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Future Islands is ready to storm SXSW

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 11, 2014

At first glance Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring seems completely unassuming, a compact figure with piercing blue eyes and a receding hairline who could easily be the guy who sits two cubes down from you at the office. He gregariously started the Baltimore synth pop band’s set, playing to a capacity crowd in the 6:15 p.m. headline spot at the Spotify House, by remarking that it was the band’s first trip to SXSW. He talked about the weather.

Then the band kicked in and Herring instantly transformed. Taking the grounded stance of a fighter he moved to the music bouncing from foot to foot, rolling his hips and cocking his head.

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. His voice shifts from a soft falsetto to a plaintive wail to the kind of guttural deep-throated growl that a death metal frontman might use.

Future Islands’ music is a study in contrasts. With no guitars the music is driven by vigorous bass and drums while dreamy sustained keys float above. Meanwhile Herring sings with a palpable passion that takes over his body. He sings like he’s trying to channel spirits or exorcise demons. It’s explosive, powerful stuff and the crowd at the Spotify House went nuts for it.

It’s surely too early to start naming 2014 breakout acts, but before the sun went down on day one of the fest Future Islands were storming the stage like a band about to blow up.