Buzz bands from the U.K. are usually sixpence a dozen at SXSW, which became the go-to U.S. launching point for such recent British breakouts as Alt-J and the Vaccines. This year’s crop seems a little different, though. For one, there are a lot of them, with a lot of different sonic styles represented between them. What’s more, quite a few of them really deserve the hype, as I found out by catching many of them on stage Wednesday.
The best and the brightest – quite literally, given the glitzy stage production at the Fader Fort – was London Grammar. A vaguely trip-hoppy, Portishead-influenced trio from Nottingham (with London roots), the band itself showed off a compellingly nervous elegance and subtle edge. But the star of the show was unquestionably singer Hannah Reid, the most genuine new talent I’ve seen so far in the fest. The 23-year-old dressed in jeans and a casual top for the Fader Fort gig, which belied her stylish and sophisticated pop-chaunteuse vocals, with Adele being an obvious (and deserved) comparison.
Earlier at the Fader Fort, the slender wiz kids of Temples churned out a thick, murky but also uptempo and sometimes poppy brand of psychedelic haze-rock. The band sounded and even looked like early Pink Floyd, with singer James Bagshaw singing with Syd Barrett’s nasal tone while he and bassist Thomas Warmsley sported hairdos near identical to ‘60s-era Barrett and Roger Waters. Alas, the music itself was not so impressively shorn, sometimes droning on without enough flair.
At Stubb’s for the annual NPR showcase, Leeds’ scorching quintet Eagulls had all the flair necessary to win over the packed crowd. Visually the band was about as dull as the Stubb’s dirt floor – singer George Mitchell sort of sways leisurely in one place like the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown – but sonically it cut like a table saw with constantly buzzing guitars and thunderous rhythms.
Worst among the Brit pack – easily the worst thing I’ve seen over two days, in fact – 21-year-old electro-pop-punk wannabe Charlie XCX came off like an entirely prefab act, sort of like a cross between a Disney TV starlet and Billy Idol. Mind you, she earned a lot of pre-SXSW praise from critics. Also disappointing, we tried to take in yet one more U.K. darling act at the end of the night on the Maggie Mae’s rooftop, Nick Cave's upcoming tour openers Warpaint. However, they soundchecked for 40 minutes and then played an abbreviated set, which only confirmed the sound still needed tweaking. Thus, I’ll reserve judgment.