Though most shoes were thoroughly soaked or outright destroyed by the time it was over, Friday at South By Southwest offered another eclectic batch of excellent music from all styles, genres, and countries of origin. All of the complaints levied against SXSW are completely valid: It’s too corporate for what it sets out to accomplish, it’s too crowded, and very often the sound systems installed in venues who do not otherwise host live music are sub-par. But at its most ideal, SXSW is one of the few spots on the calendar when all of pop music is essentially on an even playing field, which allows upstarts to play on the exact same stage as Miley Cyrus. In this vacuum, being exceptional can really stand out, no matter how many Twitter followers, entourage members, or major label dollars you have.
On Friday morning, for example, I wandered over to FLOODfest, a series of shows put on by FLOOD Magazine. Each day featured three separate showcases, and the brunch blocks were devoted to acts from a particular country. Friday happened to be the Sweden showcase, which piqued my interest as I am mildly obsessed with the way that nation’s government commits to arts exports, particularly when it comes to pop music. None of the three acts on the bill were well known (though the headliner appears to be picking up some traction), but they were all excellent and delivered unique spins. Folk duo Good Harvest were up first. Armed only with acoustic guitars and floral harmonies, they spun a quietly enchanting batch of tunes as people nibbled on Swedish meatballs. Their explanation for the huge volume churned out by Swedish songwriters was simple: the winters are so unbelievably long and painful, it’s an ideal indoor activity. In fact, Good Harvest’s best song “Waker of the Heart” is basically about wishing for Spring to finally arrive. In another lifetime, Hanna Enlof and Ylva Eriksson would have absolutely dominated the soundtrack to Dawson’s Creek, which is one of the higher compliments I can grant a band.