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'Couch By Couchwest': Standouts Of SXSW's All-Digital Music Festival

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The South by Southwest Music Festival did not draw tens of thousands to packed venues in Austin, Texas, this year, but the show did go on. The festival pivoted to online streaming video showcases, and that was good news for artists from outside the United States, who made up the majority of programming this year. Bob Boilen is host of NPR Music's All Songs Considered and creator of the Tiny Desk concerts, and he spent last week watching 130 performances from South by Southwest online. He joins us now. Welcome back, Bob.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Thank you. It was kind of more like Couch by Couchwest (ph), I think.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Well, it's always exhausting - I mean, the time that I went kind of physically - going from bar to bar to hotel lobby to shows that were just everywhere. Was this any less exhausting, though, watching everything online?

BOILEN: Oh, it was certainly less exhausting. I mean, first of all, most of the music was packed into four hours in an evening. And, you know, South by can be 10 in the morning till 2 or 3 in the morning.

CORNISH: Right. It's sprawling.

BOILEN: This was easy breezy. And if you didn't like something, you just click a little button, and you're on to the next channel and watching another band.

CORNISH: Which means you've also brought us a lot of music that you've discovered. And, of course, South by Southwest is known for, you know, spotlighting up-and-coming acts. Can you talk about who you found?

BOILEN: Well, first of all, I saw this group called Jambinai that were absolutely incredible. They're from South Korea. And what I love about them is their intensity and their calmness, though. So they got the rock 'n' roll thing. So they got a drummer, and they got a bass player, and they got a guitarist. OK, fine. But they also have this, like, strange two-string fiddle. And then they've got this large, like, five-foot plucked instrument.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMBINAI'S "TIME OF EXTINCTION")

BOILEN: So you heard the explosion - right? - the nice, quiet beginning, big explosion. And that beautiful violin that's happening is so gorgeous and such a contrast. And I think it's just so thrilling when tradition meets the modern, and Jambinai do that so well.

CORNISH: So we're talking about international acts and sort of how they were able to, in a way, kind of make the best of this showcase compared to other years. Did you get to see a lot of artists - a lot more artists from outside the U.S.?

BOILEN: One thing is, when I go to South by, I try to see the international artists, who are usually about a third or maybe a quarter of the number of bands that play. This year, it was the flip opposite. It was like two-thirds were international. So I saw this Argentine musician, Sebastian Plano. I believe he's living in Berlin. When I turned it on - because I didn't catch the top of the set - he's holding his cello in the air, and he's got his mouth, like, against the cello, and he's singing into it. And there's this moody, ethereal music playing. And he's also got keyboards in front of him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEBASTIAN PLANO SONG, "ABEYANCE")

BOILEN: It was just kind of this beautiful pleasure to watch Sebastian Plano.

CORNISH: South by Southwest is usually in Austin, Texas. Did you actually hear any bands from Austin, from Texas? Kind of what was out there?

BOILEN: (Laughter) There was, like, this great surprise band who I had no idea about. They're called Ley Line. They're an Austin-based quartet. It was four women. And then their music - I heard Brazilian sounds in it. I heard African sounds in their music - a really super-talented group called Ley Line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OXUM")

LEY LINE: (Singing in Yoruba).

CORNISH: That's NPR Music's Bob Boilen, host of All Songs Considered. Thanks so much.

BOILEN: My pleasure. Enjoy the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OXUM")

LEY LINE: (Singing in Yoruba). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.