FESTIVAL BEAT: Harmony & Dissonance at SXSW 2024

Post Author: Makaila Heifner

After its 37th rendition, Austin’s annual showcase stands at a crossroads

SXSW serves as a bustling platform where up-and-coming talents converge to make their mark amidst a whirlwind of activity. Both official SXSW showcases and grassroots events organized by local venues and artists offer a glimpse into the latest trends in music, film, comedy, and technology. Whether you’re on the hunt for the next big thing, or simply seeking a dose of fresh inspiration, SXSW promises a little something for everyone.

But this year’s iteration was marked by discordance as the festival found itself embroiled in controversy. In the weeks leading up to the festival, over 80 acts withdrew from the official lineup to protest SXSW’s entanglement with the US Army, one of the 2024 “super sponsors,” and other defense contractors, like RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon). Many of the bands called out the disconnect between a music and arts festival being supported by organizations that profit off of violence. Others explicitly cited the ongoing conflict in Palestine and called for an immediate ceasefire for their dropout.

What was once conceived as a celebration of creative incubation continues to veer further off course, becoming instead a lavish playground for the rich. SXSW has historically underpaid its creative talent, offering $150 for solo artists and $350 for bands in 2024 (whereas hotel rooms are often going for $500+ per night). And yet the festival itself feels like an oppressive neverending billboard where brands flaunt their wares, drowning out the very essence of artistic endeavor in a cacophony of commercialism. The festival, once a sanctuary for artists, now only caters to those willing to splurge thousands on soirées, advertisements, and cheap trinkets emblazoned with logos.

Yet amidst the controversies, the talent showcased at SXSW, both present and notably absent, merits recognition. Many artists brought authenticity and innovation to their respective genres at the 2024 festival, reminding us of the power of music and the beauty that SXSW can host. 

The Silver Lines

The Silver Lines 

The Silver Lines are reminiscent of early 2000s indie rock, but draw inspiration from contemporary punk acts like Idles or Viagra Boys to critique toxic masculinity and other social issues. The lead singer saunters easily around the stage, similar to that of a young Alex Turner, and the entire band is dynamic and primed to ignite audiences with a raucous show. 


Fcuckers marry ’90s house with live instrumentation for an unabashed performance that will have the entire audience on their feet. They’ve only been playing together for just over a year, but their poise and sound are well-tuned to that of a band with years of experience. Recently the band received a nod from Beck for their remixed cover of his own “Devil’s Haircut”. 

Peso Pluma

Peso Pluma is already a superstar in Latin America. However, his performance at SXSW during the Rolling Stone showcase solidified his enduring appeal to American listeners. Pluma’s fusion of corridos and reggaeton is undeniably distinct, placing him in a league of his own unmatched by many other artists.

Winona Fighter

Winona Fighter 

Winona Fighter is a garage rock and punk band from Nashville, Tennessee; drawing influence from classic rock and punk, their sound is gritty and raw. Each member of the band is chaotically ready to have a good time and deliver their high-energy sound at every set. As soon as they took the stage, an audience member exclaimed, “This is so punk rock!” And we’d have to agree. 

Faux Real

Synth-pop duo Faux Real is a lesson in the power of choreography. From their dancing to their outfits, down to their music, Faux Real expertly creates infectious and high-energy songs. Their performance is just as fun to watch as it is to listen to.



Originally from London, Jeshi brought his distinctive British flow and thoughtful storytelling to Austin. Through his songs, he considers ideas surrounding identity and frequently examines the struggles of the working class in the UK. Jeshi’s broad range of influence, from Toro y Moi to Portishead, is evident in his discography as he uses a range of beats, instrumentals, and production styles throughout his music. 

La Sécurité

Montreal’s La Sécurité is an expert in mishmash: lyrics in English and French, catchy hooks, and eccentric compositions. Before playing this year’s SXSW, the group toured alongside diverse artists such as Choses Sauvages, Laurence-Anne, and Silver Dapple. At each showcase they played, La Sécurité delivered an energetic powerhouse performance.

Luna Luna

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Luna Luna is an indie-pop band that creates dreamy soundscapes. Their lyrics often transverse between Spanish and English and explore themes of love, loss, and self-discovery. Expertly blending shoegaze synth and retro melodies, Luna Luna is continuing to expand the dream pop genre and delight fans throughout Texas and beyond.

Robert Finley

Robert Finley

At the age of 70, Robert Finley was one of the most charming acts at SXSW this year. Every song, he would drop to his knees and dance his way back up, his soulful vocals and emotive storytelling ensured all eyes were on him. Within his music, he uses components of gospel, soul, R&B, and rock. During his set, he was able to easily switch from gritty blues ballads to upbeat soul anthems without missing a beat or dipping in energy. 

Kneecap (Not present) 

Kneecap is an Irish hip-hop trio making waves with their quick raps and bold social commentary. Their sound is reminiscent of early Eminem and remains highly energetic. The week prior to SXSW, Kneecap led the Irish artist exodus and pulled out of all unofficial and official showcases to protest the fest’s involvement with defense contractors and their role in the current conflict in Palestine. The band released a statement likening the Palestinian experience to that of Belfast and Ireland’s 30-year conflict, the Troubles, and called SXSW’s ties to the US Military and its contractors “unforgivable.”

Ben Aqua (Not present)

Austin’s own Ben Aqua is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses an experimental approach to combine flavors of electronic, avant-garde, and pop. Throughout his career, he has never stuck to one sound and continues to defy categorization with every song he creates. In an Instagram post, Aqua announced he would no longer be playing SXSW but asked fans to be patient and have empathy for artists who were still playing the showcase explaining, “We were all put into an extremely awkward position…”

Soda Blonde (Not present) 

Soda Blonde’s discography could be the soundtrack of an indie film. Their music is filled with vivid imagery and ethereal sounds, perfectly encapsulated by lead singer Faye O’Rourke’s vocals, and brought to life with the band’s instrumentation. Soda Blonde also chose to forego the festival this year to protest SXSW’s connection to the military. Their statement read: “Music is about unity, healing, and the transcendent power of shared experience… We were excited to join SXSW, expecting a celebration of diverse voices and creativity. Instead, we find ourselves being asked to tacitly endorse the military-industrial complex, something we cannot and will not do…” 

BODEGA (Only played unofficial showcases) 

BODEGA is an indie rock band originating from Brooklyn, New York, that combines elements of post-punk, art rock, and garage rock. Their music delivers a high-energy experience infused with wit and social commentary. With infectious rhythms, angular guitar riffs, and cleverly crafted lyrics, BODEGA’s sound defies easy classification. 

Sprints (Only played unofficial showcases) 

Ireland continues to produce incredible artists, and last but certainly not least, is punk act Sprints. Hailing from Dublin, the band infuses elements of post-punk and alternative rock into their sound, creating a raw and visceral experience. Led by vocalist Karla Chubb’s commanding presence and evocative lyrics, Sprints tackles topics of identity, societal norms, and personal struggle with unapologetic intensity. 

Looking ahead, SXSW stands at a crossroads, facing the prospect of reclaiming its former self. Such a resurgence, however, demands a fundamental alteration of its present fabric. Notable among the requisite changes is the severance of ties with all defense contractors, foremost among them the US Army – a step that promises to mitigate the risk of protests, such as those witnessed this year. Inevitably, the festival’s prominence ensures that alternative avenues for sponsorship will readily materialize. The fervent media attention and widespread acclaim that SXSW consistently garners virtually guarantee its appeal to prospective partners in the years to come.

The wealth of creativity found within SXSW’s musical showcases, from the grassroots DIY sets to the grand stages, underscores the allure of discovery and the thrill of unearthing the next groundbreaking artist. As SXSW charts its course forward, it must do so with a steadfast commitment to its community and core principles. By forging partnerships and sponsorships that align with its identity, the festival can reaffirm its role as a beacon of artistic exploration while preserving its integrity amidst an evolving cultural landscape. As the festival continues to advance, one thing remains certain: the heart of SXSW beats on, pulsating with the promise of boundless creativity on the streets of Austin and beyond.

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