SXSW made its cautious, yet triumphant return earlier in March after its abrupt cancellation in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. The city of Austin took a safe approach to this year’s festival by opening many onsite testing facilities, as well as administering a digital pass for all vaccinated festival-goers.
Even with safeguards in place, the attendance was still only about 50% of what it normally is.
On the surface, this may seem like a disappointing statistic, but for first-timers like myself, this meant shorter lines and easier access to the best showcases Austin had to offer. It was a week of nonstop lecture panels, NFTs, amazing food and some of the best new music the world had to offer. So, without further ado, here is my list of the best new bands I saw at this year’s South By Southwest Music Festival.
Gallus came to SXSW all the way from Glasgow and earned the distinct honor of being the first bit of music I had the pleasure of hearing at this year’s festival. I remember walking into the DIY showcase at the British Embassy, thinking the band onstage was absolutely tearing the crowd apart. In a similar vein as their UK counterparts, IDLES, this band was a perfect balance of aggressive and fun. Even though they would be one of the heavier bands I would see all week, the crowd didn’t seem to mind the moshing. These guys are great and their songs are extremely catchy.
Song to check out: “Fruitflies”
CMAT CMAT CMAT CMAT CMAT CMAT CMAT CMAT
CMAT admittedly has always had an obsession with all things country-western and as any of her fans can tell you, it permeates through her entire aesthetic — from clothing to songwriting style. Hailing from Ireland, her music could be classified as ‘pop country’ although, when you see it live, it feels like so much more. She is currently considered the number one musician in her country and it didn’t take very long to realize why, as almost every fan at her debut SXSW showcase was screaming her words back to her. The music is extremely catchy and, in my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before she is a global sensation.
Song to check out: “I Don’t Really Care for You”
Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem Self Esteem
I remember back in 2020, Self Esteem was one of the musicians I was most excited to see before SXSW was canceled. I was worried I was never going to get the opportunity until I saw her name on the list of artists coming to Austin in 2022! When Self Esteem (aka, Rebecca Taylor) took the stage, it felt like a cannon had gone off. Thundering drum beats introduced the band, whose members all wore bright red shirts that said “What’s it like being a woman in music?”. With the help of two backup singers, they sang and danced their way through an absolute masterpiece of a set. Self Esteem was definitely in the running for best overall performance of SXSW and the crowd at Mohawk responded with more excitement than I would see at any other point during the fest.
Song to check out: “Prioritize Pleasure”
Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth Dead Tooth
Admittedly, I was not intending on even seeing Dead Tooth; I had plotted out my schedule for music carefully for the day and, luckily, another band had canceled an interview, which left me some free time to get to Stubb’s earlier than I had anticipated. I remember walking into Stubb’s just as they kicked into their first song and my girlfriend looked at me and said, “Who the heck are these guys?!” They resembled a grungier version of The Doors and were about a thousand times heavier. They have a sound that reminds me of Alice in Chains and STP, but with heavy metal saxophone. Undoubtedly, Dead Tooth is a band to watch in 2022, already being a highlight of the SPIN Magazine showcase.
Song to check out: “Blind”
Mane Mane Mane Mane Mane Mane Mane
Mane has one of the most powerful voices I have heard in a while. She was the closing act at Lustre Pearl on Thursday night and many people remarked that she had an Adele vibe although her voice is much deeper. Her music was hypnotic, soulful and, while most people didn’t know one word from any of her songs, they seemed to sway and dance the entire performance. She was dressed entirely in black, which was fitting, considering how haunting her overall aesthetic was. I don’t typically enjoy her genre of music, but there is something really special about this Australian pop star. Her songs just hit on a different level than your typical radio pop songs; I imagine it will only be a matter of time before you are hearing her on radio stations everywhere.
Song to check out: “Chasing Butterflies”
Condos Condos Condos
Condos originally wasn’t anywhere on my SXSW agenda. Yet, after a last minute invite, I found myself on Austin’s famed 6th Street and inside a dive bar called Friends. The band opening for them was way too loud and if it wasn’t for the invite, I probably would have left before I got the chance to even check them out. I’m glad I stuck around, because once Condos took the stage, I knew this band is something special. They have slight Deftones vibes, but much heavier. Think ‘Royal Blood meets Deftones meets The White Stripes’. Unfortunately, they are so new you won’t find any released music to date, but that will change later this year, according to the band.
Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly Moonchild Sanelly
Moonchild Sanelly was one of the most unique and interesting musicians I had the pleasure of seeing this year. Imagine M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj rolled into one wild performer, with the craziest hair and even wilder outfits. She twerked and sang about strip clubs, yet she also spoke out about unity and equality in the music industry — a perfect balance of activist and party girl. Her songs were heavy in bass and while it was not always easy to understand her rapping, she entertained every crowd she stepped in front of. She was the only rap artist I had the chance to see while at SXSW and, while it’s not my typical cup of musical tea, she stuck in my head enough to pre-order a copy of her upcoming album Phases.
Song to check out: “Demon”
Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird Darkbird
Darkbird was by far the best band I saw while attending SXSW. The crazy thing is they are local to Austin and, according to lead singer Kelly Barnes, “don’t really have much planned for the rest of 2022″. I didn’t really quite know what to expect as they took the stage; the only song I had ever heard of theirs was the ear-worm “Heartbeat”. Nothing could have prepared me for who they really are. This band shook the foundations of my musical universe in one set. Kelly rocked the stage like Annie Lennox or Blondie, hardly remaining still as she jumped all over the stage, leaning into the microphone as if she was performing in front of thousands. The reaction from the crowd after each song was a monstrous roar that drowned out the EDM show next door. I am saying this band was so good that I would drive to Austin tomorrow just to see them again. Their upcoming EP, Junebug, is now out as of April 1st — I highly recommend you check them out!
Song to check out: “Heartbeat”
Photography by Derek Jones