SXSW Guest Review: Why Thandi Phoenix is worthy of memorialising

While at SXSW last month, a few emerging non-Australian writers were invited to head along to watch show featuring an Australian artist. Our second writer, Jaison Oliver, looks back on his experience watching Sydney’s rising pop star Thandi Pheonix.

“It’s all a blur of tacos.” Thandi Phoenix is somewhere in the middle of eight scheduled performances during SXSW in Texas and has clearly fallen into her own rhythm. 18th over Austin is a welcome venue change from the rest of downtown Austin, with plenty of space to lounge as you listen. The young Sydney-based singer tells love stories in a hotel bar overlooking the city and it’s the perfect place to get swept up in her music on a Friday night. Even with most songs touching on regretful love, there is a hopeful tone that sets an intimate mood just right for a date.

With the nighttime cityscape as her accompaniment alongside a drummer and keyboard, Phoenix has a comfortable presence that makes the performance seem as if she just met up with friends for drinks and happened to take to the stage. We watch as she sashays during the downtempo ‘Tell Me Where The Lovers Have Gone’ and nod our heads in unison as she transitions into the lively second half of the song. Instead of simply singing over her background track she modifies it playfully and provides variety for those here already familiar with her music. It’s at moments like this where she’s at her best.

Fans or not, all of us are focused on her, and that is no small feat at SXSW. I see more people recording the show than texting, which says that something about Phoenix is worthy of memorialising and sharing: her joy, her hair’s red highlights, or maybe just her confidence. A woman standing behind me holds her phone as if mid-message and stares at the stage mesmerised for at least a minute. We’re then allowed a glimpse into Phoenix’s musicianship as she takes over the keyboard before moving on to her latest single ‘Standing Too Close.’

Willing to take risks with her small captive audience, she warns us that we’re going to hear a new, unfinished song. In the uptempo track, Phoenix comes in “like Cleopatra,” telling would-be suitors that they had better come correct or step in line. The song marks a transition into the more personal portion of her set where she brings in influences from her South African heritage before moving on to an upcoming single, which talks about her personal growth.

Delivered by a strong voice with room to mature, her electropop songs resonate and draw an older man from his friends at the far end of the room. With no obvious ties to SXSW, his grinning face shows that Phoenix’s first overseas festival has definitely brought her some new fans.