SXSW 2018: Your A-to-Z guide to the festival’s must-see artists
With literally thousands of musicians flooding every available performance space that Austin, Texas, has to offer this week, parsing through all the options at South By Southwest can be an overwhelming undertaking.
And although there are many worthwhile acts to check out at this year’s iteration of the annual festival, we’ve done the hard work for you by narrowing down the imposing lineup to the top 26.
These are the artists, from A-to-Z, worth checking out at SXSW 2018.
Situated somewhere in between Arctic Monkeys and OK Go, Irish four-piece The Academic achieved viral fame in 2017 with their innovative “Bear Claws” video, which used a series of layered loops of the band performing on Facebook Live. Their debut album “Tales from the Backseat” proves the band are much more than just a gimmick, with hooky, sleek pop-rock tracks that seem destined for regular rotation on mainstream radio and streaming.
If you like: Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Wombats
Billie Eilish is only 16 years old, but the L.A. native is already being heralded as the future of pop music. Comparisons could be made to the don’t-care cool of Lana Del Rey or the dancefloor empowerment of Lorde, but Eilish derives her power as an artist from her originality. Her 2017 debut album “dont smile at me,” which ranges from the jazzy “idontwannabeyouanymore” to the Vince Staples-assisted “&burn,” is a proper showcase for the young singer-songwriter’s talents.
If you like: Maggie Rogers, Sylvan Esso
Cassandra Jenkins’ debut album “Play Till You Win” was underappreciated when it was released in 2017, but the NYC folk singer’s profile is destined to grow. There’s a timeless quality to Jenkins’ songwriting, which draws from icons like Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell. And with the release of “Live in Foxen Canyon” in February, Jenkins demonstrates that you absolutely need to check her out in concert after you listen to her studio LP.
If you like: Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons
There’s a ruggedness to Dermot Kennedy’s folk-pop anthems that makes them both intimate and infinite. Many folkies might be content to stay in their lane with acoustic guitar verse-chorus ditties, but Kennedy’s limited catalog shows remarkable creative growth since he released his first singles in 2016. Where the Irishman will sonically venture to next — he’s releasing a mixtape in April with Mike Dean of Kanye West fame — is an open question, and it’s one that makes his ascent as an artist all the more exciting.
If you like: James Bay, X Ambassadors
EarthGang have been making music for over a decade, but the Atlanta rap duo are ready to blow up after being signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records. Much like fellow ATLiens Outkast, EarthGang aren’t overly tethered to any particular hip hop genre, which means that a spirit of experimentation thrives. But in an era where hip-hop aesthetics are increasingly dominated by beat-making, EarthGang’s Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus have cemented themselves as top-tier lyricists.
If you like: GoldLink, DRAM
The dissolution of Wisconsin band DeYarmond Edison set the stage for Justin Vernon to strike out on his own as Bon Iver. But another member of that band, Chris Porterfield, has found success as the frontman of Field Report, which serves primarily as a showcase for Porterfield’s introspective songwriting. Field Report’s roots rock is tailor-made for long drives with the windows rolled down. Their upcoming album “Summertime Songs” is both their most expansive and most accessible release to date.
If you like: Wilco, The War on Drugs
Sophie Payten makes ethereal electro-pop as Gordi. The 24-year-old Australian wrote and recorded her 2017 debut album “Reservoir” in studios in Reykjavik, Wisconsin, L.A., New York and Sydney, with her globetrotting tendencies mirroring her eclectic approach to making music. Whether she’s a folk musician who uses electronic instruments or an electronic musician who crafts folk songs is up for debate. But what’s undeniable is Gordi’s promise as an emerging artist.
If you like: Bon Iver, Feist
For garage rock foursome Hinds, the devil is most certainly not in the details. Instead, the joy of listening to a Hinds records comes from all the analog imperfections, which give their tunes a carefree vibe that’s rare in the modern, hyper-detailed ProTools music industry. Like their spiritual uncles The Strokes, the four ladies of Hinds present themselves not only as a band, but as a posse you’d be lucky to hang out with (which is all the more reason to grab a Lonestar and check out one of their shows in Austin).
If you like: Japanese Breakfast, Twin Peaks
Beware of flying beer bottles! IDLES, who hail from London, haven’t met a stage yet they couldn’t burn to the ground with their visceral energy. But this isn’t your stereotypical meathead rock ‘n’ roll band trying to blow off steam. IDLES’ songs address everything from Brexit to toxic masculinity to the failures of the British healthcare system. Mosh pits and incisive social commentary? Get you a band who can do both.
If you like: Swans, Sex Pistols
There is a chance that you will hate Juiceboxxx, the risk-taking punk rapper whose quirkiness makes him a truly polarizing figure. But beneath the “is-this-guy-serious” first impression, there’s a subtle brilliance to the Milwaukee’s ability to blend styles and subvert norms. You can call him a great many things, but one word that would never describe the creative forays of Juiceboxxx is “boring.”
If you like: Beastie Boys, Beck
Sensuality dominates Kelela’s electro-tinged R&B, which is appropriate for both the club and the bedroom. From start to finish, her 2017 album “Take Me Apart” ranks as one of last year’s best releases, aided by moody beats and the D.C.-born artist’s magnetic vocal delivery.
If you like: Solange, Sade
Thank goodness Lucy Dacus decided to drop out of school to pursue a music career. Her sophomore record “Historian,” which was released earlier this month, is a treasure chock-full of guitar hero flourishes and fiercely honest songwriting. Dacus is an indie rock wunderkind with something to say, and it’s in your best interest to listen to her.
If you like: Liz Phair, Angel Olsen
Anyone recently suffering from a bad breakup should stay far, far away from the music of Kiwi crooner Marlon Williams (that is, unless you’re the kind of person who really leans into despair). Williams’ immersive 2017 release “Make Way For Love” contemplates one of music’s most ancient themes: heartache. With his baritone drenched in reverb, Williams comes across as a folkie Elvis or Orbison yearning to mend his broken heart.
If you like: Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright
When Nilüfer Yanya repeatedly asks the listener “Do you like pain?” on her song “Baby Luv,” it’s delivered less like an inquiry and more like a come-on. The London chanteuse’s hypnotic tracks often start small, anchored by a jazzy chord progression on electric guitar and abetted by Yanya’s sultry alto voice, along with the occasional saxophone. She’s hitting SXSW at the perfect time in her career trajectory: buzzy enough to draw proper crowds, but under-the-radar enough to still surprise.
If you like: The xx, Amy Winehouse
If you like all-encompassing walls of sound, you’re going to dig Overlake. The Jersey City trio makes lush indie pop with nods to classic shoegaze artists like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. If you’re looking for a set where you can mellow out and bang your head simultaneously, Overlake is your best bet at SXSW.
If you like: Beach House, Cocteau Twins
Palm is a band who makes the chaotic coherent. Call them math rock, art-rock, avant-pop, whatever. While most experimental music comes across as a provocation to conventional listeners, Palm have found a way to make unorthodox song structures not only palatable, but immensely satisfying.
If you like: Dirty Projectors, Deerhoof
Qais Essar is a master of the rabab, a lute-like musical instrument originating from central Afghanistan. At SXSW, he’ll be presenting “Tear a Root From the Earth,” a folk opera about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the last 40 years. Essar is fresh off working on the music for the Oscar-nominated animated film “The Breadwinner.”
If you like: Ramin Djawadi, Tinariwen
Yes, Rayland Baxter is an engaging performer who seems as comfortable alone on a stage with an acoustic guitar as he does leading a seasoned blues rock band. Yes, Rayland Baxter has mastered the art of goofy concert banter. And, most importantly, Rayland Baxter writes beautiful songs that will wind their way into your soul and hang around a while.
If you like: Dawes, Ryan Adams
“I don’t want to be your f—ing dog” serves as the chorus for Soccer Mommy’s most blistering song, “Your Dog,” which serves as the inverse to a Stooges classic, but mirrors its snarling attitude. It turns out the rest of the songs on Sophie Allison’s debut studio album, which dropped earlier this year, display an angst that’s without pretense. The ten songs on “Clean” are raw, honest documents of love gone wrong and coming of age, blending an intoxicating mix of emo tenderness and middle-finger spunk.
If you like: Pinegrove, Waxahatchee
SXSW is amazing for music discovery, presenting a unique opportunity for fans and tastemakers to check out thousands of emerging acts. But all that discovery can be exhausting, and sometimes you just want to “smang it.” Turquoise Jeep will not end up on any year-end lists or receive love from critics, but their offbeat, viral rap hits like “Cavities” and “Lemme Smang It” present a refreshing diversion from the self-serious artists performing in Austin.
If you like: Rebecca Black, Weird Al Yankovic
To look back on the past decade that Meg Remy has been making music as U.S. Girls is to witness the intoxication evolution of a boundary-pushing artist. Where her music used to be abrasive and aurally challenging, it’s now smoother, but no less experimental. Her 2018 release “In a Poem Unlimited” is her most vital work to date, full of wit and sharp observations on gender politics, underscored by danceable and sometimes downright groovy backing tracks.
If you like: Animal Collective, Bjork
Despite melodramatic reports to the contrary, guitar rock is not dead. Look no further than Boston’s Vundabar to see that the genre is not only alive and well, but thriving. Their 2017 album “Smell Smoke” is filled with jams that hearken back to the turn-of-the-millennium golden age of garage rock without sounding like a straight-up nostalgia trip.
If you like: Interpol, Superchunk
Baltimore’s Wye Oak has been making spellbinding indie rock for over a decade now, but they’ve resisted the urge to merely stay in their line and deliver something obvious. Despite only being composed of two members, Wye Oak is capable of building sweeping atmosphere in their dream pop songs, anchored moored by Jenn Wasner’s enchanting vocals and electric guitar freak-outs, as well as Andy Stack’s thundering percussion.
If you like: Broken Social Scene, Sylvan Esso
Full disclosure: There is only one artist with a name that begins with the letter “X” officially playing SXSW. Nonetheless, it’s worth checking out Xylouris White, the folk duo who plays Cretan music hailing from Greece. There will be so much of the same in Austin — namely, dudes playing guitars singing about love — so Xylouris White offer up something unexpected and thus all the more intriguing.
If you like: Ravi Shankar, Steve Gunn
Andre Galvin knows how to write a great indie pop anthem. The Brooklyn-based artist used to be a member of Walk the Moon, and his previous solo project Yellerkin explored a lower-fi sound. But what hasn’t changed through all these projects is Galvin’s ear for a killer hook, which he’s weaponized to great effect for his new solo project Yoke Lore. Good luck getting “Goodpain” out of your head once you hear it.
If you like: Bleachers, CHVRCHES
He’s developed a reputation as a super-producer, cranking out multi-platinum hits with artists like Migos, Drake, Gucci Mane and more. Now, Zaytoven is trying to cement his status as Atlanta’s DJ Khaled, bringing together the top MCs to rap over his trap beats.
If you like: MikeWillMadeIt, 2 Chainz