HOWDY from Texas, where our Northern Winds writer finds himself currently ensconced, taking in the sights and sounds of the biggest music conference in the world. The state capital, Austin, played host to the performance element of the fabled SXSW festival, which this year saw the highest contingent of northern bands ever performing at one time. Kudos to us. 

With the main event taking place in Cedar Street Courtyard, a number of acts took the stage on Thursday past in front of the global industry and delivered ripping performances. Kicking off with slacker-rock from Junk Drawer and blues-tinged foot stomping from Dea Matrona, highlights of the day came from glitter-rock group Wynona Bleach and psych-indie outfit Lemonade Shoelace, who drew in sell-out crowds for both shows.

Also at SXSW, we found alternative outfit Robocobra Quartet. Captained by producer Chris Ryan, the studio head behind such acts as Just Mustard, NewDad and Enola Gay, they performed one of the best sets of the festival. And that's not all, as they've just announced their headline Irish tour details for later this year. 

Meanwhile, in the south we had the crescendo of the awards season to contend with. The RTE Choice Music Awards featured a number of repeat (Fontaines D.C.) and first-time (Moncrieff) winners across the board. But the big prize, Best Album, was picked up by country pop singer CMAT. Already carrying herself like a stadium headliner, her debut album 'If My Wife New (sic) I'd Be Dead' captured hearts and minds around the world. Sending drag queen Lavender to accept the prize on her behalf, CMAT's said in her pre-written speech: "The word genius gets thrown around a lot these days, but I think this finally proves I am one. If you had told me three years ago when I was working in Bewley's that I would win the Choice Music Prize for my first album I would have definitely believed you. Because I am delusional.”

Picking up the award this year for Best Irish Band was Fontaines D.C. With the band mostly on tour in Australia, guitarist Connor Curley (who stayed behind to raise his first-born – well done there) accepted the ward on the band's behalf. "Obviously, I'm not very good at doing this on my own," he said onstage. "I usually have four other individuals with me, but I just want to say that this is incredible. Honestly, seeing an award with 'Irish' on it is amazing because I think, as a band, everything that we've done – being Irish and being Irish musicians – has been the most important thing to us. It's our biggest inspiration. To be in the room tonight with so many great Irish musicians is truly profound. Around every corner is a good friend, so I want to tell everyone here to keep the heart. Thank you very much."

Great releases this week from some of our independent bands. The Fae released a very fun record, their debut in fact. 'Chloe' has retro rock, indie and shoegaze as its backbone, with plenty of gorgeous melodies and rhythms to keep things light and poppy. A very mature and interesting first release for the band.

Lauren Ann also took some time off rocking out at SXSW to deliver 'Other Stuff' via FactionRecords. Glittering neon indie pop meets rough grunge influences on what is sure to be an in-demand live tune. One of her best yet.