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SXSW 2010: Bands to Watch For

 Traditional Jamaican ska music came about in the early 1960s. It was originally a blend of traditional Caribbean sounds (including mento and calypso) and American R&B and soul. It was fast music, made for As we prepare for SXSW each year, we pore over the lists of hundreds upon hundreds of bands, making a schedule of sets to catch that is booked to the minute of each and every day. Inevitably each year this schedule falls to the wayside somewhat, once one realizes that certain bands are playing 15 minutes apart at opposite ends of the city of Austin, but it’s a definitely a good place to start. With that in mind, here are 10 of the bands we’ve set our sights on for SXSW 2010. 10. Hunx and his Punx (Oakland, CA) Courtesy of Hunx The side-project of Hunx from the trashy, raunchy electro band Gravy Train!!!!, Hunx and his Punx drop the electro sound but not the trashiness, opting for a sound that is equal parts ‘60s bubblegum girl group pop and stripped down, fuzzed out garage punk. It’s addictively trashy, yet sweetly endearing, sort of like a late-night marathon of old exploitation films.  MySpace Site 9. Waco Brothers (Chicago, IL) © Nicole Lucas The Waco Brothers boasts an extraordinary, legendary lineup, featuring founding member Jon Langford of the Mekons, as well as members with roots as varied as KMFDM and Jesus Jones. And their sound, despite a Chicago address, is pure Texas cowpunk. They are a fixture at SXSW, and usually play multiple times, but these shows are in high demand due to the fact that this is usually the only time you can catch this rarely touring band outside of Chicago. Official Site 8. Everybody Was in the French Resistance… Now! (Los Angeles,CA) Courtesy of the Band The frontman for Art Brut, Eddie Argos has made a name for himself with an over-the-top stage performance that has included instrumental stunts and frank, yet comedic discussions with the crowd about a wide range of topics. Now, with Everybody Was in the French Resistance… Now! he is taking his commentary one step further – by writing punk songs that deliver his musical response to pop tunes from artists that range from Michael Jackson to Avril Lavigne. MySpace Site 7. Murder by Death (Bloomington, IN) © Nicole Lucas Although they take their name from an old comedy film, Murder By Death are no joke. The band plays thick, sweaty Southern gothic sounds that are soaked in whisky and spiced with the twang of a very macabre western. If you like music that tells a story laden with references to the devil, zombies and booze, Murder By Death has a story for you. Official Site 6. Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger! (Scafali di Foligno, Italy) Courtesy of the Band This lo-fi three-piece features raw guitar licks, snarled, yet whiny punk vocals and a drummer that sets it all on fire with music that hits post-punk, new wave and straight up punk at times. As you give them a listen, it’s easy to hear a blend of classic Cure, newer dancier bands and a heavy dose of early ‘90s Pacific Northwest punk rock. Along with all of this, their name truly owns. MySpace Site 5. Mighty Stef (Dublin, Ireland) © Nicole Lucas An Irish rocker that tours incessantly and has opened for Flogging Molly and recorded with Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Stef Murphy delivers a sweat-soaked set that spans genres from punk to blues to rock, with a voice that draws influence from a wide and powerful an array of sources that includes Tom Waits, Shane MacGowan and Nick Cave, with a little Joey Ramone thrown in. Official SiteRead Review 4. Riverboat Gamblers (Denton, TX) © Nicole Lucas In Austin they’re the local boys, but that doesn’t prevent a Riverboat Gamblers show from being a big deal, even at SXSW. Vocalist Mike Wiebe is fast becoming one of the most legendary frontman touring right now, and while the energy of the band’s live set is making a name for them worldwide, their homecoming sets are truly the sort of shows that people talk about for years – or at least until the next time they play Austin. Official SiteRead Review 3. Man or Astro-Man? (Auburn, AL) Courtesy of the Band A primarily instrumental band, Man or Astro-Man? was huge on the scene in the early ‘90s, playing surf guitar mixed with science-fiction sound effects, synthesizers, samples and anachronistically experimental sounds that translated into live sets that looked and sounded like the set from a late-night space creature feature. The group disbanded in 2001 with a short reunion in 2006, but it looks like 2010 may see a rebirth of this legendarily noisy band. MySpace Site 2. Bastard Child Death Cult (Toronto, Canada) Stereo Dynamite Recordings Formed by the members of several legendary Canadian punk bands including Cancer Bats and Monster Voodoo Machine, Bastard Child Death Cult (BCxDC) take the two seemingly discordant sounds of brutal D-beat hardcore and thick, fuzzy garage and fuse them into a bizarre amalgam. It’s a sound that sets its hooks into you, then reels you in to punch you right in the mouth. Added Bonus – You can download their debut album, Year Zero, for free here. Label Site 1. Cokie the Clown (Los Angeles, CA) Fat Wreck Chords The title of NOFX’s most recent EP, Cokie the Clown is also apparently the name of an on-stage alter ego of NOFX frontman Fat Mike. Mystery surrounds this set, as to whether it will be a solo set, and as to what music will actually be performed. It may be the tracks from the EP of the same name, some classic NOFX, or something entirely new. Regardless of what Fat Mike has planned, it’s assuredly going to be entertaining. Read Review, and inextricably intertwined with the “Rude Boy” culture of the time period, which stressed an old-school gangster-like aesthetic for impoverished Jamaican youths. Record labels in those days generally only released single or double tracks (as opposed to full-length LPs), which were played by mobile DJs at their sound systems, so these CDs are all modern compilations of those original tracks.

The Skatalites – ‘Foundation Ska’

The Skatalites - Foundation Ska(c) Heartbeat Records, 1996
The Skatalites are a band from Kingston, Jamaica, whose formation was facilitated by seminal producer Coxsone Dodd. They were notable for their large horn section, which became a standard for ska music, and in addition to recording their own tracks, frequently backed up other artists, such as Desmond Dekker and the Wailers. They broke up after one of their founding members, Don Drummond, was sent to jail for murder, but they re-formed in the 1980s and continue to tour, though few of the original members are still alive or touring. This double CD is a great introduction to their original sound, which was, and continues to be, hugely influential.

Prince Buster – ‘Fabulous Greatest Hits’

Prince Buster - 'Fabulous Greatest Hits'(c) Diamond Range Records, 1998
Prince Buster was one of the first artists to incorporate Rastafarianelements into his music, African-Rastafarian nyabinghi drumming in particular, thus contributing heavily to the developing sound of ska music as a genre, as well as marking the beginning of a long tradition of Rastafarian influences, both musical and spiritual, on Jamaican popular music. Interestingly, Prince Buster himself actually converted to Islam in 1964. Prince Buster recorded for Blue Beat Records, before eventually starting his own eponymous label. He is still alive and occasionally performs in London, where he now lives.

The Wailers – ‘Simmer Down at Studio One’

The Wailers - Simmer Down at Studio One(c) Heartbeat Records, 1994
Before he was the man who became reggae’s most famous name,Bob Marley was a clean-shaven young lad in the Wailers, a group known for their soulful vocal harmonies and sweet love songs. The other two vocalists in the Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, were no slouches either, and as a group, they’d go on to effectively change the face of music as we know it. Their early work is fun and raucous, and no ska or reggae fan should be without a bit of it. 

 Desmond Dekker – ‘Rudy Got Soul’
Desmond Dekker - 'Rudy Got Soul'(c) Sanctuary Records, 2003
In the early days of ska, Desmond Dekker was Jamaica’s biggest star. He was also one of the first Jamaican musicians to have an international hit, with 1968’s “The Israelites.” Dekker recorded with Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s record label, and went on to record songs in the rocksteady and reggae genres, recording a legendary body of work that influenced just about every Jamaican artist who followed in his footsteps. The title of this album references the Rude Boy culture.

Lord Creator – ‘Don’t Stay Out Late: Greatest Hits’

Lord Creator - 'Don't Stay Out Late: Greatest Hits'(c) VP Records, 1997
Lord Creator was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and initially became popular as a calypso singer. He moved to Jamaica in the late 1950s, and his personal style of calypso was one of the building blocks of ska in the early 1960s. He was the first artist signed to Island Records, and continued to record both calypso and ska until the mid-1970s, when he essentially disappeared, ending up homeless. When UB40 recorded a cover of his song “Kingston Town,” he earned substantial royalties and was able to pull his life together and even begin touring again.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires – ‘Jamaican Ska and Other Party Anthems’

Byron Lee and the Dragonaires - Jamaica Ska and other Jamaica Party Anthems(c) Sanctuary Records, 2004
Byron Lee & the Dragonaires were professional musicians well before ska existed: they were a popular hotel band who played mento and American R&B covers for tourists and locals. They didn’t begin playing ska until it had already emerged as a genre, and they began to play it simply because of its popularity. Turns out, though, these seasoned experts had no trouble pulling it off, and their take on ska turned out to be some of the finest and most popular music that was recorded in the time period. They continued to evolve with the times for decades, recording ska, rocksteady, and other genres from around the Caribbean, ultimately becoming hugely influential socaartists. The band recorded right up until Byron Lee’s death in late 2008. The Maytals – ‘The Sensational Maytals’
Toots and the Maytals - 'The Sensational Maytals'(c) VP Records, 2008
The Maytals (later known as Toots & the Maytals) were one of the strongest vocal groups to come out of the ska movement, rivaling only The Wailers. Lead singer Toots Hibbert draws easy comparisons to Otis Redding, both vocally and with their shared ability to really pull the heart out of a song. In their early years, The Maytals were in high demand both as frontmen and as backup singers, and they sometimes performed under other names as backing vocalists, including “The Cherrypies” on a recording with Desmond Dekker. The Maytals are interestingly credited with being the first band to use the word “reggae” in a song, with their 1968 song “Do the Reggay” [sic], and were influential in the transitions from ska to rocksteady to reggae.

Laurel Aitken – ‘Ska With Laurel’

Laurel Aitkin - 'Ska With Laurel'(c) 101 Distribution, 2009
Laurel Aitken was of mixed Cuban and Jamaican descent, and, like Byron Lee, got his start as a hotel singer, performing old mento songs for tourists, and doing some recordings of those songs as well. In the late ’50s, he started performing Jamaican-ized versions of popular American R&B songs, and if you listen to his recordings chronologically from between 1957 and 1960, you can practically hear ska developing. He moved to England in 1960, but continued to record and release music in both countries, ultimately becoming a lynchpin in both the first-wave ska movement in Jamaica and the second-wave (two-tone) ska movement in England.

Derrick Morgan – ‘Moon Hop: The Best of the Early Years’

Derrick Morgan - 'Moon Hop: The Best of the Early Years'(c) Sanctuary Records, 2003
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Derrick Morgan was Jamaica’s biggest star. At one point in 1960, he held the top seven positions on the Jamaican pop music charts with seven different songs. Originally, his songs were boogies and shuffles, in the style of New Orleans artists like Fats Domino, who were wildly popular in the Caribbean in the late 1950s. In 1961, though, he recorded “You Don’t Know” (aka “Housewives Choice”), one of the first ska hits. Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster had a legendary feud, even recording a string of antagonistic songs aimed at each other, and their rude boy supporters would often break out in street fights. Derrick Morgan later recorded rocksteady and reggae music, and still occasionally performs.

Justin Hinds & the Dominoes – ‘Carry Go Bring Come: The Anthology’

Justin Hinds and the Dominoes - 'Carry Go Bring Come: The Anthology'(c) Sanctuary Records, 2005
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes were prolific recorders, putting over 70 singles on wax in just a couple of years in the mid-1960s, a huge percentage of which became hits. Though they helped lead the transition of Jamaican music into rocksteady and reggae, their ska hits, including “Carry Go Bring Come” (which topped the Jamaican charts for two full months in 1963), remain some of the most beloved in the canon. Justin Hinds continued to tour and record regularly until his death in 2005.

March 19, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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