The road barriers are down, the last notes of music have rung out – SXSW 2018 is over after a week of the best and brightest new artists taking over Austin, Texas for the latest edition of the new music festival. Here are the biggest highlights from NME‘s last two days at the event.
Bodega are the best band you will see anywhere at SXSW 2018. Hands down. The New York art-punks (who are named after the NYC equivalent of a corner shop) fill their set at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Saturday night (March 17) with sharp and astute social observations while delivering half an hour of kraut-y post-punk that’s both thought-provoking and fun. “Your playlist knows you better than your closest lover,” barks Ben Hozie on ‘How Did This Happen!?’, before later singing about “learned male behaviour” on the brilliantly-titled ‘Jack In Titanic’. In between tracks, Nikki Belfiglio triggers robotic voices that speak to society’s dependence on technology, but Bodega aren’t disconnected from real feeling at all. One of the best bits of their set comes in a touching song about losing someone close to you, reliving Ben’s relationship with a recently deceased best friend and working out how to carry on without them.
Before this week, Grace Shaw – aka Aussie teen Mallrat – had never performed outside of her home country before. If there’s any pressure in making your US debut at SXSW, playing to crowds of mainly industry folk ready to cast judgement, she doesn’t seem fazed by it. Her set at Lustre Pearl on Friday (March 16) is as fun as you’d expect from the bubblegum hip-hop pop sound of her early tracks, showcasing an artist with a breezy self-confidence. That manifests itself in brief bursts of choreographed dance routines with her DJ Denim, while ‘Bunny Island’ a track by Oh Boy and Donatachi she featured on – has her switching between English and Japanese with ease. Between all that and the relatable likes of ‘Better’ and ‘Uninvited’, to call Mallrat impressive seems like an understatement.
The latest of the Cyrus family to pursue a career in music, 18-year-old Noah is following in her elder sister’s pop footsteps. At Trinity Warehouse, she and her band preview upcoming debut album ‘NC-17’ with a handful of gleaming tracks that prove she deserves attention in her own right, and not just because of her family name. ‘All Falls Down’ sounds like MØ’s more tropical pop moments, while live Noah elevates ‘Almost Famous’ from standard acoustic ballad to an emotional peak. As a performer, too, she’s engaging and compelling, and is assured enough to hold her own on stage even when things go wrong. There’s a couple of technical difficulties during her set that she tries to power through, but, after admitting defeat to them, she keeps things moving with no dreadful, awkward silences given permission to disrupt her flow, setting her up as a consummate pro already.
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“This is horrible,” groans one spectator as Promiseland’s Johann Rashid prowls around Waller Ballroom, voice rasping over clattering beats and ominous synths. While it’s true the Aussie-born, NYC-based musician’s creations might not be the easiest on the ear, it’s also true that he’s about as far from beige as you can get. ‘Take Down The House’ is an urgent barrage of needling lines and big, echoing drum machine rhythms, while ‘My Shadow’ sounds like Dev Hynes’ Test Icicles reborn for 2018. Promiseland’s music isn’t the only way he challenges the audience, though. His gained a reputation for being a very in-your-face performer, utilising the features of venues to climb up or dangle from. There are no balconies for him to do anything death-defying from tonight, so instead he has to settle for getting in the middle of the audience, sliding across the floor, and – at one point – leaving the room completely and heading out onto the street. Keeping your eyes on him at all times is something of a test, but also part of what makes him so entertaining.
Honduras have been kicking around for a few years now, but they’ve repeatedly made their case for being well worth your attention. Tonight, they prove it again with their 11th set of the festival, but one that doesn’t allow for even a second of lethargy to creep in and dilute their to-the-wall punk pacers. The room gradually fills up as they play thanks to the magnetism of songs like ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Paralyzed’. The latter uncoils from its tightly wound beginnings into a searing monster full of squalling guitars that envelope Barracuda like an incoming storm. It’s new song ‘Water Sign’ that serves as the set’s undeniable highlight, though. It’s easily one of the best songs the band have written so far – one of those special ones that feels like you’ve just stuck your fingers in a socket and come out the other side electrified, revivified and invincible. “You’ve got your problems, and I’ve got mine/Please excuse my water sign,” sings frontman Patrick Phillips, an unabashedly pop hook suffixed to the four-piece’s heavy riffing. Let’s make 2018 the year the world finally gives Honduras the attention they deserve.