SXSW 2022 Recap: Day 1

The SXSW music festival is in full swing here in Austin! After spending most of the day picking up registration and scoping out the area, we managed to attend our first official showcases of the festival.

First, we managed to catch a couple of acts performing in our hotel lobby during the Embassy Suites’ evening reception. Low Girl, an alt-pop band from the UK fronted by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Cosgrove, played a stripped back set ahead of their showcase performance at the British Music Embassy on Wednesday. 

We also heard from Akeem Music, a songwriter from Brazil who currently resides in Los Angeles. Akeem and his band played a set of indie pop songs featuring lyrics in both English and Portuguese. Akeem will be performing a full set at Speakeasy on Friday night. Both sets were quite impressive and left us excited to check out their bigger showcases later this week.

As we made our way to Austin’s Red River District, we caught Toronto’s Bad Waitress performing on the patio at Swan Dive. They’re a punk band reminiscent of riot grrrl acts of the early 90s like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. They launched from one spunky track to the next at breakneck speed, accompanied by kaleidoscopic visuals which were projected onto the wall behind them.

From Swan Dive, we made our way to our final venue of the night, the Works in Progress showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Zola Jesus played a set that can best be described as vulnerable. Not only was this her first live show in two years, she was doing it solo. With nothing in front of her but a synthesizer keyboard, she condensed her haunting sound into minimalist piano arrangements which left the crowd breathless. Her set concluded with a Ukrainian folk song, a gesture which she dedicated to her ancestors as well as the countless people in Ukraine that have been affected by the ongoing Russian invasion. As she sang, the stage lit up brilliant shades of blue and yellow, evoking the image of the Ukrainian flag and accenting what was already an incredibly powerful moment.

We were then treated to a set from Durand Bernarr, a relatively lesser-known artist whose most notable credits outside of his own body of work to date are minor appearances on Anderson .Paak’s 2019 album Ventura (“Winner’s Circle”) and KAYTRANADA’s 2019 album BUBBA (“Freefall”). After seeing him perform, it’s clear that he deserves WAY more recognition. His vocals were never anything short of perfect, and the level of control he has over his entire vocal range is mesmerizing. His music is a blend of neo-soul and RnB which is as energetic as it is sexy. Even aside from the music, Bernarr’s stage presence and affinity for performance is undeniable, combining the spirit of legendary performers like James Brown with his own unique brand of sass and flamboyance through the energy with which he moved around the stage. Bernarr’s personality absolutely shone during his set, and we strongly recommend that you see him live if you’re able.

Miami, Florida’s Magdalena Bay bookended our time at Cheer Up Charlie’s with an explosive and shimmery set. The duo hit all the highlights from last year’s incredible debut album, Mercurial World, opening with “Dawning of the Season,” which transitioned into “Secrets (Your Fire),” followed by “You Lose!,” “Chaeri,” “Hysterical Us,” “Dreamcatching,” and “The Beginning.” Once things kicked off, it was all gas, no brakes; Mica’s vocals were endlessly transfixing, Matthew’s guitar and synth work were technically and sonically impressive, and the crowd loved every second. The duo rounded out their set with perhaps their best known track from their debut A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling EP, “Killshot,” interpolating the equally popular “Slowed + Reverb” version near the end. Magdalena Bay’s set closed out an incredible first day here at SXSW, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has to offer.