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SXSW 2023 Top moments

7 Performances We Loved


Balming Tiger


You can tell Dr. Martens is a SXSW staple. Clive Bar stayed busy for two days, with many performances packed and overflowing into the bar. Balming Tiger headlined the stage on Friday, and by then many had heard of their wild performances. But tech issues delayed the start. I could see the group’s leader, Omega Sapien, visibly frustrated just off stage. The whole crowd anxiously waited, wondering if this would take a toll on the performance.


After 20 minutes the 6 members of Balming Tiger hopped on stage. Omega stopped halfway through the first song and screamed at the sound techs to raise the stage monitor volume. The next hour was so fun it erased all of the pre-show mess.


The group poured every ounce of energy into each song, jumping, dancing, and flailing all over. The crowd followed suit, energized from start to finish. Mudd the Student brought powerful punk vocals. Sogumm crooned her lyrics beautifully. Omega rapped his verses with precision. “Welcome to the dark side of K-Pop”, he declared.


It was the most hype SXSW show I’ve seen in a long time.



Danielle Ponder


Sometimes you can tell an artist’s trajectory from the first line they sing. This was the case with Danielle Ponder on Thursday. It was mid-day and I was waiting for another band at the Bose x NME showcase (more on this awesome event later). I heard Danielle had a great voice, but her entire performance was captivating.


The crowd knew they discovered something special from the start. Powerful, emotion-filled vocals that echoed the legends of Motown. Every note sounded on pitch.


In between songs her personality was icing on the cake. She joked about mushroom trips and wearing the wrong-colored underwear (this woman could 100% do standup). She told her inspiring story: a 40-year old public defender who left a few years ago to pursue a lost dream. I teared up at the hook, “Why won’t the stars align?” - it perfectly conveyed her long but triumphant journey.


Andrew McMahon & The Wilderness


SXSW is about performances you’ll never see anywhere else. When I got to Paste Magazine’s High Noon early Wednesday, I found Andew McMahon rehearsing on a small, 15x10 foot stage. He’s a pretty big name in the indie world (see Jack’s Mannequin). Some longtime fans gathered, shocked to essentially be part of his process as he wrote notes before the set.


The performance was like being in Andrew’s living room. He took requests, tried unreleased material, and told stories between songs. Fans sat feet from the returning indie star and sang along with his near-perfect pitch.


These moments don’t happen at any other festival!



NOISY


These guys are a buzzing mix of UK house, hip-hop, and pop. On Wednesday they were slotted to open the Good Karma Club showcase. I was excited to start the night with a bang. But when I got there 15 minutes early, there were only about 30 in the audience (it was only 8pm after all)!


This had virtually no effect on the NOISY lads. They played a fast, energetic set and encouraged the crowd to dance like it was 3am at a London rave. A handful gathered near the front and did just that. It helped that singer Cody Matthews spent half the set in the crowd, giving high fives and inspiring the “ravers” to jump wildly for 30 straight minutes.



MICHELLE


In 2022 MICHELLE released one of our favorite albums of the year, so I was excited to see them at the Bose x NME showcase. The NYC group sounded fantastic live, lead by 3 female vocalists whose voices blended together so smoothly. They danced confidently in sync, and laughed to the point of missing a few lyrics. You can tell this is a group of close friends chasing their dream together.


This showcase was centered around the C23 mixtape, which features 15 new tracks from emerging artists. Each artist revealed their new song at the event, many just released and performed for the first time. MICHELLE played THE PEACH, a light bop with plenty of cheeky innuendo.



JVKE


I hadn’t heard of JVKE, but a friend recommended him as a TikTok star with great music. My millennial cynicism shone brightly at the words “TikTok”. Never make assumptions at SXSW though!


This guy was so talented. The stage transformed into his bedroom with a bed and home-studio setup. JVKE wanted to take the audience where it all started. Throughout the show he acted out moments that inspired his songs. They were well written pop hits and he sang everything beautifully.


This Bose x NME showcase was a master SXSW production, and the only place I’ve seen literal fireworks on a small stage.


New Order

Photo by Bang Ho, Music Felon

My biggest SXSW advice is to avoid the over-hyped events at big venues like ACL Live. This festival is about discovery. But there’s an exception: when New Order plays, you go see them. They performed a technically perfect 2-hour set, filled with new material, the hits, and an emotional encore of 3 Joy Division songs.


The showcase served as an official launch of a brand new festival in Manchester called Beyond The Music. The mayor of Manchester opened with a passionate speech, and lead singer Bernard Sumner said, “Well I’ve never played for a delegation before.” But the best part was when a young group shoved their way to the front during Bizarre Love Triangle. In every other concert scenario this is the worst possible thing to do. As they passed one said, “We made it just in time, what a moment!” I realized they must have just gotten through the packed GA line, in time for the best chorus of the night. Later one of them crowd-surfed during Love Will Tear Us Apart.


This is the kind of joy live music creates and it’s contagious. SXSW gives the world these unique experiences, and inspires new ones like Beyond The Music.



7 Activations We Loved


HBO CoffeeHouse


We love a good party. But among the craziness of SXSW Interactive, the best activations are relaxing and intimate. HBO CoffeeHouse was small and hosted several star-studded talks, happy hours, and a brunch. It felt like being in HBOs backyard.



Roku City


Sometimes activations don’t have to make sense, they can just be fun. Roku City brought plenty of zany energy. It started with walking through a purple-hued cityscape. Prince hits were on repeat (perfect music choice for the occasion). Then everyone got a personal stylist who decked them out with purple accessories. We made our way to the rooftop overlooking downtown Austin. There people claimed reservations for a retro diner serving TV-themed bites. The whole experience was confusing but so damn fun.



Camp Yellowjackets


Camp Yellowjackets wins for best set design. We entered Fair Market and left SXSW, headed into the show’s wilderness. Fake snow, trees, and a giant cabin centerpiece. Each person was given a camp bracelet which is the coolest SXSW wristband ever (I’m keeping it). There was even some weird “mushroom” tea from the show’s psychedelic climax.



Paramount+ “The Lodge”


Clive Bar was the perfect venue for Paramount+’s bold concept: they combined 7 of their shows into one activation. Each person was given a “Ski Pass” with all the experiences listed. Everything from a Grease photo op, vinyl record art, and a Star Trek speakeasy. There was a lot to do without it being overwhelming.



Swarm MiniMart

Photo by Chris Xu, Sunlighter

This activation from Prime Video also had an incredible set design. The Austin Motel was transformed into a dreary, blood-stained convenience store from Donald Glover's new TV series. Each person was given $5 "cash" to spend on those classic minimart snacks: candy, chips, and soda. We were also given lottery tickets for a special prize (show-themed swag).



Porsche x The FADER - Collaborations Unseen


There’s no SXSW event more talked about than FADER Fort. We’ve crunched the numbers. But as the publication’s influence in the music world fades, it’s clear their SXSW presence will too. But the world wasn’t quite ready for this reality, so Porsche teamed up with The FADER for three nights of small music shows.


It was a classy, well-structured activation. Porsche cars were scattered throughout, each one an artistic collaboration that looked equal parts artwork and machine. The stage stood only a foot high so fans were face to face with the musicians, and side by side with the cars. It felt like an intimate performance in a Porsche garage.


It may not have been the lineup fans hoped for, but it was the closure we needed. Unless, just maybe, there’s more to come…



White Claw Shore Club


Every SXSW there’s a place we call “Home Base”. It needs to be reliable and relaxing. White Claw Shore Club was Home Base this year. They served up giant portions of tacos and thai food, and of course the claws were flowing like the Colorado River (that’s the one that goes through Austin). All the cans featured White Claw’s new vodka-based drink, which seems like a higher quality than the original malt-based version. It was the perfect mid afternoon meetup point to plan what the next move was.


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