(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #394: Sam Fender

By on Thursday, 11th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Jack Whitefield

Newcastle rock singer/songwriter Sam Fender is surely one of the safest bets for success at SXSW 2018. As stated in his SXSW bio, Fender has already laid the groundwork for a big break in the UK, playing support slots at home for Hozier and Catfish and the Bottlemen, as well as travelling to Europe with TGTF alums Bear’s Den and Declan McKenna. Fender has only released a handful of singles for public consumption, but they have been uniformly well-received, particularly debut track ‘Play God’, which has garnered air time on BBC Radio 1 and reached viral status on both iTunes and Spotify.

Thematically, ‘Play God’ isn’t exactly tailor-made to be a breakout hit, but it makes a strong introductory statement. There’s nothing “feel good” about Fender’s pessimistic lyrical forecast, which imagines an oppressive and perhaps not-so-distant future for Western society. “It’s all the same down in the capital / all the suits in cladded feet,” Fender intones darkly in the second verse, “sewer rats will shower the underground / in a race to make ends meet”.

The real drama, though, is in the song’s musical arrangement, which elucidates the pervasive thematic anxiety in its deeply resonating rhythm section and persistent electric guitar riffs. The production quality is stunning, slick and clean, but with a cutting edge, particularly in the vocal sound. The slight stridency in Fender’s voice conveys both cynicism and urgency, and his concise lyrical phrases slice sharply through the thick instrumentation. Added brass layers in the bridge section are another a surprisingly expert touch, adding harmonic texture and further ratcheting up the dramatic tension.

Fender’s recent single release, ‘Greasy Spoon’, explores a different kind of social oppression. His lyrics here imagine the female perspective on sexual harassment: “cat call and white van patrol / in the streets as she walks from work / grip hard and jeer from afar / as he sits with a drooling smirk.” He even goes so far as to declare “I am a woman” in the song’s bridge section, though whether ths is an expression of solidarity or an obscure metaphor remains unclear. Regardless, ‘Greasy Spoon’ continues where ‘Play God’ left off in terms of establishing Sam Fender’s presence on the international indie rock scene.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, Sam Fender’s appearance in Austin is subject to change. We recommend that you consult the official SXSW Music Festival schedule for the latest information and updates.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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