As SXSW 2018 rapidly approaches, electronica aficionados can rejoice at another year of 808s, heartbreak and … rap-rock?
Yeah, you read that right. SXSW still offers plenty of hidden treasures in the genre known by self-respecting music writers everywhere as “bleep-bloop,” but if you’re looking for saccharine Top 40 chart-smashers, you’re better off driving down to Gulf Shores in May to catch the Chainsmokers at Hangout Music Festival. Genre bending is all the rage on this year’s lineup, and the most promising electronic acts flesh out their sound with R&B, funk, hip-hop and post-punk. Some are globetrotters that got their big break at SXSW years ago, while others are local scene veterans back for another round. Let’s break down some of this year’s must-see electronic acts, which are anything but predictable.
The Magnettes. On their 2017 debut album, “Ugly Youth,” Swedish pop trio the Magnettes alternate deftly between anthemic electro-pop (“Killers in a Ghost Town”), brazen disco-punk (“Bones”) and disarmingly intimate acoustic dirges (“Pajala State of Mind”). These heartbreakers preach good times and self-expression at all costs, and the tongue-in-cheek “So Bad” is a sultry empowerment ballad that sounds especially poignant in the #MeToo era. But the Magnettes never get mired down in self-serious politicking; the songs on “Ugly Truth” are destined to be cranked to 11 at the discotheque (or, in the case of SXSW, the nearest Dirty Sixth dive). When Rebecka Digervall coos, “I’ll be Buddy Holly and I’ll let you be my Peggy Sue” on “Bones,” nothing sounds like a greater honor. (Midnight March 17, Friends)
Great Good Fine Ok. Everybody loves a SXSW success story, and Great Good Fine Ok fit the bill. The Brooklyn synth-pop duo formed in 2013, played a slew of SXSW shows the same year and landed a deal with Neon Gold and Epic Records. The prodigal pop twosome returns to the spring fest boasting a few more credentials than their first go-round: They’ve opened for Tove Lo and X Ambassadors, embarked on three sold-out headlining tours and collaborated with the Chainsmokers on the infuriatingly catchy “Let You Go,” which sits at a humble 50 million Spotify streams. But while GGFO can elevate other pop stars’ songs to unforeseen heights, their own compositions marry swaths of lush synthesizers with unabashedly retro dance hooks and airy falsetto vocals. It’s pure pop confection with a chewy center — the kind that keeps you coming back for seconds. (12:20 a.m. March 14, Sidewinder outside; 11:30 p.m. March 15, Esther’s Follies)
Anna Wise. Anna Wise’s frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborations garnered her mainstream attention (and a best rap/sung collaboration Grammy in 2016 for “These Walls”), but her two solo albums, “The Feminine: Act I & II,” allow the singer to indulge her love for guitar-drenched funk, electro-R&B and unabashed pop. “Precious Possession” wraps seductive, self-aware come-ons inside hazy, dystopian synthesizers, while “Decrease My Waist, Increase My Wage” channels the hypnotic hooks of Lorde’s “Royals” as Wise asks out loud, “Why can’t we all grow together? Why can’t we all be as one?” Those are big, evergreen questions that don’t come with simple answers, so until then, Wise will keep stacking paper, dismantling the patriarchy and forcing listeners to step outside their comfort zone, musically and ideologically. Whether they comply makes no difference to her — but it’s their loss if they don’t. (12 a.m. March 15, Malverde; 8:50 p.m. March 16, Empire Control Room)
Classixx. Legend has it Tyler Blake and Michael David of Classixx gorged themselves on everything from Kraftwerk to Paul Simon during their childhood and derived their name from the anonymous Disco Classics compilations that once prompted listeners to call the number on their screen. As a result, the Los Angeles duo augments its electro-pop bedrock with funk, house, new wave and classic rock to craft hypnotic compositions that unfold deliberately rather than pummel listeners from the get-go. Take “Grecian Summer,” the first track off the group’s most recent full-length, 2016’s “Faraway Reach”: Snaps, claps and shimmering synthesizers pile atop an incessant 808 kick drum as the track swells into a deluge of frigid digital quirks. Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos lends “Safe Inside” a poppy immediacy, and T-Pain envelops “Whatever I Want” in Auto-Tune, but star-studded cameos don’t deter Classixx from taking the long road to electro-pop enlightenment. (10 p.m. March 15, Lustre Pearl)
Capyac: The band’s Delwin Campbell and Eric Peana prove earnest Daft Punk disciples, churning out suave, futuristic funk that’s best consumed in a crowded living room with beer-soaked floors and alluring blacklights. The Austin duo made waves with 2016’s “Speedracer,” which boasts nearly 1.3 million streams on Spotify, and they continue to explore the middle ground between jazz, electronica and exotic pop on 2018 EP “Who Killed Donny Flamingo?” Campbell and Peana call Flamingo “a curious character that is difficult to define, a complex villain, a tale as old as tails,” and they’ve soundtracked his exploits thusly. “Theme to Donny Flamingo” and “Gold Rush” pop with sensuous saxophones befitting the smoothest criminals, while the contemplative trip-hop of “Cat Song” offers a brief respite from the synth-laden thrill ride. (1 a.m. March 15, Malverde)
5 more you electronic acts you should catch
Boombaptist: True to his stage name, Austin native Andrew Thaggard fleshes out the furious drum-n’-bass wallop of boom bap with hypnotic synthesizers and guest vocals, á la the hauntingly melancholic Keeper collaboration, “Happy to Be Sad.” (11 p.m. March 17, Plush)
Night Drive: The Austin-based “future wave” duo churns muscular, cinematic synth-pop perfect for racing down an empty desert highway — or shotgunning a beer on Sixth Street in broad daylight. (6 p.m. March 17, SXSW Outdoor Stage)
Louis Futon: Does the Philadelphia producer have the best artist name at SXSW 2018? Probably, but don’t let that take away from his propulsive, drum-heavy electro-pop and seductive vocal hooks, such as his ROZES-assisted breakout single “Wasted on You.” (10 p.m. March 14, Scoot Inn)
Strvngers: The gothic Canadian duo’s hooky blend of post-punk and grinding industrial approximates a slow descent into the bowels of hell — but, like, where everybody gets progressively more into steampunk at each level. (12:20 a.m. March 17, Valhalla)
Crayondroids: Against all odds, the Dallas “nerdcore” trio’s tumult of thundering EDM, nu-metal guitar riffs and schoolyard taunts comes off as clumsily endearing rather than irredeemably garish. (Time TBA, March 17, Karma Lounge)