It is no secret that artists use South by Southwest to be discovered, or at least to gain a bigger following. After a countless amount of long lines, showcases and new faces, here are the artists that left their mark on ORANGE Magazine.
Story by Zoe Judilla
Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly took the stage alone, with nothing but an electric guitar in hand. As the audience watched the bubbly 25-year-old serenade her way through a folk-pop set guided by whimsical vocals, it became apparent that there was sharp wit and dark humor embedded into the words she modestly sang. A charming melody could contain bouts of uncompromising anger, with open and effortless delivery. A true highlight remains in “Boys Will Be Boys,” which was prefaced by a content warning, where Donnelly defends a sexual-assault victim and comments on the culture that perpetuates such behavior. The intensity in her performance ultimately invited others into a sphere of openness, something the rising artist is just beginning to touch base with.
The Californian rapper’s continued experimentation with funk fusion and addictively pulsing electronic beats make quite the unique sound. Having toured with artists such as Anderson .Paak and Rich Brian, he seems to have mastered the art of grooving with an audience, not just for them. With a set made more entertaining by his effortlessly smooth moves and erratic hooks, the hip hop artist charmed the room and demanded attention. The audience had no trouble giving it to him.
With each member clad in their respective metallic bomber jacket, the men of Sports looked as cool as can be. Their laid-back delivery only further emphasized their inherently smooth, groovy tone, reminiscent of intimate ‘80s gems. This was largely in part to the sufficient use of chorus on the guitar combined with a mastery of synth riffs, amplifying a shimmering, dream-like quality so integral and consistent to their sound. Self-described as having the ability to “conjur[e] pop music spells for ears just like yours,” the impression left by the band was received to be just that.
Men I Trust
The Canadian indie-dance band proudly produce calm melodies and simple rhythms that can easily put a crowd in a trance, supported by undeniably captivating beats. Lead singer Emma Bernache’s seemingly fragile voice echoes throughout a crowd, imbuing a breathless quality that is nearly spellbinding. Their blithe essence, so present within their live performance, is rooted heavily in how much they visibly care for the people watching them, constantly making sure that they, too, are just as at home.
Watch the Duck
Hailing from Alabama, the duo are longtime collaborators with Pharrell Williams, who describe their music as “a byproduct of love.” While sometimes portraying futuristic R&B, or trapstep, their music is unsurprisingly easy to dance to. The energy in the room was undeniable as they took the stage, their likeable presence and smooth delivery instantly and positively resonated with the audience. A surprising, yet charming, cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” didn’t hurt, either.
Pale Waves are aware that people are initially jarred by how they sound in comparison to how they look. However, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie counters, “Why do you have to dress a certain way for a certain type of music?” The English dream-pop band grew in prominence following a tour with The 1975 and have already been recognized by the BBC Sound Of Shortlist and the NME Awards despite such criticism. With noted influences such as The Cure and the Cocteau Twins, their emphasis on guitar and ‘80s synth pop influences guide their sparkling sound, alongside their goal for audiences to cry and dance to their music. Awaiting the band’s first full-length album in the works that is expected to be more emotionally intense, fans are eager to dive into the future.
The bedroom dream pop of Brooklyn-based band No Vacation have a sound that is at once blissful and intimately nostalgic. Reminiscent of faraway coasts and memories in the sun, their cohesive sound has a surf rock edge that constantly aches for a time that once was. In person, they are nothing short of cool. Their laid-back presence spills over into their vocal delivery and further assert their frank, yet sincere, themes. At times, their set felt more of a heart-to-heart, but wherever it ached, it felt absolutely real.
Compared to big names such as Talking Heads and Pavement, the sophisticated sounds of post-punk band Ought have grabbed the attention of critics and audiences alike. Tracks from their recently released sophomore album, which centers on themes of anxiety and isolation, dominated much of the set list. Despite the heavy content, the onstage presence of lead singer Tim Darcy managed to take hold of the audience. With earnest inflection and adrenalized delivery, the words sung extend a hand to whoever needed some connection. Audience members were visibly moved by their sincerity.
19-year-old Australian Grace Shaw has previously described herself as the “Hannah Montana of the rap game.” With feel-good melodies backed primarily by high-spirited electronics, the rising pop artist’s effortlessly cool set made the audience dance without fear of judgment. With previous acclaim from music outlets such as Rolling Stone, BBC and Vice, it is clear the young teen is just getting started.
Sophie Allison stands out with her introspective outlook, translated as bluntly onstage as it is through the headphones. The 20-year-old indie rocker writes songs that are candidly relatable and almost conversational, presenting them to the world exactly as they are, without fluff or fiction. She embraces the uncool, and in doing so, works to genuinely and explicitly express the perils of vulnerability. In her song, “Scorpio Rising,” which she said was her favorite to write, there is sentimentality without bitterness and authenticity without strain. The power in such rawness refuses to be overlooked.