Here's the Thing, We Enjoy Electro Duos

Jason for SXSW 2015 on Mar 17 2015

Well it's that time again, the music portion of SXSW is about to start, so naturally everybody is desperately waiting for me to decide what this year's "thing" is. If you're unaware, "the thing" is just the major trend I've noticed while listening to hundreds of the bands that will descend upon our fair city during SXSW. Last year, it was eR&B and believe me, there’s no shortage of that this time, but this year, I’m going to declare that the "Electro Duo" is officially this year's thing.

Not surprisingly, an "Electro Duo" is two people making electronic based music, most likely for you to dance and/or groove to. Just like last year’s thing, this isn't a new concept that I'm introducing, two person electronic acts like Phantogram and Daft Punk have been mainstays of this category for years but the number of two person bands that employ either two laptops hooked to each other or a drum in the back (usually a dude) and a singer in the front (usually a lady) playing electronic based music this year is staggering.

Let's start with the former: the double laptop duos. For some reason this category of bands is 99.9% male dominated and most of them look like they’re going to have lower back issues by the time they reach their 40's from haunching over their laptops and MPCs and doing this sort of weird middle back hunchback thrust. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. So why does it take two full-grown men to simultaneously press play on their laptops you might ask? Well, it’s a fair question, but you’ll see from my suggestions below, that we don’t recommend you go see anyone who takes the easy way out. Instead, the following artists find clever ways to transform their software-generated jams into live shows that will hopefully be a thing to behold at this year’s SXSW:

  • Odesza: This is probably no surprise to anyone who has been following SXSW this year. This might be one of the most talked about electronic bands coming this year. If you haven’t listened to their most recent album, In Return, do that immediately or feel completely left out. Similar to a past hippohonk favorite, Flume, these guys know how to take a variety of slower musical elements and layer them in such a way to make a more fast paced modern dance song. While they do employ some EDM tricks of the trade, such as building moments that end in slowed down grooves, for the most part they try to put out music that is unique and fresh and I for one plan on dancing like a fool to this.
  • Klangkarussell: My first impression of this band, after only listening to a dozen or so measures of their first song, was that this was going to be your run-of-the-mill dance “banger" DJ band that could be immediately forgotten the night after an all-night club binge. Then, about a minute in, out of know where, I hear an acoustic guitar strumming a quick tune and then a few moments later, what’s this? African tribal music? Don’t mind if I do. A few more songs in and I was hooked. Hopefully, this Austrian duo will bring more band members across the pond to play the instruments featured in their music, but if not, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get down. Also, seriously watch the video I posted below, it's insane.

There are plenty of other DJ duos I could mention but we need to move along so let’s talk a little about the drum in the back, vocal in the front electro-duo; the sort of musical-mullet if you will. The electronic portion of this usually comes in the form of some combination of the drummer using drum pads to create synthetic beats or in the form of a laptop (sometimes with fun stickers on it) providing a bass line, side beat, lead guitar or backing vocals. Usually the lead singer isn’t playing any instruments so she (or scarcely, he) is free to move about the stage and get the crowd riled up. Yes, even sometimes they manage to get a SXSW crowd moving, which by the way, is no easy feat. So which dynamic drummer plus diva duos do we think deserve your precious festival time this year?

  • Rangleklods: Back in 2012, I had the pleasure of going to Reykjavik, Iceland to attend Iceland Airwaves (basically a miniature SXSW) where I was fortunate enough to catch an up-and-coming electronic one-man act named Rangleklods. OK, not really one-man, he had a singer, but the show was primarily focused on what he was doing on his table of musical gadgetry. I’m pretty sure at one point he was using lasers to change the pitch of the song, no joke, LASERS. Let’s just say, I was impressed and I’m excited to see his latest endeavor under the same name which is now officially a duo. Basically, from what I've read, the singer that I mentioned before eventually became an integral part of the band and so I assume that this time I will be splitting my live music gaze between the two of them.
  • ASTR: Frankly, if you’re an Austin local, you’ve had your chance to see ASTR, they were at SXSW 2014 and then again at Fun Fun Fun Fest and if you didn't you should be ashamed of yourself. No worries though, if you missed these New Yorkers, it’s time to redeem yourself and see their high energy show. The front-woman, Zoe, moves around the stage like a boss, but the kind of boss who has some sort of strange kick-ass-white-trash gear on. I can’t really describe it, it’s fantastic though. The guy in the back, Adam Pallin, plays the keyboards and the drum pads and does that hunchback thrust I mentioned earlier through most of the show to great effect.

Some duos don't fit either mold or are a hybrid of the two. Sometimes one or both band members will play a multitude of instruments including whatever machines are responsible for giving them their electronic sound. Here are two bands that we recommend who do just that:

  • Cathedrals: San Francisco's Cathedrals, for example, are made up of one guy who plays several instruments (mostly bass) and a lead singer who has an incredible range. Together, their sound has an almost gothic feel to it but doesn’t stray too far from the eR&B fold. It’s possible they’ll also have more members than just the two of them which should add a richer sound to their live show.
  • Humans: Three years ago, while nursing hangovers and creating new ones, some of us hippohonk folk were at a day party outside of Guero’s on Congress. We were there to see Team Me, Lost Lander and Humans because, from our yearly research, we were hoping they would be good live shows. All three bands delivered and put on great shows, however it was obvious we weren’t really ready for Humans, it was just too early in the day. We were already planning on catching their official showcase but when one of the band members, Robbie I believe, leaned over and somewhat creepily muttered “you guys should come to our showcase, it’s gunna get weird” we knew we needed to take it up a notch. So we managed to pull a fairly sizable crew from our mostly dispersed group of friends to their showcase where we proceeded to dance our asses off to their fun-spirited electro-jams. We did it again the next year after they gave us free beers from the stage. That’s right, not only do they put on an amazing show, but they might just give you a free beer. Bottom line, these guys turn knobs, they play guitars and they sing with various vocal effects to create a non-stop dance party.

So that's it for this year. The electro duo will be in full effect and should make for a fun and lively SXSW. If you see us out there dancing to one of these bands, or any band really, feel free to join in, possibly create a middle-school-style dance circle with us or challenge Natalie to a dance battle, you'll be glad ya did.