The British Music Embassy has been the official British artists residency at SXSW since 2008, with the curated showcase occupying a room at SXSW in Austin, Texas every year to highlight the best new music from the UK. This is the case again for 2021, with the added element of the festival being held virtually due to the global pandemic.
This year, the British Music Embassy showcased total of 35 artists spread across the five days of the SXSW festival (March 16 – 20, spanning several different genres, from pop to afro-futurism to psych-rock, with artists such as Connie Constance, Enola Gay, Finn Askey and Afronaut Zu.
We were fortunate to catch one of the two showcases that took place on March 17, with performances from Ego Ella May, Porij, Phoebe Green and Tayo Sound.
Nigerian-Scottish singer Tayo Sound opened the show and the first track he performed was “Runaway”, a song from his latest EP of the same name which was released earlier this year. Playing his guitar and accompanied by his keyboardist and drummer, the singer takes us directly into a joyful universe with a very danceable rhythmic.
“Cold Feet”, another track from his EP, is the second song he performed, choosing to use a softer vibe with some indie tones to tell us about his first love and their relationship. He then goes acoustic, guitar still in hand, for the track “Ruby Red”. The background gets dimmer and the lights become a ruby red colour, creating a much more intimate atmosphere to accompany the performance.
He ended his performance by playing the song “Hide And Seek”. Backed by the drum patterns behind him, the track has a very happy tone that instantly puts a smile on your face. It was the perfect song to listen to as spring is just around the corner.
British band Porij, whose name is in reference to the actual food porridge and who also recently appeared in the Netflix series Sex Education, is composed of lead singer Eggy, drummer Tom, electric guitar player Tommy who also sings along with Eggy, and Jammo on bass guitar.
For the British Music Embassy showcase, they opened their set with “Closer”, an electronic track with house music leanings type f song. Thematically, it seems like a love song, with lyrics like “I just want you closer / Than ever before/ I don’t want you to go“.
For their second track, they performed their third most listened song titled “Dirty Love”, which starts with a very electronic vibe to it, before veering into a more house music rhythm. The third song they performed is titled “150”, which is a much softer and slower song that builds into a dance offering as it approaches the chorus and closes out with the dance-heavy instrumentation interlude without any lyrics.
To finish off the show, they performed their 2020 release titled “I Like That”, a song that starts off with a jazz vibe and escalates to their usual dance/house music wheel house to excellent effect.
Since her debut EP in 2013, South London R&B-soul artist Ego Ella May has continued to grow bigger and bigger in stature in the music industry, and she recently won a MOBO Award for her acclaimed debut album Honey For Wounds.
She started her performance with the track titled “In The Morning” from her Honey For Wounds album, which was released last June. The song is about overcoming trauma – not knowing where to go or even what to do, but then we can start over and do something better the next morning. The track really has a soul touch to it, with the sad-like lyrics.
The second track she performs is from the same album and is titled “Tonight I’m Drowning”, the single is very soft in its rhythm and the lights turned red for the song, perhaps displaying the color of love. Even with the dark lyrics, the song has a lounge vibe to it.
To finish off her performance she played another song from her album, this one titled “Give A Little”. The song has quite the same soulful vibe as her other two songs, with her accompanying band giving her performances an added layer and dimension and bringing these songs further to life.
The final performance came from Manchester singer Phoebe Green accompanied by her 4-piece band across keyboards, drums and guitar, which was an unanimous success. Phoebe took us step by step into her universe with four songs “Grit”, “A World I Forgot”, “Golden Girl” and finally “Reinvent”.
Her voice transported us into an indie pop rock universe, with spiritual and personal lyrics. Throughout her performance, Phoebe kept us attentive and hooked on every note of her songs and made us want to listen again.
Her lyrics are often about identity and self-esteem, especially for the new generation. She manages to hide a slight sensitivity with an impressive vocal strength. The instrumentation and melodic constructions complement the singer’s silky voice and add extra emotion.
She ended her performance with the song “Reinvent”, which is a perfect example of what it feels like to be in today’s society at Phoebe’s age. “Reinvent” closes her performance and the showcase perfectly.
The British Music Embassy at SXSW has allowed us to discover or even rediscover some of the stellar musical talents of the British scene this year, with Tayo Sound, Porij, Ego Ella May and Phoebe Green seizing their opportunity to capture the massive global audiences that plugged into SXSW this year.
Each performance at this showcase highlighted a very different element of the emerging British music scene, putting forward the many different musical universes and cultures across the UK that make British music an exciting prospect for 2021 and beyond.