Near the middle of January in any normal year, you’d find the NME team (along with hundreds of music writers from across the globe) trudging across Groningen, the student-populated city in the northern Netherlands, in the bitter cold to get a glimpse of what’s new and next. Things couldn’t be further from that festival-frenzied reality, though, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has all but destroyed the live music scene, rendering it virtually impossible to welcome hundreds of the most exciting names in music.
Without these showcase events, the next generation of talent would have a much tougher time building their story. So it’s a remarkable feat that Eurosonic (Jan 13-16) is still going ahead and having adapted quickly to the circumstances, the 35th edition of ESNS will be fully-digital, with 15-minute springboard sets by 189 acts from 36 countries streamed across four online channels. Even better, every performance will be free to watch online.
Here are 10 unmissable artists (including many who recently featured in this year’s NME 100 list) who are more than worthy of your attention and, in an alternative reality, would be the talk of Eurosonic 2021.
Who: Gut-punching synth-pop from an NME 100 alumni who’s already conquered Wembley Arena
When: Jan 13, 8:45pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: Having delivered several stripped-back ‘stairwell’ sessions from home, this Grantham-born artist – who fuses the warmth of acoustic music with darker Lorde-style electronics – is already a lockdown livestream regular. When performing tracks from her simply faultless debut EP, she’ll be giving fans and newcomers a sneak peek at what to expect from her upcoming UK tour.
Who: 21-year-old drummer-producer-rapper putting Irish hip-hop on the international map
When: Jan 13, 9.40-9.55pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: The Waterford-hailing musicians debut mixtape, ‘Forever Change’, dropped last October and is full of restless genre-hopping energy; his sound sits somewhere between Brockhampton and Beastie Boys, and he’s teasing “lots of new stuff this month”. Trivia: his song ‘Dear SJ’ featured on the BBC’s 2020 bonkfest, Normal People.
Keep Dancing Inc
Who: Party-starting electro grooves from Parisian trio peddling positive vibes
When: Jan 13, 9:45pm, ESNS 03
Look out for: Having opened for Blossoms on their European tour, this French trio will no doubt have picked up pointers on how to work a crowd – IRL or via a URL. Shut your eyes and pretend you’re in a small sweaty gig venue as they bring to life the catchy tracks from their debut album, ‘Embrace’, which is the definition of indie dancefloor gold.
Who: Future-pop London duo fusing classical, club and folk music into an indefinable whole
When: Jan 13, 10pm, ESNS 03
Look out for: NME was lucky enough to catch producer Taylor Skye and singer/violinist Georgia Ellery’s mind-bending live show just before the pandemic hit; it’s like little else we’ve that’s come before. Their innovative debut EP, which is best described as somewhere between PC Music and The Sound of Music, is just as arresting. You’re in for a treat.
The Goa Express
Who: Ludicrously-catchy garage rock from NME 100 graduates
When: Jan 13, 10pm, ESNS 02
Look out for: This party-loving Northern quintet might have just two tracks to their name – ‘Be My Friend’ and ‘The Day’ – but what corkers they are. Your laptop’s volume ought to be as loud as possible to fully appreciate their fusion of razor-sharp Ramones-style choruses, and, with a 15-minute slot to fill, they’re bound to air some new tunes.
Who: In-demand Irish rapper and MC using music to tell her story
When: Jan 14, 10pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: Not content with releasing her debut mixtape ‘GO Bravely’ in October, she finished the year by getting fellow Irish newcomer Jafaris to jump onto ‘Aneso’, turning it into a self-proclaimed end-of-season banger.
Who: Quirky Icelandic hero behind the catchiest song of 2020
When: Jan 14, 10:15pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: This Eurovision winner-in-waiting’s joyous viral hit, ‘Think About Things’, rattled around the world’s collective heads for most of last year, but he’s making clear that he;s no one-hit-wonder – smile-inducing new single ‘Feel The Love’ (which features fellow Icelandic singer ÁSDÍS) reinforces that. If November’s Iceland Airwaves performance is anything to go by, it’ll be the most uplifting 15 minutes of the year so far.
Lava La Rue
Who: London musician making lo-fi future-soul with a DIY ethos
When: Jan 14, 10:30pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: As the founder of the NiNE8 COLLECTIVE – which also includes Biig Piig –, a sense of community is at the heart of everything this visual artist, rapper and singer does. Her latest single, ‘Angel’ – a kaleidoscopic collaboration with another NME fav, Deb Never – landed last November, ahead of her upcoming ‘Butter-Fly’ EP, which she’s been teasing on social media. Odds are that she’ll be debuting material from it.
Who: Dark hypnotic techno-pop from Norwegian singer/producer
When: Jan 15, 10pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: The solo project of 23-year-old Sunniva Lindgård combines heavy basslines and euphoric beats with a truly distinctive voice. Considering her latest EP, ‘KILL SASSY 009’, came out in 2019, there’s a good chance she’ll be debuting new music during this virtual performance. She’s also a nominee of this year’s Melanie C-hosted Music Moves Europe Talent Awards, the winners of which will be announced from 8pm on January 15.
Chubby and the Gang
Who: Hardcore punks hailed as London’s loudest breakout band
When: Jan 15, 11pm, ESNS 02
Look out for: The West London five-piece’s debut album landed last year, so prepare to see them transfer that raucous pint-spilling energy into this short and snappy live show. See them now (virtually) before they hopefully take The Great Escape by storm in a few months’ time.
Check out the full ESNS 2021 timetable