SXSW: Off the beaten path

Thailand's biggest rock star and an exciting hip-hop crew from Senegal.


Salon Staff
March 22, 2005 11:55PM (UTC)

Throughout my time at South by Southwest, I encountered people who, when I told them that I had gone to the Elvis Costello show, would say, with varying degrees of holier-than-though-ness, that they preferred to avoid all the big showcases and seek out unknown and unusual bands on the margins of the festival. I tried that strategy out on Saturday night, with mixed results.

First, I popped into Japan Nite at Elysium, where I heard a few songs by the Hot Shots (free download: "Love's Made a Fool of You"), a Japanese rockabilly band. The guitarist was right on the money with a classic vintage telecaster sound, but otherwise I didn't hear anything all that interesting. Terry Adams, keyboardist for NRBQ, must have heard something to like, though, because he produced their last record. But Adams has always had somewhat inscrutable taste.

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Later at Japan Nite ... Japanese bluegrass! The two ukelele-playing girls in Petty Booka (free download: "Don't Rock the Jukebox") are plenty cute, but their goofy country/Polynesian routine is for serious Japanophiles only.

At another venue, I took in Sek Loso, apparently the biggest rock star in Thailand, where he's sold 12 million records. This page gives a pretty good sense how much information is available about him in English on the Web. Plenty of industry bigwigs had turned out to hear him, though, a testament to the power of Tim Carr, the legendary A&R man (of the Beastie Boys, among others), who moved to Thailand a few years ago, and has taken up the cause of making Sek an international star. But the music was as boring as could be: loud, generic alternative rock with a lot of guitar-god posturing.

My evening of international music finally struck gold with Daara J, a hip-hop group from Senegal. Their very melodic style of hip-hop, which blends in plenty of West African styles, as well as some reggae, without seeming the least bit gimmicky, was one of the most exciting sounds I heard all weekend, and they managed to get a full room of people dancing at 2 a.m. after an exhausting week of shows. Sadly, no downloads are available, but I'll work on getting one.

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