One of the most diverse cities in the U.S., if not the world, Houston is sending a delegation to SXSW that resembles its hometown more than ever. This year more than 20 Houston acts were officially accepted, and many more will head to Austin to play one (or several) of the music festival's myriad unsanctioned events.
Our lineup this year is as hip-hop-heavy as ever (surprise), but this year breakouts-in-waiting like Perseph One and powerhouse R&B vocalist Kam Franklin will represent the Bayou City right alongside the bigger names you already know. Furthermore, SXSW is slowly getting hip to the fact that there's a lot more to Houston music than just rap. Take a look for yourself. C.G.
Bun B: If a big-name rapper is in town, Bun B won't be far behind. The Port Arthur-born MC, repping UGK for life as always, has made a sort of sideline business of walking out onstage, slaying the crowd and slipping off into the shadows, most recently at buddy Jay-Z's sold-out Toyota Center date. Last month, Bun left Asylum Records for Universal Music Group's Fontana imprint, which will release upcoming LP O.G. Trill...eventually. C.G.
Chamillionaire & Paul Wall: These two well-known rappers could be the Simon & Garfunkel of Houston hip-hop. From boyhood on, the two Woodland Trails natives were like peas and carrots, but creative differences broke their Color Changin' Click apart in 2002. Both went solo and helped usher in the flossed-out era of candy paint and syrup to the masses. Old wounds finally (somewhat) healed, the duo will again share the stage at SXSW and a subsequent tour. C.H.
Rusted Shut: Rusted Shut will never die. Mastermind Don Walsh and his revolving cast of noise mavens have been creating unsettling sonic beds since 1986 and show no sign of stopping. Even when Walsh boasts that every RS show is the last RS show of all time, we wouldn't be surprised if kids in 20 years are raving about the old gray-haired guy with a cane and a microphone they saw screaming into an effects pedal. C.H.
Scale the Summit: One of Houston's best-kept secrets, instrumental prog-metal group Scale the Summit is making its second SXSW appearance. The four-piece has already had one hell of a year so far, opening for fellow proggers Between the Buried and Me and the Devin Townshend Band on a national tour that closed out about a month ago.
"Twenty of the 26 shows were sold out just during presales. It was an amazing tour!" exclaims lead guitarist Chris Letchford.
Scale the Summit exists in the same pocket as bands like Dream Theater, who take metal to whole new heights of artistry and creativity (Scale the Summit opened for Dream Theater last year). It may not be the flashiest thing going, but it sure has its champions.
The technicality of the time signatures and the intricacies of some of the compositions are a boon for musicians raised on technique rather than decadence. Just look at the following that scene idols like Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and the neoclassical metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen command at live shows and on message boards.
The Summiteers are still riding high from last year's LP Carving Desert Canyons, and have already been doing some preproduction work for a new album when they can fit it in. "We are always writing when we are not on tour, but we are still a little far off from our next record," Letchford adds. C.H.
//TENSE//: The male half of Houston dark-beat duo //TENSE// is a veritable lifer when it comes to industrial beats. "I've been into darker strains of electronic music for almost 16 years now," says Robert Lane. "I just never thought that I had the talent or ability to do it myself."
About three and a half years ago, Lane bought a synthesizer and a drum machine and set out to create his own soundscapes. He had grown tired of the "nu-rave" scene and instead sought to create something a bit grimmer and dancier for himself and his friends around Houston.
Lane and female drummer MKF Kunst ended up creating //TENSE//, a group with a sound that recalled seminal industrial label Wax Trax!'s classic era. But they also incorporated some unexpected influences that you wouldn't expect to hear alongside early Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire.
"I am a huge disco and funk fan," Lane says. "I would say that almost 75 percent of my personal LPs are actually disco/funk/early-'80s space-funk LPs and 12-inches. I love groove and rhythm, and I love to dance. I have always been a very physical being, and I hope that sweaty/erotic vibe comes across in some of my tracks."
In a city currently overcome by what he calls "boring guitar-based indie-rock," Lane has seen that it is harder for bands like his to grab a wider audience, but adds that it's not hopeless.
"Texas has a really strong synth/minimal/EBM foothold," he says. "It's just that we are not New York City or L.A., so it takes a lot more effort for us to get exposure outside of our hometowns." C.H.
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Trae: Houston hip-hop fans have been working themselves into a frenzy waiting for Trae to release his next album, The Truth, for a good minute now. It'll get here when it gets here — supposedly sometime this spring — but the linebacker-size MC with the realer-than-real flow and charitable nature (hosting the Trae Day festival/fund-raiser every summer) has been building an Internet buzz well beyond the Bayou City as well. He recently filmed a video for "Inkredible" with Rick Ross and Lil' Wayne, has a mixtape on the way also featuring Wayne, Young Jeezy and Plies, and is about to drop something else: his own line of bobblehead dolls. In Houston, new album or not, it feels like every day is Trae Day...and everybody's celebratin'. C.G.
Two Star Symphony: It's hard to tell where genre-bending Houston string quartet Two Star Symphony, making its SXSW debut, will turn up next. They've sold out beloved Montrose indie/punk headquarters Rudyard's and dazzled Wortham Center audiences with their original score to the Dominic Walsh Dance Company's Titus Andronicus ballet. More recently, they've played another original score to 1920 silent-horror classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on downtown's front lawn Discovery Green and rocked the house at last fall's Westheimer Block Party. C.G.
Wild Moccasins: Wild Moccasins have been toiling inside Sugar Hill Studios for what seems like an eternity working on the H-pop group's proper debut LP, Skin Collision Past. The album finally has a release date of May 21 as the band, led by real-life couple Cody Swann and Zahira Gutierrez, is set for a post-SXSW tour before heading home for Summer Fest in June. C.H.
Yppah: Houston electro-shoegazer Joe Corrales Jr. has been recording as Yppah for influential London-based label Ninja Tune for his first LP, 2006's You Are Beautiful at All Times, and last year's They Know What Ghost Know. His songs have been featured in television shows like the wildly popular House and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. C.H.