Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 18, 2014
The second annual South by Southwest Grulke Award winners were announced Tuesday. Baltimore-based indie rock outfit Future Islands took the prize for Developing US Act, Irish blues rock band Strypes won the Developing non-US Act and Damon Albarn, lead vocalist of Blur and founder of the animated band Gorillaz took home the Career Act award.
We ran into Future Islands on the first day of the festival and it was already clear that the band was about to take SXSW by storm. Their music is a study in contrasts. With no guitars it is driven by vigorous bass and drums while dreamy sustained keys float above. But it’s frontman Samuel T. Herring who transforms the group into a force of nature. He’s a magnetic, captivating presence. His face contorts and he beats his chest when he sings as if he’s physically trying to rip his heart out and throw it on the stage. He sings like he’s trying to channel spirits or exorcise demons. It’s explosive, powerful stuff.
Despite rave reviews we weren’t able to catch up with Strypes at the fest. We also missed Damon Albarn’s Fader Fort set which found Gorillaz alums De La Soul and Del the Funky Homosapien joining him on stage. Statesman freelance writer Ramon Ramirez caught Albarn’s set at Stubb’s on Wednesday night. It took place as the tragedy on Red River was unfolding. Albarn’s melancholy songs provided "eerie background music," Ramirez said.
The Grulke Prize is named after former SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke who passed away in August of 2012. The jury for the prizes includes music critics, industry professionals and SXSW staffers who knew Grulke. The developing artist prizes recognize acts that are breaking ground with their creativity. The career artist prize goes to an established artist that appeared at the festival to launch a new project or to reinvent himself. Last year’s winners were Haim, Chvrches and Flaming Lips.