From Kate Tempest To Torres, Female Artists Shone At SXSW A throat singer, a hip-hop preacher, an Irish introvert: NPR Music's Bob Boilen says it was the Year of the Woman at the South By Southwest music festival. He shares some of his favorite performances.
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From Kate Tempest To Torres, Female Artists Shone At SXSW

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From Kate Tempest To Torres, Female Artists Shone At SXSW

From Kate Tempest To Torres, Female Artists Shone At SXSW

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And other South by Southwest music festival is done and dusted. And few people consume that event quite like our own Bob Boilen from All Songs Considered. He's joining us from Austin now. Hi, Bob.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Good morning, afternoon, evening - whatever time of day it is, I'm not sure.


MCEVERS: Whatever time of day it is, you have no idea. We have been following you. We've been looking at the All Songs Considered Twitter account. We've been listening to the podcasts. And it's clear that one thing that really stuck out for you this time was women. Can you talk about that a little bit?

BOILEN: It's really true. And it was without intent. The group of us who go from NPR music to SXSW listen to about 1,500 songs to sort of figure out what schedule - because there's 2,200 bands here - who to see, who should we care about.


BOILEN: And it just - over and over again, it was clear as a bell - all sorts of women, both as solo performers, as parts of bands - but the upfront person part of the band - people from all over the world. The funny thing was the best guy band I saw was called Girl Band.


BOILEN: Truly, I don't make this stuff up.

MCEVERS: That's great. What we're going to try to - we're going to try to ask you to do the impossible here, but can you narrow it down to five performers that just really blew your mind?

BOILEN: No. No. Just kidding, we're going to do this.

MCEVERS: No, you can't. Alright, but you have to anyways, so go.

BOILEN: Well, how about if I start with the thing that knocked me out the most.


BOILEN: Her name is Kate Tempest. She's a 30-year-old playwright. She's a poet - maybe a performance poet might be the best thing. And of course she's a rapper and a hip-hop artist.


KATE TEMPEST: (Rapping) Who 's bad to the kiddie in the jeckyll hat - to the kiddie in the rooney shirt black and white - the curtains in the room in that daddy's flat - a young girl with the truth and the alley cat.

BOILEN: There's something about Kate - she's British - that speaks to every single person who was in the room at a club called Latitude 30 here in Austin that night. You just felt like she was talking to you. And her message was full of passion and love. One of the lines she repeated over and over again to everybody as she looked around the room was more empathy, less greed - more empathy, less greed - over and over again. And then she said love, love, love, love. Live in the moment was sort of her message, and it was just fabulous.

MCEVERS: So it's this kind of hippie-dippy message, but she's rapping.

BOILEN: Oh, she's powerful. There is - she stands on top of the monitor speaker, and she says I'm not preaching, but she was preaching in the best of ways.



TEMPEST: (Rapping) Move fast, don't stop, you've got things to do. Pull yourself fast, then man, it isn't you. Nod your head and believe that until it's true. You can tell it not to show its face when you are trying to hold your space.

MCEVERS: So we're listening to English artist Kate Tempest. And now Bob, tell us who's next.

BOILEN: How about we go somewhere completely different?

MCEVERS: Please.

BOILEN: A woman named Tanya Tagaq. Tanya Tagaq was the other world experience. She's an Inuit throat singer from the Arctic regions of northern Canada. She makes sounds that are absolutely unimaginable. You cannot believe that a human voice without electronic effects is making the sounds that she's making. She does a performance that is as powerful as any intense punk performance I've ever seen. It's 25 minutes of just nonstop sounds from the human body that is erotic at times. It was tearful at times. And she just takes you through these various emotions - you know, the most incredible performance backed by just a violin and a drummer.


TANYA TAGAQ: (Singing).

MCEVERS: All I can say is wow.

BOILEN: Honestly, there's no one in the room that ever experienced anything like this before. I first saw her three years ago. She just gets more and more dynamic. What's cool is that the contrast between Kate Tempest and Tanya Tagaq - one is all about the words. And Tanya Tagaq, I have no idea what she's singing about.


BOILEN: Right? I mean, there's not anything that is a word that's said that I would understand in this performance, yet I completely connected with it, and so did everybody else.

MCEVERS: Wow. Well, I do not want to leave this song, but I do want to hear who's next, Bob. Who else do we have?

BOILEN: Going back to Europe, we go to an 18-year-old Irish singer. She goes by the name of SOAK - S-O-A-K. Her name is Bridie Monds-Watson. And where Kate Tempest is very extroverted, SOAK is the artist with the acoustic guitar that sings about coming-of-age.


SOAK: (Singing) I don't get this town - neither do you. We should run away, just me and you. Because I don't get the people here. They're curious. They don't really care.

MCEVERS: Sound like she has this kind of small voice, but she's talking about some big things.

BOILEN: When SOAK played here in Austin, it was just her and acoustic guitar. And the purity of her voice was something I hadn't realized this girl - very young girl - is going to have a lot to offer in the future. She's got a record coming out. And it's exciting to see new budding performers, you know?


SOAK: (Singing) Want you to get better. Please, please get better.

MCEVERS: Well, we just heard from a young woman who goes by the stage name SOAK, and the song was "Sea Creatures." I just want to remind everyone I'm talking to NPR music's Bob Boylan about some of the performers from this past week at SXSW. Bob, who else? What's the - you know, who else really, really got you?

BOILEN: Well, I went and saw Torres, who is Mackensie Scott. She, you know, not too many years ago was much more personal, wearing sort of a cowboy hat - wearing - leaning more folk-y than not. And now it's almost as if the spirit of Patti Smith has entered her body.



TORRES: (Singing) I was all for being real. But if I don't believe then no one will. What's mine isn't really yours. But I hope you find what you're looking for.

MCEVERS: Spirit of PJ Harvey, too, no?

BOILEN: Oh, yeah, that's true. You got it. We did a series of little lullabies after the All Songs crew recorded our podcast every night at two in the morning, where we bring an artist to some churchyard somewhere or a limestone rock by a stream, and we would record a lullaby. And Torres did our final one. Of course, all those videos are up online. They're really beautiful.

MCEVERS: Oh, I'm going to go look at it right now. Thank you.


BOILEN: Wait, wait, we've got to finish.

MCEVERS: OK, OK, OK. One more, one more - you've got one more. Number five - who is it?

BOILEN: Well, I think the most talked-about artist and anticipated artist was Courtney Barnett. She's an Australian artist. And so she has her very first real debut record coming out this coming Tuesday.


COURTNEY BARNETT: (Singing) I love you. I hate you. I'm on the fence. It all depends whether I'm up, I'm down, I'm on the mend, transcending, on reality. I like you, despise you, admire you. What are we gonna do when everything all falls through? I must confess...

BOILEN: Look, Courtney is one of the best lyricist making music in rock - period, flat out. She's got the Dylan in her. But what she has that sometimes Dylan didn't was she has much more clarity and humor, where Dylan was obscure and oblique at times, though powerful. And I may get a little flack for calling Dylan oblique, but I'm going to do it.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Nice. So let's go out on Courtney Barnett here. And that's NPR music's Bob Boilen. He's about to head home from Austin's SXSW festival and hopefully get some sleep.

BOILEN: I don't want to go, actually. I want another band.

MCEVERS: OK. You can hear everything that his team fell in love with on the podcast All Songs Considered. Bob, thanks so much.

BOILEN: My pleasure.


BARNETT: (Singing) Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint

you. Tell me I'm exceptional and I promise to exploit you.

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