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 one (Tuesday, 16th March).
With only one show under their belt, TV Priest still feel like something of an enigma. The kind of band that you could imagine not recognising at their own show, first impressions here are a raw and visceral take on post-punk that shows just why everyone has gotten a bit giddy. With a sound full of rough edges that hits like a landslide, frontman Charlie Drinkwater stalks the stage like a man who’s been locked up for a year waiting for a second gig. Which y’know… At one point he even gets so excited that he has a little boogie, something that can’t help but feel relatable now that summer and pints and gigs and stuff are all in sight. Gig 2 will be a belter. Jamie MacMillan
Its that time of the night where you need a bit of a pick-me-up – a little razzle-dazzle if you will. And right on cue, here comes Walter Discotheque to wake things up. The delicious glam of ‘Hey Boy (You’re One Of Us)’ is instantly intoxicating, James Potter looking every inch the megastar even while guitarist Lewis joins them on a live link-up from his grandad’s house. Full of bops from the ‘Young Hard And Handsome’ EP, this is one of the most impressive sets all night, and easily the most fun. They did synchronised dancing and everything. The real deal. Jamie MacMillan
Whilst we’re sat behind screens sweeping the Doritos crumbs off our chests, for many bands there’s a true sense of ‘returning to the stage’ on Day 1 of SXSW. Though they may have sneaked in a couple of shows last year, PVA feel like a band reborn – oozing with a sharp confidence in every twist and turn they make. That bubbling late-night city vibe remains, but with a sharper focus that feels towering and formidable on tracks like ‘Exhaust/Surroundings’ and ‘Divine Intervention’. Truly engulfing, their live show is both direct and mysterious – never truly knowing which road they’ll turn down next. In a world of cliches, the new PVA are refusing to stick to the script – and it’s making them more exciting than ever. Jamie Muir
Over on the Sounds Of Spain showcase, Alien Tango is living in his own weird and wonderful world. Grabbing every bizarre sound and power move in sight, whacking it into the mixer and cracking a smile as it blends, the result is a glorious cocktail of indietronic psych delights. Complete with a trippy green-screen backdrop, he revels in the ridiculous – constantly dropping a wink to camera before heading into another fun-filled peak. From the expansive sounds of The Flaming Lips to the candy-popping electro ridiculousness of Late Of The Pier and Phoenix – it’s well and truly Down With Boring. We couldn’t approve more. Jamie Muir
One thing about SXSW – in its physical form – that’s always been so vital is the ability to stumble across something you didn’t really set out to see. Often just because the venue you hoped to get into was packed to the rafters, it’s a happenstance that’s hard to recreate digitally. That’s not to suggest that Spanish four-piece Belako are in any way an unheard-of quality. Four albums deep, they’ve supported some of the biggest names of the planet, have made a significant enough name for themselves back home and even played our Homeschool festival last year. Still, their groovy, time-bending, often uplifting post-punk jangle feels like an adrenaline shot for an online experience that could easily drift aimlessly. Stephen Ackroyd
Chubby and The Gang
It goes without saying that this ‘playing without a crowd’ malarkey can take some getting used to. Chubby & The Gang’s set feels like one begging for the warm, sweaty embrace of a room full of over-excited punters losing their pints of over-priced lager. ‘Pariah Radio’ swings punches like a Ramone who has had their drink knocked over, but until it reaches its rowdy crescendo the rest of the set doesn’t quite land with the same ferocity. It’s the kind of music that should feel dangerous to witness, but without an audience it can’t help but feel a little safe. Jamie MacMillan
The Mysterines are a band who continue to grow and evolve at every step. Tonight they showcase that in full flight, with an effortless run of garage-rock swagger. With Lia Metcalfe embracing that potential charge, their performance is knowing and electric in equal measure. A sign that, at every step, The Mysterines are discovering their place in what comes next. Jamie Muir
Like shaking up a can of fizzy pop and letting it off, Connie Constance bristles with authentic British culture. ‘The Butterfly Club’ EP felt like a turning point for Connie and performed live, it’s impossible to resist her charm. ‘Costa Del Margate’ perfectly encapsulates proceedings; individuality rising to the fore, gripping from start to finish. Standing apart from the rest, it proves that Connie not only has the tunes to make a big ‘ol splash, but has the presence to shake things up big time. Jamie Muir
Dropping beats and bloops from behind a table shouldn’t be the most thrilling music to broadcast via a video feed. Once taken online, tracks suited to the dancefloor need to find a way to cut through without shared experiences and infectious euphoria. That’s not a problem for lau.ra. Joined by a trio of guest vocalists, her ear for a hook ends up as something closer to a really, really fucking cool version of the radio roadshows of old. Bop after bop, it’s a capsule collection of future greatest hits. Stephen Ackroyd
SXSW contines until Saturday, 20th March. Check back for more tomorrow!