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The 10 Best Artists We Saw at SXSW 2023

On March 20, 2023
Photos by VMP Staff or as credited below

Last week, VMP editorial and music staff traveled to Austin, Texas, for SXSW Music. Here’s the 10 best artists we saw — between the tacos, mechanical bull riding (for one of us) and unexpected thunderstorms.

Baby Rose

It was her first time at SXSW, but Baby Rose is hardly a newcomer and said she’s waited for this for so long: The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and producer wowed us at more than one performance last week (it nearly came to drawing straws for the three of us VMP employees writing about SXSW to decide who would describe seeing her). At her Wednesday set at the Seven Grand, Rose reminisced with her guitarist about playing bars like it together in the past, as she got vulnerable with the crowd about the pandemic putting things into perspective and convincing her to love hard even if you’ll get hurt. Rose’s mother, who got a shoutout, was right beside me in front of the stage, proudly filming most of the show on her phone. I finished the week with “I Won’t Tell” — a recent single from Rose’s upcoming record Through and Through — still playing on repeat in my head, even after ending my time at SXSW listening to an industrial noise band that should’ve obliterated the earworm. — Theda Berry

   Photo by Theda Berry




Despite waking up with her band at 5 a.m. on Friday for a radio session (and joking that the audience looked like “ghosts or raccoons, or something”), Barrie Lindsay, who performs as Barrie, was still effusive to be playing the Winspear, Luminelle & POND day party at the packed inside stage at Cheer Up Charlie’s. With choreography and vocals from Gabby Smith and Jordyn Tomlin, and keys and vocals by Sarah Jordan, Barrie’s performance was notable for angelic harmonies and dance moves that were perfectly in sync, and near-saccharine sweetness: Smith, Tomlin and Lindsay got the giggles more than once, and Smith and Lindsay, who are married, cozied up to the same mic at one point. — TB

be your own PET

Look, I’ve already waxed poetic in the e-pages of this particular publication about what be your own PET reuniting last year meant to me. To see them a year later as one of the biggest and busiest bands at SXSW warmed the cockles of my jaded 6th-time-at-SXSW heart. The nighttime set I saw at Mohawk was raw power, delivering favorites like “Adventure” and future hearing loss I’ll be billing to my HMO. They played a Damned cover and a couple new tunes; bands don’t reunite to play the hits at SXSW. A new album must be coming soon, and my internal 21-year-old and I are extremely pumped. — Andrew Winistorfer

Frost Children

Seeing hyperpop live feels like a gamble — and as I watched the band soundtrack live drums, guitar and bass I felt even more uncertain, despite my excitement with the latest string of singles from their upcoming album. I’m unfortunately familiar with the “electronic band tries to be a rock band live and falls flat” trope, HOWEVER, NYC’s Frost Children delivered on 30 minutes of back-to-back glitchy, glitzy bangers. We love to see a set with an outfit change, we love to see a set where a keyboard gets played with a big blade but, most importantly, we love a set where everyone is just having a good time. Their new album is out in mid-April and after seeing their set, I’ll be counting the days. — Cydney Berlinger

   Photo by Bryce Saucier  

Madison McFerrin

Sometimes you see an artist with a lot of buzz at SXSW, and you see them just to confirm that, yes, the pre-release singles you’ve heard do sound good in a medium- to large-sized room, nothing more, nothing less. Seeing Madison McFerrin play the Central Presbyterian Church was not that: I came away understanding what the fuss around her has all been about, and kicking myself for not hearing it in her releases so far. She’s like Patrice Rushen doing songs about fighting on road trips, a magnetic performer who’s a decade in and can have a crowd in the palm of her hand, ready to be crushed by each vocal run or devastating turn of phrase. Her debut is out in May; don’t sleep, like I have been. — AW

Mandy, Indiana

Something about me is I love a band that’s loud as fuck, so I was already grinning from ear to ear from the moment the U.K.’s Mandy, Indiana started to soundcheck. From the jump, frontperson Valentine Caulfield commanded the stage — her magnetic, cool and expressively spoken vocals soaring over distorted guitar feedback and fat juicy bass synths. There’s something so special about live drums in industrial-adjacent music… it just really gets me going. TBH since Friday night I’ve been nonstop listening to this band and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. — CW

   Photo by Theda Berry




There’s working a crowd, and then there’s what the vocalist Cole Haden of Brooklyn-based Model/Actriz did at the band’s fifth SXSW set at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Friday afternoon: He spent more time off of the stage than on it, often singing forehead-to-forehead with people in the audience, or resting his head, clad in a white crochet hat with bunny ears, on their shoulders. While guitarist Jack Wetmore, drummer Ruben Radlauer and bassist Aaron Shapiro kept up the energy onstage, Haden wandered through the crowd, dripping with charisma. I spotted indie acts Tomberlin and Indigo De Souza looking on as he made direct eye contact with someone against the wall for the second verse of “Mosquito” — off the band’s debut album Dogsbody, released last month — singing to them alone, “Apple to mouth, come pluck me out, come pluck me out / Make me / Blushed and brilliant.” — TB

   Photo by Theda Berry




Nigerian-born, London-based artist and vocal shapeshifter Steven Umoh, who performs as Obongjayar, was one of the artists I was most excited to see at SXSW, and he more than lived up to my expectations — following a U.K. tour and a festival appearance in Lagos, the set I attended marked Umoh’s debut performance in the U.S. In what could have been a low-energy afternoon show at the outdoor stage at Empire Control Room & Garage on Thursday, Umoh delivered the most physical set I saw during my time in Austin, moving and dancing across the entire stage and stripping off his shirt, drenched in sweat, after just one song. Backed by two percussionists, guitar, bass and trumpet, the performance had powerful dynamic high points, but Umoh was at his most hypnotic when the instrumentation dropped out — like for the final chorus of “Parasite,” intoning, “You don’t know what’s wrong with me … You don’t fear how I fear.” — TB

   Photo by Kelsey Wagner  


As people were packing into the Creem Magazine showcase at Chess Club on Thursday afternoon, the room was bubbling with excitement for what we were all about to see, and let me be clear: the Nashville freak punks did not disappoint. Erupting into a tight set at hyper speed, Snooper checked every possible box: matching tracksuits, massive stage props, crowd surfing, synchronized movement, big riffage — the vibes were immaculate. As their set drew to a close the room had noticeably increased in temperature — Snooper plays and the audience has no choice but to dance. — CB

   Photo courtesy of Yogetsu Akasaka  

Yogetsu Akasaka

Like a lot of us, I’ve spent the past three years of the pandemic trying to work on my interior life, disconnecting from social media and putting my phone down and getting away from the endlessly refreshing maw of the all-mighty Feed. That’s manifested in listening to a lot of ASMR and meditation music as a way of centering myself. Yogetsu Akasaka makes perfect music for exploring your interior galaxy, music that feels both futuristic and ancient, a blending of hand pans and chants and some of the most impressive beatboxing I’ve ever seen or heard. Centered around the Zen Buddhist idea that everything happens only once, so you should be as present as possible, he never performs the same music twice, and improvs massive compositions that build and decay like the earth itself. It’s not every day you get to say that you saw a beatboxing monk play a Presbyterian church, but that’s what SXSW is all about, baby. — AW


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