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Austin Music 2013 - Deborah Sengupta Stith’s highlights

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published December 23, 2013

The rise of Austin hip-hop. Austin has long had a vibrant subculture of hip-hop flowing under the rock ‘n’ roll façade. In 2013 a few acts stepped out of the shadows, demanding mainstream attention. In May, husband/wife team Riders Against the Storm dropped a brilliant EP loaded with songs that were part exorcism, part call-to-action, artfully disguised as dance floor bangers. Then in October, hip-hop supercrew the League of Extraordinary Gz blew the roof off with a stunning 14-track monster that upped the ante for Austin and staked a claim in the Texas rap pantheon.

Rediscovering the magic of South by Southwest through international bands. One beautiful night in March I shirked the celeb-chasing beat to wander aimlessly through downtown Austin and drop in on largely unknown acts from around the world. In a four-hour stretch I caught Brazilian jazz at the Elephant Room, South Korean reggae at Flamingo Cantina and a Canadian Native American DJ crew wrecking shop at the Swan Dive. Happily drifting below the hype felt like a journey back to the festival’s oft-forgotten roots.

Janelle Monáe at ACL Live. The Electric Lady put in a tightly choreographed, insanely funky and wildly energetic set stacked with a preposterous number of showstoppers. That was all amazing, but it was the heart, soul and glorious optimism she exuded throughout that elevated it to the level of unforgettable event, the kind of show that made people dance, cry and testify.

Latasha Lee & the Black Ties. When Austin singer Lee’s video for “Watch Me Now,” a retro-soul number produced by Texas hip-hop powerhouse Carnival Beats, dropped in February, the entire Austin360 music team was caught up in a collective swoon. When I caught her at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, she was reworking doo-wop with Southern sass, backed by a diverse 11-piece ensemble that matched excellent showmanship with superb musicianship. She proclaimed herself the “Princess of Austin Soul.” It was a no-brainer to nod along to the grooves with appropriate reverence.

Snoop at Fun Fun Fun Fest. The artist most frequently known as Dogg had a banner year, shape-shifting through various genres and identities and producing widespread blogger bemusement and musically intriguing results. He hit the stage at Auditorium Shores with a clear agenda of adding at least four extra funs to everyone’s festival experience. Hosting a nonstop dance party that spanned 20 years of hits, he covered everyone from Katy Perry to 50 Cent in a 45-minute set that didn’t suffer a single drop in intensity.

Honorable mentions: The Coup at SXSW; the Tontons, Vintage Trouble at ACL Fest; Deltron 3030 with a full orchestra at Fun Fun Fun Fest.