The organizers of the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference pride themselves on the variety of musical genres represented at the festival. Those attendees more inclined toward rock / pop / dance / folk / electro / hip-hop / metal might forget that traditional and classical music are also included in the lineup. Among the classical music acts scheduled for SXSW 2014 is Scotland’s Cairn String Quartet. The group started out as a busking quartet in Glasgow in 2007, but has since grown to a 12-member collective comprised of violin, viola, and cello players as well as two singers and a dedicated composer/arranger. All members are graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama).
The Cairn String Quartet specialises in creating instrumental arrangements of rock and pop songs, spanning across subgenres to cover songs by Aerosmith, Beyoncé, Daft Punk and Mumford and Sons, to name just a few. Their most recent EP release, titled ‘#Quartetquickies’ includes a version of ‘The Mother We Share’ by CHVRCHES, and their last full-length album, ‘One’, features arrangements of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ and ‘Everybody’s On The Run’ by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
Perhaps because we’re currently in the throes of the holiday season, I found myself especially enjoying the group’s Christmas album ‘And A Quartet In A Pear Tree’ from December 2012. It includes some of the standard favorites like ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’ as well as some less obvious choices, like The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’. I listened while baking holiday treats, and the music set a perfect festive mood, only occasionally distracting me from the task at hand.
The Cairn String Quartet’s 2013 releases included two albums of music for wedding ceremonies, one traditional (titled ‘The Wedding Album’) and one a bit cheekier (titled ‘The Alternative Wedding Album’). String-based instrumentals do have their usual and expected places, which would include weddings and fancy holiday parties. SXSW 2014 might be a surprising showcase for a group like the Cairn String Quartet, but their choices of cover material will undoubtedly fascinate audiences who happen to catch their performances.