The 20 Artists We Most Wanted to See at SXSW 2020

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The 20 Artists We Most Wanted to See at SXSW 2020

It’s becoming more and more clear that COVID-19, the infection caused by the new coronavirus outbreak, isn’t going to go down quietly. People are canceling flights, working from home and (hopefully!) washing their hands like it’s their job as world and national health organizations encourage isolation and healthy best practices as a means to stunt the spread of the coronavirus. Among other cancellations are several branches of major league sports (RIP to the rest of this year’s NBA season, and major league soccer fans may be SOL, too) and an increasing number of music festivals, including Coachella, sister festival Stagecoach and, perhaps most unfortunately, Austin, Texas’ annual South By Southwest gathering. In addition to the on-the-ground event cancellations, SXSW just laid off a third of its employees to try and correct for the losses. This is obviously devastating news for those professionals and the city of Austin at large (who’s now missing out on that $157 million economic boost the festival was predicted to supplement), but it’s also a horrible turn of events for the industries who count on SXSW each year for visibility.

There are now films searching for a new festival home and musicians from all over the world without a place to share their art with potential labels, managers, writers and publicists. Thousands of independent and grassroots artists count on SXSW each year for these opportunities, not to mention there are now innumerable dollars lost from flight and tour cancellations. This is the first time SXSW has ever been cancelled in its 34 years of existence, and it has caused a ripple effect across the music industry. This is nothing short of a massive loss for independent music. However, just because we won’t be officially gathering in Austin this year doesn’t mean we can’t support the independent artists who were scheduled to perform. Paste won’t be traveling this year, but we’ll still be scouring the slated SXSW lineup for our favorite new artists, just as we would have if we’d been present. So here’s our SXSW preview anyways. We’ve also included each artist’s tour dates, so, barring any further coronavirus cancellations, maybe you can still catch them on the road or buy a t-shirt or two. Happy listening, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

1. Andrea Cruz

Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Andrea Cruz recently released her second album, Sentir no es del tiempo, which, per a rough Google translation, means something along the lines of “No time to feel.” It’s ironic, then, that Cruz’s music feels so roomy and unhurried, vast and brimming with emotion. Cruz sings almost exclusively in Spanish, but her music is such that it transcends borders and language entirely. You don’t need to understand exactly what she’s saying to feel what she’s singing. This would’ve been her second time at SXSW, following her 2018 promotion of her debut album Tejido de Laurel. That record led her to perform a stunning Tiny Desk concert early last year, and it’s a shame she won’t be playing for the masses again in Austin this year. Her charming wash of folk and world music would be enough to capture any fan of acoustic music. —Ellen Johnson

Full tour dates

2. Angelica Garcia

Angelica Garcia was on Paste’s radar back in 2016 when we featured her as “The Best of What’s Next” following her first album Medicine for Birds. But her newly released second album Cha Cha Palace takes the sounds of her debut album much further, and it also displays her Mexican and Salvadoran roots much more explicitly. The rock, folk and pop leanings of Medicine for Birds mostly remain, but they’re paired with reggaeton, trap, R&B and art-pop influences, culminating in a blissful, percussive pop triumph. Garcia’s Cha Cha Palace pairs glitchy and rootsy sounds with stories from Garcia’s upbringing and inside her soul, and it’s the furthest thing from one-dimensional. —Lizzie Manno

Full tour dates

3. Boy Scouts

Taylor Vick’s songwriting is like a pillow for your soul. The Oakland-based artist behind Boy Scouts was one of last year’s best revelations with her ANTI- Records-released album, Free Company. Vick’s tender vocals and minimal-yet-piercing guitar make for sweet and catchy pop songs. Last month, Boy Scouts released a new single, “Wish,” and like Free Company, it’s an apt companion for humble, reflective evenings in. —Adrian Spinelli

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4. Christian Lee Hutson

A recent ANTI- Records signee, Christian Lee Hutson achieved modest notoriety last year after touring with acts like Better Oblivion Community Center and Julia Jacklin and releasing the single “Northsiders,” which we featured as a Daily Dose. His forthcoming debut record, Beginners (out May 29 on ANTI-), was produced by one-half of BOCC, Phoebe Bridgers, and is appropriately a Bright Eyes-esque indie-folk effort. Bookish narratives define Hutson’s quiet ditties, but there’s also a lot of heart (as well as plenty of humor) to be found in these comforting chords and verses. Hutson is poised to be the next breakout indie-folk statesman, and if you’re a fan of blended, introspective fingerpicking and storytelling, you won’t want to miss Beginners. —Ellen Johnson

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5. Dehd

From the ashes of Chicago-based NE-HI and a cast of other characters from the city’s increasingly busy DIY pool comes Dehd, a no-frills, bedroom rock trio who caught our attention last year with the release of their debut album Water, which we named one of the best albums of May 2019. The group is planning to release their sophomore record, Flower of Devotion, in May, and these 13 new songs have a poppy, fortified bent to them. It may be a relatively short window since their latest completed works, but Dehd aren’t messing around: “We wanted to take a step up,” says Dehd songwriter Emily Kempf. “We wanted to level up enough to where we feel powerful, but still in the same ballpark.” The “stepping-up” resulted in something no less intriguing, but certainly more buffed. SXSW may not be the time, but we’re still eager to check out these bouncing, ’80s-inspired pop/rock tunes in a live setting. —Ellen Johnson

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6. Field Medic

Field Medic, aka singer/songwriter Kevin Sullivan, is like a folk singer who lives inside your Instagram feed and knows how to simultaneously channel your anxiety and satiate it. On the very first line in the very first song on his 2019 album fade into the dawn, Sullivan gently croons, “I need a cigarette / Those fuckers talked through my whole set / But I don’t have any time to reflect / I gotta sell some shirts to try and make the rent.” If that doesn’t sum up the physical, emotional and financial exhaustion that comes along with the life of a touring musician, I don’t know what does. Elsewhere on the record, Sullivan rips open his chest and sings about alcohol dependency (“the bottle’s my lover / she’s just my friend”), heart-wrenching breakups (“henna tattoo”) and ridding ourselves of art in the face of the climate change apocalypse (“songs r worthless now”). It’s difficult to summarize his music in just a genre or handful of words, but digital-folk feels like an apt description. If you’re able to catch him on the road in the midst of all this chaos, do us all a favor and try to resist chatting during the songs. —Ellen Johnson

Full tour dates

7. HMLTD

HMLTD might have lost a lot of momentum after their record deal with Sony went south, but this experimental punk outfit finally released the insane debut album we’ve been waiting for. The London band’s new concept album, West of Eden, delivered on the promise of their highly-publicized first singles from a few years ago. It’s not a surface-level repudiation of current affairs. It’s a critique of everything that has been wrong with society for centuries—long upheld structures of power and humanity’s tendency towards decadence. Through various storytelling devices and a wide range of sounds (synth-punk, art-pop, J-pop, etc.), HMLTD ask a lot of their listeners, but this is a band that’s simply too good to ignore. —Lizzie Manno

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8. Iguana Death Cult

Don’t write off this band because of their off-the-wall name. This isn’t a stoner psych band or an overly serious goth group. This Rotterdam-based band released one of the best punk albums of last year with Nude Casino after signing to Los Angeles label Innovative Leisure. They’re not just one of the most fun live bands around, but frontman Jeroen Reek is also a genuinely clever lyricist—this album works just as well in a sweaty bar as it will at your dinner party. While their debut channels honking, grubby garage punk, Nude Casino finds them utilizing danceable rhythms, cleaner production values, varied tempos and stronger pop fundamentals. —Lizzie Manno

Full tour dates

9. Jaime Wyatt

We’ve been trying to hip you to Jaime Wyatt, flat out one of the best outlaw country singers in America, since she dropped her stellar Felony Blues EP three years ago and we named her the the “Best of What’s Next.” Now signed to New West Records, Wyatt is on the verge of her long-awaited breakout after a tumultuous road to get here (seriously, her story is fantastic.) Dressed to kill in a white suit and alligator boots, Wyatt will drop her debut LP, Neon Cross, on May 29, and the lead single will show you the light. —Adrian Spinelli

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10. Jehnny Beth

As the lead vocalist in Savages, Jehnny Beth has become the modern goddess of doomy post-punk—not to mention a style icon. With 2013’s Silence Yourself and 2016’s Adore Life, Savages have cornered punk’s jet-black space, embodying the sensual, the powerful and the headstrong. Now as a solo artist, Beth is prepping the release of her debut album, To Love is To Live, out on May 8 via Caroline Records and featuring guest spots from The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, actor Cillian Murphy and IDLES’ Joe Talbot. The first single “Flower” doesn’t try to replicate Savages’ signature sound but instead experiments with electro-pop and still commands attention and space in such a stark, visceral way. —Lizzie Manno

Full tour dates

11. Lightning Bug

Brooklyn singer/songwriter Audrey Kang (who records as Lightning Bug) recently signed to Fat Possum after two incredibly beautiful under-the-radar albums. Last year, she released October Song, a collection of lo-fi pop, folk and shoegaze songs which are almost too pure for this world, and they will now be available on vinyl for the first time on April 24. Paste featured Lightning Bug in our list of NYC bands you need to know in 2020, praising Kang’s “cleansing voice and their generous appreciation for details,” and we can only expect more transcendent beauty in the future. —Lizzie Manno

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12. Lula Wiles

In 2018, a folk trio and supergroup called I’m With Her took the bluegrass world by storm with their grounded, spritely compositions and golden harmonies. Now it seems their successors have arrived in the form of Lula Wiles, a Boston-based trio made up of Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin, three friends who began collaborating in college, released their self-titled debut in 2016 and have since played major folk festivals like Newport and Philadelphia. They’re a Smithsonian Folkways signee and released their sophomore album, What Will We Do, on the label last year. Their three-part harmonies are warm, their lyrics real and smiles contagious, but What Will We Do also promises serious concepts: “Good Old American Values” critiques country music’s history of exploiting Native American stereotypes (“Good old American cartoons / Indians and cowboys and saloons / It’s all history by now / And we hold the pen anyhow”). “Love Gone Wrong,” the album’s opening track, is an examination of lost love and self blame. Lula Wiles’ sound is rooted in old-time traditions, but their energy is distinctly modern. —Ellen Johnson

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13. Madison McFerrin

Music is certainly in singer Madison McFerrin’s blood. Her father Bobby is a renowned master jazz vocalist, and the apple has not fallen far from the tree with Madison’s gorgeous delivery. Historically a well-versed a capella singer, she was accompanied by production from her brother Taylor (who has visited the Paste Studio in the past himself) on last year’s You + I, and it further opened up the world of Madison’s star power. Start with “TRY” (below), and get lost in the beauty of this budding force. —Adrian Spinelli

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14. Pearla

With singer/songwriters, the name of the game is not just holding people’s attention—it’s commanding it. Even when you’re supplemented by a live band, all eyes are on you to entertain and inspire the audience for the entirety of the set. With 23-year-old songwriter Nicole Rodriguez, who records as Pearla, it’s easy to drown in her music—so much so that you won’t realize how long you’ve been gone. Pearla released her debut EP, Quilting & Other Activities, last year, and her gauzy vocals fill each song as they glide over enveloping, dreamy folk-pop. —Lizzie Manno

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15. Porridge Radio

Porridge Radio could have hardly led off their new album and first for Secretly Canadian with a bigger bang. Dana Margolin’s vocal delivery can be classified as a detached snarl, but make no mistake: There is a big heart underneath her unfathomably cool veneer. Songs like “Lilac” and “Sweet” sit atop wailing guitars and tense strings as Margolin’s voice shifts between reassuring grace and unhinged pleas for mercy. The Brighton quartet has made an indie rock album that sounds so huge it’s hard to think of it as such. Their music strikes a precise balance between natural cool and meaningful benevolence, and their forthcoming album Every Bad, out on March 13, is the emotional and sonic earthquake the genre needed. —Lizzie Manno

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16. slip

slip is the moniker of LA-based singer/producer Taylor Brown. The project is a vessel for Brown’s sinister and psychologically-probing rock ‘n’ roll that feels like it could belong in dystopian time-travel saga. But like Brown, it’s very much born and bred in L.A. There’s something here for audiophiles and escapists alike, with ear-grabbing guitar and synths to comfortably lose yourself in. The menacing video for “the patient” (below) is a good place to start, and 2019’s the cost is a wild ride, man. —Adrian Spinelli

17. Sour Widows

One of the most exciting new Bay Area bands, Sour Widows write incredible hooks and harmonize powerfully. The energy between singers Susanna Thomson and Maia Sinako is palpable on songs like “Tommy” and “Pilot Light,” both from their sneakily stellar, just-released debut self-titled EP. Sour Widows are the type of band who’d flourish in the SXSW environment: relatively unknown, but loud and with a killer stable of songs that are flat-out attention-grabbers on stage. Give ‘em a spin below, and then get excited, because they’re just warming up. —Adrian Spinelli

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18. Sudan Archives

Brittney Parks, the singer/songwriter behind Sudan Archives, is another “Best of What’s Next” alum, and she was also named one of Paste’s best new artists of 2019. Her debut album Athena, which dropped last year, is a forward-thinking R&B record, embellished by her gorgeous violin arrangements and smooth vocals. It lives somewhere between pop and avant-garde, but always subverts expectations. Its low-lit, chill moods are never achieved cheaply and even at their most minimal, Sudan Archives is utterly intriguing. —Lizzie Manno

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19. Theon Cross

I never thought seeing a tuba player on stage would be so riveting until I had the pleasure of experiencing London’s Theon Cross at last year’s Montreal Jazz Festival. It’s mind-boggling to hear Cross’s deep notes float out of the massive horn strapped to his back while he bounces to the beat, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. He’s also part of energetic U.K. jazz ensemble Sons of Kemet, and his 2019 solo debut Fyah is one of the many fine recent projects to come out of the emerging London jazz movement. Peep the video below of him with drummer Moses Boyd and sax player Nubya Garcia, three of the finest contemporary creators in London’s jazz scene. —Adrian Spinelli

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20. Yumi Zouma

Originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, Yumi Zouma are about to drop their third LP and first since signing to Polyvinyl Records, Truth or Consequences. Singer Christie Simpson’s vocals have always given rise to airy escapism, and when she sings over juicy bass lines on songs like “Right Track/Wrong Man” and “Cool For A Second,” I feel like I’m on a sailboat with the warm breeze blowing across my hair under a beautiful blue sky. Yumi Zouma’s grooves would pair admirably with a cold Lone Star and an outdoor stage on an 80-degree Austin day, and we’ll be blasting these songs well into summer. —Adrian Spinelli

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