Movements in the experimental and avant-garde sects of music–as with most artistic movements–are historically written with a focus on Western male artists. Female artists have existed en masse and seen critical acclaim (evidenced by artists such as Björk, Yoko Ono, and FKA Twigs’ clear mainstream success). Yet, the eruption of experimental artists during the 21st century has been largely male-focused in media. And while resources and individuals seek to remedy this, the discovery of said artists seems tied down to those actively seeking them out.
This year, a great deal of artists breaking the boundaries and borders of music around the world can be found at SXSW. Here are eight to keep your eye on through the festival and beyond.
- Francine Thirteen
From out of this world, straight to the heart of Texas we get Francine Thirteen. The ritual pop of this Dallas native musician builds her cosmic sound from the experiences from her Baptist childhood, centering her persona on the biblical figure Lilith. “Lily”, as Francine often calls her, has gone through polarizing interpretations from demonic to pure femininity. As women around the world continue to suffer from patriarchal interpretations of religion, Francine Thirteen’s music is ultimately about freeing women from past interpretations, and owning oneself in entirety.
- Joan Thiele
If there’s one positive thing the last decade has brought with it, it’s the explosion of experimental female pop artists. Artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX have been pushing boundaries in every direction, and Joan Thiele is another to watch. The Italian pop star is relatively new to the scene even in her home country. With disco inspired hits like “Tonight” she revives some of the sounds that gave the country a genre unto themselves just a few decades ago. But to lump her form of pop into Italo Disco is a disservice. With the songs she’s already released ranging from a dark soul fusion to full on disco revival, she escapes categorization and continues to surprise and excite with each song.
- Mary Ocher
Born in Moscow, raised in Tel Aviv, and based in Berlin, there’s little that Mariya Ocher has yet to try. With multiple musical pursuits such as Mary and The Baby Cheeses and Mary Ocher + Your Government, she continually changes and subverts norms and expectations. Along with her work in poetry, directing documentaries, and visual art, she continues to show what she is capable of, all in an effort of empowering the people through her often blatant, explicit methods. She doesn’t choose to wrap her voice in the subtext artists so often hide their ideals within, but uses a blatant and covert form of illustration, pushing from all angles, emphasizing the importance of her messages so that all can hear them. Per example, her 2017 release, The West Against the People, fused influences ranging from African rhythms to cold wave, and featured an accompanying essay focusing on the issues of intersectionality and immigration. Her experiences continue to form her creatively and personally, as she pushes for a populace that works for their best interest through blended media productions.
French singer and coder SARASARA has developed a sound of her own, with dark, mutated electronic sounds ranging from whispy, ambient soundscapes to an electronic tracks akin only to gothic blues. Taking massive inspiration from Björk, this app developer began moonlighting as a musician after her childhood fascination, and has found a way to bridge her knowledge of technology and humanity in both pursuits.
Tokyo based Electronic artist machìna combines textured, modular electronic sounds with melodically sweet, rhythmic vocals as she pulls on the influence of her life in Korea and her Jazz background. Starting in 2010 as Apple Girl, she has focused on the aspect of texture seeking continual development in her style, with an adversity to sitting still in any one sound. Illustrative ambiance of birdcalls turn into layered folk soundscapes she sings over, with visuals in performance and music videos echoing her obsession with texture, as shape and light build upon one another in beautiful ways.
Spending most of her life between Sydney and Sri Lanka, ELSZ has grown an evocative, raw sound through her array of skills as a harpist, producer, and singer. Currently working out of New York, ELSZ applies a great deal of her efforts to addressing and displaying the violence against women around the world. The normalization of this has been all too real with the harshest realities and extremities experienced in Sri Lanka, to the echoed, daily aggression women experience nations that claim to be more developed. Her intersection of acoustic and electronic sound provide a soulful backdrop to the scars and pain she shows through her music, a process she described as cathartic, hoping she can give other women the courage to come forward about their own abuse and fight to put an end to it.
- Ruby Fatale
From Taipei, Taiwan, the self-described stoner/doom/glitch concepts of Ruby Fatale bring harsh, geometric sound that breaks down around the literary, anxiety fueling narration. The seemingly random dance beats break apart around industrial musings and reconstructions in a strangely calming fashion in a dark, glitch take on beat tapes. She focuses on ideas and memories essential to her, simultaneously ripping them up and replacing them , just as in her songwriting. Sometimes soothing, sometimes horrifying, never concrete, Ruby Fatale’s audio is as dynamic as her themes.
- Descartes A Kant
The explosive sextet from Guadalajara, Mexico has developed a truly indescribably sound. A cocktail of surf, noise, shoegazey punk that touches everywhere from Rockabilly to new wave to give it a name would only be a disservice. The three front women of the group continually push back against sexism and preconceptions stacked against them in an already difficult industry. And even with three backing male members, the in-your-face female front of a trio has pit them against their own image, constantly forcing them to prove that not only are they equal to men in the industry, but that they’re in fact, better. It’s the idea of the “…for a girl” suffix being tacked onto any accomplishment that makes them fight for femininity and female empowerment in the musical industry. As they continue to evade categorization for their music, they pursue their own sound and their own image: one without boundaries in style or society.
By Jackson Tucker