SXSW is arguably the ultimate epicenter of live music. Artists across all genres and career stages congregate in Austin to rock out and hopefully catch some eyes. This means not only that there are seemingly millions of acts every year at SXSW, but that it’s hard to know which ones are must-see — and the FOMO when it comes to missing an amazing artist is so real.
Though it’s impossible to check out every single buzzworthy act, there are definitely some acts you shouldn’t miss. Here are 12 must-see artists to catch at this year’s SXSW. Even better — they’ll all be performing at the AWAL House, the Official Home for Independent Artists at SXSW during the AWAL EMERGING Showcase on March 14 and the AWALxB3SCI Showcase the following night, March 15.
1. Cut Chemist
"I like being an independent artist because I get to be my own boss. I oversee all the operations of my label and its releases. Being a bit of a control freak about how my art is represented, I find comfort in taking responsibility for the failures and successes of every endeavor."
Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) began DJing at 11 years old in 1984, and three years later, he started recording with friends including Chali 2na (Jurassic 5). He is known as a founding member of Jurassic 5 and the GRAMMY Award-winning Latin funk outfit Ozomatli.
Over the years, he collaborated live and released projects with DJ Shadow, including Brainfreeze. Cut Chemist released his first solo LP The Audience’s Listening on Warner Bros. in July 2006, which took over 10 years to complete, and now will release the follow up Die Cut through AWAL/Kobalt Music Recordings on Friday, March 2. In between, he has put out various projects through his label A Stable Sound.
Die Cut picks up where its predecessor left off as a DJ “cut ‘n’ paste” foundation, but shifts to more songwriting and live arrangements with songs including “Home Away From Home” feat. Laura Darlington and “Plane Jane” feat. Hymnal and the Precious Hectic. The hip-hop roots are present with “Moonlighting w Biz” feat. Biz Markie and “Work My Mind” feat. Chali 2na.
The album has gone through many stages with various contributors, engineers, studios, and the 16-track body of work was mixed by Andy Kravitz in Venice.
AWAL Insights™: Just over half (55%) of all of Cut Chemist’s Spotify streams come from playlists.
“NVDES is my world. NVDES is the universe I created. It’s both completely my project, because when you hear it, it’s very much my musical expression, but it’s definitely founded and operates completely on a collaborative platform. That’s why I don’t really like to put it in any sort of category. It is what it is.”
As producer and de-facto frontman, NVDES’ Josh Ocean ignites controlled chaos by, he says, “building songs around random moments.” This has yielded two EPs late last year via Ocean’s own Maison Nvdite label via AWAL/Kobalt — an intriguing introduction to NVDES’ levitating, melodic laptop-punk. Ocean prefers the thrill of uncertainty over perfectionism, and this has made NVDES quite prolific — including scoring two recent synch placements in Apple iPhone X commercials for “Turning Heads” and “D.Y.T. (Do Your Thing),” along with an upcoming spot for “Turning Heads” with New Balance.
This SXSW, NVDES will be the resident artist at the AWAL House, performing during both showcases.
AWAL Insights™: Across the last two EPs released through AWAL, NVDES has earned over seven million streams via Spotify and Apple Music.
“I know in rock ‘n roll it was always about making a record that your parents hate, right? For me, mine was just different. You know, for me it was like, “Yo, I want the hipsters to love it, I want the gangsters to love it. I want my grandma to love it.” Because, the spirit that it comes from it is the spirit of inclusiveness. It’s not exclusive, I don’t want it to be exclusive. I want it to be inclusive.” (via Pigeons and Planes)
Bekon is producer Daniel Tannenbaum who was once known as Danny Keyz. He co-wrote Dr. Dre’s Compton cut “All in a Day’s Work,” contributed to Eminem’s Recovery, Snoop Dogg’s Doggumentary and RZA’s Digi Snacks. In April 2017, Bekon made headlines when the credits for Kendrick's DAMN. revealed his work on 8 of the album's 14 songs.
Bekon is a songwriter, accomplished musician and producer, who after being the vehicle for some of today’s most influential artist’s musical visions, has now come to express himself with his debut album Get With The Times in collaboration with Paper Diamond.
AWAL Insights™: Over the past month, over 168,000 people have been streaming Bekon’s “Cold as Ice” across Spotify and Apple Music.
“When I write my songs I wanna give people a piece of my life. We used to live in an age when it was about writing the most relatable thing, but now you give people the most raw stories so they can feel those emotions. That's what I wanna do with music; give people my shoes to step in.”
GØLDN is an emotionally-driven artist whose work conveys the message that “feeling” is cool. With strong influences from the punk realm, his emotional themes flow seamlessly onto a modern, electronic, urban musical canvas. He seeks to inspire a following where everyone can be proud to be whomever they want to be — an extremely relevant message in today’s culture.
AWAL Insights™: The ladies are loving GØLDN’s music — 69% of all streaming listeners are female.
5. Terence Ryan
“Ryan’s music is nearly impossible to nail down. Is it folk? Indie? Alternative? All of the above? Can’t say, but one thing is for sure — his voice absolutely drips with emotion.” (via The Boston Globe)
American singer/songwriter Terence Ryan bridges soul and indie rock with a rich voice and passionate sound inspired by Kanye West, Coldplay, Bon Iver, and Frank Ocean. Born and raised in the working-class town of Pembroke, Massachusetts, Ryan is a self-taught instrumentalist who learned piano, drums, guitar, banjo, and bass on his own. His debut album, Don't Panic, features the singles "Mean It," “Nothing,” “Hindsight,” and the centerpiece, "To Live and Die in New England."
AWAL Insights™: To date, Don’t Panic has earned over two million streams — its most touching single, the emotional “To Live and Die in New England,” accounting for the bulk of the plays.
"I love being an independent artist because everything is in my control: my timeline, my music, relationship with fans, etc. There’s no one telling me how I need to do my job. I own all of my music and I can essentially make all of my own decisions for what I do and do not want to do."
Hale and haloed, singer-songwriter BAUM has found her home in the world of alternative-soul-pop. Her last singles have dominated the Spotify charts - reaching 6 New Music Fridays and the likes of curations such as Indie and New York Pop. BAUM hopes to create music that inspires audiences universally, but more importantly — that helps others feel a sense of empowerment.
AWAL Insights™: Overall, BAUM has earned over 1.3 million streams across her tracks on Spotify alone.
7. Young & Sick
"I wanted to make a strong identity for this band in terms of visuals and let that speak for itself. Music doesn't really need a face. You get introduced to a sound you like, and that's all you need." (via
Dutch artist Nick van Hofwegen is the mastermind behind the clandestine New York- and Los Angeles-based music and art project Young & Sick and is hard at work on his second full-length record. In the meantime, he's just dropped the most delicious new EP—Ojai—for you to whet your soul's appetite.
AWAL Insights™: Young & Sick has been included on popular playlists like Indie Pop, Majestic Casual, and New Pop Revolution — each of which has over 100,000 followers.
“Music has always been as natural to me as breathing…. Music is the great love of my life and anytime I’ve ever turned my back on it, I’ve lost myself. It’s a severely co-dependent relationship (but don’t tell music cuz I think I need him more than he needs me).” (via Impose)
A California-based songwriter, Evalyn’s sound has been characterized as everything from alternative to R&B with flecks of jazz and soul. Her first EP, ‘Sandcastle’ was released in November and contained the breakthrough tracks “Filthy Rich” and “Cherry Lambo.”
AWAL Insights™: Evalyn has earned over 7.1 million streams across Spotify and Apple Music since February 2017.
9. Freedom Fry
"When you’re independent, you are your own A&R person and your own marketing team, and no one is ever going to put more love and sweat into you than you will. That’s why we love our independence. We’ve learned as we went, tried this, tried that, and now when we look back at our accomplishments they feel extremely rewarding because we realize we did them on our own."
The Los Angeles based, married duo, has been steadily creating their own universe of music that skirts the lines between pop, folk, and alt rock – always blended with danceable rhythms and a sing-a-long chorus. Catching the ears of music supervisors, they have licensed songs for more than 40 spots, including placements in Shameless, Netflix's “Love," and in high-profile ads from Lanvin and Intuit. Freedom Fry will release their long-awaited debut album, “Classic” June 1, 2018 and their first single, also entitled “Classic,” was released on February 23.
AWAL Insights™: In the last month, 73% of all of Freedom Fry’s Spotify streams came from playlists, including Indie Pop, Fresh Folk, and more, that added their song “Girl on Fire.”
10. Warbly Jets
“Rock music feels good to me. I’ve never viewed it as limiting or holding me back. We approached making this record with a full tip of the hat to every one of biggest inspirations.” (via Alt Citizen)
A rock ‘n’ roll band that embraces Brit Rock and ‘60s influences, the sound of Los Angeles-based Warbly Jets has been compared to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Strokes, and beyond. Fresh off a tour with Liam Gallagher late last year, the band released its first album in October 2017.
AWAL Insights™: Since its release late last year, Warbly Jets’ self-titled debut album has earned more than half a million streams.
“I was signed to a label that folded and took all of my music. I had to re-record everything to get it out. For me, [my forthcoming EP] ‘The Iron Age’ seeing the light of day feels like a reminder of strength and perseverance. This body of work signifies me overcoming a big hurdle and choosing to not stop.” (via The Seventh Hex)
French-American singer/songwriter Sydney Wayser released three albums of breezy yet sophisticated indie folk-pop under her own name before adopting the moniker Clara-Nova during the mid-2010s. Her Clara-Nova material is just as complex and introspective as her earlier work, but it's a bit more pop-minded, with catchier hooks and more electronic arrangements. In 2017 she sang on-stage with Lorde at the Glastonbury and Lollapalooza festivals, and on March 2, 2018, she will release her new EP, ‘The Iron Age.’
AWAL Insights™: 71% of Clara-Nova’s streams are coming from the United States, followed by Canada and Japan both tied with 6%.
“We’re fully aware of the shit we have to go through to make our music, regardless of what anyone else hears when listening to it. What comes out is deeply rooted in our humanity. Without knowing anxiety, paranoia, anger, violence, joy, freedom, isolation, acceptance, love, care or serenity our songs would be meaningless so we have to live through all of that stuff together and somehow make sense of it.” (via Candid Magazine)
Otzeki is a project built around balance and duality. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the yin and yang of its members, cousins Mike Sharp (vocal, guitar) and Joel Roberts (keys, Ableton). Although the name might be just a combination of letters that didn’t exist on Google until they came up with it, Otzeki is the intersection where Mike and Joel’s interests meet in their mutual enthusiasm for the potential of electronic music.
AWAL Insights™: Of Otzeki’s 3.2 million Spotify streams, 35% came from playlists. On Apple Music, the duo has over 1 million plays — 62% of which came from radio!
If you’re at SXSW this year, be sure to stop by the AWAL House at the Palm Door on Sabine and check out our two showcases.
On March 14, we’ll present the AWAL EMERGING Official SXSW showcase featuring Cut Chemist, NVDES, Bekon, GØLDN, Terence Ryan, and BAUM. To RSVP, click here.
The next night, March 15, we’re joining forces with B3SCI for a second Official SXSW showcase featuring Young & Sick, Evalyn, Freedom Fry, Warbly Jets, Otzeki and Clara-Nova. To RSVP, click here.