Sounds of the future: the best newcomers of SXSW 2017
Big names were everywhere at SXSW, but the Austin festival also featured a host of up-and-comers with the potential to hit the big time
Julie Byrne performs onstage at the Mazda Studio at Empire Garage on March 14, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/WireImage)
A couple of days at SXSW is a great way to fine tune your musical filters. With 2,000 bands playing at the Austin festival, you quickly realise that it’s impossible to see everything, and choices need to be made a couple of times an hour. You could go with the tried and tested – SXSW 2017 featured The Roots, Lana Del Rey, Garth Brooks, Solange, Ho99o9, Lil Wayne, Future Islands, Weezer and the Wu-Tang Clan – or you could take your chances with the newbies.
Like a punter at a greyhound track, the decision about the new bands to see is made on the basis of form or gut instinct – and there are times when the latter is a better bet. For example, a random decision to go to a show on spec meant I got to see New York duo Oshun put on one of the best shows of the week. On the other hand, a huge amount of hotly tipped acts turned out to be identikit indie dudes playing the same rattle as the band a bar over.
These bands, though, are SXSW’s meat and drink. Because of the nature of the event, with shows running day and night, four-piece guitar bands fare better when it comes to changeovers and sound (which has become increasingly worse at the event because of the lack of time to soundcheck properly). Anyone operating beyond the guitar band template can have a hard time of it.
Yet there are still moments when stars are born and you’re smitten, wowed, excited and stirred by what you’ve just heard. Here’s our SXSW One Per Cent, the 20 acts we saw in Texas that we want to see again.
New York University students who graduate this summer, Oshun’s Thandiwe and Niambi Sala demonstrated smarts to see them thrive when school’s out. Playing a refreshed and shapely brand of boho soul with nods to Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, Oshun were a blast of positivity and good vibes.
From Los Angeles, Lo Moon have been building a head of steam in recent months with their shimmering, beautifully pitched dream pop. Live, the band are even better than tracks such as Loveless would indicate, crafting a sound with nods to The Blue Nile and Steely Dan.
Anna Wise has appeared on the last three albums from Kendrick Lamar and won a Grammy award for her collaboration on These Walls. The Brooklyn- based singer’s own material is also worthy of accolades, with Wise finding a winning groove on songs from last year’s The Feminine: Act I set.
If you’re in the market for a new favourite Nordic pop star, Sigrid is the woman for you. Her debut track Don’t Kill My Vibe has already done wonders for the youngster from Ålesund in Norway and elicited a rattle of Lorde comparisons. She’s a fully formed real deal, with hooky songs full of spark and shine. A true revelation.
As has become the norm, there was a lot of hip-hop at SXSW, but the goofy charms of this Florida teenager stood out from the pack. Responsible for an infectious 2016 boom tune with Fruit Punch, Keoindre Boone has plenty more catchy tales about trying to stay cool under pressure where that came from.
There are a lot of references to Ed Sheeran in the press clippings about this young Londoner, but he’s unlikely to committ an atrocity like Galway Girl anytime soon. Mullally’s selling point is a massive soulful voice which works wonders with the kind of material he’s already writing and shaping.
There’s a lot of good stuff bubbling to the surface with Jain. Her sound is a whirl of colour, a nod to the Parisian’s globetrotting from the Congo to Abu Dhabi and how those cities and cultures have informed her infectious pop. She’s a striking live performer too, proving a compelling sideshow for her fresh, wide-eyed tracks.
In truth, you could have plumped for any of the British jazz players who performed at a brilliant showstopping showcase. Korwar gets the nod over GoGo Penguin, Moses Boyd and Shabaka Hutchings because of the extraordinary width and depth of his material. He’s a jazz player who blends electronic and Indian Sidi traditional music into his groove and creates something extraordinary in the process.
Evocative and stately, Julie Byrne’s soft, subtle songs reward your attention. Playing on an outdoor stage at the French Legation museum, Byrne embellished meditations about nature, life and love from her Not Even Happiness album with beautiful melodies and movements. One for the Karen Dalton and Catherine Howe fans in the audience.
It’s always worth checking out the Australian contingent in Austin. This year, Sydney’s Middle Kids generated heat with their brew of bubbly, occasionally bittersweet indie anthems in the making. Some great guitar work on Edge Of Town and Your Love in particular were the takeaways here.
You can understand why so many tastemakers tipped this young Los Angeles performer. Eilish has a great knack of creating dark pop anthem which comes with a radio-friendly hook stuck right in the middle. There will be comparisons to Lana Del Rey and Lapsley, yet Eilish has the competence and moxie to stick to her own orbit.
Jealous of the Birds
Portadown woman Naomi Hamilton received much pre-SXSW attention from NPR for her vibrant tunes and her profile is sure to grow on the back of a busy festival. Playing tracks from her Parma Violets debut album, Hamilton and her band set down a marker with sets which jumped from tender folk to thrilling post-punk with vim and vigour.
All Our Exes Live In Texas
Sweet four-part harmonies and dashing folk songs about modern life are what’s on offer from these singer-songwriters, who initially joined forces at an O Brother Where Art Thou show back home in Sydney a few years back. Let’s hope those exes got to catch some of the shows and realise what they’re missing.
A guitar slinger from Nashville, Ron Gallo plays the sort of evervescent garage rock which never goes out of style in these parts. Full of punky calls to arms and moments which make you realise just why this kind of sound always appeals, we’ll be hearing a lot more from this dude in due course.
A lot can change in a year. MUNA attracted attention here last year, though the band seemed unsure about their musical direction at that point. This time out, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson were women on a mission, rocking show after show with dark, delicious pop tracks now fashioned with the big time in mind.
Manu Delago Handmade
Aside from being the only performer to use a toothbrush as an instrument at the festival, Austrian percussionist, Hang player and composer Manu Delago and his band also showed the power of other music. A collaborator with Björk and The Cinematic Orchestra, Delago’s showed off incredible swagger, especially when put with the versatile playing of bandmates Isa Kurz and Chris Norz.
Flamingods’ fine Majesty album last year was full of exotic, colourful psych-pop which happily exploded in all directions. Live, they are even better, deploying some bizarre instruments into honking and hollering a sassy wallop of funk and blues. Coming soon to an open-minded festival near you.
One of the stars of the week, Chicago’s Noname and her band brought a new focus and many extra layers to tracks from her 2016 Telefone debut. While she’s benefited from association with Chance the Rapper, it’s the beautiful power and attention to lyrical detail of her own work which sets her apart.
Cameroon born, New York- based Laetitia Tamkomines a rich vein of ideas and themes about identity and entitlement. Songs such as The Embers and Mal á L’aise are good introductions to Tamko’s work, both capturing her way with a guitar as well as those lyrical notions.
Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief were behind one of 2016’s more compelling releases and it was songs from Masterpiece, which dominated their SXSW sets. These are serious beasts, songs which pin down a striking narrative against layered and nuanced melodies and sounds.