Angel Olsen was a clear highlight of SXSW, and it's likely she'll be one of 2014's breakout stars. (Credit: Zia Anger)
If this year’s SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas is any indication — and it usually is — then you’re going to be hearing a lot more from the ladies. It’s telling that the keynote speaker for the conference was Lady Gaga, who along with female-fronted acts like St. Vincent and Perfect Pussy generated the most “did you get to see?” moments over the five days of music.
Angel Olsen is another woman who you’ll be hearing a lot more from and reading a lot more about, and all of the hype is warranted. Hailing from Chicago, she stands perfectly still as her songs course through her, delivering lyrics that feel like important truths that you hadn’t yet considered. And the way her voice can effortlessly shoot up an octave will make your heart do somersaults.
Another female-fronted act who hasn’t received quite as much acclaim as Olsen, but are just as deserving are the Casket Girls. This Savannah band, headed by sisters Phaedra and Elsa Greene, make spooky pop music and incorporate goofy choreography into their dark lyrics. Chatting with the band in an old Airstream trailer at a nursery (interviews at SXSW sometimes take place in unique locations) the Girls say that there are more women than men on their current tour with the bands Stargazer Lillies and Dreamend.
“I think it’s totally awesome,” says Elsa of the amount of women who are making names for themselves in music. “It seems like it’s been a totally male-dominated industry, so it’s great. … If you think about it, women’s lib was really not that long ago and it takes a really long time for that stuff to take effect.”
The kids are alright Many times when interviewing musicians at SXSW, the discussions will take place at a bar over a few bloody marys. But the sweat-faded magic marker X’s on the hands of The Orwells are an indication that the band, all of whom are 20 years old, probably wouldn’t get into the bar. The Chicago five-piece, which includes two cousins and a pair of twins, have been at it since high school (which was only a few years ago for them) and their tight bond comes across onstage. Their punk spunk, combined with a death-grip understanding of how the exchange of energy between audience and band should work have made them one of the top must-see acts of this year’s SXSW.
Chatting with the band on a sidewalk on 4th Street, what comes across is the youthful exuberance of their live show and a little bit of teenage cynicism. This is the third time they’ve played SXSW, so excuse them if they’re a little jaded.
“Our first South-By, we found our manager,” says singer Mario Cuomo. “That’s like the best thing that it’s ever going to do for us. Once you find a manager and a label that supports you, what the f— is the point of this?”
The point of it is exposure, and The Orwells are getting a lot of it, having already received seals of approval from the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin for their riotous performances here this year.
Earning their Strypes Another young band to receive widespread acclaim for their lively performances are The Strypes. Ranging in age from 16 to 18, this Irish five-piece come onstage chomping on gum and dressed to the nines, and then they proceed to play the type of British Invasion blues that would be noteworthy for its authenticity alone even if the band weren’t so young. But the fact that they’re starting so early gives hope for a long career.
“We don’t really know what’s next,” says guitarist Josh McClorey, 18, “but if we could make a career out of this that would be fantastic to eliminate the idea of having to go to a 9-to-5 job that you don’t really like.”
Drummer Evan Walsh, 17, chimes in: “We’re just living in the present moment, and to us it makes perfect sense for a band to be this age, because most of the bands we like were that age.”
Hip-hop hooray As has been the trend for the past few years, hip-hop at SXSW has continued to have a dominating presence. Big shots like Rick Ross, Kanye and Jay Z and Wiz Khalifa performed high-profile sets and newer acts like Danny Brown, Future and ScHoolboy Q packed the house for their sets. Odd Future, who had their big SXSW arrival three years ago, had an eventful visit this year, with leader Tyler the Creator getting arrested for inciting a riot.