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The Daily Cardinal presents SXSW 2014

Texas couldn’t hold ’em: These three SXSW favorites have upcoming shows in Madison

Future Islands

Call me crazy but I had never heard of Future Islands before I set foot in Haven on Tuesday night of SXSW. Having actually come to see the last show of the night, I was pleasantly surprised by this Baltimore synth-pop group’s midnight set.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of the group’s performance came in the form of lead singer Samuel Herring, wearing all black and looking like a Joaquin Phoenix doppelganger. Herring’s eery croons—all the more intense live—offer the perfect contrast to the often cheery electronics that are the backbone of every Future Islands track. This is a juxtaposition missing in much of the electro-pop that seems to be taking over the indie music scene.

Despite little interaction with the crowd, it felt like each person in the bar was moving along to the band’s chill vibes and offered one of the more lively late-night scenes during the festival.

The group’s newest record hits stores March 25 and is available to stream on NPR’s “First Listen.” The album’s single “Seasons (Waiting on You)” blends Herring’s howl with vibrantly fluctuating electronics and serves as a great introduction for any curious listeners.

Their current tour will bring the group to Madison’s High Noon Saloon this Friday, March 24.

Against Me!

2014 has already been a wild ride for Against Me! founder and frontwoman Laura Jane Grace. The group’s sixth studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues was released in January, sharing with the world a part of Grace’s journey coming out as a transgender woman. The album is packed full of hard-hitting emotional songs in the band’s rebellious style, and they sound even better live.

It was evident by the crowd’s reaction and Grace’s enthusiasm that all were having a good time. Playing at one of the free Hype Hotel day shows hosted by Hype Machine opened access to those without official SXSW credentials and clearly attracted some longtime fans. The most engaging bands manage to get attendees jumping around and belting the lyrics right back at them, and Against Me! are certainly one of those bands.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ closing track “Black Me Out,” a song full of anger, with a catchy chorus to chant along to, was certainly a crowd favorite.

Against Me! are set to rock the Majestic Theatre April 3. With (hopefully) a longer set list, we can hope the band will delve deeper into its collection of worthy past tracks. Regardless, this is a show you won’t want to miss.

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Temples

These British rockers were high on our must-see list, and they didn’t disappoint. Coming off the recent release of their debut album Sun Structures, the group played a late night outdoor set at Austin’s Bar 96. The quartet got everyone in the crowd grooving, and it wasn’t just due to the influence of singer James Bagshaw’s curly fro and glittering red top.

The group’s combination of mesmerizing lightweight vocals with heavy drums and catchy guitar create the perfect indie rock mix. The group has received attention for their similarity to fellow British rockers The Beatles, though it may be too early in the group’s career to make sweeping comparisons. However, each song feels a bit different, whether it be through added elements of psychedelic electronics or a bit of a twang in the song’s guitar chords.

Although few appeared to know the words, the crowd bopped along to favorite tracks “Keep in the Dark” and “Sun Structures,” among others. The only downfall was the seemingly short set list, which could have been a product of venues trying to fit five acts into one evening.

The group will play Madison’s High Noon Saloon April 25, with New York alt rock crew Drowners.

Tune in to our SXSW Music standouts

The Districts

The spontaneous discovery of new music is the most often lauded part of the SXSW experience, and this indie rock quartet from Pennsylvania was our biggest surprise. Having just released their self-titled EP in January, the band brought their A-game to Haven Thursday night.

To anyone watching the young group set up and go through soundcheck, they appeared a bit nervous and out of their element. However, that notion quickly fell to the wayside as soon as they dove headfirst—at times literally and seemingly dangerously—into their first song. Of the 15 or so acts we managed to catch throughout the week, The Districts were the clear winners in enthusiasm and activity on stage. Although the band remains relatively unknown, being unfamiliar with the lyrics didn’t stop the crowd from getting involved in the show.

The highlight of their set was definitely the final song, which ended in the most epic jam-out session we saw at the festival.

Wolf Alice

Before seeing Wolf Alice take the stage at Hype Hotel Friday, all I knew about them was that lead singer Ellie Rowsell recently made the front cover of UK music magazine New Musical Express, so I figured it was a good bet to try to see them. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Rowsell ended up being incredibly impressive and is now one of the best female voices I’ve heard live. At times, female vocals can get lost amongst the instruments, but Rowsell’s more than pulled through the noise. Although the band has yet to release a full length album, their unique brand of alt rock, which borrows elements of folk and grunge, has garnered a lot attention online.

Additionally, the festival was the North London group’s first time playing in the US and everyone in the crowd could tell they were soaking up every minute of it, being sure to thank the crowd profusely throughout the performance. After hearing their full set, I’d wager it’s us who should have been thanking them.

Eagulls

We’ve already highlighted a number of artists who were just as excited as the crowd to have the opportunity to be a part of SXSW. Eagulls had an attitude on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, with frontman George Mitchell looking generally dissatisfied throughout the two sets we saw, even venturing as far as throwing his water bottle into an uninvolved crowd.

However, we must give credit where it’s due, and this five-piece group definitely knows how to rock a live show. Ear plugs were highly recommended as feedback raged from the speakers between each song, but the pain ended up being worth it to hear Mitchell’s crisp vocals mix with punk-inspired guitar, a rarity at a festival where an indie pop rock act can be found at any time.

Despite their haughty attitude, tracks like “Possessed” and “Coffin” were great in concert. Even if the band didn’t seem particularly happy to be there, we’re happy to have gotten a chance to see them.

Reeling in our SXSW Film favorites

American Interior

Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals departs on a North American tour to showcase his recent solo efforts, but also—and more interestingly—to track the mysterious journey of his ancestor John Adams, who in 1792 left Wales to search for what was believed to be the last tribe of Welsh Native Americans in the new world. What may at first sound like a boring History Channel feature becomes an enveloping tale through Rhys’ genuine half-silly, half-serious approach and the sincerity he encounters from local experts and Native American tribesmen along the way.

In the end, “American Interior” is a story about connections—to places and people—told through the intersection of history, language and song, the fundamental elements of any culture. The film’s black and white shots interspersed with psychedelic color are also a nod to Rhys’ experimental rock background and keep the film alive for viewers. Overall, the film is an ideal blending of story and sound, honoring our past and future together as humans.

Open Windows

This film directed by Nacho Vigalondo received a lot of attention from preview pieces due to the innovative structure of the film, which is told entirely through “open windows” on a computer screen. The film follows Nick (Elijah Wood) from his hotel, where he believes he has won a dinner with his favorite actress Jill, to a crazy chase to save her from a manipulative and elusive hacker who goes by Chord.

Outside of the intriguing format, the narrative itself also takes the viewer on a whirlwind adventure through relevant topics such as surveillance and obsession in celebrity culture. Though the last half hour of the film is full of enough twists and turns—literally and metaphorically—to convince the viewer to simply tune the confusion out, careful attention pays off in the thoughtful commentary that results.

Though the film did not come away with any of the festival’s coveted awards, it should be praised for its creative direction and the immersion and discussion of modern technology into film.

Space Station 76

Directed by Jack Plotnick, “Space Station 76” provides a bit of comic relief from the heavy topics of drug addition and relationship complications that seemed to plague many of this year’s film offerings. The film takes place in a 1970s-esque space station and on the festival’s final day still managed to provide a large audience with plenty of reasons to laugh.

The narrative follows multiple couples and families aboard the station through their struggles, which include a lot of sexual frustration, as well as some trouble keeping family pets alive. Soft-spoken sweetheart Liv Tyler stole the show, as the film’s main protagonist, but each role was played with great comedic finesse.

However, the thoughtful viewer takes note that amid the laughter, there are important messages about real human struggles. Despite the time difference and physical distance between their struggles in space and our earthly ones, we find insight into ourselves in these strange characters.

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