SXSW 2013: An hour in the life of a (very busy) festival

British singer-songwriter Paloma Faith is one of the many acts expected to perform at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The first wave of more than 2,000 acts is expected to descend Tuesday on Austin, Texas, for the annual music-business blowout that is the South by Southwest Music Conference: six days (and very late nights) of performances, speeches, parties, panel discussions and backstage tete-a-tetes designed to spark a bit of invaluable buzz.

It’s a lot to take in, more than at any point since the festival was founded in 1987. Yet one needn’t assess the vast entirety of SXSW to get a sense of what it offers its attendees, which in addition to musicians -- this year, Natalie Maines, Baauer, Green Day and Café Tacvba are scheduled to play -- includes managers, agents, label executives, app-makers, journalists and perhaps even a fan or two.

Pop & Hiss looked at a single hour of the conference -- from midnight to 1 a.m. Thursday -- and found a revealing microcosm.


PHOTOS: The scene at SXSW 2013

Cold War Kids, midnight, Clive Bar

This Long Beach band broke out in the mid-2000s with a clattering, dramatic soul-punk sound that always felt a beat or two away from some kind of breakdown. But for its last album, 2011’s “Mine Is Yours,” Cold War Kids sanded the rough edges from its music in an apparent bid to follow Kings of Leon into arenas; it didn’t work. Now, with a scruffy new record set for release next month, the group is looking to reclaim some of its old live-wire energy. An especially electric performance here might convince skeptics that Cold War Kids are heating back up.

Earl Sweatshirt, midnight, Scoot Inn

The most mysterious member of L.A.’s in-your-face Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt watched much of the hip-hop crew’s recent ascent from a school for at-risk youth in Samoa. Last year, the rapper returned to L.A., though, and is reportedly at work on the major-label follow-up to his 2010 Internet album, “Earl.” (“Chum,” the disc’s lead single, promises a cross between the thoughtfulness of his bandmate Frank Ocean and the antics of Odd Future’s frontman, Tyler, the Creator.) His appearance at SXSW should provide a progress report.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, midnight, Antone’s

The hip-hop duo wouldn’t seem in need of the exposure that SXSW can provide: Its song “Thrift Shop” recently topped the Hot 100 for four weeks, and earlier this month it performed on “Saturday Night Live.” But like so many acts in this era of one-and-done YouTube hits, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis -- a rapper and producer from Seattle -- are now faced with extending their viral success to the lengths of a sustainable career. They’ll be in Austin to prove to tastemakers that they’re about more than a single (extremely successful) song.

Paramore, 12:10 a.m., the Belmont

Veterans of the emo-punk underground who crashed the mainstream in 2008 with “Misery Business,” Hayley Williams and her bandmates in Paramore demonstrated their staying power when their next album debuted at No. 2. In 2010, though, the band’s guitarist and drummer quit in a public squabble over Paramore’s direction, and three years later the remaining members are readying a comeback record for release next month. Do they still have what it takes to move a crowd?

LINEUP: Coachella 2013

Sky Ferreira, 12:10 a.m., the Mohawk

This hipster-fave electro-pop starlet burned up the blogs last year with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” a beautiful ‘80s-style R&B jam from an otherwise confused five-song EP. The track was merely the latest brush with fame for a singer who’s been working in the major-label system (to varying degrees of success) since 2010. For Ferreira, then, SXSW represents the opportunity to cement another kind of relationship -- with a fashion retailer, perhaps, or a Top 40 radio programmer -- that could give her music the extra push it needs.

Paloma Faith, 12:30 a.m., Central Presbyterian Church

New partnerships could also benefit Paloma Faith, an eccentric English soul singer whose achievements at home so far haven’t translated to American listeners. Her album “Fall to Grace” came out to minimal attention here last year, but stirring, vividly arranged tunes such as “Picking Up the Pieces” and the delicate piano ballad “Just Be” seem ripe for the picking by Hollywood music supervisors. (It doesn’t hurt that Faith’s songs likely come much cheaper than Adele’s.)

Waco Brothers, 1 a.m., Continental Club

Not every act coming to Austin wants to make it big. For nearly 20 years, the Waco Brothers, from Chicago, have served as a boozy diversion for Jon Langford of the Mekons; the band is his chance to do rough-and-tumble country-rock the way he hears it. And though they’ve made a string of accomplished albums, the Wacos live to play gigs wherever and whenever they can. One at SXSW? Sure, that’ll do.

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Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood