The stages are down, the flyers are gone, and the C4 energy drink truck has packed up and departed to destination unknown. Even 6th Street’s become a drivable roadway again. SXSW is now a memory in the minds who lived it and for the most part, this year’s pared down festival felt like a return to the old days. Smaller crowds, more discovery, and less headaches.
During my four days covering SXSW Music 2022, I walked 84,000 steps, which equates to around 40 miles, in search of my local favorites and new finds. Like every year, I’ve presented my best of the festival organized like superlatives from a high school year book. Because – why not! Here are my favs from the fest.
Most Likely to Succeed in the Face of Overwhelming Obstacles – fuvk
For all the good, SXSW was marred with technical issues. Multiple sound problems, late set times, and shockingly poor sound production. Even a documentary short screening needed to cut a film last minute to technical issues. With the director in attendance.
Of all the snafoo’s, fuvk dealt with the worst. Guitars dropping out halfway through never to return, false starts, sagging violin mics, feedback screams, etc. And fuvk still pulled off an amazing performance. Even when it was just lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Shirley Zhu cooing sparse, specific lyrics of life, loss, and quiet regret, it brought tears to my eyes and transfixed the Stephen F Bar audience. A lovely set in the harshest of conditions.
Most Likely to Insite a Riot – Pleasure Venom
Oh, my poor aching ears. Minutes before attending Pleasure Venom’s Saturday showcase, in the midst of a damn near strip search by the Swan Dive staff, I lost my ear plugs, But I would not be deterred. And in the end, it was worth the minor case of tinnitus.
‘Cause that’s what punk is supposed to do. Rattle the brain and challenge the norms. Punk isn’t supposed to be safe, We dealt with that in the late 90’s. It’s supposed to be a primal scream and Pleasure Venom aims that voice straight at the heart of the boring majority, And if the swirling mosh pit churned by Pleasure Venom’s sharply written rock wasn’t evidence enough, I’m not sure what other proof you’d need.
Most Likely to Have a Breakout 2022 – Mama Duke
Let me also nominate her for the prestigious Best Stage Presence and Gracious in the Face of a Criminally Short Set Time awards. During the course of a 20 minute performance, this infectiously aggressive hip hop impresario turned a bar full of strangers into a legion of fans. Humorous, engaging, and dynamically talented, Mama Duke’s one-of-a-kind flow is unlike anything in the ATX.
And she’s just getting started. Linda Perry selected her to perform at her EqualizeHer showcase, she’s headed to Paris as part of an Austin music envoy, and her social media following is climbing. It’s only a matter of time before she breaks free from “bubbling under” status and climbs to the heights she’s destined to reach. Be sure to check her out live before you need to pay Ticketmaster fees to do so.
Best Voice – Melat
So many voices, only one award. How do I pick? In the end, I need to fall back on my top metric for vocal performance – astounding beauty that feels effortless. That’s what makes Mariah and Adelle sour above the likes of Aguilera and Arianna. Melat falls into that class of vocal performers.
Her afternoon set during the Black Fret GSD&M day show made believers of everyone who took the afternoon off to show up, Rather than rely on multi octave runs and showy histrionics, Melat projected power, sunshine and the occasional swag in every song. I’ve seen her a number of times and every time, she leaves an indelible impression.
Class Clown – Calliope Musicals
Before anybody derides me for using a what could be seen as a negative. make no mistake. At 9:00 at night during the last evening of SXSW. I need a laugh. I need a smile. And I desperately required Calliope Musical’s energetic, imaginative, and boisterous brand of psycho-circus space rock.
Through the length of their shockingly short 30 minute set at Cedar Street’s way-too-small backyard stage, Carrie Fussell’s band of misfits blared noise through a chest-strapped amp, danced amongst rainbow illuminated mic stands, and tossed pill bottles into the crowd during “Dr Pepper”. It was their final show of nine during SXSW 2022 and it still shone with energy, positivity, and pure joy.
Most Emotional (In a Good Way) – PASTEL GHOST
Like many I saw over the week, electronic artist PASTEL GHOST faced challenges. Situated in the square brick box known as Mohawk Indoor and struggling with setup issues, her SXSW showcase started ten minutes late. Although she looked nervous at first, once the lights went out and her haunting, thumping electro-horror kicked into gear did the room swell into a dance hall.
As the neighboring stage’s band finished up, listeners filled the room and the vibe turned from a get-together of friends to an all out gothic dance party. Electronic music has an uncanny way of touching hearts through pulsing, tribal beats and PASTEL GHOST, through the strength of her production, made insta-fans of everyone in attendance. When the lights came on and she saw (and felt) rapturous applause, all the happy tears came flowing. It was the most touching moment of the festival and one I hope affirms PASTEL GHOST as an artist of depth and power.
Class President – Tomar and the FC’s
Like the yearbook committee did back in high school, I labored over this award. So much music, so many amazing performers. But when I walked by Blackfinger on West 6th, heard a band that sounded like Tomar and then realized it was actually them, I stumbled across a dance party only he can deliver. The crowd was grooving, dance partners were pairing up and the bar felt like SXSW.
And in the end, that’s what Tomar and the FC’s did better than any other artist I saw. They embodied the heart of the festival. Walking into random places and finding music treasure. Bringing people together through the power of groove, soul, and Tomar’s bone rattling Clarence Carter vocals. Since the pandemic forced SXSW 2020 to cancel and pushed 2021 online, walking into a random bar and catching one of my favorite acts felt like old times. And for someone smack dab in the midst of dashing from venue to venue in search of random fun, it was exactly the elixir I needed. A firm reminder of what SXSW Music is and promises to be year after year.