On Wednesday, Stereogum returned to the Mazda Studio At Empire Garage for our second official showcase of SXSW 2017, a diverse lineup of four artists working with totally different sounds from one another. There was something to be excited about in each, and something for everyone, but Tkay Maidza kicked things off for the afternoon and proved to be one of the revelations from this year’s SXSW thus far.
Maidza’s a Zimbabwe-born, Australian-raised rapper who draws as much on pop and dance music for her unique sound. Over the course of her set, she rapped and sang over big glistening club beats, occasionally sounding reminiscent of a DFA-style interpretation of old-school house, occasionally sounding like a more contemporary, shinier version. At different moments of her set, I was reminded of M.I.A. or of Shamir if all of Shamir’s song’s were slightly gnarlier versions of “On The Regular.” But Maidza also finds her way to brighter corners—often using synth lines full of tropical colors—and she performs with a magnanimity and effervescence that’s totally infectious. It was one of the most straight-up fun sets at SXSW 2017 so far, and a fitting way to kick off our second day at the Mazda Studio.
After a few chillier days in Austin, things had started to get sunnier and warmer yesterday, and all the artists on the bill yesterday fit the mood perfectly in their own way. After Maidza’s jubilant dance party, Hand Habits took the stage for a set of languid, beautiful spectral-rock that hung and simmered in the Texan air. Having put in time playing backup for Weyes Blood and Kevin Morby, Hand Habits marks the solo debut of Meg Duffy, and she’s now touring behind her first record under the moniker, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), which recently came out. Though Hand Habits’ Mazzy Star-esque haze is pretty far from the serpentine hip-hop soul of Jamila Woods, the two paired together well in the middle of the showcase as the mellower middle passage.
Woods is every bit as stunning as you’d expect her to be, a singular presence onstage who’s able to weave her voice around seemingly anything. She debuted a new song called “Giovanni” but the highlight was when she closed with a crushing performance of “Blk Girl Soldier,” the standout from her 2016 release HEAVN (one of our favorites from last year).
Finally, indie-rock stalwarts the New Pornographers closed the showcase out in the late afternoon. The always-shifting collective is about to release their excellent new album Whiteout Conditions, which expands on the slick, synth-driven tracks that dominated 2014’s Brill Bruisers. The set was anchored by that album’s highlights (the title track never ceases to feel like you’re getting hit by a bulldozer made of neon lights) and featured several of the best songs from Whiteout Conditions, including its own title track and its lead single “High Ticket Attractions.” As with any New Pornos album or show, it was a parade of hook-laden songs, that ended the showcase with a big singalong and a song (or several) stuck in your head.