This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) was a virtual experience where most audience took a journey around the globe and into the artist’s home countries. Some locations included unusual ones like a Taoist temple and a cable car in Norway, and an Australian bush backyard. Others were iconic such as Abbey Road Studios, Scotland’s Leith Theatre, and Austin’s very own hometown favourite, Hotel Vegas to name a few.
From quintessential performers to fresh young music talent, we’ve sat through 5 days of virtual gigs pick artists and bands from SXSW’21, whose music you should check out:
From the city of Belfast which has had various prominent artists such as Van Morrison to David Holmes and Katie Melua, the first band which caught our eye was Cheylene from the radical art-pop producer and songwriting duo, Beauty Sleep. The effortless opener of “SWSX 2021, cheers!” with a classic eyebrow raise was only made on point and possible because of the up-close camera (thank goodness for virtual gigs) and in line with Margarita o’Clock in Belfast on St. Patrick’s Day.
Known for their delightful synths and easy feel-good energy, their set consisted of songs from their 2019 debut album, ‘Be Kind’ which was nominated for Northern Irish Album of Year. Also thankful for virtual gigs because whenever there was a guitar riff going on, it made us want to rewind and watch it again.
Montreal band, Choses Sauvages may give off the air of the typical rock band of irreverent slackers when you google the band’s name, but boy were we wrong in that aspect alone. As part of the M for Montreal / BrooklynVegan showcase at SXSW’21, true groove riders quintet Choses Sauvages had a combination of new wave, funk vigour, punk together with a French touch for their performance. What did it for us was the disco bombshell of a track, ‘Apophis’. Think of it as a mix of early New Order or OMD and Nile Rodgers put together where if this was played on the dance floor, you might be doing some form of the Funky Charleston.
Dead Pony are a departure from Scotland’s fertile rock or post-punk movement, cultivating a grunge-infused sound akin to Queens of the Stoneage, and Bikini Kill. The band kicked off their set with ‘Sharp Tongues, which lyrically is a mix of insults cut to the bone with the addition of lead singer, Anna Shield’s sharp death stare, couldn’t be f-ed attitude which made the performance even more convincing.
Call it alternative Hip-Hop and Southern Funk for rapper Deezie Brown. Coming from the small town of Bastrop, the charisma that Deezie Brown has when he performs comes out through with his lyrical content, and soulful beats that marry so well together with that bluesy guitar background. What we love most of all is how this naturally blends with the modernism of today’s cinematic soundscapes.
What was beautiful and somewhat closer to home was this year’s BeatBites showcase with South Korean music giant, AOMG featuring top tier Korean Hip Hop artist Woo. AOMG, having been known to release club hitters, surprised every one with a switch in signing Woo as the quintessential modern day rapper. True to being someone who is not shy of going dark and expressing his feelings of relationship woes or personal panic attacks and anxiety, this was clear in his performance for SXSW’21, showcasing a very dark, yet personal and raw session of the rapper.
Woo’s performance at SXSW’21 will be available on our YouTube and instagram on April 19th.
London-based producer, composer, and pianist Dominic Canning is a founding member of the groundbreaking Steam Down collective, Project Karnak, and Triforce and also Musical Director for Brit Award-winning Celeste. As part of the Jazz Re: Freshed Outernational showcase at SXSW’21 and location – the iconic Abbey Road Studios, he performed solo under the moniker, Doom Cannon, together with a 5-piece band which included a soprano sax, electric keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums. His performance set was simply groove and free jazz. Doom Cannon’s music attempts to capture and reflect the inflections of beauty existing alongside the injustice and terror of our postmodern world, drawing as he does on his experience as a young British Black man. With a debut album due for release later on this year on seminal Jazz Re: Freshed label, Doom Cannon is carving out a place for himself in the British Jazz scene.
Two-time Grammy-nominated producer and keyboardist for Black Pumas, JaRon Marshall marries Funk, Jazz, R&B, Neo-soul, and Hip-Hop all in one. Performing at SWSX ‘21’s EQ Austin Presents: KUTX The Breaks showcase, his performance came as quite a surprise after performances by uplifting rhyme slinger J Soulja and unapologetic queer rapper Mama Duke. Known for his signature style, JaRon Marshall’s instrumental version of ‘The Black Power Tape’ can only be described as an experience with guest, Mike Melinoe.
Since forming in 2019 with a rather difficult to google name, MEMES is a laptop rock duo from Glasgow comprised of uh, ME and ME. Minus the unintentional and randomly awkward side dancing, while performing, MEMES does mostly in-your-face-punk which not many bands do as well in these recent years. Their performance of ‘Happy Shopper’ had a very meaty but sharp bass riff, one steady beat, and a blast from the past for post-punk music lovers.
Mixing English synth-pop and French chanson, Paupière is a neo-romantic band duo from Montreal Canada. Glamorous and flamboyant with an air of sensuality, the duo was the first to perform for the M for Montreal / BrooklynVegan showcase at SXSW’21. Visually with the stage set as a rainbow backdrop, and ‘Sade Sati’ was played, it couldn’t have been more on point than watching this (camera-wise) from a bird’s eye view. What we love as well is how both Julia Daigle and Pierre-Luc Bégin’s intertwined voices sing of adolescent and hedonistic romanticism of the ‘80s which you can hear clearly through the music influences of the Human League and Depeche Mode, while still maintain that French flair of douceur.
With a voice that is so clear and powerful, watching singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan perform with just his guitar in SXSW’21 was captivating on its own with such a simple setup. What we did after, was re-listen to his setlist on Spotify, and that knocked that sound experience and everything else out of the park. Performing some singles including ‘Outcry’, ‘Bowie on the Radio’ and an unreleased one ‘Redesign’, the clarity that comes through together with the melodies crafted has helmed Ryan McMullan as one of the most exciting artists to come out of Northern Ireland.
For the Jazz Re: Freshed Outernational showcase, what started as a very simple set up of as a backing electronic track and tuba player Theon Cross performing on his own, eventually merging with his band to do a Wah-Wah Funk piece or in his words “African diasporic music”, was considered a more serious and classic performance.
Theon Cross breathes new life and energy to playing the tuba and the thriving jazz scene.
The British Jazz artist also did a 3D digital avatar performance for SXSW this year via the Online XR platform, a partial, virtual reality recreation of familiar streets and venues that typically play host to the annual celebration of interactive, film, and art worlds. Theon Cross did a motion-captured Jazz performance in an “outdoor space” with floating crystal art sculptures. A short-behind-the scenes video showed how the artist and his band were outfitted with special motion capture technology before filming a live set at Abbey Road Studios, which was then transformed into a digital event.