At this year’s South by South West I felt an intense undercurrent of fem power running throughout the entire conference and festival. Flipping through the various programs for the different aspects of the conference (Film, Interactive, and Music), there were so many female faces looking back at me. Names like Gayle King, Melinda Gates and Dakota Fanning, jumped off the pages. Tech pioneers, film and music makers; women excelling in these fields and more all came to spread their influence and inspiration at this year’s SXSW.
While men will get honorable mentions when they’ve earned it (in this review at least), my focus, like the future, will be decidedly female.
My SXSW wonder women mission began not with a bang, not with a whisper, but with a conversation. Silicon Valley maven Kara Swisher turned the tables on legendary CNN wartime correspondant Christiane Amanpour at the SXSW interactive conference. Amanpour was put in the interview hotseat to talk about something you probably wouldn’t expect from her: sex. That is, her new show Sex and Love around the World. Produced by Anthony Bourdain, the show follows Amanpour as she visits women around the globe to talk not just about the act of sex, but about love, romance, dating, and everything in between, and how all that works outside of North America. Amanpour was charming and engaging in her reversed role, with the sassy Swisher clearly relishing in putting her subject on the spot.
It was also great to see female founded businesses at the forefront of the sponsorship space at SX. The Female Quotient were back again with The Girls’ Lounge, a place for female-identifying attendees to chill out, network and enjoy panel talks and music. Women’s Wear Daily also curated a SXSW oasis for women, giving them a chance to be pampered and relax between meetings while engaging with exciting activations and engaging brands.
Dating app Bumble, founded by Whitney White, took over the Fairmarket event space for a two day event, stacked with speakers, music, and interesting activations. I got the chance to give my version of elevator pitch at in Bumble’s own elevator. Actress and activist Gina Rodriguez took the stage alongside the app founder to talk feminism, activism and, of course dating. White revealed that she started Bumble in an effort to put a stop to abusive relationships by giving women the upper hand in the dating game. In keeping with the musical influence that applies to everything at SXSW, the Bumble house played host to multiple artists, with Haim being the highlight for me. The band of sisters put on an amazing show to wrap up the two day event, and in a meet-cute romantic twist, Alana spotted a former crush of hers in the crowd and playfully called him out from the stage.
While I didn’t pay much attention to the Film portion of SXSW last year, this year one particular project caught my eye. Weed the People is the second collaboration between Ricky Lake (yes that Ricky Lake) and Abby Epstein. Their first film The Business Being Born was a thought provoking piece on the choices women may or may not know they have when it comes to childbirth. The dream team definitely did it again with Weed the People. I got the chance to sit down with Ricky and Abby in an intimate press event (where cannabis may or may not have been consumed…) and it was a thrill to be in the presence of two women who are so accomplished, and still so kind, humble and welcoming. The pair spoke passionately about the film and the inspiration behind it; one little girl, and Christian Evans, Ricki’s late husband. It was through Twitter that Ricki connected with a sick little girl who just happened to be a huge Dancing with the Stars fan. Taken with this child and her story, Ricki and Chris moved her and her mother into their home, and sought out alternative treatments for her illness, including cannabis. Then Abby showed up with a camera crew, and Weed the People was born. While that little girl unfortunately didn’t end up in the film (due to circumstances outside of the team’s control), several other incredible kids did, and their stories were nothing short of incredible. Weed the People is a poignant, emotional yet uplifting film that completely dispels the stigma around cannabis for the treatment of cancer and other illnesses. And that was exactly the point; by focusing on how effectively cannabis helped treat these very sick children, Ricki and Abby make an incredibly powerful point: when it comes to cancer, cannabis WORKS. I can’t recommend this film enough, whether this is a subject that’s of interest to you or not. It powerful, educational and beautiful, and the best vehicle to get the word out on this potentially lifesaving substance. Watch the trailer here, and GO SEE IT the moment it’s released (which will hopefully be soon).
The music portion of SXSW was just as heavy with girl power as the Interactive Conference. With gender parity at the forefront of every festival lineup discussion, I was pleasantly surprised by how many women were so prominently featured in the SXSW lineup. Russian protest punk group Pussy Riot opened up the Music festival at The Main, aptly introduced by American activist Chelsea Manning. Frontwoman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (at least, I believed it was her under her balaclava) was firm in reminding the crowd that Pussy Riot was not a band, but a collective of artists and activists. She criticized the sponsorship and brand heavy element of the festival, with the group going so far as to cover up the banner of logos with a flag of their own. With controversy and activism being Pussy Riot’s brand, the group alternated between spoken word, throbbing beats, frenetic dancing of various balaclava’d members, but consistently reminding the audience of their overall mission: the pursuit of equality for all in the face of oppression. It’ a message that clearly resonated in Trump’s America and by broadcasting it at a festival with the magnitude of SXSW (where they performed multiple times to various audiences), Pussy Riot took full advantage of their time in the country to get their voices heard.
Even though it’s only my second year covering the fest, I’ve now come to expect that every SXSW will yield that once in a lifetime musical experience. And so it did, when I got to see the legend herself, Linda Perry perform with just a handful of people around me. Linda was one of the Music keynote speakers this year, with her business partner Kerry Brown. The pair recently launched We are Hear, a management company, record label and publishing house all in one. In celebration of the launch and their talk, Perry headlined a killer night of music at the Townsend, a beautiful bar with a seemingly hidden performance space in the back. Vocal powerhouse Dorothy took the stage before Perry, helping me cross one more name off my “must see bands” list. Dorothy Martin showed off her killer pipes and her beautiful spirit, the singer just as giddy to be opening for Linda as we all were to be seeing her.
Climbing up onto an amp or platform to raise herself above the heads of her audience, Linda Perry took her place before us on the small stage. And from then, it was ON. She banged out maybe 5 songs, a short set that turned into the most mind blowing Led Zeppelin tribute of all time. As the strains of “Whole Lotta Love” faded away, with vocals that would make Robert Plant himself weep, Linda left the stage, and we were nothing short of shellshocked. As the houselights came one, we filed out the door, wondering how we were ever going to recover from the awesome we had just beheld.
Another singer I’ve been meaning to cross of my must see list was Elle King, who embraced her country side at the Budweiser Country Club. Along with her signature raspy voice and saucy lyrics, Elle showed off some killer banjo skills while crooning some country tunes our way.
There was of course an amazing Canadian contingent at SXSW, flush with amazing female identifying artists. I caught Montreal’s Milk and Bone at Bungalow, their sultry yet ethereal sound captivating the crowd of delegates and music lovers alike.
Over to Canada House at the Swandive, where the daily lineups boasted both gender parity and diversity! Yes that deserves a shout out so that everyone learns to do as well when booking their events. East coast folk pop rockers Partner shredded with their usual unassuming yet ass kicking style.
Speaking of Style, husband and wife duo Dear Rouge brought sexy back to the Swan Dive stage. Danielle and Drew McTaggart are literally two of the nicest humans in the music industry, so it’s always a pleasure for me to see them perform, and an even bigger pleasure to see them kick ass so far from home in front of such an enthralled crowd.
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan was a great new discovery at Canada house. Combining influences from the members Asian/Indigenous backgrounds and sci-fi/electronic/metal-esque creative influences, this band quite simply blew my mind. I’ve never seen anything like them, and look foward to seeing them again.
Vevo house featured a lineup of power women and passionate male identified allies. Tinashe opened for Common’s new project August Greene featuring female rapper and vocalist Mumufresh, who instantly became my latest girlcrush with her amazing voice and uncanny ability to drop some serious rhymes.
I ended my SXSW Music experience with a flashback from 2017, with powerhouse vocalist Bishop Briggs playing me out. Cheers to another great SXSW and WOW to the amazing wonder women that made it the incredible experience that it was.
As for the men? I mean I guess they were alright….For real though, there were a ton of amazing male artists who came out. Honorable mention shout out to Mashrou Leila, the amazing synth pop duo from Montreal who killed it at Swandive along with Grand Analog, Toronto rock and r&b virtuosos.
Well done South by. Until next year!