After returning last March following a COVID-enforced hiatus of two years, 2023 saw SXSW back in full swing. Austin’s formidable arts festival covers ground across the entertainment and technology industry, but its biggest draw is its incomparable new music programme. This year, SXSW hosted artists from across the world, spanning every genre imaginable and taking over countless venues, stages (and in one case, even an airport). So, who were this year’s standout acts?
NME spent the last week answering that question, and exploring all of what SXSW 2023 had to offer. Here’s the most exciting artists we caught at this year’s festival.
After playing five consecutive shows at SXSW, indie singer-songwriter Bartees Strange played his final, sixth set at Cheer Up Charlies on Thursday (March 16). During the set, he announced that much of his gear had gone missing during his run of shows across the Texan capital. However, that didn’t keep him from putting on an audacious set, shredding into multiple tracks, including his hits ‘Boomer’ and ‘Mustang’. He ended on his rambunctious track, ‘Kelly Rowland’, before sending the audience back into the city’s party-filled streets.
Anderson .Paak as DJ Pee .Wee
Rocking a Rick James wig, Anderson .Paak put on a raucous and high-octane set as DJ Pee .Wee. The musician spun out multiple upbeat tracks, including his hit single ‘Leave The Door Open’ from his Silk Sonic collaboration with Bruno Mars. At one point, he asked fans on the stage to dance with him, and brought out a saxophone player to add a new depth to his mix. As an additional treat, the star sat behind a drumkit and hyped up the crowd from another angle. “It feels good because I remember my first time doing SXSW,” he said at the start of his set, noting that he hadn’t been back to the festival in seven years. “So I’m excited to be here as DJ Pee .Wee this year.”
Los Angeles singer-songwriter Blondshell (born Sabrina Teitelbaum) took over a ballroom at Austin’s Convention Center and transformed it into a rowdy club, kicking off with her hit ‘Veronica Mars’. Blondshell’s self-titled debut is set for release next month (April 7), but she blazed through the set as though she’d been performing each track for decades. She threw herself around the stage, at one point laying down to represent exhaustion as she sang the words, “We were never violent”. One of the set’s peaks came by way of ‘Joiner’, a gritty ode to passion. “You’ve been running around LA with trash / Sleeping in bars with a gun in your bag / Asking can I be somebody else” she sang, peering at the audience before her with a knowing grin.
As Bellah delivered her track ‘Evil Eye’, to a packed crowd at Austin’s Speakeasy venue, they joined in at the refrain, singing along to the words, “But I don’t feel no pressure / One of a kind, I’m special”. The NME 100 graduate gave a sparkling performance, showing off the full power of her vocal range and heartfelt lyricism. Though she mostly lingered in sultry and subdued territory during the set, the London artist kept hyping up the crowd, at one point asking, “Do you like afrobeats?” before encouraging fans to copy her dance moves and enjoy the night with her.
“Bloody hell, what a day,” Venbee declared halfway through her set. The rising drum ‘n’ bass star, born Erin Doyle, took over the city’s 3Ten venue as part of her first visit to SXSW. The set’s most striking moment took place during her breakout track, ‘Messy In Heaven’; when Doyle sang the refrain, “I heard Jesus did cocaine on a night out”, the front row shouted along to every word. Right before playing another viral track, ‘Low Down’, she explained how the “song changed my life”, noting that she had written it in her mum’s garden. She may have joked that she’s just “winging it”, but her stellar performance proved that she’s meant to be here.
Before a thunderstorm shook up SXSW on Thursday night, Ghanaian-Australian act Genesis Owusu took to the stage at Bose x NME’s C23 Live showcase. Flanked by backup dancers in matching uniforms, he put on a performance fit for an arena. Speaking to NME earlier this year, Owusu said, “I am my own standard. If I feel like I have expressed myself honestly, whether it’s good or bad, then it meets that standard.” Watching him take over the stage with his fierce choreography and high-tempo tracks, it’s clear that his mission statement continues to ring true.
One unprecedented location in Austin became a venue this year, as Boygenius performed at the baggage claim stand inside the capital’s airport. The supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker will be sharing their first full-length project, ‘The Record’ later this month (March 31) and gave new arrivals to the city a taste of the album. Before leaving their makeshift stage, Bridgers joked about whether they can “cuss” in the airport, considering their imminent LP is brimming with expletives. Later, as they headed out, they jokingly told the audience, “Safe flight!”
At the Bose x NME C23 Live showcase, the New Jersey artist’s cutting lyrics made for a perfect accompaniment to a night of temperamental weather. 070 Shake‘s vulnerability resonated with the audience, who stood in line for hours waiting to get inside the venue following a thunderstorm. Her set ended in the early hours of the following day (Friday, March 17), and she made for a brilliant headliner as she lit up the stage at Inn Cahoots.
NME stumbled upon James Vickery‘s set while waiting for Bellah to take the stage, making for one of the happiest accidents of the festival. With a voice as clear as a bell, and the type of soulful R&B that emboldened crowd members to holler out in excitement, Vickery filled Austin’s Speakeasy with his deep vibrato. The London songwriter, whose recent tracks like ‘(I Get So) Emotional’ could be mistaken for classic ’90s jams, enthralled the crowd, and now that he’s signed to Roc Nation [Alicia Keys, Lil Uzi Vert], he will likely continue to make waves around the world.