South by Southwest’s maze of official showcases, day parties and breakfast tacos can get a little overwhelming for even the most seasoned festival-goer. Here, 10 acts primed to break out of the queso-covered haze.
This Brooklyn-based MC’s 2016 swirling, braggadocio-filled “OOOUUU” was an across-the-board smash, hitting year-end critics’ polls, inspiring freestyles by the likes of French Montana and Tink, and cracking the 150-million mark on YouTube. On the jittery new track “Hot Sauce” – which will appear on her imminent EP HerStory – Young M.A’s guttural delivery and matter-of-fact wordplay show how she can blend old-school ideals with 21st-century beats.
Alynda Segarra is a traveler; when she was 17 the Bronx native decided to ride the continent’s rails, seeing the sights via freight train. After settling in New Orleans, Segarra and a rotating cast of musicians released freewheeling albums influenced the Big Easy’s gothic-tinged blend of blues and jazz as well as her punk-rock teenage years, and accrued buzz with intense live sets. Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s just-released sixth album The Navigator is a concept album that turns Segarra’s vagabond past into the springboard for an expansive story that flips the concepts of America and Americana on their respective heads.
Toting hooky songs that stand out for their intricate arrangements and delectable melodies, this brotherly outfit have made a case for powerpop being one of the big comeback genres of 2017. The Long Island-born band – led by brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario – released the sugar-spun Do Hollywood in 2016, garnering comparisons to Rundgren and Nilsson while holding on tight to their barely-out-of-high-school charm. After SXSW they’ll hit up Coachella and Bonnaroo, and this summer they’ll support Phoenix at the storied Hollywood Bowl.
This fleet-tongued Australian MC-slash-singer has garnered fans from all around the world since her 2013 breakthrough, including Charli XCX and Killer Mike, who matched mic skills with Maidza on the punchy track “Carry On.” Her 2016 debut album, Tkay showcases her keen ear for hip-hop that displays a fluorescent-bright pop sensibility, with tracks like the fizzy “Simulation” and the pumping “Monochrome” standing out. After SXSW, she’ll hit festivals Hangout and Boston Calling.
New York-based vocalists Niambi Sala and Thandiwe record future-forward R&B
that foregrounds their African heritage (they’re named after the Yoruba deity)
and incorporates influences that include J Dilla, reggae and gospel. (On their
Facebook page, they call their genre of music “Floetry meets Lauryn Hill
meets Chief Keef.”) Their forthcoming single “Not My
President,” which they previewed at a February Brooklyn Museum
performance, blends White House-aimed barbs with the pair’s sinewy harmonies.
The eye-popping performances by this post-emo duo will undoubtedly attract attention from passerby, but PWR BTTM’s real appeal comes from how they pair their massive hooks and even more massive stage appeal with heart-on-sleeve lyrics. The brash “Answer My Text,” from their forthcoming album Pageant, pairs its chorus’s angsty lashing-out (“Answer my text, you dick!”) with a gooey melody and crystalline lyrics that feel like a live-tweeting of the moment-by-moment thought process that ensues in a relationship’s earliest moments.
Teen duo Let’s Eat Grandma take the creepiness inherent in fairy tales, nursery rhymes and misplaced commas and ratchet it way up. The twisty songs on their 2016 debut I, Gemini foreground their witchy vocals while incorporating bedroom-pop beats, sing-song choruses, and droning saxophones. The British pair’s SXSW performance precedes a pair of U.S. dates in Los Angeles and New York, as well as appearances at European festivals like Primavera and Bestival.
Hailing from just north of Chicago, this MC/producer established himself as a major player in the Windy City’s hip-hop scene as a teen, signing to the tastemaking label Closed Sessions and releasing his debut EP just after graduating high school. His latest single “International Business Trip” pairs his fast-talking flow with spaced-out beats, while his dreamy cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ longing “Maps” (a song that he’s “been in love” with since his middle-school days) shows off his stylistic breadth.
These New York powerpoppers have been wowing audiences for a few years now, with zippy, brutally honest tracks like the gimlet-eyed “Love Me” and the street-harasser rebuke “Turd” bringing to mind glitter-grunge rockers like that dog. and Veruca Salt. They’ll be playing SXSW in advance of their debut full-length, Guppy, which comes out in April.
On Masterpiece, their 2016 debut, this Brooklyn-based dream-folk album combined shoegaze’s reverbed-out guitars with the plaintive vocals and detailed lyrics of lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker – a heady mix of easygoing riffs and gently wrenching singing. This summer they’ll be performing a few shows with Conor Oberst and appearing at a number of festivals, including the Portland-adjacent festival Pickathon and Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival.