Last year, South By Southwest was the first of a huge number of festivals to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. 12 months later, and despite the progress of the vaccine roll-out giving us hope that things may be mostly back to normal in the summer, the precarious global situation has forced SXSW to move things online for this year’s event.
SXSW’s new music-focused festival, which runs in tandem with its film and tech events, usually takes over Austin, Texas every March and is a breeding ground for blossoming artists – it’s often the first chance that UK and European acts get to play live in the US. With over 1000 artists normally on the bill, it’s the biggest of all the new music showcases and usually the most chaotic, with house shows and unofficial afterparties turning SXSW into a 24-hour event. The festival has also been gatecrashed in recent years by the superstar likes of Prince, Lana Del Rey and Drake performing some not-so-secret sets and further adding to the SXSW mystique.
This year looks to be a decidedly less unpredictable affair, with pre-recorded performances from over 200 acts being broadcast from today (March 16) until Saturday (March 20) on SXSW’s dedicated virtual hub – but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be boring. The 2021 line-up once again sees SXSW not caring about genre to instead focus on spotlighting some of the most exciting acts around. And if the late-night kick-off times are putting you off, every set will be broadcast again 12 hours later – making it even easier to get involved or avoid any pesky clashes.
Here are the 10 acts you can’t afford to miss at SXSW 2021.
Who?: Somerset emo rapper making vulnerable anthems from his bedroom and sounding like a cross between Post Malone, Rex Orange County and Juice WRLD.
When?: March 18, 10pm, Channel 1
Look out for: Askew only released his first official track ‘Roses’ last July before his debut EP ‘Peach’ arrived in January, but this superstar-in-the-making has already found his voice. Last month’s ‘I Bought You 5 Roses’ livestream was an ambitious 30-minute set that saw Askew pushing the boundaries of the sometimes-restrictive platform. It’ll be interesting to see how he tackles performing to the unconverted at SXSW.
Who?: Welsh language indie-rock band who won the 2019 Welsh Music Prize.
When?: March 19, midnight, Channel 1
Look out for: After spending the past few years playing shows almost exclusively in Wales, Adwaith are finally heading further afield (albeit virtually, in this instance). Making the kind of emotive indie-rock that saw people fall in love with Frightened Rabbit, their set is sure to be a heady mix of celebration, sadness and raw emotion.
Who?: Spain’s premier post-punk party band with fans in Queens of The Stone Age and Liam Gallagher.
When?: March 16, 10pm, Channel 4
Look out for: Belako’s recent fourth album ‘Plastic Drama’ was their first record to get an international release. Full of confidence, gnarly riffs and the desire to unify the world, it’s an album that’s tailor-made for huge festival stages and chaotic mosh pits – but expect the exact same sort of energy when they take over your screens at SXSW.
Who?: Scrappy Australian punks who went viral with ‘Smoko’ in 2017 and have been causing trouble ever since.
When?: March 19, 2am, Channel 2
Look out for: The Chats have made a career out of being unpredictable, so we’ve got absolutely no idea what to expect from their SXSW debut. Equally at home on breakfast TV or tearing it up on stage at Reading Festival, the Aussie band know how to put on a good show regardless of their surroundings.
Who?: London-based singer, songwriter and rapper inspired by Nicki Minaj who already has a big fan in Stormzy.
When?: March 17, midnight, Channel 4
Look out for: With a brilliant blend of 00s pop, R&B and her own Ghanaian heritage, Br3nya has been turning heads since the release of her debut single ‘Good Food’ in August 2018. If her set at SXSW 2021 has half the energy as her performance at the 2020 Rated Awards with Ivorian Doll had, we’re in for a breath-taking treat.
Who?: The lovechild of Slipknot and Beyoncé making trap-infused pop-punk that’s all about self-love.
When?: March 17, midnight, Channel 1
Look out for: With just one seven-track EP to her name, Sparoh has already created a distinctive sound. ‘HO RAPS’ is “a war cry for radical self-love” that sits alongside the Machine Gun Kelly-fronted pop-punk revival that’s currently ongoing. But don’t put Sparoh in a box: her music is snarling, forward-facing and expansive, and she’s creating something brilliant and entirely her own.
Kota Banks & Ninajirachi
Who?: Two incredible Australian talents teaming up like hyper-pop Avengers.
When?: March 19, 2am, Channel 2
Look out for: Kota Banks and Ninajirachi both have successful solo careers, but their 2020 collaborative EP ‘True North’ was an energetic, beat-driven record that saw the two popstars shine together. Following that promise up with their February single ‘Secretive!’, this pairing is clearly more than a one-time thing: their chemistry should really pop in the live setting.
Who?: The only south London band making electro rock for sweaty raves.
When?: March 16, 10:40pm, Channel 1
Look out for: Formed from the same scene that gave us Black Midi, Squid and Sorry, PVA are a band made for performing live. Their debut EP, the brilliant ‘Toner’, is a glitching electro rock playlist to soundtrack unforgettable nights, so expect their SXSW set to be the closest thing to a night out you’ve had in a long while.
Drug Store Romeos
Who?: Disco dream-poppers with a love for escapism and the 70s.
When?: March 18, 10:30pm, Channel 1
Look out for: There’s no escaping it: a virtual festival means you’re watching a band perform through a screen. But Drug Store Romeos have the power to transport you elsewhere: their lush, 70s-inspired disco music is ethereal and delivered with a twitching urgency that makes it impossible to get distracted. Prepare to give them your full attention.
Who?: Spanish art-pop star.
When?: March 17, 10pm, Channel 4
Look out for: Birds’ 2016 debut album ‘Year X’ was a collection of stories told through arching pop bangers, while its imminent follow-up, ‘La Costa de los Mosquitos’, feels more dramatic and dynamic – if recent singles ‘Claroscuro’ and ‘Las Cinco Disonante’ are anything to go by, anyway. Fusing modern pop and flamenco with a touch of the cinematic, expect Birds’ SXSW set to be just as arresting.