The 20 Artists We’re Most Excited to See at SXSW 2021

Music Lists SXSW
The 20 Artists We’re Most Excited to See at SXSW 2021

One of the first big, jarring dominos to fall in 2020 was the cancellation of South by Southwest due to a then-rising tide of COVID concerns, resulting in the music, film and interactive media festival not taking over Austin, Texas in mid-March for the first time in 34 years. Thankfully, that won’t be the case this year—the SXSW Music Festival is back in at least partial force in 2021, set to take place virtually from today, March 16, through Saturday, March 20, with a characteristically sprawling lineup of 280 showcasing artists from all over the world.

These streaming performances won’t be live, per se, but rather pre-recorded—a disappointment that reveals itself as eminently sensible when you consider it for more than three seconds. Rather than asking artists to risk their health by traveling to perform in an empty room in Austin on camera, sending A/V crews around the world to record artists live, or expecting hundreds of bands to smoothly coordinate live streams within hours or even minutes of each other, SXSW has opted to have artists record sets in the safety of their own homes (or other such safe locations), streaming these showcasing performances as if they were live: “Showcases must be viewed when they air—as if one is there,” South By’s press releases stress. There’s no substitute for the spontaneity of a true live show, of course, but even though there’s hope on the horizon for a populace in need, true live music is still a long ways off. To paraphrase Cormac McCarthy, if this ain’t that, it’ll do till that gets here.

Anyway, on to the true focus of all this hoopla: the bands, specifically the ones whose streams we’re most excited to catch this week. SXSW is known for platforming rising artists from every corner of the globe, and though this year’s lineup is lessened in scope compared to past years’, there’s no lack of worthwhile emerging acts. Read on for the Paste Music team’s most-anticipated performances (and when to watch them, according to SXSW’s music festival schedule), which are only the tip of this year’s lineup iceberg, and consult the complete list of showcasing artists right here.

Wednesday, March 17, 8-9 p.m. ET — Register

Much like her name suggests, South Korean artist AIRY is somewhat difficult to categorize, instead occupying the liminal space between dream pop, psychedelic rock and art pop. The winner of Rookie of the Year at the 2019 Korean Music Awards has an expansive artistic vision, bolstered by her background in traditional Korean music. She told The Korea Times that she used to play a two-headed drum called the janggu, common in traditional music from her country, and that her time in the scene helped her discover the “kind of fun… inherent in Korean people.” AIRY’s 2020 single “A New Universe” captures her sound’s dual nature, bouncing between the futuristic and primal with otherworldly synths and full-bodied percussion. Other tracks find AIRY employing distorted guitar or a sudden burst of violent strings. Her mesmerizing, unpredictable songwriting leaves one breathless. —Clare Martin

Alien Tango
Tuesday, March 16, 6-7 p.m. ET — Register

Wonderfully weird and otherworldly, Alberto García’s project Alien Tango hails from Spain but operates mainly out of London. The band’s wacky, experimental sound makes them particularly fit for Tiktok, where their short jingles have amassed 4 million views and over 50,000 followers. While these sound bites are an entertaining listen, amassed on album Blink Pop, Vol. 1, their full-length releases like “Sexy Time” and “Arthur Conan Doyle” are where the band shines. Their ability to incorporate humor into a unique fusion of psychedelia, hip-hop and glam rock creates a sound that is unlike any other. García’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist on these tracks bursts through in Alien Tango’s live shows, where their quirky charm is on full display in colorful, high-energy performances. —Carli Scolforo

Altin Gün
Wednesday, March 17, 4:30-5 p.m. ET — Register

The Amsterdam-based Turkish psych music group put out one of 2021’s freshest early albums in the ATO-released Yol. Forged in Anatolian folk music, Altin Gün presents it wrapped in a late-’70s disco and ‘80s synth-pop music, and it’s made to make you move. The broad appeal for an international sound that they bring calls to mind what Kikagaku Moyo accomplished in galvanizing the jam-band community to their liquid psych. Yol has standout tracks like “Ordunun Dereleri” and “Kara Tropak” (below), and if you need any additional convincing, their 2019 album Gece was nominated for a Grammy in the Best World Music Album category. This is elite-level stuff. Dig it. —Adrian Spinelli

Thursday, March 18, 9-10 p.m. ET — Register

It’s wild to think that Babeheaven dropped the incredible “Friday Sky” in 2015 before it finally appeared in the duo’s debut LP, Home For Now, in late 2020. That song burned beautifully into my brain for years before any tangible information on the band surfaced last year. The gorgeous voice on that track is from singer Nancy Anderson and the calypso-minded synths are courtesy of Jamie Travis, whose father founded Rough Trade Records. Name-drops aside, Home For Now was a sneaky-great 2020 release with the vintage ‘90s trip-hop vibes of “Human Nature,” “Jalisco” and, of course, “Friday Sky.” We’ll be hyped to finally see what this sounds like on the (streaming) stage. —Adrian Spinelli

Black Country, New Road
Thursday, March 18, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

Cerebral songwriting and sheer catharsis both come naturally to South London seven-piece Black Country, New Road. Ever referential, lead singer Isaac Wood namechecks scenemates black midi on “Track X” and quotes Phoebe Bridgers’ “Motion Sickness” on their standout single “Athens, France” with trademark tremor in his voice as he intones, “Why don’t you sing with an english accent? Well, I guess it’s too late to change it now.” At the same time, songs like “Opus” jangle the nerves with ebbs and flows of energy that refuse to let up. Their aptly titled debut For the first time, with fewer tracks than band members, proves a rollercoaster of noise-rock and jazz. This powerhouse needs to be seen live to be believed. —Clare Martin

Friday, March 19, 6-7 p.m. ET — Register

A hometown act who’ve played each SXSW since 2018, Austin’s Blushing features four “wives, husbands and friends,” per their Facebook bio. Songwriter Michelle Soto (vocals, guitar) formed the band with her long-time friend Christina Carmona (vocals, bass), and the two eventually brought their spouses, Jacob Soto (drums) and Noe Carmona (guitar), into the mix. The quartet released their self-titled debut in 2019, taking up the torch of prototypical dream-pop acts a la My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins, and we can expect more of the same from their forthcoming follow-up, which, judging by the band’s socials, is complete and coming sometime in 2021. Blushing’s sound is as unified and consistent as you’d expect from such a tight-knit group, and we’re looking forward to cranking the volume on their melodic, yet heavy waves of gleaming guitar rock. —Scott Russell

The Chats
Thursday, March 18, 10-11 p.m. ET — Register

Australian rockers The Chats burst onto the scene in 2016 with their boisterous brand of pub-punk. Their brief, high-energy and effortlessly funny hits like “Smoko” and “Bus Money” quickly drew the attention of some high-profile acts. After supporting Queens of the Stone Age and Iggy Pop on the Australian legs of their tours, The Chats have kept on delivering classically irreverent punk rock on their latest album High Risk Behaviour. If anyone’s deep sense of fun can punch through computer screens for this year’s virtual festival, it’s these guys. —Carli Scolforo

Chubby and the Gang
Tuesday, March 16, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

Chubby and the Gang were one of a few bands lucky enough to perform their 2020 debut album in the flesh before the pandemic hit. After releasing their breakneck LP Speed Kills via independent punk label Static Shock, they embarked on a brief U.S. tour, showcasing their saucy punk-pop to rooms of faithful punks of all breeds willing to fling themselves around. Their bluesy guitars romped like Chuck Berry on a sugar high, and their recklessly delivered lines were filtered through the lens of a ham-fisted, fun-loving, working-class Londoner. The album quickly became one of Paste’s favorites of last year, and we later gave them a Best New Artist nod—simply put, we couldn’t get enough of Chubby or his gang in 2020, but thankfully there’s more to come from these U.K. hardcore regulars. Late last year, they announced their signing to Partisan Records and confirmed their new album is slated for 2021. If you like punk, hardcore or just good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, Chubby and the Gang will satisfy your cravings and then some, and their live show is not to be missed. —Lizzie Manno

Grrrl Gang
Friday, March 19, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

On their first new material since 2018, Indonesian indie act Grrrl Gang put the jangling guitars and dreamy vocals of Alvvays in a blender with vintage Tame Impala psych-rock touches and yesteryear’s pop harmonies, resulting in the all-around lovely “Honey, Baby.” The Yogyakarta-based trio of Angee Sentana, Akbar Rumandung and Edo Alventa signed to London’s Damnably Records in 2019, and appeared poised for a Stateside breakout via SXSW 2020, though, of course, the pandemic had other plans. But they’re bouncing back by performing at the digital 2021 festival and readying a new album, for which the warm ‘60s psychedelia of “Honey, Baby” bodes quite well. Vocalist and guitarist Sentana says the song is the story of a relationship, recalling, “I tried to reflect and express how sweet the relationship was to me at that time, despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I guess, what I was trying to say in this song was, ‘Hey, I am willing to go through this. Are you?’” —Scott Russell

Katy J Pearson
Friday, March 19, 6-7 p.m. ET — Register

Southwest England is known for many things—cheddar cheese, Glastonbury festival and the legend of King Arthur—but to fully grasp the allure of this storied region, you must inhale the slow-paced quaintness and rich folklore that permeates its air. Odds are you won’t be able to do so in COVID times, but listening to Katy J Pearson is a good alternative. As with countless artists before, this picturesque countryside left its mark on Pearson, whose debut album, Return (out now via Heavenly Recordings), spills over with a certain patience, grace and reverence not unlike her rural West Country upbringing. The album is imbued with charming country music, Americana and classic pop, resulting in a sweet, transatlantic warmth and melodies that flow just as smoothly as a shot of bourbon on a summer evening. Much more than just flying the flag for British country music, Pearson’s songwriting is a reminder of the staggering power of uncomplicated beauty and dulcet tunes. —Lizzie Manno

Nadia Reid
Saturday, March 20, 8-9 p.m. ET — Register

We hailed New Zealand singer/songwriter Nadia Reid as the Best of What’s Next alllll the way back in 2016, and while just about everything has changed since then, Reid’s stellar retro-folk stylings have remained a steadfast fixture in the wider Americana sphere. She shared her debut for Spacebomb Records, Out of My Province, last year, and we included it on our list of potentially overlooked releases from 2020. While Reid has been around for a while now, her album belongs among those low flyers because she remains, in fact, overlooked. Perhaps SXSW 2021 is a new opportunity for her to be heard by a wider range of folk-pop fans. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, start with the song “Oh Canada,” a tribute to the northern nation and to one of its finest exports: Joni Mitchell. While Reid’s music is a bit glossier and poppier than Mitchell’s iconic folk craft, the influence is clear. Reid sings with a forthright alto, is detail-oriented and carries herself with an all-around stylish air. She is not to be missed during this year’s virtual sets. —Ellen Johnson

Neighbor Lady
Friday, March 19, 8-9 p.m. ET — Register

Neighbor Lady’s smooth indie-rock style may be new to you, but folks here in Atlanta, Georgia, have been seeking out this band’s DIY shows and flows for years now. In fact, we at Paste have been fans for a hot minute, too: We named them as one of 25 Atlanta indie rock bands to know in 2019, and, as it turns out, they could still top that list in 2021. Their 2018 record Maybe Later consists of seven very fine country-inspired rock jams, with lead singer Emily Braden leading the pack with lyrics like “Oh honey, what’s all the fuss about?” every step of the way. They’re adept at implementing traditional indie-rock trademarks with a dash of Americana seasoning, but they’re also groovy as hell—think Lake Street Dive meets Deer Tick. Whether they’ll be treating us to new material at this year’s virtual SXSW extravaganza remains to be seen. It’s been a long rise for this group of talented Atlanta aces, but we’re confident that when Neighbor Lady finally makes it to the top, the view will be pretty spectacular. —Ellen Johnson

Pillow Queens
Thursday, March 18, 6-7 p.m. ET — Register

Irish rock quartet Pillow Queens’ debut album In Waiting has it all: anthemic choruses, buzzing guitar solos and an emotional core that stays with you long after the final note dissipates. The group’s record is a love letter to their country’s capital, overflowing with a sense of yearning. “A Dog’s Life” airs their frustrations with Ireland’s housing crisis, while the ending track “Donaghmede” is a nostalgic ode to bassist and vocalist Pamela Connolly’s hometown, a quiet suburb north of Dublin city centre. Halfway through the album, “Liffey” rips you in two with captivating harmonies and a wall of sound, much like the titular river bisects Dublin. With so much heart and energy, it’s thrilling to see Pillow Queens finally taking the stage after being slated to play SXSW in 2020. —Clare Martin

Tuesday, March 16, 6-7 p.m. ET — Register

London disco-punk trio PVA share more with buzzy English acts like black midi and Black Country, New Road than just a point of origin. Much like their similarly oft-tipped peers, Ella Harris, Josh Baxter and Louis Satchell have generated hype by making mercurial music that confounds simple categorization, blending elements of post-punk, electro-pop and balearic house to invigorating effect—particularly in a live setting. As recent signees to Ninja Tune’s Big Dada imprint, PVA released their debut EP Toner in November 2020; the release followed their first single, 2019’s “Divine Intervention,” and featured production from Dan Carey of cult U.K. label Speedy Wunderground, as well as remixes by Mura Masa, Lynks and Girl Band / Daniel Fox. PVA formed at a house party, and though the sample size remains tantalizingly tiny in terms of their output, the band’s sound stays true to the intoxicating energy of their genesis. —Scott Russell

The Queendom
Tuesday, March 16, 8-9 p.m. ET — Register

Since 2016, AUDIADASOUND and Rocket Rhonnie have been working the iconic Atlanta hip-hop circuit under the alias The Queendom, seemingly destined to make a name for themselves beyond the Perimeter. While they’re not quite stars yet, SXSW 2021 brings a chance for this duo to show off their incredibly spunky rap-meets-R&B style to the world. Their SoundCloud bio says that AUDIADASOUND and Rocket Rohnnie “embody the beacons of modern creativity in the realm where femininity is underestimated,” and if there is one genre where femininity can often be underestimated, it’s hip-hop. As a hip-hop duo from Atlanta, The Queendom certainly have big shoes to fill, but they know they’re more than worthy of their shot. They even say as much in their song “I Deserve This.” Following their 2018 album Queenshit Era, they’ve released a string of singles, so it’s likely that a new “Era” could be upon us soon. —Ellen Johnson

Sinead O’Brien
Thursday, March 18, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

Irish-bred, London-based artist Sinead O’Brien is fascinated by the underlying forces inside each of us—things like dreams, perceptions, doubts, self-image, ego and fear fill the lines of her voluminous poetry. O’Brien began performing poems for her friends at parties, and soon it became clear that her incredibly rhythmic, theatrical musings were best accompanied by stylish art rock. Though not a musician herself, she provides meticulous notes to her bandmates on how she wants things to sound, so as to preserve the carefully orchestrated flow of her compositions. Her debut EP Drowning in Blessings, released last year via Chess Club and produced by Dan Carey (Speedy Wunderground), is stark and unabashedly impressionistic. O’Brien’s vignettes quickly flash in and out of frame, while also alternating between reality and inner monologues. Sorting lines into those two categories is almost beside the point—examining the psyche and the motivations that lurk inside the good-natured and deranged alike is what she’s after. Even the best poetry falls flat with an uninspired delivery, and visceral performance is typically predicated on the energy of people in a room together, so we’re not sure what to expect from a virtual SXSW set, but something tells me O’Brien will fare well in these dystopian circumstances. —Lizzie Manno

Friday, March 19, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

Tied into the same buzzing South London/Speedy Wunderground scene as Black Country, New Road, PVA and black midi, Brighton quintet Squid released their debut EP Town Centre in 2019 to effusive acclaim, cementing themselves as a British band to watch. Ahead of their first full-length Bright Green Field, out May 7 on Warp Records, they’ll be performing at SXSW’s British Music Embassy, sharing that stage with English exports including Baby Queen, TV Priest, Yard Act and Katy J Pearson, not to mention several of their aforementioned scene-mates. Squid’s five members are known to swap both instruments and vocal duties, and their songs are a dynamic mix of Talking Heads-esque art pop and heavy, horn-accented post-punk, making their live show a must-see, even from a social distance. —Scott Russell

Theon Cross
Tuesday, March 16, 9-10:30 p.m. ET — Register

OK … let’s try this again. The London jazz scene tuba player was one of our picks for the 20 artists we wanted to see at SXSW 2020 despite the festival’s understandable cancellation a year ago. But the sentiments on Cross and his dizzying tuba have not changed one bit, especially now that this year’s SXSW live stream will be recorded from Abbey Road Studios as part of the Jazz Re:freshed OUTERNATIONAL project, which also features other stars from London’s surging jazz scene like bassist Daniel Casimir and rising saxophonist Camila George. Cross—who has come up with artists like Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd—is a sight to behold onstage, pushing the limits of his instrument’s appeal. And for this set, Cross is set to perform as a 3D avatar using motion-capture technology. So not just a tuba player, but a 3D avatar of a tuba player … Tell me you don’t want to see what that looks (and sounds!) like?! —Adrian Spinelli

Yard Act
Friday, March 19, 7-8 p.m. ET — Register

Leeds band Yard Act delivered some captivating post-punk on their EP Dark Days. Elaborate storytelling is key to the band’s flavor of danceable rock, intercutting infectious guitar riffs and bouncing drums with spoken-word breakdowns. Lyrically, frontman James Smith often introduces fictional characters, like the delusional woman exploiting her fake husband’s allergy in “Peanuts,” or headstrong narrator Graeme on “Fixer Upper.” Whether you’re looking for some engaging satirical commentary on society, or just looking to jam, Yard Act will quickly become a go-to in your listening rotation. —Carli Scolforo

Yung Baby Tate
Wednesday, March 17, 9-10 p.m. ET — Register

Just like Paste, singer/songwriter, producer and rapper Yung Baby Tate (born Tate Sequoya Farris) calls Decatur, Georgia home. Her stage name’s emphasis on her youth is no accident: Yung Baby Tate has said she got her start as a musician “in the womb.” She started making beats as a teenager, releasing her debut project ROYGBIV in 2015, and has been prolific ever since, catching Issa Rae’s ear and signing to the Insecure creator’s Raedio label, winning a Grammy for her contribution to J. Cole compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III, and releasing collaborations with fellow rising stars like Bree Runway, Bbymutha, Tkay Maidza, Kari Faux and Flo Milli. On her 2019 debut album Girls, Yung Baby Tate tries on all sorts of personas, from the confidence of “That Girl” (“Woke up feeling awfully cocky / Who the fuck gon’ stop me?”) to a “Cozy Girl” who’d “would rather be comfy as can be,” at home on her couch. Her music teems with energy, passion and possibility, and we’re psyched to see her bring it to life at SXSW. —Scott Russell

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