the good attitudes of this Willie crew. You had to come away from the experience with an immense respect for Lissie, both as a artist and, y’know, a human being—she most certainly had a dry trailer with a stocked bar she could’ve camped out in, but she made the entire day for many people and certainly won a bevy of lifetime fans for it. —Dacey Orr

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