SXSW 2018: Thursday night with artists around the world and dealing with the unexpected – 15th March 2018 (Part 2)

By on Tuesday, 3rd April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

This was my seventh SXSW. Having been punched and groped in 2016 and then having been turned away at a venue despite my having a SXxpress pass this year, I thought perhaps I’d experienced all the peculiarity and awfulness that was meant for me in Austin in this lifetime. You may say I’m getting old and I should just shake these things off, but my tolerance for BS is minimal these days at best. Having crossed off Munich’s Joasihno and Solingen’s Blackberries at German Haus’ Wednesday afternoon programming, Thursday night was supposed to be a pretty relaxing evening stroll from venue to venue. Pretty sure I jinxed myself…

Like Wednesday evening, Thursday evening began for me with a stop at a drinks reception, this time the Le Bureau Export New York / France Rocks’ drink and food reception at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. Call me crazy, but I assumed that after visiting the House of Scandinavia on Monday and snacking on some faux meatballs, we’d be getting some champagne and French-themed food at this reception. I think there was a major miscalculation in attendance predictions, as I got there pretty early to queue and by the time I got upstairs, nearly all the food was gone. The French contingent might consider either ordering more food next year, or do a better job limiting access. It was very strange, too, that except for one sign advertising the event that was stood next to a picnic table full of official staff, there were no other indications that this was a French event. At the Focus Wales night the evening before, there were Welsh flags down the bar and on individual tables; German Haus had awesome-looking banners and their unique blue-green design branding in front of Barracuda’s indoor stage.

The reception was useful in that I was in the right place when the first act of the Bureau Export France showcase began. They even began before 8 PM, pretty tops. I had seen electronic act STAL 3 years ago playing at the Clash Magazine showcase at Coalition at the 2015 edition of The Great Escape. At the time they were based in Paris, but they now call Los Angeles home. At STAL’s core is composer Pierre-Marie Maulini, who cut his teeth on rock bands in the early Noughties before forging a friendship with and going on tour with Anthony Gonzalez’s M83. It’s purported that the 2 years Maulini spent touring ‘Saturday = Youth’ with Gonzalez and crew inspired him to start his own project and thus STAL, the word for steel in various languages, was born.

STAL Thursday at SXSW 2018

STAL’s music has morphed in the last few years; recent single ‘The Crime’ (my review here) sees them veering towards a more overtly mainstream pop sound, probably what Maulini meant in a previous Facebook post in which he mentioned them going on “a brand new journey”. Time will tell if this will translate to bigger success for them as I had hoped for when I saw them in 2015. What will help them big-time in this regard is the energy of their live show. You can tell they’re friends and getting into it, and as fun as it is to watch them, the frenetic motions onstage encourages you to join in on the floor and dance. Maulini and live guitar and synths bandmate Jeff Di Rienzo (guitar and synths) were constantly moving their bodies to the beat. Newest single ‘Magic’ that came out last Friday is more in line of what I think of from an electropop band; check it out in its premiere on our friends Glamglare’s Web site.

On my way down the stairs, I stopped to catch a song by girl group TAWINGS who were playing on the indoor stage at the Sounds from Japan showcase. Channelling ‘60s garage rock, the Tokyo group’s sound chugs along like so many bands we’ve heard before. So much that you might think you’re listening to another band. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that’s what they say, right? Any other night, I could be quite happy listening to a band like this. At SXSW, not so much.

TAWINGS Thursday at SXSW 2018

I left STAL’s set before it ended, because I had a long walk to the Kobalt AWAL / blahblahblahscience show at the Palm Door on Sabine Street. I made it just as East Anglians turned Londoners Otzeki, who I’d written about in the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018, began to play. It was some luck that I had given them a pass Tuesday night, instead choosing to stay for The Academic’s full set at The Main II (see more here). Otzeki’s show that evening was shut down by bouncers two songs in because singer Mike Sharp had commandeered a bottle of Maker’s Mark (the Seven Grand is a whisky bar) and refused to surrender it to staff.

The well-lit venue gave folks plenty of room to drink, dance and observe the band however they wanted to. The bounce of their electronic-driven music was funky and seemed to be intriguing the audience, most of whom I guessed didn’t know who they were before wandering into the building. Then things got weird. Sharp repeatedly bounded into the audience with his microphone, leading to impromptu twirls around and serenading of punters. This in itself is not unusual. Most music fans like this kind of interaction, and the women he confronted seemed to enjoy the joke. Having had close calls with guitars and microphone leads in my face in the past, I prefer such interaction at a distance.

Otzeki Thursday SXSW 2018

He decided to take his shirt off, then gaffa tape his chest across his nipples. Er, okay, performance art. Then he decided to pick up the water dispenser that all Austin bars have. Bar owners know that revelers drink too much during SXSW, and their defense is to keep these people hydrated. What happened next seemed to move in slo mo. Sharp must have jumped in the air with the dispenser, and what seemed like all the water in it fell on me. I’ve had some stupid stuff happen to me in my life, but this took the cake.

Was he acting provocatively during SXSW to create a buzz about their act while in Austin? Good that it happened to me and not some A&R dude, I guess. Their manager was kind enough to try and source me some actual towels, but I soon decided I had to get out of the air-conditioning and out of my clothes ASAP. I walked by a hotel staff member on the way back up to 6th Street and she asked me what happened. After hearing the story, she said, “you’re taking it awfully well, considering.” What else could I do?

I refused to let this incident get the best of me. I headed for St. David’s Sanctuary next, warning the door staff that my clothes were wet, and would that be okay if I sat in a pew to enjoy the next performance? They waved me on and said that if I needed a blanket, they had some in the back that I could help myself to. That was nice of them. Being able to sit is not a perk you get in all venues, and after what happened, it was mighty welcome. When I arrived, soulful electropop singer/songwriter Benji Lewis of Melbourne, Australia, was still setting up with his live bandmate and friend Allen. I hadn’t missed a moment of what would be one of the most magical performances I witnessed in Austin all week.

Benji Lewis Thursday 2 at SXSW 2018

Like many Aussies wanting to be noticed beyond antipodean borders, he’s moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of global stardom. In this interview with our friends at The AU Review, Lewis explained that he stripped back his set at St. David’s to respect his environment, choosing to go with lighter sounds. The decision paid off in spades: the Aussie singer’s falsetto floated lighter than air, making songs like his standout single ‘Drift’ sound absolutely beautiful within the incredible acoustics of St. David’s. While I may have been down when I arrived, Lewis’ velvet tones were just what I needed to regroup and remind myself why I was in Austin. Check out his newest single ‘Deep Blue’ below. For more of my photos from Thursday night at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

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