SXSW 2024 Wrap Up: The return of South by Southwest, the discovery festival

I knew that band before they were famous”

Does anyone have that friend who seems to say this constantly?

For the people in my life, I was that friend.

In my 20s, it was my life’s mission to discover every fantastic band before anyone else. I wanted to be the guy who always had an answer to “What should I be listening to?”  And when a band became huge, it would feel like hitting the lottery when a family member or friend would be like, “You were the first to tell me to listen to them.”

No place would fill that funnel and give me endless candidates than South by Southwest.

The amount of bands and artists I discovered while at SxSw in the 2010s were endless. Ed Sheeran, The Lumineers, Travis Scott, Of Monsters and Men, Vance Joy, Sam Smith and more were all artists I saw in tiny bars, churches, and cafes and I walked into that show having no idea who they were.

Photo: Vance Joy by Kerrie Geier

But as the festival grew and as it attracted more people and sponsors to come into town it became a massive event. SxSw started to attract major names and huge parties. Suddenly Prince was playing in clubs for 4 hours on a Wednesday night. Imagine Dragons was opening up for Coldplay downtown for free. Anyone with a Samsung phone could win a ticket to see Jay-Z perform with Kanye West. Lotteries were being held to see Bruce Springsteen with only 2,500 other people.

South by Southwest had become more of an opportunity for major corporations to give the most popular artists a paycheck than a platform for new bands to break through.

Then 2020 and Covid happened.

As the massive convergence fest starts to come back like everything in the world, SXSW 2024 looked very different. Gone were the giant McDonalds popup with free fries and pop star headliners. In were tiny showcases all around town.

SXSW 2024 was the first South By I had been to since 2018. As the lineup was announced I kept waiting for a band I recognized. None came. Then as the week approached I anticipated cryptic tweets announcing surprise shows. Those never arrived either.

Instead I showed up to SXSW with no knowledge of bands and zero expectations. And it was actually a wonderful thing.

South by Southwest was created back in the 1980s to serve as the sort of Sundance Film Festival of music. Create an opportunity for hundreds of unsigned, independent bands to be discovered all across a city in pop up venues and stages in the Live Music Capital of the World.

This felt like that. Every day sessions, like Sounds Australia’s two days of showcases was an opportunity to discover the unknown. Girl and Girl seemed to be one Australian act that made a good splash in their visit, as did Folk Bitch Trio. And then there was the 11-year-0ld rapper Inkabee, accompanied by his dad Flewnt. There is nothing like walking into a bar and seeing a wide variety bands and artists you have zero expectations for.

Some other acts that made quite an impression on me in my time in Austin were Jo Alice (accompanied by Britt Daniel from Spoon), Telescreens, Teezo Touchdown and Yaya Bey.

Alice‘s haunting low pitch cut right through the Austin night and brought to mind comparisons to London Grammar. Telescreens may have been the coolest band I saw, blending together The Strokes with a little Foster the People. Teezo Touchdown took to the stage with shoulder-pads covered in spikes and a bouquet microphone and delivered his unique hip-hop/pop/rock fusion and Yaya Bey wowed with her jazzy vocals and only a keyboard. It felt like being at jazz bar in New Orleans and it was amazing.

It seems SXSW has hit the reset button. Instead of looking for ways to get more sponsors, more money, and more big name acts, it decided to pivot and return to form. Over 340 artists were given the opportunity to play some of the most iconic venues and play in front of thousands of excited, eager to discover fans.

While this year didn’t provide an opportunity to see a Beatle or a chart topping pop act, it still provided hundreds of opportunities to be ahead of the game. Thanks to what South by Southwest has returned to it will give all who attended so much ammo in once again saying “I knew that band before they were famous.”

For more about SXSW, head to