Baby Bands, Pop Stars And Room-Filling Joy: What To Expect At SXSW 2013

Mar 13, 2013
Originally published on March 16, 2013 9:55 am

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.

The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

Finding a prevailing trend at SXSW isn't easy; the festival is like 50 events in one, so it's possible to see nothing but hip-hop, or big names, or heavy metal, or bands from overseas. There's one clear trend in independent music: A lot of the biggest artists have shed the intimacy of bedroom recordings in pursuit of a grandiose, joyous, room-filling sound.

My favorite young band of the festival's opening night fits this bill. Mother Falcon, a 17-piece rock orchestra of sorts, is based in Austin and can't help but send huge sounds bouncing off the rafters. I'm looking forward to seeing a like-minded octet called The Soil & The Sun.

Of course, the big names have their own pull, too. Prince is slated to perform at the SXSW closing party Saturday night, and even the most discovery-minded festival-goers — the ones who lament SXSW's increased emphasis on established names like Green Day and Snoop Dogg — are likely to have a hard time passing up the opportunity to see that.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.


CORNISH: "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, big number one hit. And this is not some unknown band.


CORNISH: Still, Macklemore and Lewis are one of a couple of thousand bands performing this week at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The festival may be considered a hotbed for discovering new acts, but these days, you're just as likely to hear rapper Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion, as you are that random band you can't pronounce the name of that your blog-crazy cousin told you about. Like this band...


CORNISH: Our NPR music team is listening to that music and a lot more in Austin to find out about some of the tunes that are making waves. And we're joined from Austin by our own Stephen Thompson, who's out on the street taking in the scene. Hey there, Stephen.


CORNISH: So I hear the concert started yesterday and you went out to shows last night and this is one, The Mother Falcon. Tell us about them.

THOMPSON: Yeah, this is one of the bands I was most excited to see. You know, I spend months leading up to South by Southwest trying to listen to all the bands that are playing and I got through about 1,500. And so I feel like I've spent a lot of time discovering music. Now, I want to discover the spectacle.


THOMPSON: So, Mother Falcon is - they're from Austin and there are 17 members. So, it's basically a sort of rock orchestra almost. Not with necessarily an orchestral vibe, but this big joyous, just - there are waves of joy are sort of emanating off this band. And so I like to look for bands that are going to do something live that they can't do on record.

CORNISH: And is there a little bit of a trend with that? I mean, are we seeing smaller bands who are aspiring to a bigger sound?

THOMPSON: Well, yeah. I mean, I think if you're looking for prevailing trends, I think a few years ago, a lot of independent music was very inward facing. And I think now with the success of a lot of bands like Arcade Fire or even, like, even almost like a Mumford and Sons, there's this very big outward facing, stompy, clappy, bigger, brasher sound.

You got a rock band, you better throw in some horns, better throw in some strings and split the money eight ways instead of four.

CORNISH: Now, does the band The Soil and the Sun fall in that category? They are another one of your picks.

THOMPSON: Yeah, The Soil and the Sun is four men and four women and they have an album out called "What Wonder Is This Universe." And, you know, I spend a lot of time listening to a lot of sad music and I'm a mopey music aficionado. But when you have a band that is that celebratory surrounding sort of life and existence, I've got a soft spot for that. And, you know, when you're seeing live music, if you can actually be uplifted, there is never anything wrong with that.


CORNISH: All right, Stephen. Sounds like its coming to a movie soundtrack near you, right?


THOMPSON: Or a Bing commercial.

CORNISH: Now, how does a band like this compete with, say, a headliner, you know, like a Snoop Lion or even the band we heard earlier, Macklemore? You know, is this a festival that's about discovering new bands or has it become just another big kind of pre-summer music fest?

THOMPSON: I think South by Southwest, more than any other music festival, is what you make of it. It is designed to be about 50 different music festivals all happening on top of each other. And you can spend an entire time at South by Southwest almost listening to nothing but music from Asia or listening to nothing but hip-hop or nothing but metal. And so, you can also spend that time standing in line for headliners. And it can be a festival experience sort of like seeing, you know, a Lollapalooza or a Bonnaroo or a Coachella and - where you see gigantic headlines.

I mean, Prince is rumored to be playing South by Southwest. And if you want to see Prince, which I do, you have that opportunity to do that. But at the same time, for me, the greatest joy of South by Southwest is to go and just have this one-stop shopping where you're just doing nothing but taking in things you've never heard before and to kind of be as notionally open as possible to as much music as possible in order to become a more well-rounded music enthusiast.

CORNISH: That's Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. Stephen, thanks so much for talking with us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And if you want to hear more music from Austin, head to tonight. You can hear and see live performances from South by Southwest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.