Published Mar 20, 2020When the world started shutting down all public gatherings due to the global spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), SXSW was among the first in North America to fold. The 34th edition of the annual music festival, conference and industry gathering was set to take over Austin, TX, from March 13 to 22, where hundreds of acts from all over the globe were hoping to take their careers to the next level.
Among those artists were dozens of Canadians, trekking far south of the border with dreams of greater exposure. Now, many of them are either back in Canada or stuck in the States, down thousands of dollars in fees and expenses. While this week isn't turning out how any of them were imagining, it can still be a great time to discover some new Canadian artists on the verge of a breakthrough. Here are 12 Canadian artists who would've crushed it at SXSW this week.
Bad Waitress (formerly the Nude Dogs) have been rocking hard with face-melting solos and visceral, shouted lyrics, and each live set eventually turns into a bonafide party. Party Bangers, Volume I, their 2018 debut release on Royal Mountain Records, stayed true to its name with tracks like "Let's Get Fucked Up!" and "Where Did I Go Last Night?" while newer material has added post-punk flair to the mix.
After beefing with YouTube star KSI and receiving a recent profile in XXL, DAX is making waves worldwide. The Ottawa-based rapper commands attention with his heartfelt, conscious lyrics and urgent flow, and his freshly released EP I'll Say It For You proves that his elaborate music videos are no gimmick — his recordings stand out on their own.
Oscillating from hushed ballads to upbeat, stomping folk-rock, Moncton-born singer-songwriter Graham Ereaux processes the anxieties of the world around him as Devarrow. His self-titled debut, which came out last fall on Paper Bag, fights off the world's perils with a smiling, sweet demeanour, and in these troubling times, sometimes that's all you can ask for.
There's a psychedelic, throwback haze that surrounds noisy Toronto quartet Gloin with laconic, distorted guitar riffs and John Watson's reverb-heavy falsetto vocals. Their seamless shifts from laidback stoner grooves to wall-of-sound maelstrom help them stand out from Toronto's burgeoning psych scene, not to mention their glitzy live setup, complete with matching white jumpsuits and light-up "GLOIN" sign.
Franco-pop group le Couleur are gearing up to release a new album this spring, presumably filled with the same disco-tinged tunes that have been lighting up Québécois dance floors for years. Recent singles like "Concorde" and "Silhouette" have been pushing jangle-pop guitars to the fore while retaining the band's tried-and-true catchy grooves.
Whitehorse songwriter Teagan Johnston has only expanded the palette of her alt-pop project Little Coyote since moving to Toronto. Weaving tales of the downtrodden and disillusion through wistful, piano-driven balladry, Little Coyote packs a ton of emotion in a bare-bones package, forgoing the frills to let Johnston's strong songwriting cut through, like on recent EP Stay Gold.
Though she's currently based in Montreal, R&B singer Meryem Saci was raised in Algeria, and her worldly upbringing is reflected in her adventurous tunes. Her 2017 debut album On My Way merged contemporary hip-hop and R&B styles with traditional Maghreb sounds, and her recent singles from her forthcoming EP dial heavily into her strong, melodic voice.
Naya Ali has been bringing her confident, moody rhymes and raspy flow to music festivals across Canada in recent years, including M for Montreal (where we said she "tore into each of her tracks with hypeman confidence"), FEQ and FME. With her debut album Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) out today, she continues to remain a standout among the rising stars of Queb rap.
Neck of the Woods
Vancouver metal outfit Neck of the Woods aren't letting the global pandemic get in the way of releasing their album The Annex of Ire, out today on Pelagic. The record's deft blend of prog, death metal and hardcore led us to call it "an amazing progressive metal record that dips into all sorts of musical styles effortlessly."
The Calgary post-punk scene has birthed internationally acclaimed luminaries like Women and Preoccupations, and Port Juvee are angling to be the next to show up on the world's stage. The angular riffs and taut arrangements of weeks-old album Motion Control will have them breaking out in no time.
Innovative singer-songwriter Roman Clarke impressed with his livestreamed experiment The YouTube Album, which found the Winnipeg alt-popster and a host of collaborators riffling through a series of jaunty, R&B-tinged tracks in real time. In lieu of a live show, it can certainly whet appetites for now.
Toronto-based R&B singer-songwriter TÖME delivers a catchy blend of Afro-pop, reggae and R&B with hooks both sultry and infectious. Her debut EP TOMESROOM, released last year, found her already exuding confidence and talent in equal measure, and recent singles like "The Money" only further those feelings.
Listen to tracks from these and other emerging Canadian artists with our Spotify playlist. Read about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Canadian artists and follow Exclaim!'s list of Canadian music and film events affected by coronavirus.