Technically, the second day of SXSW Music – part of the 30th annual South by Southwest — is when the festivities really ramp up, as organizers spent the previous day preparing their showcases, and existing venues switch over from SXSW Interactive decorations. If you thought the first portion of SXSW was hectic enough, then clench your buttocks for longer and louder days and nights in Austin, Texas.
Keynote: First Lady Michelle Obama
Last week, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to speak at SXSW, and now it was First Lady Michelle Obama’s turn to speak. Queen Latifah moderated the panel that included the First Lady, actress Sophia Bush, rapper Missy Elliott, and songwriter Diane Warren about public service and getting underprivileged girls to get an education as part of the Let Girls Learn Initiative. Chloe x Halle performed a few opening songs before the discussion.
Queen Latifah opened the discussion with a question about inspiration; Obama mentioned growing up with a lot of doubters who motivated her to do things that weren’t expected of her – being a black girl in Chicago’s south side. Bush talked about going to summer camp as a kid and being inspired by the female camp counselors who taught the kids how to do things like start a fire; she later became a counselor herself in order to lead and teach as well. Missy Elliott spoke about doing her own thing, pushing to succeed with what she loved doing, and being surrounded by people who didn’t hold her down. And Warren talked about finding out that songwriting was what she was good at and putting all of her effort into it.
As an aside, Obama answered a popular write-in question, which was that she would not be running for president in the future.
And let the music continue.
Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, the pop punk sound that All Dogs delivered almost felt long forgotten but seemed just right at the small outdoor stage of Cheer Up Charlies. Having just released its debut album Kicking Every Day, the Maryn Jones-led band gave a crisp performance filled with “How Long” and “Skin.”
Kloe, the 19-year-old singer from Glasgow, suffered through an earbud malfunction, but I don’t think the “rough” parts hurt her dance pop sound too much. The low-tempo beats actually played well in the more casual atmosphere of Barracuda’s outside tent. Kloe sang through a few songs from her Teenage Craze EP, including the title track and “Grip.” There was also the more hate-filled song “You Don’t See Me” about a jerk of a guy – I paraphrased her words.
Fear of Men
The U.K. trio Fear of Men had my favorite performance at the festival so far, debuting some songs from its forthcoming sophomore album Fall Forever such as “Island” as well as some old favorites (“Luna”). The indie pop sound had a bit more rock and a bit more edge than I expected, creating somewhat of a whirlwind of beats and melodies.
U.K. singer-songwriter Låpsley capped the festivities in the Austin Convention Center with the last performance at the Radio Day Stage in the afternoon. Låpsley’s voice commanded the vast room and struck the audience hard with her passionate lyrics and sensible melodies (which isn’t easy to do both in songwriting or performing). Highlights include the soulful “Falling Short” and “Station.”
While I never imagined myself watching a concert inside a church, Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin completely filled the second story cathedral of St. David’s Historic Sanctuary with her enthralling voice. Jacklin’s folk rock songs, such as “Leadlight” and “Motherland,” were two of her best.
Oh Pep! is another Australian act that took the 20+ hour flight to get to Austin this week. The duo explained that this was actually their second time in Austin, but this crowd was definitely bigger and seemed to appreciate the very lyrical folk songs such as “Tea, Milk & Honey” and “The Race.”
Ontario native Basia Bulat sang many songs from her recently released her fourth album Good Advice, and they were decidedly poppier than her previous works. I should have gotten the hint about the show’s tone when Bulat went on stage at The Parish wearing a gold cape. I think it made the night as she sang “Let Me In” and “Infamous.”
Ra Ra Riot
New York-based indie rock quintet Ra Ra Riot has seemingly been around forever, but halfway through its existence it pivoted from a baroque pop sound to a more synthpop one. I think the band just wanted its audience to dance more, which it strived to do during its energetic set of “Beta Love” and “Need Your Love.”
The final act of my night was Los Angeles-based electronic pop act Blondfire, which ironically was its first SXSW show. The Erica Driscoll-led act played its hit song “Waves” and mostly songs for its latest EP True Confessions (“Domino”).