The Five Best Up-and-Coming Artists We Saw at SXSW 2024

There’s no question that South by Southwest’s music portion is going through something of an existential crisis. The long-running Austin-based conference/festival — which wrapped up Sunday after a 10-day run that encompassed not just music but film, tech, education and more — has become more of a financial challenge from up-and-coming artists, and this year’s controversy about the U.S. Army’s and weapons manufacturers’ sponsorship of the festival (and the subsequent boycott from dozens of bands) didn’t help.

The days of multiplatinum artists performing inside a giant Doritos-branded stage (this actually happened in 2014) and the anything-goes free-food-and-booze showcases are long gone and what’s left is, well, something like what the festival felt like in its early years: a place for artists, executives and hopefuls to come together for a few days to hopefully meet a new tourmate or pick up a little press and eat their weight in brisket along the way.

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Although there’s still room for some star power — Peso Pluma’s Rolling Stone-sponsored showcase had fans lining up 12 hours before the fast-rising Mexican star took the stage; the Black Keys shredded three shows while promoting their new documentary, “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” — the highlight of SXSW is always the smaller acts that blow you away, and this year was no exception: here are our favorite breakout bands of SXSW 2024.

Rainbow Girls
Friday, Armadillo Den

San Francisco’s Rainbow Girls were up against it on the patio at the sprawling Armadillo Den at the “Jam in the Van” party on Friday: the NoCal trio sing sweet three-part harmonies built more for a listening room than a rambunctious beer hall, especially one with a metal band warming up down the way. But the trio charmed their way into the hearts of the crowd with silly offsides and interesting instrumental choices (including an insanely impressive beat-box jam from member Erin Chapin), culminating with the ridiculous love/hate song “Compassion to the nTh Degree” (sample lyrics: “I love you like big oil lobbyists/ Fake news, Weinstein, and those that look the other way”).

Cheer Up Charlies, Wednesday

It’s always a SXSW highlight to walk by a free event and find something you totally weren’t planning on that catches your ears and eyes, which is exactly what happened when we spotted a small moshpit going absolutely bonkers for Proper. late at night at Cheer Up Charlies. The three-piece NYC emo revival band (who dropped out of their official showcases as part of the protest against weapons manufacturers sponsoring the event) made a point of both their Blackness and their age, with singer Erik Garlington expressing on-mic gratitude for getting to pursue their dreams in their 30s and 40s. You’re never too old to rock this hard.

Marshall Funhouse at the Parish, Wednesday

Marshall’s massive activation called to mind Fader Forts and Spotify Houses of SXSW days of yore, with carnival games, food vendors, gifting suites, and a three-day day-and-night lineup packed with some of the buzziest artists of the festival, including neo-Riot Grrls Cumgirl8, living legends Dinosaur Jr. (who, yes, were the loudest band of the whole festival) and Marshall Records’ own King Nun, who played British punk as if it mattered again (and maybe it does!) But the standout set belonged to New York’s Tauk, a mostly-instrumental, crazily talented proto-prog band that somehow merged gospel-style drums, Rush-esque lead guitars, and funk keys in a prolific, jammy hodgepodge. They closed with the only song with vocals in their set: a wanky cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” in honor of perhaps Marshall’s most famous super-user, with guitar heroics that Jimi himself would have been impressed by.

The Pretty Flowers
Hotel Vegas, Wednesday

This L.A. outfit’s cover of “Lawyers, Guns, And Money” was like Warren Zevon through the lens of the Clash, and the same could be said of many of this band’s originals, packed with chain-whip guitars, stop-on-a-dime drums, and hook-after-shoutalong hook. Anyone who’s done time in L.A.’s eastside indie scene will recognize at least one member, with players formerly in a slew of buzzbands including the Henry Clay People, The Do-Its and Radars to the Sky; if the underground rock revival surges in a Replacements-style direction, expect the Pretty Flowers to rise to the top of the wave.

Luna Luna
Stubbs, Tuesday

The stage at Stubbs is one of the biggest venues both in size and stature in all of Austin, so for local Latin pop band Luna Luna to headline there to kick off the conference’s music portion was undoubtedly a huge thrill. A few days before the Austinites rose to the occasion with giddy musicianship and rapturous bilingual singalongs from an enthusiastic crowd, dancing to cumbia grooves imbued with an edgy rock spirit.

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