She Shreds is a print magazine dedicated to women guitarists and bassists that’s been around since 2011. Past covers include Laura Jane Grace, Corin Tucker, Marnie Stern, Esperanza Spalding, and more. She Shreds always books a rad unofficial SXSW day show, featuring bands fronted by women and gender nonconforming artists, and this year was no exception. Jay Som, Sad13, Aye Nako, Las Kellies, Lisa Prank, Dude York, and many, many more played in a packed grassy lot east of the freeway. There were so many people there that the local brewery slinging free beers ran out by late afternoon, which is a hard thing to accomplish at a festival fueled by gratis booze.
Every year at SX I go to the She Shreds party because they know how to make a space feel inclusive and cool in a festival atmosphere that’s generally lacking both. They also know how to book ahead of the curve. I’ve seen loads of artists who played the She Shreds gig and went on to be the big attraction at an official night show a year or two later. AND they have always put women and nonconforming musicians first, setting the tone for a SXSW 2017 that’s certifiably dominated by artists of the indie rock and punk persuasions that are not just a bunch of dudes.
This year at SXSW, the biggest breakout rock acts are fronted by women and gender nonconforming musicians. Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast, Downtown Boys, PWR BTTM, Priests, Mothers, Chastity Belt, Forth Wanderers, IAN SWEET, Snail Mail, Vagabon, and Charly Bliss are just a few of the bands that people are buzzing about. For a long time, small parties like the She Shreds one were the only SXSW rock events that had women at the top of the bill. Finally, the rest of the festival has (almost) caught up.
I got to the show in time to catch the DC-based project Sneaks. Eva Moolchan is signed to Merge now, and though Sneaks is technically branded as “hip-hop,” the set was more of a post-punk dance show: hypnotic and powered by the kind of hollow bassline that sounds effortlessly chill. Seattle’s Dude York took the stage sometime after, and Claire England wore a borrowed Panthers football jersey. Aye Nako, one of my favorite bands to see in Brooklyn, played their first-ever SX set at the She Shreds show. They ripped through a couple of old songs off their 2015 EP, The Blackest Eye, and closed out with their brand new single, “Particle Mace.” Aye Nako have always been emo-ish (heavy emphasis on the “ish”) but their new stuff has a mathematic edge to it that reminds me of Speedy Ortiz. Sadie Dupuis herself performed a bit later in the night with her pop project Sad13.
Seeing the Argentine band Las Kellies perform for a crowd in Austin was a great moment. They’re a garage-rock act that’s wildly popular in Buenos Aires, but they haven’t quite broken through in the States yet. She Shreds invited the trio along to perform with likeminded American artists, and it was fun to watch the crowd collectively get to know a foreign band alongside some of their favorite locals. Unlike some showcases that use “feminism” and “diversity” as a branding tool and a means through which to seem woke in the age of Trump, She Shreds showcases have a simple mission: women and gender nonconforming artists to the front, now and forever. They’ve been preaching that mission at SXSW time and again, and this year, it looks like some of the fest’s most prominent gatekeepers are finally catching on.