SXSW 2017: Brits and Australians, plus Bahranians and Mongolians (seriously!) Wednesday afternoon – 15th March 2017

By on Wednesday, 29th March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

After the Nile Rodgers keynote speech at the convention center that was less than thrilling, I was ready for some live music. Carrie and I went down south to get our bearings ahead of Culture Collide’s taking over of Rainey Street for the rest of the week. If you’ve ever been to Rainey Street, you know that there a bunch of cutesy houses down the road that host day and night parties all week during SXSW. It’s an entirely different vibe than the clubs in the downtown area, but I never seem to get to spend much time down there.

After an aborted attempt in getting free tacos at Feed the Beat’s afternoon showcase at Lustre Pearl, I left Carrie to go next door to Bar 96. Ten Tonnes, aka young Hertford singer/songwriter Ethan Barnett, would be the first to take the stage at the Twix showcase. I was quite curious about him, as he was set to appear midnight that night at the Radio 2, PPL and PRS for Music showcase at the British Music Embassy, emceed by BBC Radio presenter Jo Whiley. We’d never heard of him before our SXSW previewing, so how did such a youngster get such a desired performance slot?

Ten Tonnes, Bar 95, Culture Collide / Twix, Wednesday 15 March 2017

His set at Bar 96 was his first-ever American performance, but he didn’t show any apprehension, launching into a series of bluesy rock and rockabilly numbers, including single ‘Silver Heat’, which just happened to be released the day after this performance. I think I speak for everyone watching this set that it’s a surprise (a pleasant one) to hear a young man sing and play blues rock and so convincingly. This business is full of musicians willing to sell their souls to make it, going towards genres and playing music their hearts aren’t into. However, it became crystal clear in my short interview with Barnett that he’s dedicated to this style of songwriting, and I’m sure he found loads of inspiration while being in America.

It’s unbelievable that I’ve not visited Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden all these years, but I finally made it this year. Somehow I managed to consume one of their fabulous bratwursts with sauerkraut after catching Australian Alex Lahey play Banger’s outdoor garden during the StubHub showcase there. I don’t know how many beer gardens there are in Melbourne, but surely this must have a bucket list ticked off for Lahey and her band.

Alex Lahey, Culture Collide / StubHub, Banger's, Wednesday 15 March 2017

She’s the kind of girl you know you’d have a fun night out boozing with, laughs all around. Like fellow Melbournian Courtney Barnett before her, you can tell Lahey doesn’t take herself or her music too seriously. She’s got a little pop song called ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’, which is an upbeat, funny ode that see Lahey thumbing her nose at pretentious people. Which is exactly what she’s not: I have on good authority from a blogger friend from Oz that he was not surprised she was only wearing t-shirts in Austin, but that she ran the risk of ruining her stage outfits with barbecue sauce. Ha. Somehow I don’t think that would have fazed her anyway. Check out her video for ‘Wes Anderson’ in this previous Video of the Moment feature.

I walked back up to 6th Street to a little hole in the wall called Big Bang Bar to see another Aussie band. It’s a good measure of a band to see their stage demeanour, no matter if they’re playing to 10 or 10 thousand. Despite only playing to a few boozers at the bar and a handful of interested people like me, Sydney electropop group Castlecomer gave it their all at their slot at the South X Big Bang afternoon showcase, filled mostly with American acts.


Castlecomer, South X Big Bang, Big Bang Bar, Wednesday 15 March 2017

While I’m sure this performance was very different than their appearance the next day at the Aussie BBQ at Brush Square Park, I thought Castlecomer sounded incredible in the small club. Frontman Bede, with a shocking amount of incredible hair that Pantene should get on right away for an advertisement opportunity, bounded around the stage and onto the floor like a madman to their catchy tunes. You can’t help but get drawn into dancing to the infectious beats of their music. Their incredible energy reminds me of Two Door Cinema Club in their early days, which is something even Two Door can’t manage to recapture. Delicious escapist fare.

Finding myself at a loose end, I returned to the British Music Embassy around the corner to see Mt. Wolf, playing a better attended show than the one they helpfully offered to open the previous night at Scratchouse. I’ll let you in on a trade secret unknown to bands and who have never played SXSW before: the people who come to the afternoon shows are different than the ones at your evening showcases. Being genuine and performing your best, no matter what time of day you’re playing, where or in front of how many people, is the key to your success in Austin.

Mt. Wolf, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Wednesday 15 March 2017

As I had predicted, Mt. Wolf’s brand of atmospheric pop worked well at Latitude 30. If you’re looking for something chill and with anthemic swells, this kind of music is for you. While their future may have initially uncertain after the departure of original lead singer Kate Sproule, Sebastian Fox’s falsetto is proving to hit the spot and indeed, in a different, better way. This was the second in a long string of appearances the band made in Austin.


Flamingods, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Wednesday 15 March 2017

Flamingods are originally from the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain but they call the melting pot capital of London home these days. The self-described “exotic psychedelia” group brought a truly tropical air to Latitude 30 with their colourful outfits and their instruments unusual to Western minds, theirs being a unique rhythmic experience like no other that came to Latitude 30 that week. They’re proof it doesn’t matter where your music comes from or by whom, as long as it comes from the hearts of the people who make it. What is going on back home must pain the members of Flamingods, but by playing on the world’s stage that is SXSW, they make the statement that music shouldn’t have any borders.

Around the corner I went to the Second Play Stage at the Westin Downtown to see Magnolian. As the first-ever musical representative from Mongolia to showcase at SXSW, he had a lot riding on his shoulders. However, he needn’t have worried, as he and his backing band played to a crowd of interested listeners, including the Aussies who were slated to perform there next. As an American who outwardly looks Oriental, there’s certain prejudices that come into people’s heads automatically when they see me even before I open my mouth, so I was concerned there might be similar prejudices by the Austin crowds that came across Dulguun Bayasgalan and his band.

Magnolian, Second Play Stage, Westin Downtown, Wednesday 15 March 2017

However, and as supported by my chat with him and his band after this performance, Bayasgalan’s primary musical influences are Matt Berninger and The National, which comes across in his thoughtful baritone and songwriting. Rather than simply being a curiosity, I hope Magnolian’s visit to SXSW has led to Western connections that will further career and who knows, maybe one day he’ll get to open for the band who inspired him from thousands of miles away.


The Heart Collectors, Second Play Stage, Westin Downtown, Wednesday 15 March 2017

Following Magnolian at the Westin were Aussie acoustic folk purveyors The Heart Collectors, who I’d sadly missed at Sounds Australia’s Sound Gallery I on Tuesday morning. Dressed in comfy cotton and wearing hats that made them fit into the Austin scene perfectly, they pleasantly rattled through their set of mostly foot-stomping folk numbers utilising banjo, cello, mandolin and guitar. The band members took turns with lead vocal duties but their tight harmonies whenever their voices came together again were always beautiful. For those unfamiliar with the band’s music, a cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ came across not only as familiar but winsome. I included them on my list of best bets of the many Aussie acts coming out to Austin, and they didn’t disappoint.

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