Though established acts like Tove Lo and Bleachers made appearances at South By Southwest in Austin this year, the music festival is more about discovering artists looking for more exposure and/or promoting new releases. Among the 40-plus bands I saw this year, these 15 new(ish) artists stood out for their energy and originality.
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Andrew Hozier-Byrne has been touring pretty much constantly since the summer in support of his breakthrough self-titled debut album, propelled by lead single “Take Me to Church” (that song with all those “amens”). His current string of US dates climaxed with a show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, where Hozier humbly thanked everyone in his band, touring crew and the audience for all the work and dedication. The front row was packed with screaming young female fans but the sold-out venue was packed with wild fans of all ages, proof that Hozier has a huge following. In fact, the venue appeared pretty full already before the opener, George Ezra, who is also experiencing a quick-rising music career, even took stage. Ezra explained how he created his debut album Wanted on Voyage while trekking across Europe with a Eurail pass. That story helped explain some of his song titles, like “Barcelona” or for his biggest song, “Budapest”. His brief set was very well received by the crowd and he’s someone I would check out again (he has a solo headlining tour beginning in April).
Keyboardist Marco Benevento has been on quite a roll over the past decade. He first came to fame as half of the Benevento/Russo Duo with drummer Joe Russo, with the pair earning acclaim for their improvisational jams that produced a sonic storm that felt like way more than the sum of merely two musicians. Benevento’s multi-dimensional sound was and remains a key factor, mixing analog keys and acoustic piano with psychedelic synths in diverse fashion.
On Friday of South By Southwest Music, I seek out three artists at very different stages of their careers who are clearly engaging with the festival on different scales. Seeing these artists alongside one another brings to light part of what makes SXSW so unique: it’s a place where you can see an international superstar, a new act touring in support of a highly regarded first record, and an unsigned young singer hoping for a record deal, all in one night.
Having essentially marinated in a stew of rock guitars for the past two days—not that that was a bad thing!—on day three of the 2015 South By Southwest Music Festival I decide to traverse as many genres as I possibly can. From a Korean doo-wop girl group to Long Beach rap, with some detours into neo-soul and freaky British electropop, my findings are stimulating and surprising through and through. I also spend a lot of time in churches, which yields gorgeous acoustics and some new favorite singer-songwriters. For the sake of attempting some modicum of coherence, I’ll group artists according to the broad genre traits that they share, though that’s not at all meant to undersell the distinctive qualities of each performance.
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