It’s hard to believe that, this time next week, the Paste Music team will be in Austin, Texas, for the first in-person South by Southwest music festival in three years (as well as our 20th-anniversary party, but that’s a different post). The annual music, film, tech and culture extravaganza, whose 36th iteration is set for March 14-20, was canceled in 2020 and went digital in 2021, and though the pandemic that forced those unprecedented changes remains ongoing, there’s reason to be optimistic about a return to relative normalcy this year. Like we said, hard to believe!
From a music lineup standpoint, SXSW isn’t just back in 2022—it’s back with an absolute vengeance, nearly tripling 2021’s bill of about 300 showcasing artists. That’s nearly 900 artists either heading to the Lone Star State or performing from afar; this year’s hybrid festival will retain last year’s virtual approach, albeit to a far lesser extent, with a handful of Asia-based acts streaming sets from their home turf. As ever, SXSW remains a global affair, with bands from every corner of the world angling to leave their mark on the industry.
Looking ahead to SXSW’s much-anticipated return, your Paste Music pals have rounded up the 20 acts we’re most excited to see, from up-and-comers just starting to build buzz to more established bands bordering on household-name status. These are the shows we’ll be pushing through crowds and pinballing around downtown ATX to catch, soaking up their sounds like lungs do oxygen. But this being SXSW, this list is merely the tip of a massive musical iceberg—it could have easily been twice (or thrice!) as long. Check out SXSW 2022’s full schedule here, and Paste’s most-anticipated performances below. We’ll see you in Austin.
Baba Ali’s slow, but steady rise over the past few years has been an exciting one to watch. With the release of 2021’s Memory Device, Ali’s sensual blend of house, electronic and post-punk just begs to be witnessed in person at SXSW. The New York-born, London-based artist goes back to the Black roots of most popular music and reclaims it in his own thrilling way, and you can bet that Paste will be front and center to watch it unfold. —Jade Gomez
Body Meat’s Year of the Orc was released in April 2021, right before live music started back up again. It was probably a blessing in disguise, because sitting with the EP over time is a rewarding experience. The world has since opened up a lot more, and SXSW will finally be graced with the frenetic rhythms of the Philadelphia musician’s mind. While it’s easy to call the music “glitch-pop,” the varied influences from across cultures peel back to reveal infectious dance grooves interspersed with surreal imagery for a sonic overload that must be seen to be believed. —Jade Gomez
It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the torchbearers of chopped and screwed music performing in the genre’s birthplace of Texas. The Chopstars, created by Swishahouse co-founder OG Ron C, carries on the spirit of DJ Screw, who passed in 2000. The collective has achieved widespread success with their “chopped not slopped” versions of popular albums such as Drake’s Take Care. Over two decades on since DJ Screw’s untimely death, the innovator can be properly memorialized with The Chopstars’ undying spirit. —Jade Gomez
Oakland quartet Fake Fruit were easily one of my favorite finds of 2021. Their self-titled debut album dropped last year via Rocks In Your Head, and its brand of bouncy, distorted post-punk was a breath of fresh air—and not just because it’s a break from the popular talk-y wing of the genre. Hannah D’Amato has a capital-R rockstar voice, channeling new wave-era greats and cult punk figures alike, and wields it with more finesse and emotion than just about any current rock vocalist. They also take the broad theme of yearning for reciprocated connection and understanding, and use very few words, but still manage to write songs with charm and artfulness. Perhaps equally as exciting as their first LP was the one-off single that followed it, “I Am the Car.” The track shows a softer side to the group, and although they delve into the crowded field of melancholy classic indie rock, it’s arguably their best song yet, with D’Amato’s vocal melodies harnessing a staggering amount of heavy-hearted beauty. A band with this much personality and this level of songwriting chops is not to be missed. —Lizzie Manno
Richmond-based rapper Fly Anakin has been on Paste’s radar for some time now, and his forthcoming debut album Frank is one of our most-anticipated releases of the month. His SXSW appearance is only a few days after the soulful album is shared with the world. Anakin’s stage presence has the effortless swagger of some of rap’s biggest names in the ‘90s, but he’s bringing rap’s future to Austin. —Jade Gomez
New York City quintet Geese’s first-ever festival set was one of our favorites of Shaky Knees 2021, so you can bet we’ll be back for more at SXSW. The rising rock prodigies cracked our list of last year’s best records with their debut album Projector, a collection of shape-shifting post-punk and psych-rock jams that made them one of the buzziest bands around (and put the talented teenagers’ college plans on an indefinite hold). Geese have a second album already in the works, as well, so chances are good that we’ll be treated to new material in Austin, as we were back in Atlanta. Giddy up. —Scott Russell
Don’t let the name or the fact that they call Austin home fool you: The message “no guitars” is the first thing you see on synth trio Hey Cowboy!’s socials. Still, that’s not to say you’ll ever notice those guitars are missing. Since their formation in 2017, Micah Vargas, Sydney Harding-Sloan and Gaby Rodriguez have crafted a unique blend of ethereal, sun-drenched pop that begs you to sway into the light with them. Their most recent album, 2020’s Get in My Fanny Pack and Let’s Go, arrived as their most fully realized vision to date, building airy sonic textures that serve as the perfect parachute for funny, almost bubblegum-tinged songwriting. The same goes for last year’s swoon-worthy single “Not 4 U,” which further established the band as a go-to act for any fan of the genre. Even as the angelic voices weave and tangle miles above the clouds, these angels wink, never letting the in-jokes that carry over between songs fly too far overhead. —Elise Soutar
Nashville-based singer/songwriter Katy Kirby returns to her home state for SXSW, coming off a co-headlining tour alongside Sun June and the first anniversary of her 2021-best debut album Cool Dry Place. Kirby’s folk-tinged indie-pop songs are replete with unassuming charm and insistent hooks alike, from the ebullient “Traffic!” to the intimate “Secret Language.” Her expressive vocals and carefully considered lyricism tie her songwriting’s deceptively wide range together, and all of the above translates just right live. When Kirby sings “Nobody has it better than you” at SXSW, you’re liable to believe her. —Scott Russell
Fresh off the release of their acclaimed full-length debut I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me (Feb. 25, City Slang), Liverpool’s King Hannah will spend this spring touring the E.U., U.K. and U.S., following a New York City one-off and their stint at SXSW. The tight-knit duo of Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle are believers that their atmospheric, Americana-streaked rock songs are never “finished,” meaning that even avid listeners of theirs are in for an exciting show. When we spoke in February, King Hannah expressed an enjoyment of bending and stretching their “quite malleable” tracks into new shapes, identifying “The Moods That I Get In,” “Go-Kart Kid (Hell No!),” “Foolius Caesar” and “Big Big Baby”—that last one, most of all—as I’m Not Sorry songs that have been transformed via their live performances. —Scott Russell
Bands like Le Pain are why music discovery festivals exist: The Los Angeles-based four-piece have only three singles to their names so far, but they’re bound to leave Austin with legions of new fans. Led by Atlanta sisters Madeline and Olivia Babuka Black, with producer/multi-instrumentalist Scott Rosenthal and bassist Alan Everhart rounding out the lineup, Le Pain “make supremely dreamy pop that feels timeless, bridging the gap between the Stereolabs of yesterday and Alvvays(es?) of today,” as we wrote while praising their latest single “Is That How You Want Me to Feel?” among last week’s best new songs. We’re itching to hear more where that came from—the band have teased their debut project, but it remains unannounced—and you will be, too, as soon as you get within earshot of Le Pain’s beautiful, bilingual guitar pop. —Scott Russell
Asheville, North Carolina’s Jake Lenderman, best-known for playing guitar in Wednesday (another SXSW act to prioritize), will soon release his latest solo album as MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs (April 29, Dear Life Records). Singles like “Hangover Game,” which presents an alternate theory about Michael Jordan’s legendary “flu game,” and “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat,” in which somebody buys a boat, have us hankering for more from Lenderman, whose shaggy alt-country sound belies thoughtful, detailed and down-to-earth songwriting, through which his sense of humor also shines. The artist says his new songs, the first he’s recorded in a professional studio, “chase fulfillment and happiness” above all else—and what are we doing back at SXSW, if not that? —Scott Russell
The title of synth-pop trio Moon Kissed’s debut album I Met My Band at a New Year’s Party is aptly autobiographical, as Emily Sgouros, Khaya Cohen and Leah Scarpati found each other in the New York’s Lower East Side as they rang in 2019. Their trippy, high-energy music is designed to keep that original party going. There’s an impish edge to the celebration, though; they may have pop songs with titles like “Bubblegum,” but they counter it with lyrics like “I’ll spit you out when I’m done.” —Josh Jackson
Dublin’s Pillow Queens marry fuzzy guitars with pleading lyrics, often reconciling their Catholic upbringing and their queer identity: “Well, I won’t worry about the gay girls / I pray for them when I wring my hands / Marie, Marie, Marie / Tell me where to find you when I lose my way,” Pamela Connolly sings on “Gay Girls,” off the band’s 2020 self-released debut, In Waiting. Shedding guilt and embracing one’s true self has rarely sounded this beautiful. Connolly shares lead vocal, rhythm guitar and bass duties with Sarah Corcoran, with Cathy McGuinness playing lead guitar and Rachel Lyons on bass. The quartet’s second album Leave a Light On is due out in April on Royal Mountain Records. —Josh Jackson
Norwegian art-rockers Pom Poko are hard to pin down to one look, sound or even type of performance, pulling as much from their jazz school backgrounds as they do from West African music, post-punk or Studio Ghibli. Though they found love here at Paste for their spiky sophomore effort Cheater, the chameleonic group have made yet another sharp turn on their January 2022 EP This is Our House, which plays with softer, melodic weirdo pop as much as it does math-rock headbangers. Combining the sugary with the bitter more effortlessly than ever before, the band’s latest pivot shows that the moment where you’re not exactly sure what to call whatever’s coming through your headphones is the moment you know it’s Pom Poko. —Elise Soutar
Italian-bred, London-based punks Qlowski fall at the interesting intersection of indie rock, art punk, synth-pop and noise rock. Their first album Quale Futuro? arrived last year, and it feels like a treasure trove for anyone who loves to geek out about their favorite underground indie or post-punk bands from decades past. And sure, they scratch a lot of stylistic itches, but they always emerge sounding like themselves. Tracks such as “Folk Song” and “To Be True” spill over with euphoric pop thrust, while others like “All Good” and “Ikea Youth Pt. 2” ring out with jolting discordance. Qlowski are also a gem for anyone who loves dual vocalists with clear tone contrasts—Mickey Tellarini has a bold, gothic voice that flickers between tender and moody, while Cecilia Corapi’s is of the delectable indie-pop variety, rife with light-hearted ease and enchanting imperfections. If you’re looking for a stylish, versatile guitar band you’ve never heard before, you should catch Qlowski while they’re in Austin. —Lizzie Manno
Originally the solo project of vocalist and guitarist Genevieve DeGroot, who’s now joined by guitarist Jon Cox, bassist Tabitha Ahnert and drummer Amelia Swain, Philadelphia four-piece Sadurn interweave folk’s rustic warmth and indie-pop/rock hooks around an intimate, poetic singer/songwriter core—the result sounds a bit like Frances Quinlan fronting Pinegrove. Sadurn are downright anthemic on the lead track from their forthcoming debut album Radiator, February standout “Snake,” but as seen on this week’s “Golden Arm,” they also excel amid more tranquil compositions, with DeGroot’s delicate vocals and evocative lyricism bringing the band’s understated Americana to life. Sadurn’s sound will be right at home in Texas, but you’ll carry it with you wherever you go next. —Scott Russell
Nobody does melodrama like Sloppy Jane’s Haley Dahl, who juggles influences that weave an endlessly bizarre and delightful tapestry that makes up her band’s music, citing everyone from crooners like Roy Orbison, to weirder Beach Boys releases, to the pure vocal spitfire of Courtney Love as formative to the project. Throw in touches of theatrical avant pop a la Kate Bush and dark chamber music seemingly made to echo to the rafters in a deeply haunted opera hall, and you have Madison, the band’s introspective magnum opus that drew major attention upon its release last year. Bandleader Dahl is known for her elaborate, over-the-top performances, creating a spectacle to furrow your brow at just as much as you’ll inevitably marvel at it. Ambitiously swinging to grab and hold the personal and the grandiose in the same armful, Sloppy Jane prove that the overlap of the two contain untapped caves of wonders. —Elise Soutar
When I think of Bay Area trio Sour Widows (Maia Sinaiko, Susanna Thomson and Max Edelman) playing live, I think of “Crossing Over,” the sprawling centerpiece from their 2021-standout EP of the same name. Inspired by a true story, the song captures a moment of pure catharsis in performance: “We caught the storm pulling in / From Ohio to Wisconsin / Let the guitars wail / And the flood take the basement / Screamed to sing above it,” Thomson recalls. Sour Widows’ slowcore-imbued “bedroom rock” captures such a storm’s intensity in every way, from the eerie quiet that precedes it to the explosive force of its crescendo and the light that breaks through the clouds in its aftermath. The forecast in Austin looks clear, but we’ll welcome rain if Sour Widows are the ones making it. —Scott Russell
Count on They Hate Change to bring a little bit—actually, a lot of bit—of Florida with them to Texas. The Tampa Bay duo will make their Jagjaguwar debut with this spring’s Finally, New, and previews of the album to date, including last weeks’ “From the Floor,” illustrate Dre and Vonne’s Sunshine State pride of place, as well as their bold, multi-faceted approach to production, which blends everything from U.K. club beats to Gulf Coast Jook music. They Hate Change are easily one of SXSW 2022’s most exciting hip-hop acts, and they’ve only just begun to cross state lines. —Scott Russell
Despite only having five songs out in the world at the time of writing, few bands in recent memory have stirred up a storm of attention as quickly as Wet Leg have over the past year. Led by Isle of Wight natives Hester Chambers and Rhian Teasdale, the band’s winning mix of deadpan humor and eclectic musical style arrives so fully formed that comparisons to bands who have come before feel half-true at best. The pair started the band in 2019 on the basis that they “wanted to have more fun than every other single band,” providing perhaps the key element of what makes Wet Leg so easy to fall in love with: Even when they’re singing about the dread of growing up or the fear of being cornered by a guy with a shitty band at a party, they’re never not fun to listen to. The titular friend in most recent single “Angelica” might be the one who “brought a ray gun to the party,” but with each subsequent release (and their debut on the way in April), it feels more like Wet Leg are the ones obliterating everything in their path, cutting through the grayscale of life with a laser beam. —Elise Soutar