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The 11 Most FOMO-Worthy Performances Of SXSW 2015

We spent a week zigzagging Austin subsisting on free tacos and sugary drinks alone for SXSW Music this year. ICYMI, these are the best things we saw.

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The host of a "British Embassy" showcase near 6th street introduced 18-year-old Irish singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson with an unusually vehement plea for silence. "If we can just refrain from talking during the next 30 minutes, we might just have one of the best music experiences of our lives," he said. It was an absurdly high bar to set for a young artist at the beginning of her career, but even if the performance that followed was not necessarily life-changing, it was certainly among the very best we saw all week. SOAK played alone on a stool with only a guitar and her own wonderfully vulnerable and expressive voice as accompaniment. Her songs are powerful and perceptive ruminations on idealism and young love, and by the end of the first song she had brought herself nearly to tears. The audience — rapt and, yes, unusually quiet — was no doubt equally moved.

Tove Lo

Returning to the stage after a few months sidelined with a vocal injury, breakout Swedish pop star Tove Lo was brimming with a mischievous energy that quickly spread among the crowd during her headlining performance at Rolling Stone's showcase Tuesday. She bounded through a string of hedonistic hits including "Stay High" and "Not On Drugs," and briefly flashed the audience during "Talkin' Body," leaving the already overheated crowd panting. Lo's advances didn't go unreciprocated — by the end of the show, she had convinced several front-row fans to strip off their own shirts in a fit of synchronized ecstasy. Book her at your next bachelorette party.


Say what you will about Kitty — and after the New York Times article about authenticity in rap that put her on the map, plenty have — but there is something completely charming about her on stage. She's a nervous ball of hyper self-consciousness, yet she finds the courage to work through it and say what she needs to say, and do what she needs to do. She also performs barefoot, which, on Saturday night at Main II, was a particularly bold choice — the former Emos indoor stage is caked with decades' worth of sweat and god knows what else.

Kitty has left a lot of the rapping behind. She's singing now, and the new batch of songs she performed are ethereal and poppy, and seems to be an attempt to finally free herself from the "Tumblr-core" albatross that weighs her down. It's working.

A.G. Cook

PC Music, the London-based electronic label and collective known for warped, sped-up takes on millennial pop music, took SXSW by storm this year, with many of its artists, including founder A.G. Cook, playing their first shows in America at the conference. Cook, who is press shy, shined during a late-week set at the Hype Machine's Hype Hotel on Saturday, challenging any notions that his meteoric rise has been primarily hype driven. Alone on stage with inscrutable equipment that included neither a laptop nor turntables, he played a set that embraced both the avant-garde and the accessible, with a heavy, but not exclusive, focus on bright, dance-friendly tones and bubbly female vocals. Cook's stage rig gave him fine control over every beat and vocal effect, which he manipulated with dizzying dexterity. Much of PC Music's success is owed to its compelling expression of fresh and specific ideas, and, watching Cook, one gets the distinct impression that its revolution has only just begun.


Tink feat. Timbaland, or Timbaland feat. Tink?

Fader Fort's Saturday lineup was mired by an absentee special guest headliner (it was probably supposed to be Kanye), but hats off to the organizers for the genuine surprise of Timbaland, who stunned a crowd expecting to see his fast-ascendant protégé Tink. Timbo came on stage first, dancing and hyping up the crowd during a medley of his biggest hits, including Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" and Ginuwine's "Pony." Before shouting out the hit Fox drama Empire, for which he serves as executive producer and musical consultant, the super-producer actually asked the crowd, "Have I not given you everything?" and no one could say otherwise.

Tink, for her part, excelled under the spotlight, rapping and singing with confidence in a white visor and long, beaded braids. But the onstage rapport between the two, seemingly intended to evoke that of a proud father and impatient daughter, veered into the awkward and uncomfortable. Timbaland habitually talked over the 19-year-old and repeatedly referred to her as a "little girl." His paternalistic posturing served as a reminder, necessary or not, that it was his legacy, and not merely Tink's young career, that was on the line. When Tink launched into a performance of an unreleased, sure-to-be-controversial song that samples Aaliyah's "One In A Million," two things were clear: 1. She is undeniably talented, and 2. Her benefactor, though an enviable asset, seems determined to cast a long shadow.

Years & Years

Andrew De Francesco

At lunch on Saturday with Years & Years the trio were genuinely stunned anyone in the States had heard of them or their (currently No. 1 on iTunes U.K. hit) "King."

"It's been a quite a nice surprise, the crowds have been singing along" Y&Y vocalist Olly Alexander told BuzzFeed Music over bites of his baked potato (see photo above).

They were set to perform that night at the Neon Gold showcase, and hoped to make up for some technical snafus that had occurred at some of their SXSW performances earlier in the week. They certainly did, and in addition to singing along, the crowd at the group's final SXSW show also danced along to their songs like there was no tomorrow.


JUCE, the retro-glam, disco-influenced girl group from London, rocked the outdoor stage at a party for the trendsetting music booker The Windish Agency. Impressively choreographed dance routines and bright, color-coordinated outfits elevated lively performances of singles "Call You Out" and "Burnin' Up," which instantly put smiles on a crowd that had been dampened by intermittent rain. They may not have much of an audience yet in America, but music with such broad appeal deserves an equally broad audience.

Yonatan Gat

As guitarist in the Tel Aviv based Monotonix, Yonatan Gat had to master the art of shredding while dodging flying objects. The band's shows were notoriously chaotic. Now, based in New York and making music under his own name, Gat is still a swirling mass of energy, only now he doesn't have to bring you hot guitar licks through an obstacle course. His nine shows in three days in Austin saw him on bills with lots of big names — Jad Fair, Surfer Blood, Thee Oh Sees — and, per usual, Gat flattened audiences that didn't know quite what to expect from the opener. His band's latest album, Director, features a mish mash of sounds — everything from Afro-Brazilian soul from Rio de Janero to Arabic scales to Gat singing in Hebrew. It's joyful noise, and Gat's guitar playing is unmatched.


Rae Sremmurd

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The boisterous club-rap duo Rae Sremmurd played some of its earliest shows at SXSW last year, and this year returned after an impressive run of radio hits including "No Flex Zone," "No Type," and "Throw Some Mo." At the Pitchfork showcase at Mohawk onWednesday, the secret to their success was obvious and pleasantly uncomplicated: high-energy, hook-oriented songs delivered with unrelenting enthusiasm. On stage, brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are the definition of turn-up — shirtless headbangers for whom partying is the only imperative.

Marina & The Diamonds

On her new album Froot she's got a new look and new sound, and, as she told BuzzFeed Music over Tex Mex while in Austin, she couldn't be happier. The same could be said of her fans, who remain intensely devoted to her on some One Direction shit. They squeal with delight at her every move, and both her Stubbs performance in the rain Friday and her energetic Saturday show at Empire delivered. Her voice is otherworldly, landing somewhere between Kate Bush and Florence Welch, but with a bit more punch (if you can believe it.) Like diamonds, Marina's music will last forever.

Bun B and J. Cole at The Illmore

SXSW's most exclusive hip-hop party pulled out all the stops in its fifth year, convening a raft of up-and-coming rappers and a few hip-hop icons at a warehouse in South Austin miles from the bustle of downtown. The third night of the event, which went until 4 a.m. and offered free vodka and Redbull, among other attractions (including a pop-up barbershop and hookah lounge), was its strongest, with Bun B and J. Cole among the unannounced performers (rising stars Vince Staples and O.G. Maco also hit the stage). A$AP Rocky and Zoë Kravitz mingled.