My first true SXSW with the Houston Press and Rocks Off was way back in March 2008, when I was given a wristband to explore/maraud Austin looking for trouble and new bands. This was a time when Justice and MSTRKRFT were what would be called EDM now, and Israel's Monotonix was flipping every wig in town.
R.E.M.'s Stubb's gig that year was more than likely the band's last ever in Texas, and I seem to remember walking in during "Bad Day" and leaving after getting my five minutes with them.
Five years later, we're staring down appearances from Prince (maybe), the Flaming Lips, Iggy & the Stooges, John Fogerty, Green Day, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and other biggies. Honestly, the smaller acts are an afterthought.
The acts that Rolling Stone chose in 2008 as its "ones to watch" that year included Kid Cudi, Los Campesinos!, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, These New Puritans and The Whip. Today only two, Cudi and Campesinos!, are still on anyone's radar.
But a lot of others were gaining steam that year.
Spinner has a great piece on the history of bands breaking big at SXSW, like the time that dude from the Highwaymen, Johnny Cash, got to play Emo's. They even let him hang out backstage with the bands and everything.
Perusing the hefty list of 2008's artists, I picked out some of the notables that stuck around longer than the rest...
MGMT Brooklyn's MGMT was just then touring behind their Oracular Spectacular, little knowing that about a million bands would be biting their "ah yeah man gee wiz" sound for the next half-decade. I am pretty sure I was at this little Urban Outfitters showcase because I have a sordid past.
Adele At this point Adele's debut 19 was just over a month old, and the lead single "Chasing Pavements" was still a minor hit. Amy Winehouse had owned SXSW the year before, so Adele seemed to fit that same mold for most critics.
Flash-forward five years, and Adele's follow-up 21 has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone with minimal touring and touched nearly every demo available. Adele herself has sung the Oscar-winning James Bond theme "Skyfall," had a kid, and is just now working on a third disc. As for Winehouse, she's now a cautionary tale and the newest member of the 27 Club.
The Black Keys The Keys actually played a SXSW party for Village Voice Media (Rocks Off's parent company at the time) at La Zona Rosa with ...Trail of Dead, The Cribs and Soundtrack of Our Lives. In 2013, you can hear the Keys' music on TV almost every five minutes, they have tons of awards in their cabinets at home and they are easily one of the biggest capital-R rock acts touring these days. Meanwhile, Rocks Off and the Houston Press are part of Voice Media Group.
And to think they were playing day shows in 2008. The video above also presaged the next five frat years of the band's life. WOOOOOOOOO!
Bon Iver Justin Vernon's sad-sack act was making men openly weep, with For Emma, Forever Ago being heard coming out of tinny laptop speakers in hotel lobbies all over town. A packed Mohawk show sealed the deal, as Vernon would go on to make friends with everyone from Kanye West to your mother's iPod. Shhhhh, you can hear the exact moment when the Pitchfork intern texts his ex-girlfriend.
Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes really began to pick up steam the next summer and fall with their self-titled LP, but it was their SXSW gigs that set blogger hearts all aflutter. To their credit, the band seemed to hate all the hubbub around them and didn't sell out as hard as some of their peers. Their drummer, though, would turn into his generation's most promising raconteur.
Florence + The Machine Before they were a major festival and shed act, Florence and her machines were a club band at SXSW with everyone else. Their huge LP Lungs was still in gestation. Check out the video above of Florence Welch nervously working the crowd. All the parts were there, but she still needed like, more robes and shit.
The Gaslight Anthem The following fall, the Gaslighters would tour with Alkaline Trio and be, like, the new Rancid for guys who were too old to mosh at a Rancid show. Or young punks who found their dads' Springsteen albums, the ones that were not Born in the U.S.A., that is. Either way, people started putting grease in their hair again.
Jay Reatard Sadly, this would be one of Reatard's last SXSW appearances, as he would pass away in January 2010. His mark is still felt at SXSW with, I dunno, every other garage band blatantly stealing from him. He's like the garage-band Chuck Berry.
J. Tillman (a.k.a. Father John Misty) Before he was the shimmying, life-addled Father John Misty, Josh Tillman was playing hella morose solo songs, when not drumming for the Fleet Foxes around town. FJM's coming-out party at SXSW 2012 was one for the books, though the Doritos people probably wished he had shut his fool mouth.
Vampire Weekend When we are old, our kids are going to curse us for not stopping this from happening every other year at SXSW. "Why?" they will ask. "I thought we were supposed to hate white people?" they will inquire. And all you will be able to say is, "I thought it was cute." Shame on you all.
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