SXSW Music Festival 2021: Friday-Saturday, March 19-20

Antti Paalanen at SXSW 2021

Another couple days of SXSW Music Festival 2021 came and went (March 19-20, 2021). Because of its reduced footprint and roster, SXSW Online is nowhere near as overwhelming than previously needing to navigate trying to cover potentially hundreds of artists in dozens of venues.

The result is fewer choices and a mostly passive overall experience. I didn’t regularly chat with other attendees or network that much, but I did use a second monitor to research the artist I was listening to at the time. This was my way of making it more interactive, but I felt anything more would have been distracting and disrespectful to the artist – akin to being in the front row and staring at your phone the whole time.

But the fewer showcase artists represented a diverse mix of genres and seemed to hit the right note. In previous years, I probably never would have found time to listen to Australian composer Luke Howard (“In Metaphor, Solace”) had he not been the only scheduled performer during the noontime hour. Nor would I have listened to as many international artists simply because it would’ve been difficult to engage with non-English lyrics, but showcases like Tokyo Sessions featured intense performances and seriously catchy tunes from music collective Millennium Parade (“2992”) and hip-hop artist Awich (“Bad Bad”).

Am I crazy to think Finnish folk artist Antti Paalanen (“Elä”) had the best SXSW performance with his brilliant blend of accordion, Siberian throat-singing, and cinematic visuals?

A close second would then be New Zealand dream pop duo Purple Pilgrims (“Sensing Me”), whose soothing and elegant harmonies could stretch a Zales jewelry commercial into a Hallmark Channel made-for-television movie.

Out of everyone I saw these last two days, I craved a complete set from Austin-based indie folk quintet The Deer with strong refreshing harmonies led by vocalist Grace Rowland. Quite frankly, the entire Nine Mile Records & Touring Showcase filled with Austin-based artists were a treat: Americana singer-songwriter Carson McHone, soul-rock duo Greyhounds, and soulful roots rocker Kevin Galloway.

I’m anxious to see what on-demand performances will be available starting today, which would hopefully include complete sets.

Additional thoughts and worth a listen:

  • Punk rockers Lord Friday the 13th had me with those seductive opening lyrics: “I wanna a Big Mac” (“Big Mac”).
  • Indonesian indie rockers Grrrl Gang (“Honey, Baby”)
  • Always great to see a live performance inside an operational gondola as Norwegian folk trio I See Rivers did (“I Think I Like You”).
  • Hip hop trio clipping. (“Nothing is Safe”)
  • Does anyone believe that was Steady Holiday‘s actual crib during her Tiny Desk performance?
  • A stripped down set from British dream pop duo IDER
  • Smooth but sad indie pop sounds of singer-songwriter School of X (“Forgot Me on the Moon”)

[Screenshot via Tan The Man]

NOTE: Article previously published on Blogcritics.

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