Top British Acts at SXSW 2021
This year’s SXSW music showcases may be taking place online rather than downtown Austin, Texas — but that doesn’t mean the line-up is anything less to get excited about in 2021. And with 35 performances recorded in advance at Production Park Studios, The British Music Embassy continues to set an example for innovation.
Their roster of acts ranges from soulful pop to post-punk, from hybrid hip hop to afrobeat-fusion. We picked five of our favourite acts from the British Music Embassy’s curation that show how the UK music scene in 2021 is as vibrant as ever.
Named after the Akan word for “human”, ONIPA offer a blend of rhythmic afrobeat that ranks among the most uplifting sounds on the entire SXSW line-up. The duo comprises vocalist, percussionist and balafon player Kweku Sackey and Nubiyan Twist producer Tom Excell, and with Congolese instrumentals, tropical highlife and rumba-inspired drums marking their sound, bustling tracks like ‘Fire’ inject a much-needed sense of energy into this year’s sedentary exhibition of sounds.
Unlike contemporaries Black Country, New Road, who fuse Talk Talk-inspired post-rock with an emphasis on orchestral disharmony, Squid offer something far more radio-friendly in their pursuit of avant-garde innovation. Singles like ‘Houseplants’ and ‘The Cleaner’ made them BBC Radio 6 A-listers back in 2019, but since making the bold choice to sign with British dance label Warp in 2020, their stock has only risen. Eight-and-a-half minute single ‘Narrator’ is their most recent offering — a tower of meandering guitars and funk bass recalling everything from Television to Radiohead.
London hip hop collective 404 Guild were struck with tragedy back in May 2019, after vocalist Mina Topley-Bird (aka Silvertongue) passed away unexpectedly shortly after the release of debut EP ‘Guild One’. Since then, the Dirty Hit-signed band have bounced back with singles like ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Dayson’ mixing industrial electronica, punk and soul into their experimental sound.
Limerick-born Sinead O’Brien impressively combines her career as an avant-garde poet with another; she’s a senior womenswear designer at Vivienne Westwood. As a musician, some of her best work has been recorded with experimental producer Dan Carey, whose Speedy Wunderground label operates on a mantra of “all records will be done in one day and finished before midnight.” The results are sufficiently inspired, with O’Brien’s Mark E. Smith-inspired wordplay performed over a unique brand of guitar-fuelled art-rock.
Ego Ella May
South Londoner Ego Ella May offers a fresh spin on neo-soul music by fusing contemporary jazz instrumentation with her dominant R&B vocal style. Having bagged a MOBO award in December 2020 off the back of debut album ‘Honey For Wounds’ — which features collaborations with Mercury Prize-nominated jazz band Sons of Kemet, among others — she now turns her sights on an international breakthrough.