SXSW 2013: Day 2 afternoon – British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 and Blah Blah Blah Science Party at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop – 12th March 2013
Probably the greatest thing about SXSW is that nearly any time of day or night – or maybe any time before 11 AM – there is someone, somewhere gigging. The numerous day parties given by blogs, magazines, labels, PR companies and anyone else with the money and the get up and go to put on a show are often free and provide an entirely different atmosphere than the evening counterparts. I mean, seriously, where else can you see a show with wonderful sunshine framing the stage? And not to make you jealous or anything, but we had 5 straight days of perfect weather: around 30 C or above and not a cloud in the sky. Many day parties are free too, making it possible to see amazing bands for absolutely nothing if you don’t have the means to buy one of those expensive badges.
On Wednesday, the festival was already in full swing, which meant there was a whole host of great parties to drop in on. The British Music Embassy’s first full afternoon line-up beckoned, and I arrived just in time to miss the complimentary fish and chips (darn) but partake in the open bar (yes!). And then I was off to an interview in the afternoon sun with Adam Kane of Cave Painting, which you can listen to here.
After the interview and a quick photo op with the whole band (see photo at top), I snuck back into Latitude 30 to learn if strobes work at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I arrived just in time to catch the second half of a set by Southern Welsh electronic outfit Man Without Country. I liked what I was hearing – dense, complex soundscapes with an occasional guitar – but I wondered if it was just too early in the day, if people were still hungover from the night before, or if there had been insufficient alcohol flowing that Wednesday afternoon, but the crowd reaction was less than stellar.
Next up was something I’d been waiting for for months. It was Cave Painting’s turn on the British Music Embassy stage. This year I noticed there was much more fog being used at Latitude 30, but of all the acts I saw on that stage, it was the Brighton band’s set that used it most effectively, making for a bewitching atmosphere that fit songs from their debut album ‘Votive Live’ perfectly. Singles ‘Leaf’ and ‘Gator’ were more beautiful live than I ever could have imagined.
Sadly though, instead of staying put and relaxing with friends old and new I’d been reunited with at Latitude 30, I had to depart – and miss NZCA/Lines – in attempt #2 to catch the 1975 at the Blah Blah Blah Science party at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. Your worst enemy at SXSW is often the clock; I had hoped I could fit in the 1975 neatly before the reinvented Charlotte Church went on back at Latitude 30. (I’m still kind of gobsmacked that we saw Charlotte sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, doing her makeup in a handheld mirror. Talk about down to earth. )
Unfortunately, this plan was soon dashed. The Blah Blah Blah Science party was running an hour late, and equipment and successful soundchecks were proving difficult for all bands, including the first band I eventually saw on the rooftop, Wildcat! Wildcat! I’m not sure what the great appeal of this band was to the SXSW crowd. I know I am cynical because I hear so much music, but the rock/electro formula made famous by MGMT is starting to get stale now. I’m not a fan of male falsettos, much less falsetto harmonies. And a repeated theme throughout the week was ill-advised covers, of which Wildcat! Wildcat! became involved with trying to do a reimagined ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ that Tears for Fear wouldn’t welcome. Sorry, but there is only one band – Dutch Uncles – that is allowed to cover that song. After they were done, I kept looking at my watch and getting anxious. When would the 1975 start already? There was something wrong with the adapters for their Macbook and synthesiser, so they would just have to go on without either of them. Groan. The synthesiser is a massive part of their sound…
However, I was buoyed by the number of punters crammed in on the rooftop to see this band, no doubt having heard the word around town that they’d killed it the night before at Huw Stephens’ UK Trade and Investment showcase (if you recall, that was the same appearance your fearless editor was stuck stood outside Latitude 30 with no hope of seeing anything from the window). Despite the technical difficulties, the 1975 looked ubercool, as a gentle breeze wafted through under the tent roof, tousling singer Matthew Healy’s hair and the band rocked out to ‘Chocolate’ and the audience-demanded ‘Sex’. Before I had to rush back to Latitude 30, I had a word with Matthew to “big up Manchester”, telling him we would be sure to catch them with their full equipment set up in DC on the 30th of March. Then I was off again.
After powwowing later in the week with new band, photographer and blogger friends, Charlotte Church was their biggest draw all week. And I missed her. Sigh. Nevertheless, I had headed back to the British Music Embassy to see a band I’d been wanting to see at last year’s Great Escape. In Brighton, I was thwarted on the third day of the Great Escape 2012 by their frontman being poorly, only to find out they’d been replaced at the Dome by Splashh. I am, of course, speaking of Sheffield’s Reverend and the Makers. There seems to be some weird disconnect with nearly every single British friend of mine who does not like this band; I don’t know how you could *not* like them. I love to dance and I love electropop, so the Rev and his crew fit me to a T.
Remember how I said that strobes didn’t work a couple hours earlier? Well, wipe that image out of your head because the crowd did a 180 when it came time for Reverend and the Makers. This was also my first encounter with a very energetic American bloke super dancer in a Hurts t-shirt who Jon McClure later in this set anointed as the best dancer in the club. (The same man later showed up at several other gigs I attended- it’s nice to know there are Americans who love British music and with such dedication as much as I do. British bands, take note: there are more of us from where I came from.)
Playing mostly from their third UK album and debut American album released this month, ‘@Reverend_Makers’, the band wowed, turning the British Music Embassy into an unlikely but an entirely enjoyable and hedonistic rave even before tea time. I can say without a doubt as an American that this was one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever been to. Equally chuffed with the American reception was McClure himself, who I nabbed after the set for a lovely chat. Listen to the interview here. It was only the second day of SXSW Music and I was already getting a delightful Northern – specifically Sheffield – vibe and I couldn’t have been happier. And that’s what SXSW is all about, isn’t it? Getting closer to the music that means so much to you in a way that you never imagined. Only the afternoon of day two, and I was already on cloud nine. You’re brilliant, SXSW.