SXSW 2020: The Most Promising

Our top picks from the SXSW that wasn't.

With the cancellation of SXSW 2020, we here at WtMM still want to honor the significance of SXSW (*the* leading music festival to discover a world’s worth of diverse, innovative, emerging talent, along with some of the most exciting established indie acts playing today)  and, in our small way, keep the spotlight on artists we were excited to see on the docket who have lost such a great opportunity to perform this year.

Following suit from our SXSW 2019 list, these were the artists scheduled to take the stage(s) in Austin that the WtMM team remains most fired up about, presented in alphabetic order by first name (’cause any sort of ranking would be impossible to figure out):

Abraham Alexander

Born in Greece to parents of Nigerian descent, Abraham Alexander moved to Texas with his family at age 11, determined to escape the racial tensions they faced in Athens. With a voice of similar tone, texture, and emotive weight of John Legend, Leslie Odom Jr., and fellow Texan Leon Bridges, Alexander’s personal biography is fertile ground for his rich blend of soul, blues, R&B, and folk. He released his self-titled debut EP last year in September 2019, which includes the gorgeous single Stay.

Akinyemi

Count me among the hip-hop fans who is excited for Queens, NY native Akinyemi’s debut album Warrior’s Fate (Ep. 1) due on April 15th. His family is from Nigeria and of the Yoruba tribe (the record title is a translation of his name), and he talks of channeling the experiences and pressure of being a first-generation American into this record. The realities of straddling the two worlds. In a banging new single off the album, Finna, he speaks in aspirational terms — making it big in this world  — while showcasing his lyrical dexterity, brooding vocals, and a soulful R&B tilt. We’re all in.

Audrey

Fresh and edgy and genre-defiant (on Apple Music alone, her singles are variously coded as electronic, R&B/soul, pop, and hip-hop/rap), Korean American artist Audrey released a fantastic set of singles in 2019 that flipped easily between gorgeous, soulful, effortlessly soaring vocals (on Paper) and quick-fire raps over warped beats (on Comic Sans). She is set to release a debut EP sometime this year and we can. not. wait.

Dot Cromwell

A Philadelphia native, Dot Cromwell resides now in Brooklyn and makes music that makes you think. Makes you pay attention. It’s introspective, intelligent rap set over richly produced beats and lush synths. His easy flow — sometimes cutting and hard, sometimes laconic and woozy — is a clear trademark, as are the many influences (brooding trap beats; auto-tuned sing-song raps) running throughout his debut EP, Full of Sin, released last summer 2019.

Great Grandpa

An indie rock, self-identified grunge pop band from Seattle, WA, Great Grandpa covers all of that ground. They rock hard on loud guitars and over twisted soundscapes as easily as they belt out melodic pop vocals as easily as they jam on murky, grungy riffs. 2019’s excellent Four of Arrows, just their second full-length record, showed a ripening, evolving sound — from straight-ahead garage jams to more introspective, sonically layered, and emotionally resonant songs.

Katie Pruitt

A singer-songwriter in the the modern/alt-country vein (with plenty of folk and rock influence), Katie Pruitt has a gorgeous voice, a gift for lyrics, and a story to tell. It also doesn’t hurt that she channels Fleetwood Mac hard on her lead single. Her 2020 debut album, Expectations, is a coming of age story centered on the frustration and shame of growing up gay in the Christian South. With direct, deceptively straight-forward lyrics and a great ear for melody, Katie Pruitt sometimes rocks hard/sometimes lilts gently to tell tales of self-acceptance, personal grit, relationships both toxic and deeply loving, and the complicated battle for self-worth and belief. 

Mal Blum

When WtMM writer Adam Kessler saw Mal Blum open for Lucy Dacus last year, they nearly stole the show with a band that was totally in the pocket and songs with energy, wit, catchy hooks, and alt-rock and punk-pop power chords (Green Day came to mind a lot). They’ve developed a cult following from years of relentless touring, for their punk chops, and lyrics that deal directly — deeply, often humorously — with relationships, self-sabatoge, identity (sex, gender, social, etc.), injustice, and core themes of love, hope, loss, and anger.

New Fame

An absolute standout from our 2019 preview, the explosive hip-hop/R&B duo New Fame is back at SXSW. Quoting ourselves from last year, they bring a “potent, high-energy mix of heavy beats, raw lyrics, [and] rapid-fire rhymes.” Classically trained singer/emcee Adrienne Mack-Davis owns the mic and adds melodic, soulful lyrics, while emcee/content creator and hype-machine feleciacruz spits raps that brim with positivity, love, and inspiration. They are unreal live; you will not see a better set.

Raul Midón

If you don’t know GRAMMY® Award nominated, veteran singer/songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón, this is an excellent moment to get caught up as he preps release of his 11th studio album this month, The Mirror. He defied genres before it was the cool thing to do. For years, Midón has applied his silky-smooth voice and virtuoso, percussive guitar-playing to pop, soul, R&B, folk, jazz, Latin, classic rock — really, any style to which he lends his craft and expert musicianship. The results are consistently mesmerizing.   

Sammus

One thing is immediately clear on listening to Sammus’s touchstone 2016 album, Pieces in Space: she has a better vocabulary than you’ll ever have and she bends the English language to her will, while slicing up (and into) everything. Like, your other favorite rapper. Or her own psyche. Or her ex. Or fellow academics and the ivory tower of academia (she’s a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University). A rap artist and producer from Ithaca, NY with a PhD in science and technology studies, Sammus’s music is, like her, wildly  intelligent and creatively unbound.

Seratones

Coming loud and hard out of Shreveport, LA, Seratones offer a potent blend of rock, gritty soul, funk, and R&B that — similar to The Black Keys — sounds thoroughly modern, even as it draws straight from classic 1960s/1970s sounds. Frontwoman AJ Haynes seems borne from Stax Records’ stable of artists, even as she wails over modern synth arrangements. A band that we are desperate to see live, Seratones is totally addictive. 

Soccer Mommy

Indie-rock darling-turned-royalty, Soccer Mommy (Sophie Allison) released her sophomore album Color Theory this month and is primed for yet another breakout year in her rapid evolution from NYU undergrad three years ago to full-time touring musician with a record deal. This is indie rock at its best; lyrics packed with meaning, catchy but not pop-y melodies, warped guitars and synths, and a decided, vintage 1990s sound.



More songs like this can be found at our weekly updated Spotify playlist: