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With SXSW, the world’s largest annual conglomerate of film, interactive media and music done and dusted for another year, attendees are still wrapping their head around the myriad of talent that graced the stages before them.

It was seldom that a mediocre band performed; with over 2,000 US and international acts, it was mind blowing to observe so many incredible performers in such a short period of time. Yet with any music festival, showcase or lineup, there were standouts.

Outside of the 55 Australian acts who performed at this year’s festival, here are five new favourites.

Austin, Texas has said goodbye to its annual SXSW for yet another year. Here are five acts that wowed audiences over the course of the festival.

CHAI

Japanese four-piece outfit CHAI were responsible for arguably the best performances of the festival. Their unique brand of punk has been dubbed neo-kawaii and aims to dismantle Japan’s, and the world’s, oppressive notions of femininity. Their show integrates a cappella ABBA covers, synchronised dance moves, matching outfits and audience interaction.

Midway through their set, frontwoman Mana asks the audience “Do you have a complex? My nose, it’s too flat. My nose is cute. My nose is… NEO-KAWAII!” chirpily, sending the crowd into a bout of uncontrollable laughter. CHAI’s sophomore album Punk was released halfway through their time at SXSW and ended up receiving Best New Music from Pitchfork, meaning the latter half of the week, their performances were notoriously difficult to get into.

Crowds waited up to two hours to see the quartet, with most punters being turned away at the door. Are CHAI the modern day Beatles? Perhaps their time in the limelight is only just beginning.

Be Forest

Italian post-punk/shoegaze trio Be Forest were among a select few acts that rose above the rest. Their performance was full of brooding nonchalance; the trio, who hail from the country’s Adriatic coastline, make music to completely sink into.

Brutally ominous, Be Forest teeter the line between ethereality and melancholia. Reminiscent of the likes of early Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, the trio have already made a mark in their native Italy and are preparing to take the rest of the world by storm.

The Pantones

With an ineffable level of poise, wisdom and talent that stretches far beyond their years, Los Angeles trio The Pantones made their interstate debut in Austin for this year’s SXSW. For a band who’s never played outside of their hometown, the trio distinguished themselves as an act that will be spoken about by audiences for years to come.

Effortlessly stylish and unquestionably talented, The Pantones’ nostalgic brand of bedroom dream-pop alludes to the fact that the trio is well-versed in their field. Paying homage to their DIY predecessors The Cleaners From Venus and The Hit Parade amongst many others, The Pantones’ ascent will, perhaps, be slightly quicker than Martin Newell’s.

No doubt it will see the three-piece leaving Los Angeles for many more gigs much sooner than they’d think.

Numb.er

The brainchild of Los Angeles-based visual artist Jeff Fribourg, Numb.er (pronounced numh-er) amalgamate elements of post-punk, shoegaze and darkwave to create sounds that maintain a level of genre fluidity. Their onstage presence is aggressive and powerful, and the band manages to assert a level of sultry dominance over their audiences without having to engage in too much banter.

An aural collage of angular guitar riffs, analogue synths and dynamic drums and bass, Numb.er’s sound pastiches ’80s new-wave and krautrock with elements of European industrial post-punk. Numb.er have extensively toured the United States and Europe but are yet to land on Australian shores. Perhaps in the next year or two, the outfit will cross the Pacific for a string of performances.

Photo: James Sakert

Jackie Cohen

Jackie Cohen’s whimsically surreal brand of Americana is a by-product of the artist’s time as a creative writing student in Manhattan many years ago. Cohen’s nuanced lyrics are curiously poetic, her music blends American country and indie-rock. She is, perhaps, meant to perform; her onstage presence is hyper-confident, affable and good-natured.

Her husband, Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, plays by her side (she has stated that her foray into music came from times spent alone while Foxygen were touring). Now Cohen is making a name for herself in the music space, touring with the likes of Mac Demarco, Alex Cameron and The Lemon Twigs.

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March 25, 2019