Saddest Factory Records Showcase at SXSW 2022

todayApril 2, 2022 381 3 1

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By Ashley Farnie
Music Director

Austin’s South by Southwest provides a plethora of live shows to attend, often organized into showcases according to venue, record label or nationality of the performer. I attended an Irish showcase on St. Patrick’s Day featuring Irish artists, the Women That Rock showcase featuring female artists and female-led bands, as well as Saddest Factory Records’ showcase featuring the artists signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ label.

As I am sure many fans are drawn to artists they relate to, my first time hearing “Funeral” by Phoebe Bridgers immediately led me to delve into  her discography. The emotion communicated through the elegiac ballad struck me with a cathartic resonance, and so began my fascination with Phoebe’s work. Surrounded by musicians and artistic inspiration, Phoebe has collaborated with friends to produce collaborative projects.

Dressed in a slate grey suit, Phoebe Bridgers grips the microphone singing, her eyes closed, and her platinum blonde hair placed in two buns atop her head. A warm glow hazes the image, and musician Carey Clayton plays an electric guitar behind a keyboard.
Phoebe Bridgers joins label signees onstage for SFR’s debut showcase at SXSW 2022. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

In 2018, Phoebe, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus released an EP entitled boygenius, a six-track lyrical lament providing emotional recognition for the sad sentiments of younger generations. Further filling the gap between independent album releases, Phoebe collaborated with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes to form the group Better Oblivion Community Center, releasing two singles and an album in 2019.

Phoebe has proven her drive to conquer the music industry and formed her own record label under Secretly Group in partnership with Dead Oceans in 2020. Formed amidst the cessation of live shows, Phoebe’s label secured its internet presence, establishing its satirically corporate aesthetic and debuting the artists and name of the label, Saddest Factory Records (SFR).

Nearly two years after its inception, SFR hosted a showcase at South by Southwest 2022. Each of the four musical acts signed to Phoebe’s label performed a set, with the boss herself accompanying each artist in a song.

Resting my arms against the barricade claiming my front row photographer view, it felt a little surreal to be at the debut showcase for a label founded by a woman I consider a role model. Assuming her role as host, Phoebe introduced herself and her label to the audience at Mohawk, setting the stage for the first performer of the night.

Dressed for SFR’s corporate retreat in a black suit, Charlie Hickey captivated the audience, alternating between his acoustic and electric guitars backed by his band members, Carey Clayton (keys, guitar), Julian Harmon (drums), and Kaylee Stenberg (bass). Anticipating the release of his debut album, Nervous At Night (May 2022), Charlie presented the audience his emotional depth in the lyricism of his first six songs.

Charlie Hickey beneath a green hue playing a red electric guitar, backed by drummer and bassist. Dressed in a suit for SFR’s corporate retreat, Hickey smiles mid-strum.
Charlie Hickey on electric guitar performing his released tracks before his debut album is released in May. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Joined by Phoebe to perform his first released single, “No Good at Lying,” the companionship of the artists becomes apparent with their perfectly blended harmonies and beautifully tragic lyrical ballads. Gracing the crowd with serenity to subside the commotion of SXSW, Charlie’s emotional intelligence blankets the anxieties of the world and demands your full attention.

Phoebe Bridgers sings, eyes closed, beside Charlie Hickey. Phoebe’s grey suit and platinum hair placed in space buns glow underneath yellow-tinted lighting. With a dark wooded acoustic guitar in hand, Charlie strums the ballad dressed for business in a dark suit. Backgrounded by Charlie’s drummer and bassist, the Saddest Factory Records banner hangs adjacent the SXSW banner.
Friends for nearly ten years, Phoebe Bridgers performs alongside Charlie Hickey his first released single featuring Phoebe, “No Good At Lying.” Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Charlie’s calming presence descends from the stage, bringing forth the organization of nearly an entire orchestra. Sloppy Jane, fronted by Haley Dahl, incorporates orchestral instrumentation and diverse song structure to craft an encapsulating onstage presence. Her eleven-piece band gathers on the outdoor stage of Mohawk, close and hopefully comfortable. Haley’s royal blue shimmers under the fluorescent stage lighting, capturing the attention of the crowd and her orchestra.

Dressed in a blue velvet suit structured with shoulder pads, Haley captivates the crowd illuminated against blue stage lighting. Sloppy Jane band members background the photo, including a cellist and guitarist. Haley’s auburn hair stands out against her royal blue ensemble.
Haley Dahl’s ethereal presence illuminates the stage. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Haley leads the band, conducting the orchestra and stealing the show by performance. Tears of blue glitter stream down Haley’s cheeks, and her theatricality pulls you into the show.

The former bassist of the original trio, Phoebe runs onstage to perform “Where’s My Wife” from Sloppy Jane’s 2018 album, Willow. Showcasing their close friendship and comedic chemistry, Phoebe and Haley scream to each other, hug each other, and attempt to climb each other’s shoulders. I cannot brag about being front and center for this performance enough.

Portraying their close friendship, Phoebe Bridgers sits onstage hugging Haley Dahl from behind, while both scream into their microphones.
Phoebe Bridgers joins Haley Dahl onstage to perform “Where’s My Wife?” from Sloppy Jane’s first album. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Clearing the stage for the initial sole signee to Phoebe’s then-unnamed record label, Claud takes the stage sporting a Rugrats tee with their vibrant green hair. I spoke with Claud earlier that day about their past and present experiences at SXSW, their involvement with SFR, and their songwriting process both independently and collaboratively.

Green stage lights illuminate Claud’s green hair and green electric guitar. Dressed in a Rugrats t-shirt layered with a checkered long-sleeved tee, Claud sings into a standing microphone.
Claud’s inclination towards green radiates their stage presence. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Claud mentioned that the release of their first album and the ability to share a cohesive totality of their artistic vision “has made it easier for everything,” especially touring and performing. Their recent release, Super Monster, equips the setlist for Claud’s show at SXSW in the midst of what they call their “Super Monstour.” The onstage lights mimic Claud’s album art and pull you into the narrative “full-body piece of work, almost like a full circle of who [Claud is] as an artist.”

Concluding with a guitar-shredding session between Claud and Phoebe while performing “Soft Spot,” the energy of the SFR showcase steadily increases as the audience awaits pop trio, MUNA.

Illuminated by green stage lights, Phoebe Bridgers kneels onstage, assisting Claud in shredding the electric guitar. Claud bends toward Phoebe, creating a sideview of the performers blurred by motion.
Phoebe Bridgers joins Claud onstage to perform “Soft Spot.” Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Fronted by ginger Katie Gavin continuing the trend of business attire in a complementary orange two-piece jumpsuit topped with a lavender blazer for professional purposes, MUNA carries the energy from Claud’s set into the finale of the showcase.

Katie Gavin, in an orange jumpsuit topped with a purple blazer, does a high kick onstage with her tongue out. Naomi McPherson and drummer background the photo.
Katie Gavin kicks off MUNA’s set energetically. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Alongside guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, the trio’s camaraderie fuels their stage presence. Josette kept the crowd going throughout the fourth set of the showcase, encouraging audience participation, a necessity for the performer’s sake as well. Cool, calm, collected and shaded by sunglasses, Naomi’s chill onstage presence makes their talented guitar playing appear effortless.

Dressed in a blue top with brown pants and playing a black and white electric guitar, Josette’s black curls rest above her shoulders.
Josette energizes the crowd with her powerful guitar playing. Photo by Ashley Farnie.
Illuminated by red stage lighting, Naomi’s orange-tinted sunglasses complement their orange long-sleeved top paired with brown pants. Naomi plays an electric guitar balanced on their right leg.
Naomi McPherson proves their chill, performing in sunglasses at night. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

A highly anticipated performance by myself upon the announcement of SFR’s participation in SXSW, Phoebe joins MUNA onstage for her verse in “Silk Chiffon,” a track released in September 2021 by MUNA featuring Phoebe. Contrasting Phoebe’s personal style, the bubblegum pop sound of this song turns the crowd into a dance floor. I had to set my camera aside to fully experience the serotonin this song produces.

To close the debut showcase of the artists of Saddest Factory Records, Phoebe and various SFR employees rejoined onstage to perform karaoke together, selecting “Welcome To The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance as their song choice. Phones raised in the air and voices screamed the lyrics at  a volume that had yet to be reached until then.

From left to right: drummer for Sloppy Jane, Bailey Wollowitz, sings into the microphone wearing a navy blue suit jacket; Haley Dahl, center, dressed in royal blue velour tracksuit, holds a microphone while typing on a flip phone; Phoebe Bridgers, in her slate grey suit, leans into Haley, laughing at the flip phone.
The shades, the flip phone, and MCR’s emo anthem make an appearance at the SFR debut showcase. Photo by Ashley Farnie.

Witnessing the product of a successful woman in music at the Saddest Factory Records showcase inspired me as someone involved with the music industry. Phoebe Bridgers sets an example for successful women, especially in an industry predominantly headed by men. Each set brought a unique sound, diversifying the artistry within the label. I suspect we can only expect the progression and success of Saddest Factory Records from here.

While we anticipate Phoebe Bridgers’ takeover of the music industry, be sure to support the artists signed to Saddest Factory Records by purchasing merchandise, attending shows, and streaming their music! Tune in to KTSW89.9 to hear music from the featured artists and many more musical acts to discover.

Recent and expected releases of SFR artists:

Charlie Hickey – Nervous At Night. 5/20/22. Title track available now!

Sloppy Jane – Madison. Available now!

Claud – Super Monster. Available now!

MUNA – MUNA. 6/24/22. “Anything But Me” available now!


Featured Image by Ashley Farnie.

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