The South By Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference — a series of creative events held every spring celebrating underground music, independent film and innovative technology through trade shows, panel discussions, conferences and performances at Austin Convention Center — kicked off this past Friday. SXSW music festival brings in nearly 2,000 acts, national and international, to play for six nights. Austin lures thousands of music lovers from all over to register and get their fill of the stuff they love: music and excitement.
“It isn’t one of the standard festivals of our time. It celebrates simply being a musician or a fan or a follower. This place, South By Southwest, [you will] find that essential noise,” said Irish singer, songwriter, humanitarian Bob Feldof at SXSW in his 2011 keynote.
And to anyone who’s been following Ohio’s indie-rock music scene, it’s probably no surprise to them these local bands are taking the spotlight at SXSW this month. These are the artists we search on YouTube to watch nearby locales get rocked by the sounds that once rang out of Cincinnati, Dayton, or Athens. Let’s take a look at the showcasing bands from our turfs.
What to call them: Chuck Cleaver (vocals, guitar), Lisa Walker (vocals, guitar), Mark Messerly (bass, keys), Joe Klug (drums)
Where you’ve seen them: Northside Tavern
Their sound: Walker adds balance with her airy crooning to Cleaver’s puling backups and regular bouts of feisty outbursts. Klug’s hard-hitting drums sound like a ticking time bomb for the emotive vocalists. Wussy’s banging, gritty guitars and hefty distortion take us back to ‘90s garage rock.
Tracks to check out: A presence of tension between ex-lovers Cleaver and Walker in “Asteroid” exists in their heart-to-heart about feelings unknown to us. “Pulverized” is a group effort where bandmates join forces and chant to share the happiness of being in love, inviting enough to encourage listeners to sing along.
What makes them awesome: Despite recognition in SPIN and Rolling Stone, Wussy haven’t lost their heads as a result. Walker acknowledges Cincinnati’s music scene by telling Village Voice, “People play music here (Cincinnati) because they love to do it. It’s their outlet. When you live here, you have the free time to do that — have a family, have a job and you can go play in a band.”
What’s in store: After taking the stage at SXSW on March 13, Wussy arrive home on March 24 to play at Northside Tavern to celebrate the establishment’s 10-year anniversary.
What to call them: Stuart MacKenzie (lead vocals, guitar), Johnny Walker (guitar, vocals, harmonica, bass), Richard Sherman (guitar, bass) Matthew Ayers (drums, vocals)
Where you’ve seen them: MidPoint Music Festival (four times), Northside Tavern, MTV
Their sound: The Lions Rampant are just feel-good and rugged; the kind of band that puts on shows in a buddy’s basement and where that sweaty guy can be seen flailing around among the others who don’t have a care in the world besides their friends and the music around them.
Tracks to check out: Lions’ SXSW showcasing artist promo video for “Crazy or a Liar” is up on YouTube. Not only is the video entertaining (anyone up for tribal cannibalism?) but the song is electric. “Lights On” sounds like it was recorded at a rowdy house party; but the tracks on It’s Fun Doing Bad Things were laid down in a trailer way out in the boonies of Burlington, Ky. A band that can bring this much fist-pumping energy makes any Kentuckian or Ohioan proud. Kentucky’s stereotypes of race tracks and moonshine and Ohio’s stock banalities of cornfields and the good ol’ Buckeyes are all meaningless when The Lions Rampant is around — forget the clichés. Go crazy.
What makes them awesome: As if MacKenzie’s tawny curls weren’t lion-like enough, the group takes an in-your-face approach to their name by performing in lion suits.
What’s in store: Soon after they pack up their gear at the SXSW performance on March 13, they’re hitting up Mainstay in Cincinnati on April 29 to promote the release of their 7-inch, which features new songs “Crazy or a Liar” and “The Push and Pull.”
What to call them: Tommy Cooper (guitar), Ian Kaplan (drums), PJ Paslosky (vocals), Derl Robbins (guitar), Tod Weidner (bass)
Where you’ve seen them: Southpark Tavern, Canal Street Tavern
Their sound: Motel Beds’ crisp guitar sounds make the band seem like a ‘60s and ‘70s British Invasion throwback. The indie-rock band could blend in with bands like The Who, and Paslosky’s scratchy voice has charismatic similarities to Jagger’s.
Tracks to check out: “Laugh Until You Die” is a simple, harmonious song that emphasizes Paslosky’s vocal orchestration with the sound of fingers zipping down an acoustic’s strings. “Tango Boys” does carry a particular sweetness but is more mind-bending and dreamlike. How Interpol and TV on the Radio cast feelings of sitting in a dark and empty room with an unseen musical power, Motel Beds set up a mental disposition that’s spacey like Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica.
What makes them awesome: They invited new-wave/garage-rock singer Kelley Deal, another Gem City native, to sing on “Tropics of the Sand” — a romantic song fragile lovers would want to listen to while locking lips for the very first time.
What’s in store: No word on what is next for Motel Beds after SXSW on March 13, but continue checking their website and become a fan on Facebook (as you should for all of these bands) for information on upcoming shows.
What to call them: Adam Remnant (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Jesse Remnant (bass, vocals), Billy Matheny (piano, organ, guitar, banjo), Leo DeLuca (drums)
Where you’ve seen them: Northside Tavern
Their sound: On one hand, the banjo plucking and the Remnant brothers’ sharp vocals ring similar to Middle Brother and Monsters of Folk. On the other hand, Southeast Engine don’t restrict their music to southern influence. The power of Matheny’s organ and the band’s guitars take over and bring on the handclaps from the audience.
Tracks to check out: The organ and fast picking in “Holy Ghost” makes this song stand out against the others, knocking the rest of the mellifluous tracks out of the water. Adam and Jesse’s vocals ride the rattling current of DeLuca’s percussion. This twangy jam has a way-out-west feel, and the wind chimes add a new ingredient, proving the song is of its own flavor. “Malcontent” masters the art of segueing from one emotion and style to the next in just four minutes.
What makes them awesome: Last year, Adam and Black Swans’ Jerry DeCicca went on a living room tour in exchange for bars and music venues. The two played, unplugged, in several Ohioans’ living rooms, where roughly 40-50 others gathered to watch.
What’s in store: After SXSW (March 15), Southeast Engine head back to Athens to play at Casa Nueva on April 3. Next is a show at The Treehouse in Columbus on April 21.
What to call them: Kelley Deal (The Breeders) and Mike Montgomery (Ampline)
Where you’ve seen them: Carnegie Arts Center
Their sound: Rocking two guitars, Deal and Montgomery have a quirky, unique sound that remains quite the mystery to anyone who hasn’t been to their shows. Deal describes it to Huntsville Times as “up-tempo and quieter stuff; kind of across the board.”
Tracks to check out: R. Ring have yet to officially release any recordings, but you can check out a small handful of clips from live performances on YouTube.
What makes them awesome: After kicking a heroin habit in the ‘90s, Deal has turned to knitting for comfort. She released a book in 2008 (“Bags That Rock: Knitting on the Road with Kelley Deal”) and will be holding a knit-a-long in Austin after SXSW. Like Adam Remnant of Southeast Engine, R. Ring have also been in cahoots with Jerry DeCicca (they performed together on Feb. 20 in Alabama at Crossroads Music Hall).
What’s in store: They play at SXSW on March 15 and plan on releasing a 7-inch followed by a full-length through Misra Records as soon as possible. April 18 marks R. Ring’s return to Ohio to perform at the Taft Theater.
More at: R.Ring Official Site
If you’re not in Austin now, there’s always next year. SXSW continues to get bigger and bigger, so make sure to register through the website early. And if you are there, enjoy seeing our friends on stage doing what they love in front of those who love it. It starts tonight.