I made it down to the Austin Convention Center to pick up my wristband Tuesday evening. After a brief nosh, I went over to Spill to check out Grimes, the alias for Montreal-based electronic artist Claire Boucher. Armed with a Roland and a microphone humming with reverb, Boucher played a roughly 35-minute set and was game for an encore. She was warmly received and engaging, able to sequence her intricate tracks and deliver sugary vocal lines with the fluttery hand gestures of an American Idol contestant without seeming especially mannered. She has yet to fully differentiate herself from dreamy electronic artists like Nite Jewel and Geneva Jacuzzi. However, her sense of melody and beats, which to my ears owe more to contemporary hip hop than they do to Kate Bush, may set her apart. I wasn't blown away by this performance, but judging by the ever-swelling crowd during the second half of her set, folks are interested in following Boucher.
Esben and the Witch came on next. Matador recently acquired the Brighton three-piece and they made their presence felt at the label's 25th anniversary party in Las Vegas last year. However, Violet Cries was released to mixed reviews this past January. Though I was a bit underwhelmed, I thought the criticism was somewhat unfortunate, as I felt the group did a decent job of spinning the kind of dark magic that made the Cure's Pornography and the Cocteau Twins' Garlands fan favorites.
More to the point, I heard that this was a band to see, and that certainly proved true after witnissing their electricifying set. I was impressed most by their utter confidence. Vocalist Rachel Davies wields the mic with quiet, foreboding authority, reinforced by the occasional lashing of a floor tom. At one point, guitarists Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher joined in with Davies, creating a mini drum circle. Copeman also dove into the audience twice during their set—once with the tom! If you have the means, they are not to be missed.
From there, I trekked over to Victory Grill, an Austin institution since 1945, to catch the Mamas of Color Rising fundraiser. The Austin-based nonprofit was raising money for women of color to train to be birth companions. (As a feminist, I believe we should champion women's right not to have children alongside supporting our sisters who are empowered to enter into motherhood.) The event was hosted by Tiger Lily of RAS (Rebels Against the Storm). I hope the folks who are asking where the women in hip hop are made it out to this event. Furthermore, I hope they're supporting the women in their community, as I learned about this event from Miss Manners, who hosts "Hip Hop Hooray" on 91.7 KOOP here in Austin.
Unfortunately, I only caught Las Krudas Cubensi and Invincible's sets and thus missed (among others) Queen Deelah and Perseph One. However, both artists I saw were great. Las Krudas got the dance floor jumping with their infectious blend of Cuban dance music and rapid-fire rhymes. Invincible, accompanied by cellist Magnificent, galvanized the audience with a set advocating social justice and calling out institutional hypocrisy. She then brought on the night's performers and the event organizers for a rousing encore performance. Though my feet were sore, my fist was raised and their message stayed with me long after I returned home.