SXSW 2021: Listen to KCRW’s favorite new music from the festival

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The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin usually means five days spent traversing the city’s downtown in pursuit of BBQ, cold beer, and back-to-back sets of the most exciting new music from around the world. 

This year’s  event was on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and SXSW’s music portion was virtual. Eating ribs on the couch just didn’t quite hit the same, but it was an exciting treat to watch creative, high-quality performances by artists from LA, Japan, Ghana, India, and more. 

KCRW’s DJs and music staff tuned in all week. Here are our favorite new acts to pay attention to in the year ahead (plus an extended playlist on Spotify). 


Hailing from the Dominican Republic, based in Italy, and inspired by 1990s R&B, bachata, and electronic music, Yendry’s sound is very much current, with a blend of interesting styles and sonic tidbits. Her voice struck me instantly as part of the Latinx showcase. — Anthony Valadez, Morning Becomes Eclectic Co-Host 

Song: “Nena” 

Black Country, New Road
The London-based experiental seven-piece, who recently spoke with KCRW for our SXSWhen? series, draws on post-punk, jazz, post-rock and more to create compositions that veer from heavenly to chaotic over the course of a nine-minute soundscape. Don’t be put off by the song length. The dynamic textures, improvised builds and lyrics that excavate the travails of modern British life feel more like being thrust inside a beautiful short film than any kind of jam band tedium. To finally watch them conjure their sound live for SXSW was nothing short of a thrill. — Andrea Domanick, Digital Producer, Music and Culture 

Song: “Sunglasses” 

This Korean R&B siren, who sings mostly in English with some Korean sprinkled in, was seriously channeling Aaliyah, with the most incredible vocal delivery (especially the unreleased, third song in her set) I have heard in a long time. Major goosebumps. The set-up of a white bathroom, candles, and a tiger painting was a straight-up mood, something right out of a 1990s music video. — Valida, DJ

Song: “EVITA!”

PVA have the goods live, which isn’t a total surprise, since their “Toner” EP was one of last year's best. The UK trio's blend of post punk, synth pop, and techno is custom made for ragers in small, dark clubs, and translated equally well when beamed from a London-based studio over fiber optic cables. My only gripe was that the set was too short. — Travis Holcombe, DJ 

Song: “Talks”  

Read more: SXSWhen?: Black Country, New Road navigate breakout hype in a world on hold

This Montreal seven-piece supergroup throws down some epic energetic jams in the name of legendary Japanese guitarist Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi. Their music mixes world, funk, and punk sensibilities in a way that finds an intersection somewhere between Yoko Ono, Altin Gün, and Bananagun. I'm a real hermit, but their performance made me miss live music. — John Moses, DJ

Song: “Yoru Ni”

The Lazy Eyes
I've been head over heels for this young Australian quartet. They make delectable psychedelic rock out of Sydney, and have a forthcoming release, “EP2.” Their latest single, "Where’s My Brain???" sounded impeccable live!  No doubt, had SXSW happened in person, The Lazy Eyes would have been one of the big revelations of this year's conference. — Jose Galvan, DJ

Song: “Where’s My Brain???” 

We caught South LA singer, rapper, and songwriter Duckwrth as part of the NPR Tiny Desk Meets SXSW showcase. Playing some new tracks, he offered some very soulful R&B vibes that remind us of the best parts of Chance the Rapper, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and Musiq Soulchild. His new track “Birthday Suit” recalls Estelle’s “American Boy” — upbeat, jazzy, lots of fun. — Brittany Tyson O’Keefe, Director of Digital Product Management

Song: “Kiss U Right Now” 

Matilda Mann
It is mind-boggling to watch artists play SXSW this year. No running around to a million showcases, no rudimentary soundchecks, and feet are left intact at the end of the night. London’s Matilda Mann didn't seem to mind. In fact, her sweet, quiet songs benefitted from the lack of chatter and commotion that make the festival so exciting. Armed with an electric guitar and impeccable intonation, I'm eager to hear more from this young artist. — Ariana Morgenstern, Executive Producer, Music Department

Song: “As It Is” 

Read more: SXSWhen?: No Age’s Randy Randall reflects on a year without shows and live music’s uncertain future

Onipa, part of the British Music Embassy showcase, came in with a sizzling Afrobeat vibe and really turned it out. Everything was on-point: the costumes, the set design, and the dancing. It was high energy 95 percent of the time, but they still managed to throw in one baby-making song that was on some lovers rock tip. Pure joy! — Valida, DJ

Song: “We No Be Machine” 

Sinead O’Brien 
Irish post-punk poet Sinead O’Brien threw a gauntlet when she burst on stage for her SXSW performance at British Music Embassy, delivering literary diatribes over dissonant guitars and crashing drums in a ripped dress. Her stage presence evokes the daughter of Nick Cave and PJ Harvey that was never was, but her sharp lyricism and rich influences (ranging from the Fall’s Mark E. Smith to Patti Smith) point to a fully-formed artist ready to take on the world. — Andrea Domanick, Digital Producer, Music and Culture 

Song: “Taking on Time”  

I stumbled into a showcase of Indian musicians, and very quickly became a fan of JBABE's polychromatic pop. Part Toro Y Moi, part Nick Hakim, and part Tame Impala, he’s 100% out there and up my alley for out-of-the-box, synth-driven goodness. Looking forward to playing his music in a late night set. — John Moses, DJ

Song: “Antibambi”

This artist sings mainly in Korean, and her voice has a rich, smokey, layered texture that you can’t help but lose yourself in. Rooted in R&B and soul, her music also has subtle hints of freestyle and psyche-hop. Simply gorgeous in both musicality and delivery, she also gets extra points for having her Seoul-based DJ Wegun play on vinyl! — Valida, DJ

Song: “Imagine (Feat. Hoody)” 

Read more: SXSWhen?: Austin venue owner James Moody on why re-opening and surviving are two different questions

Nana Adjoa
This singer-songwriter is based in Amsterdam, but she’s very much a citizen of the world. Of Ghanaian descent mixed with Dutch, Adjoa channels her formal jazz training through her love of American rock and blends it with deft poeticism and fierce musicianship. Her live set sounded phenomenal, and her debut album “Big Dreaming Ants” is a must listen. — Jose Galvan, DJ

Song: “No Room” 

This 23-year-old old Haitian-American from New York is a product of punk/ska, gospel, and theatre culture. It’s hard to place his sound into a genre, but he’s very much a bright talent. His band and visuals also stood out for me. — Anthony Valadez, Morning Becomes Eclectic Co-Host 

Song: “Eastriverstatepark”

Luke Howard 
This Melbourne-based artist played as part of the Mercury KX showcase, where he brought some lovely lullaby vibes on an acoustic piano that fell somewhere between classical and ambient. One of the pieces he played is based off of a favorite Beethoven sonata, where he stretched out each note. I’ll definitely be listening to more of his work to help me wind down and fall asleep. — Brittany Tyson O’Keefe, Director of Digital Product Management 

Song: “Passion/Sleep” (with Budapest Art Orchestra)

Read more: SXSWhen?: Rockstar caterer Shelleylyn Brandler on the silent struggles of music’s behind-the-scenes workers