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 four (Friday, 19th March).
In a week where some performances have felt a little ‘restricted’ for reasons that should be obvious to everyone, Squid are just what you expect. Only in that they exist here firmly to deliver the unexpected. Like coming home to find that it’s breakfast-for-dinner or finding a fizzy sherbet amongst a packet of liquorice, they pop off in all directions tonight like a welcome slice of nonsense. A pleasingly unhinged performance, taut and smooth in one second before erupting into the kind of chaos that gives the illusion that it’s only just in control, they rattle through an eclectic set that climaxes in ‘Paddling’, where all bets are off as to whether they’ll fall over the edge. They don’t, of course, leaving behind the warm glow of excitement about what is yet to come. Jamie MacMillan
We love Do Nothing here at Dork. Just check the latest issue of the mag if you don’t believe us. But why do we love them? Anyone watching their set at SXSW would have that question swiftly answered. ‘Lebron James’ is still a track for the ages, but here it’s dropped in mid-set as just one of a slew of tight, focused bangers, bolstered by offerings from their new ‘Glueland’ EP. Lockdown has been a difficult time for bands in Do Nothing’s position, but the set on show here is head and shoulders above where they were before all ‘this’ happened. When they fade out and we finally have time to take stock, we’re more excited for the return of live music than ever. Jake Hawkes
Grabbing attention as the first of a British music showcase, Yard Act are pegged to be something Really Quite Special. Their set opens with ‘existential stream of consciousness turned turbobanger’ ‘Fixer Upper’, kicking the doors in with snarled lyrics about doing up a house, paying builders and of course, a reliable old family car. ‘Dark Days’ follows, frontman James Smith standing with his hands thrust deep into his trench coat and spitting out the words as the band smashes out angular post-punk around him. ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’ and ‘Peanuts’ offer more of the same, but when it’s this good, who can complain about getting given an extra-large portion? Jake Hawkes
The real joy of a livestream festival is that changing venue is as easy as clicking a button, rather than traipsing across town to queue up for 20 minutes. This means that hidden gems and new acts are a lot easier to uncover. Take Indian born, North London raised Nayana Iz, for example. Part of NiNE8, a collective which also includes Dork faves Lava La Rue and Biig Piig, tonight she’s centre stage, stalking back and forth and switching between melodic hooks and hard-hitting rap flows with ease. The UK rap scene is the healthiest it’s been for years, and Nayana Iz showcases the excitement that this diversity in sound can bring. Jake Hawkes
Katy J Pearson
It’s not always a bad thing to look back. Take Katy J Pearson, whose instantly classic songwriting and radiating tones have become a bit of a word of mouth sensation over the past 12 months. Calling to mind the wicked whirls of Fleetwood Mac and a storied history of truly brilliant American songwriters, the Bristol native drops the curtain on proceedings and turns things into a truly warm and heartening experience. Cuts from debut album ‘Return’ like ‘Take Back The Radio’ act like a hot water bottle to the cold outside world. Just for a moment, Katy takes us away from the screen and into sunnier times – not many can pull that off. Jamie Muir
The Goa Express
If you’ve only paid attention to the two tracks The Goa Express have released onto streaming services, you might be forgiven for being a tad shocked by the first part of their set at SXSW. Classicly melodic, jangly guitar pop, there’s even time for both a tambourine and a harmonica – both used in the same song, no less – from the Manchester quintet. Once they hit the end of the set, though, they’re a different band. ‘The Day’ is a bright, bold, determined blast. Both aspects of The Goa Express are great – put together they’re very exciting indeed. Stephen Ackroyd
Scottish noiseniks Dead Pony know how to turn things up. Appearing at the end of a showcase that’s featured protest singers and nicey-nicey acoustic music, they’re the angry bull knocking over half the china shop. A snarling, growingly, tightly wound nerve, there’s melody to their muscle, but all delivered with the propulsive force of an intercontinental missile. Closer ‘23, Never Me’ may deliver the final punch, but it’s just the last in a constant, glorious pummeling from a band never short of a knock out blow. Stephen Ackroyd
Millennium Parade can only be described as an experience. Featuring over a dozen musicians taking to a panoramic stage, backed by a huge LED screen with custom animations that usually reserved for the biggest artists on the planet, what follows is a full-on technicolour party that moves across alternative, hip-hop, electronica, psych, rock and jazz for the sort of show that should fill stadiums. Lead by the James Murphy-esque Daiki Tsuneta – sitting in spinning chairs, jumping on megaphones and moulding a theatrical show with ease – think of a more cinematic Gorillaz and you have Millennium Parade. Not too shabby for 1:45am. Jamie Muir
Yes it may be the early hours of the morning in the UK when Hauskey steps up to the mark, but his set is a stretching sunrise of wonderfully pure alt-pop grooves. Delicate sounds flit across tight jams – immediately calling to mind Rex Orange County and more of the ‘bedroom-pop’ faves that have led the way over the past 12 months. Succinct and incredibly tight, his performance is the sort that immediately has you doe-eyed and glued to his every note. Even at this time of night, we’re ready to burst open the door and breathe in the world around us. Jamie Muir
SXSW contines until Saturday, 20th March. Check back for more tomorrow!