14 SXSW Breakouts You Need to Know
With each passing year, Has SXSW gotten too big? is a question that lingers in the mind of virtually every attendee at Austin’s annual 10-day film, music, and interactive conference. It’s a fair point, being that the once indie-only showcase has come to routinely harbor some monster marquee names (including a surprise Drizzy cameo this year at Fader Fort. Ed. note: not complaining.) Yet the undaunted spirit of independent artistry lives on at South by Southwest, and it is our pleasure to report on it. With a week’s-plus worth of buzz over breakthrough artists and brilliant surprise turns from gadgets to auteur filmmaking, keep scrolling for our pick of the best of the fest.
WHO: Austin Amelio, actor, Everybody Wants Some!!
WHAT: Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! plays host to a range of up-and-coming talent. Newcomer Austin Amelio, as Nesbit, steals several pivotal scenes out from under his fellow Texan co-stars. Of his time on set, Amelio tells us, “My favorite part of making Everybody Wants Some!! was the collaboration process at Rick’s ranch. It was really dreamy. We would throw out ideas left and right, crazy or not, and the next day would get the script back with those ideas in it. That was pretty unreal. I guess that’s only possible when you work with someone as humble and as genius as Rick.” When we inquired after how much of Amelio’s adept comedic performance was improvised, he says it came naturally in the moment. “Now that I think about it, I don’t think I could ever reproduce that,” he says. “Things happen on set when you’re living in the magic of the now. We were just having a good time.”
WHO: Bryan Sipe, screenwriter, Demolition
WHAT: First-time screenwriter Bryan Sipe penned the feature film Demolition, the winner of the festival’s Audience Award, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by acclaimed French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Valée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club). “It started with the title,” Snipe tells us. “It was really one of the first thoughts that I had. I did demolition work for years.” His script initially gained attention via the Hollywood Black List, an annual ranked list of the industry’s “most liked” unsold screenplays, in 2007. It would take almost a decade for the production to come to fruition. When his producers suggested Valée, Sipe believed the visionary writer/director to be a confident choice and ideal fit. “Jean-Marc was very inclusive, very generous, and continues to be,” Sipe tells us of his process. “The film really was a collaboration and a confluence of ideas.” Featuring standout performance from Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper, Demolition hits theaters April 8.
WHO: Seth Rogen, writer/actor/producer, Sausage Party
WHAT: This summer, Seth Rogen and writing/producing partner Evan Goldberg take a provocative swing at Pixar’s beloved animated buddy model via the R-rated, feature-length Sausage Party. The film, directed by Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Madagascar 3, Monsters vs. Aliens) and Greg Tiernan, stars Kristen Wiig, Salma Hayek, and Ed Norton alongside Rogen’s OG ensemble of comedy regulars (Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride) as sentient food bent on uncovering the true meaning of their existence. Of the film’s genesis, Rogen says, “It honestly came from a really innocent place. We love animated movies. We would look at what animated movies did, and a lot of them involved the fact that people like to project emotions onto the things around them: their toys, their cars, their pets. We thought, What would it be like if our food had feelings? And we very quickly realized, Oh, that would be f*cked up.” The red-band trailer bowed online just minutes after the SXSW work-in-progress screening of the still-to-be-completed film, gathering views in the millions. “Animators are sick. That’s what we’ve learned,” says Rogen. Sausage Party hits theaters August 11.
WHO: Kris Avedisian, writer/director/actor, Donald Cried
WHAT: Kris Avedisian wrote, directed, and starred in one of the fest’s most buzzed-over independent films. Avedisian’s first feature-length project places him in the lead role as an awkward manchild who returns to his hometown after the passing of his grandmother. Avedisian’s dark comedic prowess and pitch-perfect performance make him an altogether exciting discovery as a filmmaker. In fact, the last time I attended a dinner with this much fanfare over a brave new voice was a coin toss between Lena Dunham in Tiny Furniture and Danny McBride in The Foot First Way.
WHO: Andre Royo, actor, Hunter Gatherer
WHAT: Andre Royo (The Wire, Empire) took home the festival’s top acting honor for his performance in Hunter Gatherer, the feature-film debut from writer/director Josh Lacy. The story of a middle-aged man returning home after a three-year stint in prison, Lacy’s critically acclaimed dark comedy is anchored by a riveting performances by both newcomer George Sample III and Royo, who took home the festival’s Best Actor award. Catch the films in select theaters now.
WHO: Showtime’s Roadies
WHAT: The first original series from writer/director Cameron Crowe, Roadies, produced by J.J. Abrams and Winnie Holzman, boasts a killer pedigree. We’re already banking on major idol material from star Imogen Poots. Crowe’s rock ’n’ roll opus, Almost Famous, stands among the best music industry–centric films of all time. An inside look at tour life on the road, the show promises a standout soundtrack alongside recklessly romantic plotlines. One couldn’t ask for a more fitting SX television launch. It premieres on Showtime on June 26.
WHO: Dua Lipa
WHAT: Twenty-year-old English-Albanian singer, songwriter, and model Dua Lipa is perhaps the most sublimely sultry, picturesque crooner to hit the scene since Lana Del Rey. We caught her set at HypeMachine’s Hype Hotel, where she opened the evening's back-to-back band lineup slaying deep, moody dance tracks and swimming onstage in cutoffs and platforms. With a full-length album due later this year, check out her video for her single, “Be the One,” available on iTunes.
WHO: Dylan LeBlanc
WHAT: Nashville singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter (one of our other fave SXSW acts) turned us on to Louisiana artist Dylan LeBlanc. Universally well regarded by his peers and contemporaries, LeBlanc, who has toured with everyone from Lucinda Williams and The Civil Wars, is the sort of musician other musicians are wont to tell you about. His new record, Cautionary Tale is hailed as a nearly flawless gem. Download it on iTunes.
WHO: Lewis Del Mar
WHAT: Newly signed to Columbia, Rockaway Beach, New York–based band Lewis Del Mar consists of duo Danny Miller and Max Harwood. Citing their biggest musical influences as everything from David Bowie to Lauryn Hill, in person, their sound is a melange of raucous, raw edge and smooth, twangy charm. The duality of electronic and acoustic is as fresh and soulful as one would expect from a pair of East Coast musicians who cut their teeth on equal parts The Beastie Boys and Bob Dylan. Listen on Spotify.
WHO: Leslie Powell
WHAT: The unearthing of new unsigned voices remains SXSW’s primary drawcard for music buffs. Simply put, our favorite indie find this year is Nashville-based singer-songwriter Leslie Powell. The little sister of actor Glen Powell (Scream Queens, Everybody Wants Some!!), she has a genre-bending style that’s a mix of Norah Jones and Colbie Caillat, with pipes to match. Powell played a string of intimate showcase including a stint at Hotel Van Zant to rave reviews. Hear her tunes first via her site.
WHAT: Here Active Listening pairs two wireless headphones with a smartphone app that allows you complete control of our auditory environment. With volume control, a five-band EQ, preset filters, and layered effects like bass boost, reverb, and flange, you can tweak and perfect every deep cut on your playlist to your heart’s content. The carrying case fits in your pocket and contains two extra charges. This is the next big thing to touch everything from your morning subway commute to gym time.
WHAT: Neiman Marcus is leading the charge in the digital arena, when it comes to shoppable tech. The venerable luxury brand’s new app features the most powerful video recognition software on the market—so accurate, in fact, that its “Snap. Find. Shop.” feature can identify the exact shade and brand of nail polish you have on with a simple click of the shutter. (We know: We tested it.) In stores, the company's tech also boasts a “Memory Mirror,” the world’s first digital mirror designed to capture your ensemble from every angle. Download the app on iTunes.
WHO: GQ + Jam in the Van Artist House
WHAT: South by Southwest is known for off-the-beaten-path revelry. There’s the go-to east side speakeasy party that goes nightly until sunup, the secret lair at Janis Joplin’s former residence, and this year, a lake house day party just outside of town, hosted by GQ. The magazine’s Jam in the Van retreat, hosted by Hormel Taco Meats, provided respite exclusively for artists to escape the city chaos and enjoy an abundant supply of tacos and water sports. Basically, there’s nothing more quintessentially Austin. The event hosted 100 artists over the course of the week in the world’s first “solar-powered music discovery vehicle.” Watch the sessions including live sets with Rayland Baxter to Wyclef online at Jam in the Van.
Who: South Congress Hotel
What: Austin’s newest hospitality suite, South Congress Hotel, served as home base for a parade of fêtes and gatherings throughout the festival, including the official SX kickoff party and Everybody Wants Some!! premiere after-party. The decor is signature Austin, with a pin-worthy number of eclectic flourishes and strategically placed succulents. The 83-room boutique hotel comes with a rooftop pool overlooking downtown, shooting it to the top of our list of places to stay in town (at least until Kelly Wearstler’s latest Austin project opens.)
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Opening Image: Dua Lipa
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