When it came to the trends of SXSW 2017, there was a lot of take note of. Firstly, there were the hordes of concerts that championed nostalgia (Hanson, Weezer, Smash Mouth etc.). Then there was (what felt like) the larger-than-ever focus on hip-hop (T.I., Gucci Mane, Vince Staples, Wu Tang etc.); something that has been naturally growing over the past few years. And then there were the broader changes for the event that moved a lot of the best events earlier in the week, saw many brands leave and the festival try to lessen some of the mania that had surrounded it in past years.
The result was one of the least defined events in memory; a transition like this doesn’t happen overnight after all. Though of the notable trends of this year, the one that stuck with me the most was how well the festival proved that women in music are dangerously underestimated – a phrase I have shamelessly borrowed from a brilliant hat doing the rounds at the moment.
Of all the performances I witnessed that I would call a highlight, 90% of them were female artists or artists fronted by females. And they were well placed just about everywhere, from all over the world, in every genre, to a degree I’ve never seen permeated so successfully.
As this is 2017, part of me knows that this should be the norm; we shouldn’t have to draw attention to gender parity (or at least the assumption of it) – but the reality is that we do. Festival after festival release male dominated lineups, often citing lack of demand or genre requisites as their lazy and outdated reasons. But even a cynic’s visit to this year’s SXSW proved that no booker has any excuse, with these eleven performers not only being among my personal highlights of the week, but some of the most talked about artists throughout the whole festival.
I caught this Massachusetts based trio at the Pandora Discovery Den on Monday and found myself blown away by Lyndsey Gunnulfsen’s powerful voice and the group’s electric performance. “You and I” was a particular highlight of the set, while they closed out with “My House”. A little electronic, a little rock and roll, a whole pile of quality tunes, learn more about the band at their official website.
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, this killer punk outfit – who were formed in 2011 – are a force to be reckoned with. Fronted by the electrifying Victoria Ruiz, the group are the epitome of the classic punk sensibilities – loud, hard, fast, political (Ruiz screaming “a wall is just a wall” provided particularly poignant) and messy, with some saxophone thrown in for good measure. To put it bluntly: this is a band not to be missed. They played the Laneway Party, so hopefully that puts them in the “To Be Considered” category for Laneway 2018.
Bringing in vibes reminiscent of Tkay Maidza, Noname has been fast making herself known as a leading voice in the Chicago hip hop scene over the last year, thanks to the release of her debut mixtape last July – though she’s been active in the local scene since 2010. Accompanied by a two piece band, there’s some old school vibes that make you think of The Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest, though her output feels wholly original and completely her own. Mark my words, Noname will be a name you hear a lot of in the years to come.
Winner of the Grulke Prize for Developing Non-U.S. act, I clearly wasn’t the only person blown away by French performer Jain. For a tiny human, performing solo, she emitted an incredible presence. Catching her on Wednesday at the Pandora Discovery Den, she was beaming with energy as she jumped between a platform with mics and samples, and up to the front of the stage to amp up the crowd – something she did with ease. Though the music that played behind her was pre-recorded, the production levels were phenomenal, and I’m of particular fondness for the level of brass instilled in many of her tracks. You can read my interview with the emerging artist HERE.
THE BIG MOON
This London quartet bring forward great melodies and often beautiful vocals, but are ultimately just a great rock and roll band. They killed it at the Laneway party with a cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” and set closer “Sucker” is a wonder of a track. A band plenty are keeping an eye on, and rightly so.
Fresh off the success of her single “Ooouuu“, Brooklyn rapper Young M.A. looks like the one to beat in 2017 – serving as one of the most talked about artists at the festival this year (and with good reason), by proving herself as an incredible performer, a brilliant lyricist and an unmissable talent. Watch this space, and expect great things.
The acclaimed Danish singer/songwriter is hardly a new face on the scene, but in her third SXSW appearance, her set during the Communion showcase reminded everyone why she’s one of the most acclaimed musicians working today. Accompanied by an ever-moving three piece band – cellists, clarinet, percussion and additional keys – she produced a bold, powerful sound that reverberated in the perfect acoustics of the St David’s Church to the point that it brought this writer to tears. And with songs like “Familiar”, “Trojan Horses” and “The Curse” among the live repertoire, fans of the artist should not be surprised.
She may not yet be a household name, but the Australian artist is one of the hardest working in the industry right now, having traveled the globe relentlessly over the last 12 months. Not only is she building a dedicated audience along the way, but she’s also honed her craft beautifully. She’s developed into a seasoned performer, and one of Australia’s finest young talents. Catching her at the Har Mar Superstar party on the closing night of SXSW, she was a wonderful way to help round out the festival for 2017; a sign of the incredible quality coming out of Australia.
And the same can be said for Alex Lahey, who made a pile of waves while at SXSW, and no doubt collected a few fans of her own along the way. My adoration of Lahey has been well documented, and like Cohen, she strongly represents the future of the Australian music scene – and with that in mind, we have a bright road ahead indeed…
Our run of Aussies is not at an end just yet… we have to also pay mention to the up-and-coming Australian performer Starley, who went from playing the Aussie BBQ in front of hundreds, to hitting the stage at the MTV Woodies in front of tens of thousands of people in the space of a couple of hours. Her track “Call on Me” has made her a bonefide music star around the world, and is hitting the ground running in 2017, set to be the artist to beat in the months ahead.
ALL OUR EXES LIVE IN TEXAS
And finally, Sydney quartet All Our Exes Live in Texas may not have found any Exes in Texas during their visit, but they did win plenty of fans. I managed to catch them a few times during their run of shows and every time they delivered their unique take on the folk genre with great success; wooing crowds and packing around rooms around the city. If there’s one Australian band to watch in the US in the coming months, especially off the back of the release of their debut album earlier this month, it’s these four amazing musicians.
But none of this should surprise anyone. From Aretha Franklin to Beyonce, Lady Gaga to Doris Day, the musical world has been dominated by women for as long as music has been around – and we have been dangerously underestimating them for too long. The impressive displays at SXSW only confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: that the next generation of female performers are fiercer, more original, more influential and a voice this industry desperately needs. And in that respect, it’s time for the industry to quit making excuses and ensure that I never have to write an article like this again. Women in music should never be underestimated, should be filling lineups around the world and your playlists, too.
These eleven artists barely scratch the surface of the incredible talent I caught at SXSW. Here’s a few more you should check out, who I didn’t have time to mention in the article: Sigrid (pictured above, with yours truly), Kasey Chambers, Kucka, Slotface, Lizzo, Margo Price, Go Fever, Maggie Rogers, Totally Mild, Vera Blue, Valerie June, Woodes, Le Butcherettes, Sunny Sweeney, Mise en Scene, Tkay Maidza, Mothers and many, many more…
Headline photo (Jain) by Tony Rysk, photo of Alex Lahey by Johnny Au – photos of Young M.A. and The Big Moon Supplied. Remaining photos by the author.