Some of our favorite acts from SXSW 2019
South by Southwest 2019 is over, but the beat goes on.
Fill your Spotify playlists with recommendations of some of our favorite SXSW acts, and save your cash for tickets as they come back through the live music capital of the world.
See all our SXSW coverage at austin360.com/sxsw.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Tierra Whack and Megan Thee Stallion. These two female rappers couldn’t be more different, and they both caused a huge stir at the fest. Tierra Whack is the most stylistically adventurous rapper in the game right now. Her set at the Belmont was a breathless tour of her “Whack World.” In less than 20 minutes, she whiplashed through singsong nursery rhyme grooves, moody club bangers and expressive confessional pieces, shifting styles on a dime and mastering each one with stunning skill. The packed house went nuts.
Megan Thee Stallion spits raw verses that celebrate female desire in the dirtiest ways. She flips the script on the decades-old trope that paints women as submissive subjects in your favorite rap song. She’s sexy, hilarious and on point with her hard-hitting rhyme style. The ladies in the crowd (she calls them “Hotties”) went wild at her set on at Cheer Up Charlies and again at the Fader Fort.
For decades, mainstream hip-hop media has pushed a ludicrous narrative that fans have room in their hearts only for one female rapper. Every rap posse has just one lady. If Cardi B has a great album, Nicki Minaj better watch out. At SXSW 2019, fans upended that idea, packing venues and showing their spirit for women who rap throughout the fest. And I didn’t even make it to the epic Lizzo show at Stubb's.
Kokoko! One of their percussion rigs is made of dish soap bottles, and another one is constructed with pots, pans and auto parts. Their drum kit is held together with duct tape, but they use it to make urgent, powerful dance music that moves the body and the spirit. So many incredible international artists played the fest, but the sheer improbability of their appearance made this crew of street musicians from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo the most inspiring.
Ikon. True confession: I signed up to cover the K-pop boy band thinking I’d turn out a fun scene report about screaming teenage girls, fans rapping in bungled Korean and fantastic choreographed dance routines. I did not expect to actually enjoy the show. But these guys train like Olympic athletes, and their skills were undeniable. Their sense of camaraderie with each other and with their fans was infectious. The dancing was incredible. By the fourth (fifth?) time their smash hit “Love Scenario” played, I was mentally adding it to a rainy day candy pop playlist in the least ironic way possible.
Also amazing: Combo Chimbita, Pink Sweat$, Mojo Juju, Black Pumas, Mabiland, Amyl and the Sniffers, Jojo Abot, RdGldGrn
Yola. On a sidestage at the Luck Reunion that featured all female artists, this country-soul dynamo from England had a lot of people asking, "Who's that?" The former singer from the band Phantom Limb stepped out on her own last month with a solo debut on Dan Auerbach's influential Nashville label Easy Eye Sound, and the songs she played from it showed her show-stopping power and versatility as a singer as well as her talent for writing tradition-based material that still sounds fresh and in the moment.
Robert Ellis. A Houston-area native now living in Austin after a stretch in Nashville, Ellis reinvented himself as a white-tux-wearing pianist with his new album "Texas Piano Man," and SXSW proved a perfect launching pad. I caught four of his seven (or more) appearances during the week, and he proved equally captivating whether playing solo (at Cactus Cafe) or with his perfectly-dialed-in backing trio. The piano has brought out a new melodic magic in Ellis' music, and his onstage presence deftly balances humor and whimsy with sincere appreciation for the audience.
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. After a midweek official showcase at St. David's church and a couple of live radio gigs, the rejuvenated 1980s Dallas band (with some members now living in Austin) let loose Saturday night at Hotel San Jose, enchanting and jamming through a 75-minute set in a jam-packed parking lot. New material from last year's stellar comeback record "Rocket" anchored a set that also featured a couple of throwbacks to their platinum-selling past, including the breakthrough hit "What I Am" and a tender show-closing "Circle" that had many in the crowd singing along. This relaunch is just getting started: The band heads into Arlyn Studios this week to record another album they hope to have out by 2020. (And is there truth to the rumor that Brickell and hubby Paul Simon might relocate part time here? It appears so: "We're looking," she told ACL Radio listeners in a Saturday morning live broadcast.)
Also amazing: Pat Byrne, J.S. Ondara, Kidsmoke, Courtney Marie Andrews, Mountain Man
Lizzo. I don't watch sports unless there's free food around, but I imagine the thrill of seeing your favorite athlete hone their game to peak performance is similar to what I felt watching the "Juice" singer/rapper at Stubb's. She's come through Austin many times; this SXSW, she rode in with a flute, cowgirl couture and a presidential declaration. No one came close to owning the fest like she did. I see your LeBron and raise you a Lizzo.
Alphabeat. These are dark, fractious times. In dark, fractious times, we dance. Danish pop group Alphabeat, recently reunited from a long hiatus, did more for international relations at their Empire Garage set than any Foggy Bottom diplomat in recent years. Hooks, singalongs and tambourines create world peace — this isn't hard.
Sir Babygirl. DIY pop music should always include massive amounts of tulle and subversive clips of Katy Perry tunes. The gays and straights of presumable taste seeing Sir Babygirl at Palm Door on Sabine learned this lesson well at SXSW.
Cimafunk. Cuban phenom Cimafunk blazed into SXSW firing up crowds at multiple shows with their infectious blend of funky grooves plus Afro-Cuban soul. Come to dance, but stay for the impeccable showmanship plus next-level musicianship. Can’t wait to see this band rise to international stardom.
Taimane. Watching Hawaiian artist Taimane at the Victorian Room at the Driskill was a reminder of the magic and special moments that still happen during SXSW no matter how long you’ve attended or how the festival evolves. Yes, she can shred on a ukulele, and that’s pretty impressive, but she can also seamlessly incorporate Hawaiian chants and dances that make for an especially meaningful experience.
GlobalFest showcase. As festival reporters, we try to cover as much ground as possible, and that often means jumping from venue to venue throughout the night. But this showcase kept me at the Palm Door on Sixth for several stellar bands representing places ranging from the Middle East to Colombia. Staying at one place longer than usual allowed me to witness the change in crowds from set to set. One minute everyone was singing along in Portuguese, and the next everyone was locking hands forming a dance circle inspired by Palestinian rhythms. It felt especially beautiful in the midst of global tragedies and the push to build walls along borders. Bands included 47Soul, La Mojarra Electrica and Karol Conka.
Ezra Collective. This group's body-moving Afrobeat jazz isn’t music for the coffee shop but the club — a mix of tight, uptempo grooves, jaw-dropping solos and undeniable energy. It’s party music for the good time you weren’t even planning on having. At their show at Latitude 30, you could almost feel the electricity from a crowd fully engaged, drawn in and letting go, a real SXSW rarity and a testament to the band’s stupefying degree of talent.
The Beths. New Zealand rockers the Beths seemed a band determined to win over SXSW music fans, playing a whopping 10 shows last week. Their endearingly uncool-cool power-pop brings to mind “Blue Album” Weezer, and they have a similar knack for candy hooks that dig deep on a single listen.
Viagra Boys. At a certain point, satire can be so good it’s hard to tell what’s a joke and what’s genuine. Feminist Swedish punks Viagra Boys offered a vicious and hilarious takedown of the absurd sides of masculinity while putting on one of the rowdiest shows I saw at SXSW. The only thing louder than their music might be the ear-splitting woosh of the joke going over an audience’s head.
Lola Kirke. The New Yorker with a country soul charmed the audience at Laneway Festival at Lucille and again at Luck Reunion. A part-time actress with roles in “Gone Girl” and “Mistress America,” she’s a laid-back singer-songwriter with a sweet but gritty voice. A clever lyricist, Kirke sings about heartbreak, family and just getting through day by day. With her heart always on her sleeve, you’ll feel like she’s singing directly to you.
Chai. Need a dose of energy? Chai is the answer. Hotel Vegas reached max capacity when the Japanese pop-rock group performed. They somehow manage to fuse pop, punk, hip-hop and rock in their tracks, and the crowd goes wild for it. Their music is different from pretty much anything you hear from artists in the U.S., and that’s the beauty of it.
Questlove. If you’re looking for a good time, a Questlove set def is where it’s at. The DJ and producer brought the crowd at the SXSW Gaming Opening Party to life as he blasted one iconic track after another. Questlove seamlessly transitions one song to the next, including David Bowie’s “Fame,” “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock and “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease.” Questlove knows how to throw a party you don’t want to miss.