The music festival will feature a large number of local Austin acts, as well as a few bigger names from out of town. (Image via KVRX Fest)

8 Bands You Need to See at KVRX Fest This May

The student-radio-run music festival in Austin is the first of its kind, and an absolute can’t-miss.

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The music festival will feature a large number of local Austin acts, as well as a few bigger names from out of town. (Image via KVRX Fest)

The student-radio-run music festival in Austin is the first of its kind, and an absolute can’t-miss.

Next month, thanks to the work of University of Texas students Gab Soong and Elise Barbin, the first-ever KVRX Fest will take place on May 10 – 11 at Cheer Up Charlie’s and Symphony Square in Austin.

According to Austin Chronicle writer Rachel Rascoe, the event will be the nation’s largest music festival solely organized by a student-run radio station, an accomplishment that is even more impressive considering that Soong and Barbin will orchestrate the feat in the last few weeks of their college careers.

KVRX Fest will showcase 40 bands whose genres run the gamut, an intentional decision by the two organizers. The lineup includes a number of bigger groups, with Frankie Cosmos headlining, as well as a dozen or so local acts who are no less talented than their established counterparts.

To help you cut through the noise and plan out your itinerary at the two-day festival accordingly, here are the eight bands you need to see.

1. Frankie Cosmos

Without a doubt the biggest artist on the bill, Frankie Cosmos adds a hit of star power to an otherwise grassroots coalition of musicians. The New York-based band, whose frontwoman, Greta Kline, is a staple of the bedroom rock renaissance that’s blossomed in recent years, will likely be performing a number of very recently released songs, a solid reason on its own to shell out to see their performance.

Over the past two months, Kline et al. have been releasing a slow trickle of EPs, entitled “Haunted Items #1,” “Haunted Items #2,” “Haunted Items #3” and “Haunted Items #4,” each of which contains either only two or three tracks. Cosmos’ sound, which is already stripped down anti-folk, gets shrunk to even more atomized dimensions on the new releases; in fact, most find Kline singing quietly over nothing more than a simple piano accompaniment.

While the new tracks could certainly be underdescribed as minimalist, they are just the latest in the long, hauntingly beautiful evolution of Kline, whose lyrics have always been intensely specific in their subject matter. Whether it’s to catch her new material or marvel in one of her classic songs, like “Young” or “Fool,” you won’t want to miss Frankie Cosmos.

2. Mamalarky

Now based out of Los Angeles, Mamalarky was born in Austin when frontwoman Livvy Bennett began making reverb heavy, tongue-in-cheek garage rock with Dylan Hill and Michael Hunter. The trio recently added bassist Noor Khan to the group and released a single, “Hero,” in late February.

The new track, like other hits “Nonmonogamy” and “Mama’s Bear,” bears a distinctly jangly vibe. Casual guitar riffs meander coolly behind the lilting, ethereal voice of Bennett, while a buzzy synth beeps methodically on the side. The psych-rock outfit has all the soul of a ’70s free love cabal, but their aplomb is no accident: their sound is very clean technically, and the group puts on a sharp, groovy show.

3. Abhi the Nomad

Abhi the Nomad probably has the most interesting, albeit tragic backstory of any of the musicians performing at KVRX Fest. Born in India, Abhi traveled around a lot as a kid before ending up in America. However, in 2016, he was forced to leave the United States, along with his girlfriend and burgeoning career in music, after failing to secure an H1-B visa in time.

Abhi moved to France and used the opportunity to continue making music, sign to a record label and plan his move back. Now the musician has returned to the U.S., where he’s settled in Austin and is working as a student. All the while, the hip-hop artist has been making rap the likes of which the city has never heard.

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Soaked but not soaked

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For starters, it’s fun. Abhi’s melodies and instrumentation border on pop, as he’s often backed by guitar, trumpets, piano or any other number of energetic sounds. Their pace is quick, but Abhi keeps up with ease, which leads to an upbeat aura that perfectly accompanies his frenetic delivery. Listen to “Floors” and try not to dance.

4. SMiiLE

The five-person group SMiiLE is no stranger to Study Breaks coverage, as we profiled them a few months ago before South by Southwest.

The band’s frontman, Jake Miles, describes the group’s neo-soul sound as adventurous pop with soulful and joyous inflections, a description that touches on what makes their music so singular. More than most bands, especially young ones, SMiiLE balances whimsical harmonies with poetic lyrics, which makes listening to their music feel both indulgent and substantial, like eating candy for dinner.

Check out their newest EP, a two-song release eponymously titled “The Way You Remind Me / Caricature,” here.

5. TC Superstar

Another Austin-based band that Study Breaks has covered before, TC Superstar burst onto the scene in 2017 with their album “Masc,” a work that explored the concept of masculinity with the polish of electronic music mixed with a punk, grassroots, d.i.y. sound. Since the release, TC Superstar has been a hot ticket around town, as the pop scene in South Texas has been notoriously underdeveloped.

Now, the band has expanded from its original three members to a group of eight, a number that includes a handful of full-time dancers whose choreography complements the band’s sound.

Their sound, a modern riff on the synth-heavy dance beats of late ’80s hits, resembles a computer’s best attempt to recreate ABBA’s aura. Led by lead singer Connor McCampbell’s intentionally monotone crooning, the tracks are studded by dual metronomic sounds: drum machines beating at a healthy clip, and synths arching slowly in the background. The resulting effect is a deadpan dance beat, the kind of track you might imagine Armie Hammer and Timothy Chalamet dancing to at a bonfire party.

6. Daphne Tunes 

Many of the bands Soong and Barbin have curated for KVRX Fest play low-key, mellow music, but few are more relaxed than the warm pop of Daphne Tunes, the musical project of Austin-native Santiago RD. Rascoe, again of the Austin Chronicle, compared the band’s sound to “muffled folk rockers” Whitney and Girls, and the comparison is an apt one.

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While the band is headed by RD, it also features four other backing musicians, one of whom is Sam Houdek, who also plays for Why Bonnie and will be pulling double (maybe more?) duty during the fest. Together, Daphne Tunes makes relaxing rock, buoyed along mostly by lackadaisical guitar and RD’s vocals, which at times sound uncannily like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. It’s the kind of music that soundtracks memories of summer swim spots, last-minute road trips and late nights spent under the stars.

7. Why Bonnie

Much like Frankie Cosmos’ sound is defined by the singular vocals of Greta Kline, so too does the singing of Blair Howerton breathe life into the work of Austin band Why Bonnie. A female-fronted, shoegaze-inspired group not unlike Soccer Mommy or Alvvays, Why Bonnie released their first project, “In Water,” in 2018, and have been darlings of the local music scene.

The group, which has expanded since its genesis to include five total members, makes confessional rock built to send listeners on an emotional boomerang. Howerton’s haunting voice soars in every song, but its natural gauziness gives off a sense of melancholy. The combination, then, of a strong vocalist singing wistfully can leave you feeling cleansed, but drained.

The bedroom production is beautifully achieved, with the backing instrumentation hovering peacefully behind Howerton’s sound. Church organs, guitars and soft drums swirl with no apparent rush as the frontwoman’s vocals build, and her lyrics, often specific and often melancholic, bring the subtle orchestra together into a tidy package, filled like an attic with homespun memories.

8. Mike Melinoe

If Austin, ostensibly the live music capitol of the world, has overlooked any genre, it is without a doubt hip hop. While the conversation of why that might be is an ugly one, the good news is that a number of promising young rappers are working their hardest to fix the city’s lack of rap.

Mike Melinoe, who has been making music in the Texas capitol for a handful of years now, might just be the city’s most prominent hip-hop artist. His most recent project, “Love Ain’t Cheap,” a five-song release in collaboration with musician Flizoshi, finds Melinoe doing even better what he’s always done well.

Delivered with a deep voice, resinous tenor and subdued energy, his verses on the release show a different side to Melinoe’s musicianship, as his slower cadence presents what feels like a calmer energy and more confident artist.

Mark Stenberg

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