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Day One At SXSW: Hitting The Ground Running

Soundcheck producer Michael Katzif recaps three vastly different female artists from Tuesday night at SXSW.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 09:00 AM

Marnie Stern performs at Pitchfork's showcase at Mohawk during South By Southwest. Marnie Stern finger-tapping and thrashing at Pitchfork's showcase at Mohawk during South By Southwest. (Michael Katzif / WNYC)

This week, thousands of bands, journalists, publicists, record label reps and hungry music fans will head to Austin, Texas for South By Southwest. Soundcheck producer Michael Katzif is there bringing you a small taste of the festival each day with blog posts, photos and more.

Follow the action here and on Soundcheck's Tumblr page. And be sure to follow on Instagram at instagram.com/soundcheckradio and Twitter: @Soundcheck, @mikekatzif as well as WNYC's social media editor @julesdwit.

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In previous years at South By Southwest, Tuesday was a somewhat low key affair: The Interactive portion of the festival was winding down and the Music portion just gearing up, with less music to enjoy. This year, Tuesday felt like SXSW was already in full swing. When I finally made it into downtown Austin, the streets were bustling with music fans, bands and weirdos all shambling from one venue to the next. Sure, compared to what 6th Street will be like on Saturday night, it's far less stuffed with bodies.

But with some big names already performing, I hit the ground running.

Last night featured many of my new favorites from the past year -- Cloud Nothings and DIIV, both playing bone-rattlingly loud sets that made me glad I packed those earplugs. Also: a couple new bands I'm eager to hear more from -- Blue Hawaii, Guards and Indians.

But my biggest highlights from last night were actually three vastly different female artists:

 

CHARLI XCX @ The Belmont

You'd think something folky or dreamy might be the best way to ease into five nights straight of music. Instead, the first thing I saw was Charli XCX -- a.k.a. Charlotte Aitchison the 20-year-old English singer and occasional rapper. With gleaming synths, looping vocal samples and bass-heavy electronic beats as a backdrop, Charli XCX's commanding and expressive stage presence was something to see as she jumped around the stage. But it was her voice and melodic hooks that won over the crowd. 

Torres

TORRES @ Mohawk Indoor

Torres, the Nashville-based 22-year-old Mackenzie Scott writes songs that rip your heart out, but make you feel good about it. In a powerful set at Pitchfork's opening night showcase, Torres enraptured a crowd with a voice full of raw trembling pain and deep guttural emotion. But this is no wispy folk music, thanks to her band, who helped build songs like "Honey" into these blissful climaxes of guitar noise and pounding drums. It was easily the most beautiful and affecting set I saw all night.

Marnie Stern.

MARNIE STERN @ Mohawk Outdoor

The first thing you'd say to describe the music of Marnie Stern is "she can totally shred on the guitar." And that's completely true. Armed with thrashy riffs and dexterous finger-tapping skills that mimic the melodies she's singing, Stern is an impressive guitarist. But she's also guitarist who understands how to integrate those fiery chops into songwriting that doesn't just feel like an excuse to jam out. The standout of the set was Stern's "Year Of The Glad" -- the opening track on her superb, and hilariously titled new album, The Chronicles Of Marnia -- an energetic blast full of looping voices and noisy textures. In an outdoor venue, it sounded amazing.

To see more photos from last night, be sure to go to Soundcheck's Tumblr page.

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