Magdalena Bay brings electrifying, multidimensional synth-pop performance to SXSW

Sage Dunlap, Life and Arts reporter

When singer-songwriter Mica Tenenbaum — half of the synth-pop duo Magdalena Bay — secretly stashed a furry, gray rabbit mask under a table in preparation for the pair’s set, the packed hoard of attendees at Cheer Up Charlies knew they were in for a treat. 

Backdropped by the venue’s signature rock wall and an array of animated playdough-shaped dancers, Magdalena Bay transformed Cheer Up Charlies into a technicolor wonderland during their March 14 SXSW performance. The nine-song set consisted of one 2020 single — “Killshot” — and eight songs from their most recent album, Mercurial World.

Bathed in red light, the pop duo sported matching blue and pink cloud-printed outfits. As the beginning notes of “Dawning of the Season” reverberated through the venue and onto Red River Street, they set the tone for a high-energy set. Almost immediately, the crowd seemed electrified by the upbeat synths radiating from the speakers, igniting a vibrant late-night dance party. 

Recognized for seamless transitions between songs on their most recent album, Magdalena Bay satisfied audience expectations by mixing a flawless transition from their first song to “Secrets (Your Fire),” garnering an explosive reaction from the crowd. As the pair sparkled through their set, viewers were summoned deeper into the pair’s magnetic pastel allure.

The onstage energy reached a thrilling peak when the duo performed their punk-inspired track “You Lose!” Complete with distorted guitar riffs and cathartic sing-screaming from Tenenbaum, audience members jumped around with the performers. Backlit by bright white strobe lighting, the overwhelming visual and auditory stimulation of “You Lose!” made for a truly magical, dynamic performance.

Flawlessly maneuvering from the noisy and explosive “You Lose!” to the melodic vocal showcases “Chaeri” and “Hysterical Us,” the most visually interesting performance of the set arrived with the sixth song. As the stage lights dimmed to the same red flood lighting seen at the beginning of the performance, Tenenbaum crept to the back of the stage, reached under a table topped with holographic draping and placed an unnerving rabbit mask over her eyes. The red lights began strobing across the stage, and the once pastel, pixelated stage was transformed into a grimy nightclub scene. With vamped-up autotune, the duo performed a sultry rendition of “Follow the Leader,” a refreshing change of pace that kept the performance versatile.

The secret ingredient that made Magdalena Bay’s set so satisfying was not their dreamy vocals, nor flashy strobe lighting — it was the combination of live and electronic instrumentation. While Matthew Lewin, the producer half of the duo, played pre-recorded arrangements from his laptop, he also played an electric guitar and keyboard throughout the show. The amalgamation of live and pre-recorded instrumentals resulted in a multidimensional sound, delivering the audience the noisy, whimsical sound of Magdalena Bay’s most recent record.