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SXSW: Austra chills out, Icona Pop turns it up

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Icona Pop
Rahav Segev/Getty Images

The bill at Wednesday night’s Vicemagazine “style stage” was two sides of one sexy coin.

The showcase (sponsored by Vice‘s music channel Noisey and Garnier Fructis, complete with an on-site mini hair salon, because why not?) brought together the atmospheric Canadian group Austra and the hard-partying Swedish electro duo Icona Pop. It was an interesting combination.

Canadian trio Austra, whose 2011 debut Feel It Break cemented them as one of the leaders of the darkwave scene — dreamy, brooding synth bands reviving and reinterpreting the likes of Depeche Mode and Kate Bush — came on first and unleashed their not-so-secret weapon, frontwoman Katie Stelmanis’ otherworldly voice. Last night, that voice hovered over the music as the band worked through Feel It Break favorites like “Lost It” and new, unheard material from their upcoming second album, Olympia.

If the live show was any indication, Olympia will be a very mellow affair. Austra’s set was chill, sometimes to point of hypnoisis, and for a while, it was easy to forget you were at a music festival and not daydreaming on a blanket.

Icona Pop, however, did not want you to sleep; they want to crash their cars into bridges and watch it burn. They don’t care — these are ’90s bitches.

Those (paraphrased) lyrics come from the duo’s breakthrough single “I Love It,” which you’ve most likely heard by now. But hearing is one thing — seeing them play it live in front of a sea of screaming, crowdsurfing, screaming again young women is another thing. They were jumping at each other, throwing drinks at the stage, going all-around nuts. It was like a F—-d Up show, but with an exactly opposite girl-guy ratio.

The rest of the Icona Pop’s set, it turned out, was basically a dubstep party. Almost every song wound up having the kind of huge chub-wub-wub bass drops that literally shake the roof — there was debris falling on the heads of the unlucky revelers by the stage’s perimeter. Yet while the kids loved it, a certain, several older members of the crowd suddenly felt an urgent need to smoke a cigarette or make a phone call outside.

As I overheard one such guy put it to his friend, “SXSW is wasted on the young.” But, hey, it is spring break.

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