By Janelle Abad
SXSW Press Team
When a festival encompasses an entire city, not even including the unofficial showcases, artists are prone to being left in the dust by other acts. Here are some of my favorite acts that I feel didn’t quite get the recognition they deserved at this year’s South by Southwest.
1. Julien Baker
She just exited her teenage years last September and the five-foot tall singer-songwriter sings with every inch of pain and burden that she has ever experienced. Don’t let the singer-songwriter description fool you – she’s no where near the folky side of the title that is closely associated with acts under the same descriptor. Baker’s eloquent lyricism parallels the control of her voice. I first witnessed Baker in a cathedral and I believe that it was the perfect way to be introduced to her. At one point, I closed my eyes and laid my head down on the pew to simply fully embrace her pleading for healing in a place for spiritual healing. This intimate moment with Julien Baker was one of the most sacred and emotionally-driven experiences of the entire festival.
2. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
Produced by tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, A Man Alive is Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s sixth album. Frontwoman Thao Nguyen is known for her nimbleness on the guitar and playful lyricism and both were translated in an energetic performance opening for last minute metal headliner, Deftones. Unfortunately enough, the majority of the crowd were eagerly awaiting the heavy screams of Chino Moreno and I feel that Thao’s style of music wasn’t fully translated with the audience. Towards the end of the set, audience members were yelling “Deftones!” in between songs. Despite the rude crowd, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of Nguyen’s simple vocals and buzzing guitar riffs.
3. Sunflower Bean
I was pleasantly surprised at the trifecta’s cohesiveness during their performance on the Radio Day stage. Going into the show, I was concerned that Sunflower Bean was going to be another high-energy but messy psych-rock act but alas, the young Brooklyn natives proved me half wrong. It was mesmerizing to watch all members maintain each other in view despite the wide stage. The band had this synergy between them that seemed as if they have been playing with each other for at least a decade. My favorite song to watch them perform live was “Tame Impala,” a fuzzy, flange filled and bass heavy track from their 2014 EP. The track features Julia screaming, “You always say what’s on your mind,” as the main hook throughout. They keep the lyricism simple on this one but not much more is needed with the syncopated rhythms that are broken into A and B sections by a triplet guitar riff in between.
4. Yonatan Gat
I have been told by those that work with the former frontman of Monotix that he is one of the most hard working musicians in the industry. Playing 17 shows within week, it is no wonder that Yonatan Gat has been dubbed with the title. Not only is he known for a mind-melting performance, he’s known to be extremely personable.
“I just love going to different cities and meeting new people,” Gat said.
There is a sense of humbleness and intimacy to his performance as his band takes stage not above the crowd but with the crowd. The audience circles around the floor of the venue and by doing so, he displays that he is not a pompous artist – he wants to be at the same level as the crowd and to bring the music to the crowd rather than the crowd to the music. It is not all about Gat when he performs and he makes that very apparent. While playing a leading melody, Gat would turn on a blue lamp placed in front of him. When it is not his turn to shine, the bassist will shine a yellow lamp light on the rhythm section to show its melodic importance. The musicality of Gat’s touring band is one that I have yet to see in other musicians.
5. Fantastic Negrito
I accidentally caught the Oakland-based punky-blues band as I was waiting for Sunflower Bean’s set at the Radio Day stage and I left the performance wowed by the funky-ness and lyricism that was sung to the working class. Frontman Xavier Dphrepaulezz sings songs of working from dusk ‘till dawn and still struggling to put food on the table. He sings songs for the people that are inspired by his personal story. Dphrepaulezz was also the winner of the NPR’s 2015 Tiny Desk Contest after submitting his one-take performance in a freight elevator. After a standing ovation after his set in the Austin Convention Center, it was clear that everyone in the room witnessed the same overwhelming amount of talent and work that has been put into the Fantastic Negrito facade.