Michel Attia is considered to be “one of the connoisseurs of the music and event scenes” (Rainer Krispel in The Gap 057). He is Head of Booking & Events at radio FM4 and was one of the first editors of The Gap. For this year’s final edition he has put together a personal list of his most promising Austrian Acts 2021.
“The ten acts on this list are in my immodest opinion currently the most exciting must-watch talents from Austria. In essence, there’s only one criterion to be considered a newcomer: No album release yet. But what exactly is Michel’s Sound of Music 2021 all about? Based on the BBC’s legendary shortlist (“Sound of …”) it wants first and foremost to show potentials – creative and artistic, professional and suitable for export. I venture to present a best-of from two worlds: music and business, which for some time now have more and more interlocked. It is striking how young most musicians in this list are (almost all well under 30), and how high meanwhile the percentage of female musicians has become (the first four in the top ten). How great a role family has for many artists (Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell come to mind), and how many of them have never performed live before (especially for coronavirus reasons of course). It’s nice to see that new music from Austria and the setup around it quite naturally have risen to an international level. This top ten list is intended to further contribute to that and to make you want to listen – no matter if you’re a music lover or a music professional.” Michel Attia
10. Earl Mobley
Maybe you know the bustling musician Konstantin Heidler aka Earl Mobley already from his bands Vague (singer, guitarist) or Sluff (drums). His solo project and the new songs are much more catchy – still Indie rock, but more open and more imaginative. The title track of his debut EP “For You To Hide” is already a small indie hit. The name Earl Mobley comes from a figure in the Helge Schneider film “Jazzclub – The early bird catches the worm”. And as with the musician Helge Schneider the pieces are eclectically orchestrated and played in a smart casual way. With the producer Wolfgang Möstl at his side he’s working on his debut album. And with the right management – there is none so far – the 28 year old artist from Tyrol should definitely have a chance to cause a stir, even beyond Indie circles.
The 23-year-old Sebastian Spörker from Lower Austria alias Palffi is quite a Wunderkind: He’s a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer and has been making music since he was a small boy. His greatest musical hero is Cro, other important influences for his mainstream pop are Lauv, Blackbear or Dominic Fike. Soft beats and smooth sounds – this definitely has to be played on radio Ö3 in heavy rotation. Do we need an Austrian Shawn Mendes copy? No, of course not. And yet I do enjoy the idea. By the way, the number one on this list has co-written one of his songs (“Off My Mind”). Palffi’s first single was already released in 2018, and it’s hard to assess how his career will develop, but with the backing of his new management Earcandy Entertainment, I’m nevertheless quite confident.
8. Alix Oder Nix
Alexander Leuschner alias Alix Oder Nix is the only Austrian hip-hop act in this top 10 list. Would have been real bad without one. Lent, Bibiza or T-Ser are definitely hot candidates for next year. But the hottest newcomer is the oldest in the round: The 32-year-old Alix Oder Nix from Berlin has been living in Vienna for ten years and was the live MC for Dunkelbunt and Erwin & Edwin for six years. Right after the first Corona lockdown, he started to post extremely successful musical content on Tiktok (515.000 followers) – and thus began completely anew on his own with his clever, multi-faceted hip-hop. Five singles have been released since his debut in September 2020 and more are in the pipeline – as well as his first EP and with it several important playlist entries. Capital Bra is already a supporter and Greeen too has shown his enthusiasm in public for Alix Oder Nix.
Cley Freude alias Freude is signed to Sony Music Austria and one of only two German speaking artists in this list. On first listen, the 24 year old singer-songwriter reminds one of a Viennese version of Faber. Probably he’s aware of the Hamburg school. His greatest strength is his greatest weakness: He’s sitting on a fence with his sound and his lyrics. The songs are propelling and demanding, the lyrics special and dedicated and not necessarily suitable for radio-airplay. They are about topics like death, stalking or alcoholism. The reliable PR agency Factory 92 will take care of promotion for the German media. In Austria there already have been a few airplays of his debut single “Sabine” – which is also his first musical work – at radio Ö3 in the evening. On the side, Freude is also presenting a podcast (“Ein Leben redet mit c. Freude”) and publishing a magazine (Achterbahn). Former music journalist Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre has already become a fan. Others will follow soon.
The Viennese trio Cloudelvis maybe has the most independent sound of all acts mentioned here and is, so to speak, the underground tip in the top ten. The “boyband on acid” suddenly appeared in August 2020 with the debut single “Diamondring” and is actually quite a mysterious act. A confusing press photo, an evocative music video and a disturbing interview on radio FM4 were the first signs of life of a band, which resembles an anonymous, unfinished art project. Who is behind it, no-one knows (apparently some already well-known musicians). Cloudelvis have never appeared live before. However, it is already quite clear what’s lying ahead: hip, analog electronic pop, often reminiscent of bands like Tame Impala, sometimes New Order or The Flaming Lips. With some luck and a lot of craft next year could be a real good trip for the weirdos Cloudelvis.
5. Mike Vallas
Strictly speaking Mike Vallas has nothing to do with the newcomers: He was already a Sony Norway artist in 2018 and his singles were streamed two million times, but outside of Norway hardly anyone took notice. Two years later, he’s signed to Universal Music Austria, which are still seeing a large potential for his mainstream pop with a slight EDM edge. That he’s already one of the biggest storytellers on Tiktok in the German-speaking area (1.3 million followers), was certainly one of the reasons, just as his strong performance on Instagram (220,000 followers). With “The Other Side”, he was even in the top 40 of the Austrian airplay charts. But he has never performed live. One of his two managers is from Sweden and that already shows quite well what a Swedish House Mafia type of potential he could have. The 24-year-old Upper Austrian Mike Vallas is certainly on track.
Not only our #1 comes from a musical family, the Wallners too have been making music together since their earliest childhood. Still, the four siblings from Vienna have never performed live together before. They don’t even have a management. It’s very courageous for a major label to sign such a completely unknown band. But maybe Universal Music Austria once again, after a long time, has been able to reel in an internationally successful act – provided that the partner countries join in. In any case, the polished dream pop of the Wallners would have the potential: hypnotic, harmonious and harmless. The strong reverb does the rest and breathes a slight melancholic feeling of longing into the songs. Lullabies from Austria that are more beautiful than these will not be heard anytime soon. One can find these – just as with congeneric bands like Cigarettes After Sex or Beach House – exciting or boring. I’m very much in favor of exciting.
Sharktank is currently probably the most played radio act in the top ten. The single “Washed Up” not only stayed at the top of the FM4 charts for several weeks, but conquered international radio stations too and totalled more than 600 airplays per week worldwide. It is indeed difficult to resist the charming fusion of indie-pop and hip-hop, as the songs of the Viennese trio are so playful and catchy. Actually a solo project of the rapper Mile, to which the producer Marco Kleebauer (who among other things was significantly involved in two Bilderbuch albums) was added a few days later in the studio and that shortly afterwards was completed by Katrin Paucz (who also plays live with Oehl and who is the youngest musician in this top 10 with only 20 years of age). Sharktank have never performed live and yet of all the acts listed here it’s their (first) concert which I’m looking forward to the most. Crossover at its best, overcoming genres and on top of the times. Their feel-good sound will make a lot more people happy.
The number one on this list is also a fan of Maria Burger alias OSKA and has even co-written the song “Somebody”. If a female act has a male name – her oldest brother is called Oskar – and such a sound, I immediately have to think of Boy, the female Swiss–German duo. A song like “Love You’ve Lost” could, from a purely musical standpoint, also easily be one of their songs. In autumn 2019, the 24-year-old OSKA had a performance in a big Dutch TV show (as a guest of Haevn) and in winter her song “Come Home” was used for a nationwide TV campaign of ANWB (comparable with our ÖAMTC; translator’s note: the Austrian automobile club). At the beginning of 2020, the Nettwerk label boss became aware of her and a little later OSKA was already signed to the Canadian label. With her expressive, soulful voice and her beautiful, melancholic songs, she won the XA – Music Export Award 2020 (created by Waves Festival) a few weeks ago. There is much more to come for her and us, guaranteed.
1. Florence Arman
Rarely a newcomer has convinced me as much as the 25-year-old Florence Arman, a British artist living in Vienna. And not only me: Eight offers from labels (without a single release) and 35 requests from A&R managers within the first week after the release of her debut single “Naked” in mid-July 2020 speak a clear language. And she had not even had a single live performance as Florence Arman (only one under her pseudonym Klei). I really can’t remember the last time an artist from Austria had so much international potential, combined with such a good international setup. Even on BBC Radio 1 her second single “In A Heartbeat” has been played several times. And the next two singles “Home” and “Out Of The Blue” are even stronger. Since she has been active successfully already for nearly three years as a songwriter (in the background) and has worked with acts like The Kooks, G Flip or Cro, it’s now time for her own international pop career.