SXSW Showcases: Austin to Norway

  • March 20, 2021
  • Share Facebook

With its all-digital platform this year, SXSW music showcases became easier to get to and more creatively staged.

Black Fret, an Austin non-profit that supports the creation and performance of local music — sound familiar? — spotlighted six local bands, while Northern Expo x SXSW took us into a cable car for a set from one of four bands from Norway.

Having played SXSW decades ago (thank you, City Weekly), I can tell you how important it is to get on a showcase during the festival and do your thing. It was a bit weird to see it remotely but no different than catching Austin City Limits late on a Saturday night on PBS Utah.  All in all, I met 10 new bands, which is the whole point of SXSW!

With a guiding mantra that local music is art and worthy of a community's support just like the symphony, opera and ballet, Black Fret's showcase included:

  • Sydney Wright, a West Texas born-and-bred singer-songwriter who's been playing piano since the age of 5, earned a degree in Ethnomusicology and also is a live sound engineer. Click here to check her out on major DSPs. 

  • Ley Line, a multilingual fusion folk band of four women. Their sophomore album, "We Saw Blue," landed them nominations for Austin Chronicle's 2020 Band of the Year and Album of the Year.  

  • Motenko, a four-piece groove-machine mashing up 70s-era R&B, soul, funk and more. Click here to check out their self-titled, 5-song debut EP.

  • Eimaral Sol, for whom the label "soul" is too limiting. Influences include Erykah Badu, Amy Winehouse, Billy Holiday, and Lauryn Hill. Given that roster, it should come as no surprise that Sol uses her talents to "spread knowledge, love and acceptance of others and oneself." Check out her Soundcloud.

  • PR Newman, led by frontman Spencer “Punkrock Randy Newman” Garland. He's played keys with Black Pumas and Delta Spirit's Matthew Logan Vasquez. During his two-song set, Garland managed to work in Bernie Sanders and sexuality lyrically — or was it Bernie Sanders’ sexuality? Gonna have to watch that one more time. Click here for music and tour info.

  • Buffalo Hunt's first song went out to Snoop Dogg and the Dali Lama. Fronted by Stephanie Hunt, this three-some packed a one-two punch — aching harmonies in a stripped-down love song, then an ode to cell phones. Click here for Buffalo Hunt doing Fearless Things for A Do512 Lounge Session.

Northern Expo x SWSW Online showcase was also a visual travelogue shot in and around Tromsø, Norway. The scene opens on a snowy street where we're met by two women in traditional Sámi dress: 

  • OZAS, performing "Gula Oaapazan." This band features two sisters, Risten Anine and Sara Marielle, traditional and modern juoigit (yoikers) from the Northern-Sámi town Guovdageaidnu. They use music, art and storytelling to preserve their traditional culture, which was on full display in their performance — bay in the background, people walking by, their voices accompanied by guitarist "Espen Elverum Jakobsen on a double-neck — you know how you do. Click here to check them out. Loved the drone shot at the end of their performance, which then took up with a passerby who turned out to be the next performer on deck.

  • Oter as Young Hoel, performing "DA" and "Blues." Known as "The Nas of the North" among Norway's hip hop crowd, Oter's driven around town and across giant bridges, all the while rapping in the backseat. I loved the way they filmed this as much as I wondered what he was singing about. Since I'm not the go-to for rap and hip hop, especially in Norwegian, I'll leave it to Friday Night Fall Out to judge the bars, but you can click here to see Young Hoel, Oter's pandemic alter-ego, skating and rapping.

  • The road trip with Oter led to a cable car ride with I See Rivers performing "I Think I Like You." Reminded me of the Frontside Sessions on the Tram at Snowbird a few years back. From Bodø, Norway (but now living in Wales), ISR is Eline Brun, Gøril Nilsen and Lill Scheie. Their "float pop" was amazing against a backdrop that was literally dropping away. Click here for their website and music.

  • At the top of the cable car ride is a platform overlooking the town, and on that platform waiting for us was Heave Blood & Die (so far, my favorite band name at SXSW this year) performing "Radio Silence." The band's bio describes them as "the inward explosions of The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and Killing Joke" — all that and a blizzard. It's actually an apt description, and I loved it. Click here to see if your ears agree.

While I liked the traditional showcase vibe from Black Fret and its bands, I'm telling you, Norway blew me away. This is the best way I've ever seen to do a showcase — merging music, film and, oddly, tourism. Norway's now on my bucket list. If they make the video showcase public after SXSW, I'll be sure to update this post.