Sometimes, if you follow music media, you can get the impression that everyone is heading to the South by Southwest music festival this time of year.
Don’t I wish.
That trip isn’t quite in our budget here at the H-L, plus we have quite a lot going on in Lexington, Kentucky, thank you very much. But South by Southwest — excuse me … SXSW — is no doubt an incredibly important and influential event in the global music calendar, so if you are serious about music, you want to keep tabs on what’s going on down there.
One of my favorite ways is the Austin 100, NPR Music‘s playlist of songs by 100 must-hear acts at SXSW. If you listen to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, which you should, you have heard Stephen Thompson talking about this thing like he’s giving birth. And if you look at it and know a thing or two about putting things together for the web, you understand that is basically what he has been doing.
The 100 is a marvelously diverse collection of songs with some acts I’ve heard, many I haven’t, almost uniformly engaging, with a few keepers for every taste. And keeping is particularly easy on a mobile device because — and this is where I am particularly respectful of the effort — every track has multiple links for saving or streaming on a variety of platforms including iTunes and Spotify. As I write this, my Austin 100 Spotify playlist is sitting at 34 tracks.
I’ve already sampled this year’s 100 once, and taking the second swing through, I was already finding myself drawn to finds from the first time, like Longview, Texas artist Sunny Sweeney‘s Second Guessing, a bright tune about a life of mistakes leading to a happy ending. Then there’s Torres‘ Strange Hellos, which shifts from quietly to abrasively haunting in a beat.
There were those instant hits like Tuxedo, the union of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, with their Number One, which sounds even more ’70s dance-floor retro than Daft Punk. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear immediately grabbed me with the sunny Silent Movies, or the rapid fire rap of Little Simz (if you hit the link, be advised she is making an obscene gesture in the main photo) and Jakwob’s Devour. There were even acts like Weyes Blood and Jukebox the Ghost that warranted immediate downloading of whole albums.
OK, Jukebox was evidence of one slightly annoying aspect of the list: You had to wonder if the No. 1 way to get to SXSW or onto the Austin 100 was to move to Brooklyn. OK, SXSW is a bit of a hipster convention, and Brooklyn is the hipster capitol of the United States. But still, there were moments it felt like every other band …
But then there were towns like … Louisville! Yes, Kentucky’s largest city with a happening music scene of its own made the cut three times with White Reaper, Joan Shelley and Houndmouth, whose new album Little Neon Limelight conveniently drops the first day of SXSW, Tuesday.
Of course, hundreds of acts descend on SXSW, and the 100 is simply a very educated listener’s take on the best of the fest. But it is one way to keep plugged in to what’s going on, while we’re up here enjoying March Madness and whatever else it is we do around here.