Sofia Valdes, 404 Guild, Iceage and more – here’s some of what we saw on the final day of the virtual SXSW 2021

It's the last day of the online festival. Here's some of the best stuff we saw.

Last March, the cancellation of SXSW 2020 felt like a watermark. Little did we realise just how the next twelve months of live music shutdown would go. This year, as the first green shoots as recovery start to sprout, it’s back – but in virtual form. So, after a year of getting used to streamed sets and digital extravaganzas, does the world’s biggest new music festival work away from the packed venues? Crisps in hand, kettle boiled, here’s some of the key acts we saw on day five (Saturday, 20th March).

Sometimes you catch an artist live for the first time and know they’re going to be a big deal. It’s exactly what happens with Sofia Valdes, trading in a vulnerability that has you subconsciously dropping your guard and being one with every word and every note that comes from her voice. Giving the seeds of Motown and 60s pop a distinctly modern twist, ‘Handful Of Water’ and ‘Little Did I Know’ showcase a voice of immeasurable power – both literally and emotionally. Guaranteed big deal incoming, jump aboard fast. Jamie Muir

Iceage at SXSW 2021.

The lights have gone out at the Roskilde showcase, with ‘mood’ obviously being the word of the day there. Slotting in to that nicely then are Iceage, led by the intense and impressively leather-panted Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. We only get a couple of tracks from the Danes tonight, and they show two sides of the band – namely dark and a bit darker. Channelling Lou Reed’s ghost in ‘Vendetta’, it’s a pleasingly scuzzy piece of garage rock that cuts through the darkness with enough bite to slay any creature of the night. Jamie MacMillan

From the moment 404 Guild kick off their set with ‘Fearful’ and its familiar refrain of  “see it, say it, sorted”, the whole concept of SXSW is flipped well and truly on its head. Never compromising or playing it safe, they rip through a snarling but incredibly raw performance with intensity and confidence. Their live shows have become synonymous with an uncontrollable tidal wave of energy, and as they bounce across the SXSW stage it’s clear that none of that has gone missing over the past year. Going to places most acts would shy away from, the bravado and energy is never a mask for the darker moments they leave out there for all to see. Throwing a stick of dynamite into proceedings, 404 Guild prove that there is nobody out there who can come close to their vital and urgent sound. Jamie Muir

Penelope Isles at SXSW 2021.

Despite a recent line-up change and a year of not being able to play live, Penelope Isles are on top form, easing us into the night with a tight, focussed reminder of what makes them great. Jack and Lily Wolter take centre stage throughout, the whole set played with a sense of intimacy that makes it feel as if the band don’t even know they’re being filmed. Throughout the weekend, SXSW has been a mix of the known and the new – Penelope Isles are one of the more familiar faces, just popping by to remind us all how bloody good they are. Jake Hawkes

As one feather-clad pop giant once said: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. Yeah. not sure about that mate – we’d much rather grab a bottle of Ribena and fall into the soothing and peaceful world of IDER thank you very much. Their performance at SXSW is one that boils their magic down to a simple connection – the one between Megan and Lily playing out in front of our eyes. Like pulling up a chair and staring straight into your own soul, their incredible harmonies and warm tones are a powerful reminder that just because you’re loud, doesn’t mean your powerful. IDER are a knockout punch that we’d take over and over again. Jamie Muir

If there’s a cult indie film looking for a soundtrack right about now, there may not be any better artist suited than School Of X. The Danish songwriter pulls the spotlight in close, with a voice echoing Blaine from Mystery Jets or Cage The Elephant but with an aura better suited to the more experimental nicks of The Neighbourhood. It’s a combination that means his set at times feels dangerous, unafraid to show the world exactly as it is. ‘Forget Me On The Moon’ is but one highlight, from an artist designed to stop us right in your tracks. Jamie Muir

Korea’s sogumm ticks every box when it comes to an artist you simply MUST keep an eye on. Recording her set with DJ Wegun in a kitchen, she manages to get to the heart of exactly what makes her special from the first note. At times alternative, at times celebratory and at times reflective – there’s hints to Billie Eilish and Maggie Rogers in her relatable grounding that suggests tonight is but the beginning of an ascent to the big time. Thank god she managed to grab a snack during the set, because it’s likely things are about to get very busy indeed. Jamie Muir

Loco at SXSW 2021.

Already a superstar in his own right, Loco seizes his moment at SXSW to proclaim to the world just how phenomenal he truly is. Running with the creativity this year’s virtual show offers him, it’s an artistic tour-de-force – complete with a cocktail of different genres (including hip-hop, pop, R&B and more). Bringing personality to the fore (especially on ‘Don’t’ and smooth closer ‘It Takes Time’), his charm is what brings it all together – a wink and a smile to the joy in life. Chomping on crisps, kicking off his shoes – every move has you smiling and eager to follow Loco wherever he goes next. Tonight is a sign that he’s ready to become a truly global superstar – so the world better wake up quick. Jamie Muir

CHAII is a whirlwind of everything brilliant with a loud, brilliant and thumping party. From start to finish, it’s a set full of attitude that perfectly channels the spirit of going out with your mates and smashing it big time. Over ever-changing electro beats that move from thumping baselines to friction-fused jungle, Chaii’s world of hip-hop-pop potency refuses to compromise – with tracks from her recent EP ‘Lightswitch’ mixing together leaving no time to let-up. Sometimes you just know when you’ve witnessed a set from a future superstar. It happened tonight with CHAII, with a performance that has us pining for those big all-nighters more than ever before. Jamie Muir

Steady Holiday at SXSW 2021.

Leaving everyone in the dark on the final day of SXSW, NPR’s Tiny Desk showcase starts in warming fashion with Steady Holiday. When you’ve got an audience compromised of one very good doggo, a printer with googly eyes which receives song requests and a complete band standing outside the window (revealed in grand fashion at the end of the first song by pulling up the blinds) then you’re already doing well. Times aren’t the same, but playing with the medium and having a laugh – complete with a stunning performance made up of gorgeous alt-songwriter bliss with a nostalgic flair underneath – is the recipe for a standout set that immediately captures the heart. Wishful, hilarious and moving in equal measure – Steady Holiday is a winner in our eyes. Jamie Muir

Duckwrth at SXSW 2021.

It’s been a while since we interviewed Californian rapper Duckwrth in the UK headquarters of Major League Baseball (don’t ask). Since then, he’s released his debut album ‘Supergood’ and, judging by tonight’s SXSW set, he’s also grown a beard and invested in a line of sharp suits. With a full backing band and singers, the set leans more into the soulful R&B thread which runs through his music than the hip-hop side, with harmonised choruses provided by the singers and a few impressively high notes from the man himself, too. Tracks from the album are of course on display, but there’s also a new song in the form of ‘Birthday Suit’ and even a synchronised dance at the end – it’s all Very Lovely Indeed. Jake Hawkes

Oh, a Tiny Desk Concert, you say? In a run of performances for NPR’s calling card sessions series where many an artist is flippant enough to try to pass off a coffee table – try using that as your workspace on an 8-hour shift, guys – clipping. are intent on making amends. Featuring a carefully crafted minuscule world, down to diminutive mixers, mics and associated paraphernalia, the three-piece seem positively gigantic in comparison. Maybe that’s the point – Daveed Diggs’ constant rapid flow certainly sounds pretty damn huge from here. Stephen Ackroyd

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