SXSW 2010: British Invasion

WFNX honcho rates his four best English bands at SXSW
By MIKE TIERNEY  |  March 24, 2010

VIDEO: The xx, "Crystalised," live at SXSW 2010.

I landed in Austin with Big Star on my mind. Twelve hours before, the text came: "RIP Alex Chilton." I'd been listening to his former band exclusively since. So-called alternative music wouldn't exist without them, any more than green would without blue.

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Now Alex is gone. And frankly, I wasn't feeling so hot myself. Thanks to 2009 SXSW standouts the Temper Trap and their WFNX St. Pat's gig in Boston, I was on three hours sleep before my annual weekend of bands and Shiner Bock had even begun.

Before I left Texas 36 hours later, I had eaten six fish tacos and seen at least twice as many bands. Austin's ace tacos were the Mojo Fish Tacos at Tacodeli. As for the tunes, it was these four bands from the UK that left me hungry for more:

CHEW LIPS Synths are the new guitars. Girls are the new boys. The British are the new Canadians. Canadians are the new Americans. Americans are the new Germans. This is what I decided watching South London–based Chew Lips, who themselves are the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with what Q magazine calls a "dose of British cynicism." To this I say: "Jawohl."

BAND OF SKULLS I'd been told to see the UK's Band of Skulls so many times, it felt like it would be homework. I finally decided it would be easier just to get it over with than to procrastinate anymore. To my great surprise, I saw the best new live band since the Raconteurs, and the best power trio since . . . um . . . Cream? Wolfmother? Hanson? Guitars are officially the new synths.

THE XX I was determined to hold off and wait to see them back in Boston, like a gift not to open before Christmas. But the London trio didn't make it easy, playing, like, 17 SXSW showcases. On Friday, I caved and caught them at a mid-afternoon open-bar party for 600 music writers and bloggers, who were drinking enough to make my radio compatriots look like the Osmonds. By 4 pm, only 11 writers and nine bloggers were still sober enough to be standing upright. The xx rewarded their slavish devotion with a too-short set of supple Timbaland-producing-the-Cocteau Twins sexiness.

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS This seems like a good time to learn the Phoenix's editorial policy on these never-on-the-radio words: "Holy fucking shit!" Or this one: "Rubenesque." I don't know how my music-biz buds even know that art-world term, but more than one of them used it to objectify Marina and reduce her full-figured hotness. The music of this Welsh-Greek chanteuse is harder to classify. Show tunes for a musical starring Lily Allen as Kate Bush? Whatever hole you put the pigeon in, "Hollywood" is a smash and Marina is a star. In her lyrics, Marina confesses she's "obsessed with the mess that's America." Before summer, it will be mutual.

The bad news: she'll be too big to book by next St. Pat's.

Mike Tierney is the vice-president of broadcast operations of WFNX, 101.7 FM, a corporate sibling of the Boston Phoenix. He can be reached at

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