The 15 Best Showcases at SXSW 2021

While we were glad that we didn’t have to endure a second year SXSW cancellations, we were admittedly skeptical about how the music portion of SXSW would translate into a digital setting. These 15 showcases helped to prove us wrong.

Though our fingers are crossed that come SXSW 2022 we’ll be sitting on an Austin patio, a Tito’s Handmade Vodka in one hand and a taco in the other, SXSW Online was an exercise in how the best forms of creativity aren’t held back by constraints – they flourish in them.

Sinead O’Brien at the British Music Embassy Presents Showcase

British Music Embassy Presents

New British music has long had a good home at the SXSW British Music Embassy, and 2021 was no exception. After SXSW 2020’s cancellation, the British Music Embassy team recorded half hour sets with the artists who were slated to perform at the year’s event. “That laid the blueprint for what we did this year,” shares Phil Patterson from the Department for International Trade UK. “This time around, with a little more than the week we had last year to plan, we managed to film and record 35 artists who delivered some great performances.”

Of all showcase presenters, the British Music Embassy had by far the largest presence at the festival, and the quality of their talent and production shone through. With their excellent camera work, unique stage set-up, and stellar lighting, the British Music Embassy was the closest thing I felt to an actual concert during the festival.

With 35 artists in attendance, it’s tough to choose just a few standouts, but we especially loved the flamboyant glam rock of Walt Disco, Onipa’s fusion of afrobeats and rock, Sinead O’Brien’s transfixing rock poetry, and porij’s danceable genre-mashing. lau.ra’s feel good beats, Olivia Dean’s soulful pop, and Baby Queen’s glitchy alt-pop were the most fun we’ve ever had at 6am. And of course, there was a plethora of excellent post-punk courtesy of Black Country New Road, Do Nothing, and Squid.

The showcase also had a home in the virtual world, with a VR Chat recreation of the Cedar Street Courtyard serving as the showcase’s virtual home.


Noya Rao at the Jazz re:Freshed Outernational showcase

Jazz re:Freshed Outernational

With their jazz fusion offerings, Jazz re:Freshed offers a value proposition unlike anything else at SXSW. Filmed at the famous Abbey Road Studios, the showcase was a well-needed mental cleanse after staring at a computer screen all day.

“Jazz re:freshed are determined to continue to be a beacon for UK Jazz globally, and so finding ways to still get the music out to the world was our mission,” said Yvette Griffith, Co-Chief Exec & Executive Director. “We have moved our annual one day festival, our weekly showcase event, and now our international showcase at SXSW all online, and are getting the music even further afield than before.”

Some highlights included a performance from tubist Theon Cross that traversed the lines of jazz, funk, dubstep, grime, and hip-hop, and a soulful electro-jazz set from Noya Rao.


Beauty Sleep at the Output Belfast showcase

Output Belfast 

What better way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day than with some Irish music? The showcase, which featured four artists of diverse genres, kicked off with a well-timed St Patty’s toast from Beauty Sleep frontwoman Cheylene Murphy.

Other highlights included Enola Gay’s electric, politically charged punk, Lilla Vargen’s heartfelt balladry and Ryan McMullan charming singer-songwriter performance. 

“Creating an online showcase (in association with British Music Embassy) for this year’s SXSW was definitely new territory for us,” Output Belfast told us, “but we had a fantastic crew from Northern Ireland putting together the production, including Ciara McMullan who directed, and Forfey whose studio we recorded in. Plus we had four incredibly talented artists who were a dream to work with. We feel extremely proud of how it turned out and can’t wait for next year’s event.”


Baker Boy at the Close Up: A Sounds Australia Showcase

Close Up: A Sounds Australia Showcase

Sounds Australia is another longstanding presence at SXSW. Throughout their several evenings of programming, hosted by the lovably pun-filled Glenny G (a.k.a Sounds Australia Export Music Producer Glenn Dickie), artists performed from their “backyards”. A special shoutout needs to go to the Sounds Australia team for moderating a lively live chat during each showcase, including tidbits of artist information throughout, and live chat cameos from performing artists and their management – all despite the 15 hour time difference separating Australia from Austin.

We especially loved the Yolngu hip-hop of Baker Boy, the psychedelic sounds of The Lazy Eyes, Death by Denim’s Arctic Monkeys meets Tame Impala swagger, and Sycco’s indie pop gems. Kota Banks & Ninajirachi’s electro-pop performance made a convert out of us, and the inimitable Jaguar Jonze made us miss concerts more than ever with a rocking performance filmed live at a show in Australia – where concerts are once again active.