Classical/Ambient Artists to Watch at SXSW 2014

Classical music has always been an afterthought at the industry-insider festival but in recent years the genre has slowly been given a much more integrated chance through inclusions on experimental/alternative showcases. Proportionally in comparison to the festival’s whole lineup, there aren’t that many classical musicians at this year’s South by Southwest festival, those performing will be quite an interesting bunch. From the hyped-up (Cairn String Quartet), to mega-international names (Yoshiki), and down to the alt-contemporary acts (Kira Kira), this year’s SXSW brings the most variety in classical and ambient music the festival has ever seen. Here are the top picks to look out for.

The Cairn String Quartet

Above all classical musicians set to appear at SXSW, none has more buzz coming in than the four string players from the UK. The multi-genre covering quartet has earned the respect not only of their fellow cross-over classical acts but that of iconic artists in other fields including Echo and Bunny Man and last year’s breakout artist Emeli Sandé. The quartet brings a specific sincerity to their performances whether – expect it be Bach and Mozart or Bowie or Radiohead.

For the women of The Cairn String Quartet, South by Southwest is only the biggest platform they appeared in the states but definitely not globally, having already appeared at Glastonbury and T in the Park.  Indeed the quartet performs popular covers but they’re done in a tender, non-tacky way than most popular classical cover artists tend to do, and they also bring their original compositions to the table.

The Cairn String Quartet will have the best stage presence of any classical musician at this year’s SXSW – a must watch.



Out of any classically-defined musician at SXSW, Yoshiki is probably the most famous – just not in America. The leader of the iconic pop j-rock band X Japan, Yoshiki has also redefined himself as one of the most underrated commercial composers in the field. Watching him perform is a mixture of glam and serenity with a definite “Hollywood” decadent touch. One listen to his style of play and its very apparent to notice the airy and wispy shades on the piano he likes to put out.

It’s incredibly rare to see him perform as Yoshiki in the US as he’s primarily based in Japan, so catching him at SXSW is promised to be quite the spectacle.

Kira Kira

Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir, otherwise known as Kira Kira, is emerging to become new fresh face of the budding Icelandic composing scene and definitely the top contemporary act to catch at this year’s festival.

Kira Kira’s music is a mixture of everything from landscape-lush rising strings to toy box vibes of innocence. For those who are fans of more experimental/indie classical along the lines of Nico Muhly at his most experimental, or alt-instrumental types ala Nicolas Jaar, Kira Kira is the hot ticket for this year’s SXSW.



Every year at SXSW there’s that one potential next “Explosions in the Sky” awaiting to break out. Clay Walton and John Wilkins whom form FiRES WERE SHOT are finally getting their shot at being the closest next ambient post-rock breakout act. Around since 1998, FiRES WERE SHOT have recently caused a buzz with their striking recent album Pieces of the White Sun on It’s Only Me Records.

In all the madness that is SXSW, FIRES WERE SHOT are the type of act that will give you “that moment.” Without a doubt the BEST ambient act to catch at this year’s South By Southwest.


Jade Simmons

Jade Simmons is amongst the two top hip-hop/classical acts appearing at SXSW. A former  Miss America contestant, Simmons is winning over audiences in and outside with classical music with a mixture of stylized piano sets with a head-nodding pace. Showing she’s more substance than flash that most hip-hop classical acts tend to pigeonhole themselves into, Simmons relies more on darker tones of sound giving her a more distinctive hardness while still maintaining a very sophisticated edge.

Simmons will draw a much more diverse audience than most of her SXSW peers in her genre. Expect her sets to be vivid and incredibly energetic, and perhaps the hippest of any classical performer this year.


Black Violin

The tagline of hip-hop and violin may quickly remind listeners of the “hip-hop violinist” Miri Ben-Ari but Wil B and Kev Marcus of Black Violin differ in their performance style and repertoire. Best described as a bit of old-school hip hop mixed with classical, Black Violin bring a more surreal experience that’s openly BPM/dance heavy and truly unique.

There’s a svelte style to Black Violin’s vibe and it shows. The heavy sound-byte infusions may be a bit too offsetting but there’s no denying the swagger Black Violin brings the table is refreshing and respectable.


East Forest

The sleeper-hit and best hidden gem at SXSW whether for classical/ambient fans or not, is far and above East Forest. Bon Iver fans take notice – Trevor Oswalt under the moniker as East Forest, is the next coming of the folk-field recording-atmospheric wave.

His emotive music experimentation of instruments is in a league of its own and that’s saying a lot given the abundance of such acts at this year’s SXSW.

East Forest’s sound is a mixture of nostalgia, tranquility, and heart beats all in one. His minimalist, repetitious style is memorable and invigorating with every listen.

Of all acts to catch at SXSW 2014, East Forest’s sets will be the ones you’ll know the least about but will be the ones you’ll remember the most long after the convoluted barrage of noise at SXSW. East Forest – The.One.To.Watch.

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