White Label Collective Headlined by John Legend: Event Review

I’m no stranger to writing about SXSW, and if you follow my articles at all, you’ve probably noticed that. The most exciting aspect of SXSW for me, is the wide-ranging entertainment its showcases represent. From Smallpools and MisterWives to Bridget Kelly and Joey Badass, Austin, Texas houses key players of every musical genre for a week straight. On Saturday, March 21st the AXE White Label Collective Party took place at Cheer Up Charlies on Red River Street. It was a showcase made up of performers such as YG, ASTR, James Davis and the one and only, John Legend. The event was hosted by SPIN Magazine and AXE for men.

Taking place in an outdoor space on a rainy Austin day, the showcase still managed to yield an audience of about 500-700 fans, comparably smaller to the expected audiences around town. This unique venue served as the perfect environment for such an eclectic mix of performances and allowed for a cozy environment where the audience could feel connected to what was happening on stage.

The first group to perform was known as ASTR. They are an electro pop/punk duo based out of NYC and encompass layered and matchless female vocals over simplistic beats. Zoe Silverman is the catchy voice that drives the choruses you’ll find stuck in your head after listening, while Adam Pallin creates the production that brings fans to their feet. With a band name inspired by Greek mythology, the two are sure to always bring psychedelic remnants to their music. Their debut project, the Varsity EP, could’ve been what sparked the White Label Collective to make them an addition to their SXSW showcase, but the musically balanced couple performed at least two new songs exclusively for their Texas audience.

John Legend was perhaps the driving factor behind this showcase and his recent partnership with AXE and their drive to showcase emerging talent was truly captured at this event. Legend introduced the AXE White Label Collective artists that he handpicked and mentored for the showcase. Parallel to SPIN’s mission of promoting new music in their articles, White Label Collective itself is a music, fashion and talent hub that nurtures the development of evolving artists.

Alejandro Palma’s performance of his original song “Satisfied,” showcased his singer-songwriter abilities with just him and his keyboard. “Satisfied” is the song that primarily caught Legend’s attention and led to Palma receiving a spot on the Austin stage. With unique vocals, jazz-inspired keyboard techniques and simplistic lyrics, Palma truly sold his brand to the Austin corner of the world and defended his artistic need to be heard.

The White Label Collective had all of their hopeful submissions supply reasoning behind their #taketheleap hashtag. Allison Mula, Jamestown, NY native said she knew she was ready when she got tired of standing still. Perhaps the most prolific and basic response, Mula has a way of making heads turn with her simplicity in her lyrical ability as well. With eerie voice that would make Billie Holiday seem contemporary, Mula brings classic undertones to modern music.

John Rankin and his acoustic guitar caught everyone’s attention. Notwithstanding the pitchy areas of his performance, Rankin had the ability to relax the crowd that was anxiously awaiting John Legend’s performance and used his songwriting aptitudes to translate an honest emotion. Suggestive of influences from a young Levine or Gavin Degraw, Rankin has the capability to make people feel his heart in his music.

John Russell seemed to be the most unique of the five White Label artists – self-titled on YouTube; this Michigan native came ready to play his guitar with vocals powerful enough to make jaws drop. Perhaps the only SXSW artists to strum an acoustic guitar in a black suit, Russell’s unique demeanor and bluesy passion made his set the most enjoyable and unpredictable. It was hard to believe the raw vocals he possessed until he opened his mouth and let out an inner James Morrison. His musicality was unique, but his distinctive influences peaked out amid the lines of every chord progression.

Jelani Sinclair, is a hip-hop artist hailing from Pomona, NY. Influenced by story-telling rap such as J. Cole, Sinclair brought the crowd to nod their heads along with his unique, spoken word stylization. He was able to evoke the same emotion he portrayed in his music within each and every audience member and the impact was clear as you looked around the venue.

John Legend crowned the White Label artists segment with a set composed of four-songs that made one of his most devoted fans pass out from excitement. Always having the ability to make his classic songs seems current, Legend succeeded in performing versions of “Ordinary People” and “All of Me” as if they were debuts. The masterworks of Legend seem to never age, even as his target demographic does. This reason alone, makes him the perfect mentor for emerging artists who can only hope to one day capture a fan base like Legend possess.  

Music has been the heartbeat of life since the beginning of time, being reformed and reworked to fit the advances of everyday life around us. Emotions behind music however, have constantly remained the same, revolving around feelings that have existed in all generations and walks of life. A classic song remains classic because every time it is heard, it has the ability to speak to someone for the first time.

This point was proven on Saturday with the budding talent of the White Label Collective artists and it is evident that everyone in attendance of the showcase is looking forward to hearing more from those news acts that took the stage.