SXSW Trends and What They Mean for Music in 2011

Another South by Southwest has come and gone, and frankly we’re still recovering and trying to process all that we’ve seen. Lots of sun, food, and drinks made for hazy days and even harder to remember nights, but there are a few things we do recall seeing again and again. As in years past, we’re parsing the trends from South by Southwest 2011 to extrapolate on what they mean for the coming year in music.

Floor toms and smoke machines

Esben and the Witch at the Fader Fort. Photo credit: Leah Taylor

So you’re the lead singer in a band whose music is loud and/or full and/or heavily electronic, and you don’t feel like you actually contribute enough to your band’s live show. How do you add a little extra oomph to your stage presence? Get a floor tom. Hit it a lot. Sometimes, hit it in percussive unison with your band’s drummer. Other times, just bash the hell out of it. It’s a trick that works well for New York indie darlings Bear Hands, and one that we saw executed to jaw-dropping effect when British doom-rock sweethearts Esben and the Witch pulled their floor tom into the audience and proceeded to slam it within an inch of its (and our) life. UK pop starlet Ellie Goulding also tried it, but, other than when she used it to launch into a quick cover of the opening hook from Kanye West’s “Power,” it didn’t really liven up her sleepy performance at the Fader Fort. A+ for effort to Miss Goulding, though.

Another trend meant to liven up stage shows, but one we’re pretty much over, is the ubiquitous use of the smoke machine. Every single band we saw at SXSW 2011 used a smoke machine to some extent, and we blame witch house. This worries us, both about bands ripping off lazy, tired attempts at theatrics and about our lungs. What’s in that stuff?