TEXAS IS CALLING for breakthrough Irish musicians, as industry focused festival SxSW (South by Southwest) – hosted in Austin, Texas this week – prepares to hone in on 2017’s most likely new stars.

The American festival has come under fire in recent weeks, as several artists pulled out in protest at prohibitive contracts for acts that require US visas. They do nonetheless remain both the best location in the world to see major acts play tiny venues, and the top spotting ground for newcomers to throw themselves in front of the abundant waiting music media.

Ireland has traditionally had a strong association with the festival,  with Arts Council funding provided to assist the travelling musicians in ample expenses in getting themselves on front of their audience, provided through arts agency First Music Contact.

Past years have seen ‘Music From Ireland’ – First Music Contact’s showcase at the event – feature the likes of Hozier, Damien Rice, The Strypes, Girl Band, and Walking On Cars. This year’s Irish contingent might be unfamiliar to those outside of music circles, but look just as likely to succeed.

Amongst those taking flight are up-and-coming pop-rock band Picture This, young rockers The Academic and lo-fi atmospheric soloist Jealous of The Birds. Globally-influenced soul singer Loah and spaced-out alt act Cloud Castle Lake will represent the capital.

Loah – the stage name of Sallay Matu Garnett  – will be releasing her debut EP in April, and is already heavily tipped to make waves locally off the back of her jazz/ soul mix and inventive vocals. She’s dubbed her style ‘Art Soul,’ and has already worked alongside the likes of Hozier and Kila.

Speaking of the event, Loah told the Gazette “I first heard about SxSW when I was staying in New York and a bunch of friends came back having had the most incredible experiences there. I remember thinking I really want to play that one day. So it’s always been on my radar as being a parallel galaxy in its vast scope of music and people and technology.”

“I’d love to meet industry people working at a wider level, European and American and further afield even and get exposed to loads of other musicians. I’m particularly excited as Erykah Badu (my queen!) is playing, as is Goldlink, who I love. I have a really bright and surrendered outlook on it – whatever happens will be great and I’m gonna make the most of the experience.”

Cloud Castle Lake have been established a little longer on the Irish scene, with previous EP ‘Dandelion’ successful enough to feature on Pitchfork and in NME, building on an already sparkling live reputation. They make a meandering form of atmospheric, dark-toned melodies, overlaid with high-pitched vocals from frontman Daniel McAuley. A follow up to ‘Dandelion’ is long overdue.

“This’ll be our first time out in front of an audience since we started working on our album last year,” the band told us. “We’re in the midst of translating all that music into an exciting live show, and we think SxSw will be a great launching pad for showing our new material to people. We’re a bit frantic getting it all together, but can’t wait to start playing live again.”

A third Dublin act, EMBRZ (the pseudonym of a DJ and remix artist named Jack Casey) had also been scheduled to join the party in the Lone Star State, but has struggled a slowed-down visa process that will postpone his trip until 2018. The three of them, by virtue of attracting enough industry interest already to make their way to SxSW, can reasonably expect to be playing bigger stages in the coming months.

With surprise sets in recent years from the likes of Radiohead, Drake, Jack White, Muse and Justin Bieber, those acts who head out to Texas will find themselves at the very heart of music’s buzz-band drive for a few days. They may never get a better chance to take off.

SxSW takes place annually in Austin, Texas, every March, running parallel events focusing on music, film, comedy and tech.

This article is part of my weekly music column for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website, so at times, some columns may be slightly out of date. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations

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