As we mentioned in our preview last week, the best plan for SXSW is to have no plan at all. But sometimes there are certain artists you just need to catch live, even if they’re playing on the other side of town or at the ungodly hour of 1 p.m. in the afternoon. Last week we spent a few days in Austin scribbling notes on scrap paper, marking must-see artists and their set times, creating an electronic-pop compass for our jaunts around the city.
As usual, we saw about 15 percent of the acts we hoped to see, but still came away with a proper beat running through our heads. Here are five artists and acts that not only brought us to their shows with the promise of excitement, but made us flip over that piece of scrap paper and try to document what we saw and heard. These are the next big stars — to our playlists and VanyaRadio, at least — in the world of electronic pop.
We got off the plane at Austin-Bergstrom Airport around noon on March 18, and by 3 p.m., we were in the middle of the Hype Hotel on East 6th Street watching Shura do her thing. The Shepherds Bush singer, producer, and remixer was an appropriate intro to the week ahead: lush, emotive electronic pop songs perfect for an afternoon fling (“Touch,” “2Shy,” “Indecision”); a sound so embedded in pastel ’80s pop that her cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” was one of the best things we saw and heard all week. Shura is one semi-mainstream hit away from global fame, but it’s clear fame isn’t what drives this growing force in electronic pop.
You know an artist is ready to emerge when SXSW schedules are built around his or her set times. No matter how deep in afterparty trouble the Vanya crew got into the night of March 19, it was in all of our minds that we needed to be fresh, proper and upright for Christine & the Queens’ 1 p.m. performance the following afternoon (no small feat on SXSW time). The French singer has garnered rave reviews from Madonna and Lady Gaga, and now that she’s conquered her home country, is ready to embrace American audiences by hooking up with the unbeatable Neon Gold family. The combination of a French-pop pedigree and the glitter and sparkle of Neon Gold’s magic touch suggest Christine will soon be a kind of Queen on her own.
We had two opportunities to watch future pop superstar Tei Shi do her damn thing, and outside forces tried — and failed — to twice intervene. Technical difficulties nearly derailed her set at the BMI Showcase at Bar 96 on March 18, but the Brooklyn performer pulled enough together to drop a blitzkrieg of beats and shrieks in maybe the most memorable 10-minute stretch of the entire week. Two days later at the Fader Fort by Converse, a thunderstorm ordered the evacuation of the tent just before her set. But the rumbling in the sky above was no match for Tei Shi’s beautifully destructive combination of piercing highs and quake-like bass. We’re gonna seek shelter, get our popcorn ready, and watch Tei Shi blast off.
We all grew up knowing that Las Vegas casinos don’t have any windows because owners don’t want you to know what time it is at any given point of the day or night, and that’s part of its appeal. The same quality applies to elements of SXSW when you accidentally stumble into the right party. As rain poured down over East Austin on Friday, North London garage duo Gorgon City threw down the best afternoon R&B-rave in town. With the Hype Hotel packed out by those seeking shelter, Kye Gibbon and Matt Robson-Scott threw down an arsenal of beats and knob-turning that threatened to tear the roof off the converted warehouse space. A battalion of singers and backing musicians brought Gorgon City’s techno-pop to life, and 3 p.m. suddenly felt like 3 a.m.
By Friday night, most everything had been seen and heard. But Genevieve was holding court at the Swan Dive on Red River Street, and was busy wrapping a packed house around her red-dyed fingers. The former Company of Thieves singer has broken out with her debut EP Show Your Colors, an organic take on city-smart pop music and empowerment anthems. Her entire set was a slow-motion build-up to the glory of breakthrough single “Colors,” which should have enough staying power to make it one of the best songs of Summer 2015 — even for us in Boston who have to wait another few months for the season to arrive.