Playback: Next Big Buzzes at SXSW 2018

Forecasting this year's breakout acts


Pretending you knew about an artist before they blew up is a time-honored custom amongst music snobs. That's why we relish South by Southwest. Every year, a couple of acts arrive at the Festival in relative obscurity, then the next time we see them – seven months later – they're playing to 10,000 fans on the main stage at ACL Fest.

That steep trajectory isn't always as miraculous as it sounds. Often these undistinguished showcasers have already begun amassing a team of music industry powerhouses by the time they set down in Austin, all but ensuring their commercial success. Remember when they considered rebranding SXSW as Odd Future in 2011?

As such, my Nostradamus skills have been on point over the last four years.

In 2014, I advised you to check out brothers from Tupelo with a confusing name (Rae Sremmurd). The following season, it was a little-known Canadian pop singer with a weird dreadlock tuft (the Weeknd). For 2016, I forecasted buzz around a drummer that had just been signed by Dr. Dre (Anderson Paak).

Last March, it was the Lemon Twigs, Noname, and Maggie Rogers. The latter is now playing Red Rocks Amphitheatre – as the opening act for Haim. All right, I was wrong about her mass appeal ... but not her talent.

This year, expect the newcomer that dominates the SXSW headlines to be 18-year-old pop singer Noah Cyrus, sister to Miley and daughter of Billy Ray, but that's not buzz. It's nepotism. Here are the dozen acts that I predict will have a transcendent SXSW 2018.

Bad Gyal

Twenty-one-year-old Barcelona singer Alba Farelo succeeded in blending reggaeton, trap, and dancehall into eight-digit YouTube views. Her new album title portends global domination: Worldwide Angel.


Grungy, abstract, and unconventional, Florida-to-Houston rapper Jason Billy spent some time locally a couple years back and demonstrates a penchant for tweaked-out vocals, art-bent videos, phat pants, and eclectic flows.

Derez De'Shon

Tuneful singer/rapper is poised as the latest breakout from the hotbed of Atlanta. The husky Rich Gang affiliate showed off his hit potential with recent triple-entendre-laced single "Hardaway."

Billie Eilish

Sixteen-year-old Interscope-signed singer/dancer crafts artsy electro-pop with vocals equally soulful and ethereal. Her spring tour of 500-plus capacity venues is almost completely sold out.

Jade Bird

UK Americana singer-songwriter, 20, possesses a stirring voice and strong songwriting in crossing Loretta Lynn and Alanis Morissette.

Jade Bird


Young Bay Area quartet trades bars with distinct voices. They were beginning to blow up even before dropping K.Dot feature "Paramedic!" on the landmark Black Panther soundtrack.


Captivating Dallas rapper – and trained opera singer – Tye Harris mixes hood shit with intense examinations of being bipolar.


Sub Pop-signed L.A. trio plays a lo-fi progression of post-punk and noise-pop. Singer/guitarist Sean Solomon exudes a similar je ne sais quoi as Pixies leader Black Francis.

G Flip

Heavily layered synth-pop from charismatic Aussie drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Georgia Flipo, whose indie-leaning compositions hold all the haziness of Grimes and the heartstrings plucking of Florence Welch.


Teenage rock & roll saviors employ punk attitude, glammy histrionics, and a seriously memorable frontwoman in Arrow de Wilde. After Sir Elton John publicly flipped his wig for the L.A. act, Rough Trade issued their debut LP in January.

Maxo Kream

Texans have long recognized the artist born Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr. as a genuine storyteller of hood life. Now, with recent features in Pitchfork and Billboard, the larger world is turning on to the refreshingly clear-voiced Houston MC.


Quirky, electronically-imbued indie-pop with tenacious hooks remotely created by artists from England, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand. Two NPR-approved singles, "Everybody Wants to Be Famous" and "Something for Your M.I.N.D.," preceded last week's debut LP.

Half Notes

Shakey Graves collaborates with Santa Fe art collective Meow Wolf, which specializes in immersive and interactive experiences that have been described as "Disneyland on Drugs," for a scavenger hunt during SXSW. The homegrown songman will be stashing cassette players around town and presenting clues and challenges for how to discover them. Those who find the tapes get invited to a special private performance.

Jimmy LaFave's photography is on display for the first time beginning Saturday at the Stephen L. Clark Gallery on W. Sixth. The exhibit, titled "Searching for Peace Town," lenses colorful visions of decaying Americana: old signs and windmills, forgotten storefronts and barns. The opening reception will feature a performance by his backing band the Night Tribe. LaFave, who died last May, won Musician of the Year and Hall of Fame honors at last week's Austin Music Awards.

All the Friends Ball hits Spider House on Sunday. The free, 13-hour show features over 50 Austin acts on five stages starting at noon. "Playback" helped curate the musically diverse lineup which features R&B (Alesia Lani, 12:50pm; Jackie Venson, 4:10pm), punk (Big Bill, 9:30pm; Xetas, 11pm), rap (Blastfamous USA, 8:20pm), songwriters (Carson McHone, 6:30pm; the Point Guard, 10:30pm), vocal jazz (Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few, 5:50pm; Brian Kremer, 5:30pm), and rock (Residual Kid, noon; Löwin, 1pm; Dryspell, 12:30pm; PR Newman, 3pm), and a special closing performance from Black Pumas.

Pussy Riot, the infamously imprisoned Russian protest group led by Nadya Tolokonnikova, headline a SXSW showcase at the Belmont on Wednesday. If you loved the politics, but didn't care for their initially poorly executed music, check out recent electro-pop single "Police State." The feminist collective made international news last week when two members went missing in Crimea. They were later reported safe after being detained by authorities.

Gaysha presents: A Queer Riot Festival debuts at One World Theatre on Friday featuring performances by party-psych troupe Calliope Musicals, heavy-hitting rock charmers Torino Black, bluegrassers Brand New Key, and Americana twosome Landers/Marshall Duo. Organizer Juno Black, who will also perform, cites her goals as integration and outreach not just with LGBTQ musicians, but allies: "I wanted to create an event more about inclusion and acceptance than exclusion and discrimination and indifference."

The Blind Pig has been shut down due to an issue with city permitting, rumored to be related to their rooftop tent for live music. This remarkably bad timing may mean the Sixth Street bar could remain closed during SXSW. KOKE-FM's Tuesday showcase, starring Tyler Childers and Koe Wetzel, has been moved to different Bob Woody-owned property, the Ranch.

Lineups are pouring in for ever-present SXSW week parties. Rachael Ray's Feedback, March 17 at Stubb's, stars Girl Talk, Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee, and Dr. Pepper's Jaded Hearts Club Band, a Beatles tribute led by Muse singer Matt Bellamy and Last Shadow Puppets singer Miles Kane. FloodFest, March 13-16 at Cedar Street Courtyard, hosts Dr. Octagon, Porches, Jack Harlow, and more. Fader Fort, March 14-16 at 1501 E. Seventh, unveiled SOB X RBE and YBN Nahmir. You can also expect the annual Bill Murray sightings to continue given that he's the subject of a documentary screening at SXSW Film and then performs with cellist Jan Vogler at the Long Center on Sunday, March 18.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Dungeon Family Headlines SXSW’s Free Outdoor Stage
Dungeon Family Headlines SXSW’s Free Outdoor Stage
Big Boi & Co. rolling into Auditorium Shores next Friday

Kevin Curtin, March 4, 2019

Playback: Does Size Matter at SXSW?
Playback: Does Size Matter at SXSW?
A smaller SXSW Music week still satisfies

Kevin Curtin, March 23, 2018

More Playback
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
A musician’s life: laid off, livestreaming, and … giving birth?

Kevin Curtin, April 24, 2020

Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Kevin Curtin picks his favorite local sounds of the year

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 21, 2018


SXSW Music 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle