SXSW 2024 Review

(L-R) Miso Extra, Divorce's Tiger Cohen-Towell, and Kassa Overall (photos by Gus Philippas for FUV)
by Kara Manning | 03/18/2024 | 4:20pm

(L-R) Miso Extra, Divorce's Tiger Cohen-Towell, and Kassa Overall at SXSW 2024 (photos by Gus Philippas for FUV)

There were plenty of bold, breakout performances at this year's SXSW Music Festival — Divorce, Kassa Overall, Fcukers, Hinds, Fat Dog, Lip Critic, Dry Cleaning, Porij, Reyna Tropical, Peso Pluma, Coach Party and Rocket were among the names bandied about as not-to-be-missed — and there was definitely a starry element to the confluence of film, TV, tech and music in Austin on this mild March week, including big names like Jane Fonda and Jake Gyllenhaal who led premieres or panels.

Check out the full set of SXSW photographs taken by Gus Philippas, number one Lip Critic aficionado, via FUV's Flickr and a Spotify playlist too, embedded below.

However, 2024 SXSW Music Festival will be remembered as much for those artists who chose to withdraw from official showcases in protest of the festival's sponsorship choices, as much as those musicians who decided to stay and play. Even as musicians stepped away from official SXSW events, including Reyna Tropical, Gruff Rhys, and Squirrel Flower, a good portion still opted to stay in Austin to play unofficial events and parties during the music festival, using their public platforms to speak out about the controversy. (The statement from Dry Cleaning's Florence Shaw at Friday's Radio Day Stage was especially eloquent and clear, objecting to efforts to make "the manufacturing and augmenting of arms more palatable by associating themselves with this festival and by extension, with culture.")

The rapid changes in scheduling demanded serendipity and spontaneity in determining each day and what bands/artists to search out. We heard of certain artists making late Austin appearances, but we couldn't always track them down in time — where were you, Gary Clark Jr.?  Since the mantra of SXSW has always been about emerging artists, we focused on those artists (sorry, The Black Keys and Dinosaur Jr). Team FUV 2024 —  myself, production director Meghan Offtermatt, photographer Gus Philippas, and assistant program director Eric Gottlieb (who was pulling double duty, also drumming with his band, Brandi and The Alexanders, making their unofficial SXSW debut) worked together and apart. We split off on Wednesday afternoon, balancing two unofficial showcases: the Women That Rock day stage at Austin Garden & Studio and the "All Together Now" party at Rancho Pillow. At Women That Rock's event, four Chicago teenagers called Neptune's Core bashed out a muscular, effusive set, followed by Australian electronic musician Alice Ivy's buoyant, sun-drenched synth pop which fit this very summer-like afternoon.

"All Together Now" also lucked out with the warm afternoon, with a lineup that included the transcendent Latin  electro-pop of the duo Reyna Tropical, featuring guitarist Fabi Reyna; the New York rock 'n' disco funk of Brandi and the Alexanders; and Australian garage rockers Girl and Girl, on the brink of releasing their debut album, Call a Doctor, in May.

Close to FUV's heart was the station's involvement with the Radio Day Stage on Friday afternoon in the Austin Convention Center with our partners The Current, KUTX, WTMD, WYSO, WNRN, and 909 The Bridge. The lineup was a quartet of different bands from all angles of the sonic sphere — Montréal's French-speaking alt-rockers Corridor, the arresting, acerbic post-punk of our FUV friends, London's Dry Cleaning; Seattle's bluesy, funky, ferocious Brittany Davis; and Oakland's garage 'n' surf rockers Shannon and the Clams.

A standout band at SXSW was the Nottingham quartet Divorce — caught twice — once at the British Music Embassy day party on Wednesday and Friday night, for their final show, at the Swan Dive Patio. They have an unusual, angular, witty twist on rock and alt-country on songs such as "Scratch Your Metal" and "Checking Out." The striking vocal interplay and harmonies between lead singers Tiger Cohen-Towell and Felix MacKenzie-Barrow was perfect; a synthesis of styles and theatricality that spoke to the band's charismatic confidence.

Manchester's cheerful Porij, who had just played an FUV Live session in New York on Monday (their first-ever Stateside performance), brought tenderness to their sweet synth-rock dance vibes at Thursday's Planetary party at Valhalla, opting for many of the songs from their forthcoming debut Teething, including the explosive sigh of "Unpredictable" and the non-binary perspective laid out by lead singer Egg in their very personal "Stranger."

Hermanos Guttiérez, the fraternal duo of Ecuadorian-Swiss brothers Alejandro and Estevan Gutiérrez, wove their new song "Low Sun," into their introspective, technically deft set. It was a calm oasis of instrumental daydreams, including Thursday's Outer/Most day party at Scoot Inn. (Check out their 2023 FUV Live set.)

London's Nabihah Iqbal, who had bowed out of official SXSW showcases in protest, had been touring the States and decided to keep her unofficial events, including her Scoot Inn stop, where the DJ and producer punctuated her contemplative, gorgeous grooves with relaxed conversations on what partly motivated some of the songs on her recent album, DREAMER, drifting from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to sunflowers.

Preceding Nabihah was the thrilling Seattle jazz and hip hop drummer and vocalist Kassa Overall, whose impressive bandmates included mulit-instrumentalist Tomoki Sanders, son of Pharoah. Overall, who has moonlighted with Jon Batiste's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" band and Digable Planets (Ishmael Butler is on Overall's second album, 2023's Animals) matches his showmanship with incredible chops and lyrical heft; he has a lot to say and does so with ferocity and glee.

London's Miso Extra, who raps in Japanese and English accompanied by glitchy, bubbling grooves, also uses humor in her rap sets; at her late-night set at Thursday's British Music Embassy outdoors, she leaped off the stage, dancing with — and sometimes teasing — the crowd, declaring that the fate of a song's future release was entirely in their hands; if they didn't dance enough, the track wouldn't make the cut.

Fat Dog doesn't just dance with their audience; the South London band, who played a batch of official/unofficial gigs including one at Esther's Follies on Friday night, recruits the audience as part of their savagely physical punk-klezmer performance art — singer Joe Love frequently throws himself into the crowd, as did keyboardist Chris Hughes and sax player Morgan Wallace. Running, crab walks, general pogoing — Fat Dog is pure, profane, visceral euphoria with just two released singles to their name so far — "King of the Slugs" and "All the Same." 

Guitarist and keyboardist Victoria Canal is an instantly appealing performer. She sings frankly of love, grief, queerness, and disability on songs such as "Shape" (she was born without a right forearm and hand, due to amniotic band syndrome), and she did a brief and beautiful set at Speakeasy, including the stunning "Black Swan" from her 2023 EP, Well Well. She connects with her audience with humor and kindness, wrangling everyone to sing along with her by set's end.

A crunchy, techno '90s vibe and big elastic basslines — think Underworld, 808 State, or even a soupçon of Republica — defines Brooklyn's irresistible Fcukers who bopped through their Thursday afternoon set at Cheer Up Charlies; the trio of Shanny, Jackson Walter Lewis, and Ben Scharf played their very first show exactly a year ago, but you wouldn't know it. They've already gotten a nod from Beck for interpolating his "Devil's Haircut" into their own Fcukers-ed up cover.

Other artists making their US debuts in Austin included British R&B singer Gareth Donkin whose retro blue-eyed soul grooves looped back to influences like Bobby Caldwell. Sweden's waterbaby (real name Kendra Egerbladh) delivered a short but sweet five-song set of catchy, hook-rich bedroom pop at the Central Presbyterian Church on Thursday night. London's Bleach Lab played their very first show on U.S. soil at 1am at Valhalla and while they struggled with sound issues, their soaring, shoegazing grandeur was strong, leaning on tracks from their debut album, 2023's Lost in a Rush of Emptiness. Experimental Welsh band Islet zipped from punk to synth-pop to delicate, tidal sweeps of sound at their Focus Wales showcase. Also on that Welsh bill was Marc Bolan look-alike Otto Aday, whose debut album, last year's Persona, was produced in Nashville with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart.

London-based Japanese musician Hinako Omori, who has played keyboards on tour with Kae Tempest and Radiohead's Ed O'Brien, made her North American solo debut at Austin; a fluid, mesmerizing, peaceful excursion into her two excellent albums, 2022's A Journey ... and 2023's Stillness, Softness. A happy new discovery was South African-born, UK-based songwriter Eleni Drake; she opened the Selector Radio party at The Velveeta Room, confessed that she was nervous, but you'd never know it from her superbly confident, upbeat set. I also finally stumbled across Isle of Wight's terrific Coach Party at last, playing the world's tiniest stage and making the most of it, kicking up a fantastic, ear-bleeding racket.

Production direction Meghan Offtermatt's timing was better than mine on catching our FUV friend Gruff Rhys play one of two parties in Austin — he made his decision to pull from SXSW showcases on Tuesday — and she followed around three of her favorites: singer, songwriter and guitarist Madi Diaz (read Madi's "Five Essential Albums" for FUV), Swedish pop sensation Sarah Klang, and vivacious rockers Billy Allen + The Pollies (who'll be playing FUV's High Line Bash on May 3).

And appropriately, late on Friday night, I closed out my SXSW 2024 adventure as it began — catching a second set at Swan Dive from hard-rocking, savage Hastings trio HotWax (FUV Live alums too) whose blistering set was exactly the way you want to say goodbye to three days of nonstop music, dodgy food, and no sleep— with a big smile, no voice left, and ears ringing.

A tip of the hat to the bands and artists that we wanted to catch — so many — but missed for assorted reasons, like standing by the outdoor stage at Cheer Up Charlies for ages, waiting, when the band you wanted to see was actually playing indoors — apologies, Lip Critic.


Tags: #SXSW 2024

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