Once upon a time, dozens upon dozens of Milwaukee bands would make the annual trek to Austin, Texas for the city’s South By Southwest music, film, interactive, and Doritos festival. A few years later, only a handful of Brew City acts bothered with the increasingly corporate and overcrowded shindig. Then, a few years after that, we all pitched in so local T-shirt company MilwaukeeHome could do, well, something at the festival. Needless to say, dozens of hot-shot record label heads failed to descend upon Milwaukee and turn it into the country’s next musical hotbed. Maybe they got lost with the hot-shot Hollywood producers lured here by that exploding car thing.
These days, most Milwaukee bands and artists simply see SXSW for what it is: a chance to go on tour, play in a cool city in front of cool people, and have fun. And hey, maybe sell some merch and pick up some new fans along the way. In that spirit, here’s a quick, no-pressure roundup of seven Milwaukee acts that are performing in some shape or form at this week’s music portion of SXSW 2016.
The chances of being “discovered” at SXSW petered out sometime around the turn of century, but give synth-pop juggernaut GGOOLLDD credit where credit is due: unlike most Milwaukee bands, GGOOLLDD is unabashedly shooting for the moon. Radio-friendly sound? Check. Video-friendly image? Yep. A sold-out Turner Hall show back in January? Uh huh. Bigger and better things in the years to come? Why not? The band played Austin’s Javelina Bar last night, and will glitter and glow at a SXSW showcase March 16 at The Iron Bear.
You don’t need to crunch the numbers to realize one of the biggest names going in Milwaukee music these days is 19-year-old rapper IshDARR. Sure, the rapper’s tracks have been streamed in the millions, and sure, he’s already toured the world. But it’s simply the young artist’s music that best exemplifies his formidable stature. Old Soul Young Spirit was one of the best Milwaukee albums of last year, filled with the kind of confident, conscious, and current hip-hop one would expect from an artist a decade older. IshDARR will play a SXSW showcase March 18 at Karma Lounge, and will fill out his time in Austin with five—count ’em, five—other shows.
3. K Camp
Yeah, claiming K Camp—a.k.a. Kristopher Campbell—as a Milwaukee artist is a bit of a stretch. The 25-year-old rapper was born in Milwaukee, but he only spent about two years here before his family relocated to Atlanta. That move to the nation’s hip-hop hotbed no doubt helped Campbell rack up his insane roster of achievements: a deal with Interscope Records, a Billboard-charting single with over 64 million YouTube views (“Cut Her Off”), a Billboard-charting album (2015’s Only Way Is Up), BET Hip Hop Awards nominations, and a never-ending stream of national accolades. K Camp plays a SXSW showcase March 16 at Palm Door On Sixth.
4. The Living Statues
Rock and roll’s popularity may be on the downswing these days, but don’t tell that to The Living Statues. The no-frills, Strokes-by-way-of-The-Killers quartet has chalked up a number of catchy-as-hell singles since forming in 2012, and recently released an equally solid and sexy video to boot. The Statues will make their SXSW debut March 18 at Big Bang Bar, and will follow it up with a gig March 19 at Cheers Shot Bar.
5. Made Of Oak
Nick Sanborn hasn’t been a Milwaukeean for quite some time, but dammit, we’re still going to call him our own. Formerly of Decibully and currently of the incredibly popular Sylvan Esso, Sanborn also flexes his electronic-production muscles under his longtime solo moniker Made Of Oak. Last year’s excellent Penumbra EP is the first official release under that moniker, and finds Sanborn getting minimalistic and moody on tracks like “Side Rides” and “Penultra (When I See You),” and lush and strange on “Pinebender” and “Blue Zipper.” Sanborn will play a SXSW showcase March 18 inside The Mohawk, as well as a handful of other shows throughout the week and weekend.
6. Trapper Schoepp
Since ditching “And The Shades” from his official band name, 24-year-old Trapper Schoepp has undergone a slight but important transformation. 2012’s Run, Engine, Run was steeped in heart-on-its-sleeve Americana and breezy country-rock, but the upcoming Rangers & Valentines (produced by Brendan Benson) showcases a more polished sound and a newfound vocal and songwriting confidence from the singer-songwriter. Plus, the video for “Ballad Of Olof Johnson” is an homage to The Oregon Trail. Before he celebrates the release of Rangers & Valentines April 1 at the Walker’s Point Anodyne, Schoepp will play a SXSW showcase March 18 at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue.
WebsterX was everywhere in Milwaukee in 2014 and 2015, playing countless shows, releasing countless videos, and, along with the New Age Narcissism collective, injecting the city’s hip-hop scene with some fresh blood and newfound excitement. According to the tireless rapper, 2016 will find him spending more time playing to the rest of the country—Austin, Texas included. WebsterX will play a SXSW showcase March 16 at The North Door, two shows March 18, and one last show March 19.