Horsegirl live at SXSW: Chicago upstarts breathing new life into noise-rock

March 17, Seven Grand, Austin, Texas: The Chicago band's third and final show at SXSW sets the stage for a riotous breakout year

If there’s one band that feels like they’re dominating SXSW’s buzz this year, it’s Horsegirl. The young trio from Chicago have already scored a deal with Matador [Interpol, Queens of The Stone Age] and recorded an album with acclaimed producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile) that hypnotises and enthrals with each twist and turn that it takes. Now, they’re taking over Austin, Texas as one of the week’s – and, almost certainly subsequently, year’s – most talked-about new bands and stars in the making.

Tonight (March 17) at the trio’s final SXSW show, taking place at Seven Grand, Horsegirl seem either blissfully unaware or unfazed by the number of people talking about them. The three members – guitarist and singer Nora Cheng, guitarist and singer Penelope Lowenstein and drummer Gigi Reece – take to the low, small stage in the plush bar and proceed to perform as if they’re in their final stages of rehearsals; tightly honed and quietly confident, but with an aloof casualness to their auras that makes the whole set feel even more intimate than our small surroundings already fuel.

With the three musicians, noise-rock is the order of the day. They breathe new life into the genre, making the fuzzy, distorted layers of their songs into three-dimensional puzzle pieces that slot together to make a thrilling bigger picture. Cheng and Lowenstein sing in unison, offering different perspectives on their narratives, while Reece sits at the back not just keeping the rhythm but pinning the whole thing together.

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Horsegirl
Horsegirl CREDIT: Sam Keeler

Sometimes I think about I lost you / But I know it’s only love,” they sing on ‘World Of Pots And Pans’, an unreleased album track that kicks off their set with lush melodies and churning guitars that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Sonic Youth song. Recent single ‘Anti-glory’ is more urgent, its riffs needling under Cheng and Lowenstein’s commands to “Dance, dance” that get the eager audience in front of them doing just as they wish.

While tonight’s show serves as a good preview of Horsegirl’s upcoming debut album, it also throws it back to earlier parts of the trio’s development. ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’, a 2020 single, is noisier and more gnarled up than its recorded counterpart, adding more bite to a song that already had the power to captivate in an instant. Meanwhile, ’Sea Life Sandwich Boy’, its predecessor in the band’s discography, is a jubilant piece of noise-rock, optimism peeking out through its clouds of fizzing guitar.

By the time closing song ‘Billy’ comes around, it feels like the three-piece have won over yet more new fans ready to stumble back out onto Austin’s streets and contribute to the word-of-mouth buzz swarming around the band. As those in front of them make the most of the group’s final moments as the champions of SXSW 2022, Horsegirl themselves play on with the type of nonchalance that suggests – even as a fledgling band – they’re taking their roles as the newly appointed monarchs noise-rock in their stride. Expect them to keep hold of that crown for a long time to come.

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