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Bands to Watch #408: Declan Welsh and the Decadent West

 
By on Thursday, 5th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Confidence and charisma, if you are born with them, are two things that come in handy if you want to be a public figure. How you choose to use them, well, ladies and gents, that’s another story. East Kilbride’s Declan Welsh decided to use his gifts to write political poetry and songs and taking things one step further – and I guess as you do in a satellite town of Glasgow – formed a band with his hometown mates. The alliteratively named Declan Welsh and the Decadent West, one of top tips for this year’s May city festival season, appeared in May at The Great Escape 2018, where I was able to see the Scots in action at the Green Door Store Friday night, whipping the punters into a frenzy. No wonder this band has already become a hot commodity on the Glasgow live circuit.

Early on, it became clear to bloggers’ ears that Welsh would not shy from controversy and that he marched to the beat of a different drummer. A socialist drummer, you might say. Not afraid to get on his proverbial soapbox to deliver the searing ‘Nazi Boys’, he subsequently had to defend the Neelam Khan Vela-directed video with “We created two minutes and 20 second long piece of art, with a director whose main aim was to provoke a response.” Prior to showcasing in Brighton, they self-released their debut EP ‘All My Dreams Are Dull’, which featured several exemplary, jarring tracks demonstrating Welsh’s wit and desire to write about topics not usually talked about in polite company or merely all too often swept under the rug. ‘No Pasaran’, like ‘Nazi Boys’ before it, serves up another reminder to fight oppression at all costs. ‘Do What You Want’ promotes celebrates gender fluidity, which Welsh explained at the set I saw at the Great Escape as a call for more understanding and acceptance with the ultimate goal of love winning out.

I reckon the upbeat-sounding single ‘Lull’ will probably draw in the most new fans this summer festival season. Listen a little closer, and you’ll hear Welsh’s accurate depiction of the anxiety of youth in the lyrics. He explained the single to Louder Than War last month: “‘Lull’ is about self-doubt, it’s about the futility of existence, it’s about making art, trying to leave a mark, being lazy, delusions of grandeur. It’s basically about the fact that all of us are trying hard to find meaning, and about how some of us choose making stuff as that meaning. It’s then about how making stuff is about making an impact, being remembered, but about how that pressure can be destructive and drive people who make stuff to tie how good their stuff is with how worthwhile they are. It’s a bit grim, really, which is why we tried to make the tune a bit more upbeat. I quite like that juxtaposition, somber lyrics and an upbeat melody.”

While exploiting this kind of juxtaposition to get more listeners is nothing new in popular music, it’s great that an up-and-coming band is doing more than simply make a great big noise. Hang on this link for the future, as I suspect we’ll be writing much more about Declan Welsh and the Decadent West in days to come.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #407: Dermot Kennedy

 
By on Thursday, 8th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Irish singer/songwriter Dermot Kennedy is on the verge of reaching 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify, largely on the strength of a string of single releases dating back to 2015. His most recent single ‘Moments Passed’, which came out last December, has already garnered over 6 million streams in its original form, and its Mike Dean remix is over 100,000 plays since its mid-February release.

Kennedy’s singing voice is soft and rough by turns, with a husky timbre in its most emotional moments that conjures images of a heavy metal singer rather than a pop balladeer. Yet, his vocal prowess is among his most prominent sonic trademarks and certainly one of his more endearing traits. Also characteristic of Kennedy’s songs are rapidly shifting soundscapes, which typically alternate between soulful acoustic balladry and crisp electro-pop.

In 2017, Kennedy released an EP titled ‘Doves & Ravens’, which featured 4 tracks including one called ‘A Closeness’, which shifts midstream from introspective guitar ballad to dark electro-pop, and the gospel-laced ‘Glory’. On the purely acoustic end of the spectrum is ‘After Rain’, which attracted attention after Kennedy was given a chance to perform it at Glen Hansard’s sold out Christmas show in December 2014. The live performance video of ‘After Rain’ playing just below was filmed at Dublin’s Whelan’s in 2016, courtesy of Sunday Sessions.

Kennedy’s earliest single, ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’ from 2015, revealed promise both in his singing voice and in occasionally brilliant lyrics like “confessions should be better planned / alone, that night, I’m surely damned / run away, I’ll understand”. The video below is an early version of the song from Kennedy’s own YouTube page in late 2014.

YouTube and Spotify have quickly rocketed Dermot Kennedy to minor fame. He has just embarked on a North American tour, planned around his upcoming appearance at SXSW 2018, and as of this writing, most of his headline dates have completely sold out, including shows in Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A complete listing of Kennedy’s upcoming live dates and festival appearances can be found on his official Web site.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, Dermot Kennedy’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.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #406: Otzeki

 
By on Tuesday, 6th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

NB: I wrote about Otzeki and three other acts scheduled to perform at SXSW 2018 in the Music in the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018, which you can read here.

We know plenty of siblings in bands: The Staves, Field Music, Tegan and Sara, just to name three. The members of Otzeki, on the other hand, are cousins. Mike Sharp (vocals, guitar) and Joel Roberts (keyboards, Ableton) are the East Anglia-bred, London-based duo, part of the burgeoning electronic slash rock slash pop genre sweeping Britain at the moment. Next week, they’ll be appearing at SXSW 2018, making their debut appearance in Austin. Impeccable timing: from there, it will be a month to the release of their first studio album, ‘Binary Childhood’, on their own label Discophorus.

The start of their story goes something like this. Independently and oddly the same exact week, Sharp and Roberts travelled to Berlin, arguably the heart of electronic music in this world. Sharp says Roberts “was always pretty clued up on the electronic stuff, though. He knew all the worthwhile parties and DJs so brought me into that whole scene when I was back in London… It was uncanny [we were there at the same time] and there was a big mutual feeling of needing to make something together and so we did, after Berlin.” I know the saying is “necessity is the mother of invention”, but surely inspiration (and passion) is merely second to necessity. The pair initially turned heads in the UK with their 2016 debut EP ‘Falling Out’. The four-track release featured the super catchy ‘Hope in Hell’, which successfully combines vocals oozing a beautiful desolation with a driving beat.

Other exemplary singles, such as ‘True Love’ and ‘All This Time’, and EP ‘Sun is Rising’ followed in 2017, all showing their adeptness in fusing irrepressible electronic beats, r&b infused vocals, and alt-rock guitar into something truly intriguing. A short time ago, they released their newest single ‘Pay the Tax’, which starts with a chill rhythm but soon morphs into more layered, brasher sound as the song hurtles towards its conclusion. Sharp admits that lyrically, it’s a rare political moment for me. “I’m pretty A-political [sic] in the sense that I’m interested in humanity, politics has become automatically associated with economics and business and humanity should come before that.” Currently being spun on BBC Radio 1, it’s a promising taster to the upcoming ‘Binary Childhood’, which has been promised to be a record “driven by rhythm, that takes their previous use of electronic loops and infuses them with more organic sounds and live percussion.” I, for one, can’t wait for both their live appearances in Austin and the tuneage that will be available to us on the 13th of April.

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

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #405: Jade Bird

 
By on Thursday, 1st March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Francesca Allen

Editor Mary covered London-based singer/songwriter Jade Bird briefly last year leading into SXSW 2017 and Live at Leeds 2017, but we think she warrants a closer look ahead of SXSW 2018 this month. Bird’s early life and musical influences intertwine to create a unique and thoughtful sound, with country, rock, and jazz styles intermingling seamlessly in her songs. Her ‘Something American’ EP was released last summer via Glassnote Records.

The press release for Bird’s newly released cover of Alanis Morissette’s ‘Right Through You’ provides some enlightening context to what looks on the surface like a typical girl-with-guitar setup. “Born in Hexham, UK, Jade’s early life was spent mainly in flight as an ‘army brat.’ One of [her] life’s few constants proved to be the influence of strong working women. At first via her mother and grandmother, who largely raised her, but later the female role models within the musical subcultures Jade become obsessed with, from empowering country heroines like Loretta Lynn to iconic alternative songwriters like Patti Smith. Alanis Morissette‘s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ was a similar early touchstone.” With this in mind, ‘Right Through You’ seems to be a particularly apt choice. It fits nicely both in Bird’s voice and in her dryly ironic (yes, I went there), mildly rebellious style.

Bird’s current single ‘Lottery’ was released earlier this year, also on Glassnote. Its recorded version is upbeat and bright, with a jaunty guitar accompaniment and a distinct rock tone to its vocals. The lyrical conversation between Bird’s youthful protagonist and her lover is related in an offhand tone, but its between-the-lines subtext is much deeper: “I’ll tell you about a guy that I’ve been with / you ask how old is he and I laugh, twenty-six / nah, but he’s thirty / how messed up is that?”

The acoustic version of ‘Lottery’ is surprisingly different to the original recording. The musical accompaniment is shifted to solo piano, and its subtle jazz harmonies are a clever change from the song’s previous country-rock stylings. Bird’s voice is more exposed here, and a little shrill in moments, but it holds up remarkably well as the dynamic and dramatic intensity rises.

For those of you on the eastern side of the Atlantic, Jade Bird is currently in the midst of a UK headline tour which will run through the 11th of March. If you’re in the market for a last minute gig, tickets for the following shows are available now.

Thursday 1st March 2018 – Norwich Waterfront
Friday 2nd March 2018 – Nottingham Bodega Social Club
Sunday 4th March 2018 – Brighton Green Door Store
Monday 5th March 2018 – London Village Underground
Tuesday 6th March 2018 – Birmingham Hare & Hounds 2
Thursday 8th March 2018 – Glasgow Poetry Club
Friday 9th March 2018 – Newcastle Think Tank
Saturday 10th March 2018 – Salford Eagle Inn
Sunday 11th March 2018 – Leeds Oporto

Following these shows, Bird will hop a plane for America and SXSW. If you’re on this side of the pond and can’t make it to Austin, you can catch Jade Bird on her spring and summer North American tour dates with Colter Wall and First Aid Kit; a full listing of Bird’s upcoming live dates can be found on her official Web site.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2018 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook or official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #404: ONR.

 
By on Tuesday, 27th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Some of Britain’s musicians and bands have the unusual desire to hide their identities. As this isn’t really a thing here in America, I’ve always wondered why that was. I’ve been thinking about this more lately, considering that revealing who you are could potentially be devastating to any chance of upward mobility in the business. If you’re related to another famous artist, you run the risk of always being compared to that person: consider Pixie Geldof, the lead singer of Violet, or Jakob Dylan, Bob’s son. Maybe you’ve simply reinvented yourself under a new name and don’t want any of the baggage of your previous artistic efforts.

In an effort not to raise his ire and to keep things the way he wants them, I won’t unmask who Scottish electronic artist ONR. (pronounced “honour”) is, or who he used to play with. You can find this information online if you look hard enough. For now, enjoy the romantic air of mystery swirling around this up-and-coming songwriter whose face I hadn’t seen until last week. His anonymity is unlikely to last long: he’s signed to Capitol Records here, which suggests once he’s got an album ready to be released, we’ll be seeing his name and face around these parts much more often.

New music from ONR. has only been coming along as a teensy trickle. In 2017, he released his debut single, the brilliantly tense ‘Jericho’, described by the artist as “an old-fashioned protest song…it harbors a sort of gentle aggression throughout.” A slow-burning track, it takes the Biblical imagery of the River Jordan and being purified by the waters, before moving into more rhythmic, Depeche Mode-esque territory. In the instrumental bridge, booming synth notes skip across the keyboard, pairing complementarily with the intriguing backbeat. ONR.’s voice becomes an urgent shout, the song reaching a satisfying crescendo at its conclusion.

While follow-up single ‘Five Years Time’ has some similarities to ‘Jericho’, it’s still very much has its own identity. Its synth bombast will make any New Wave fan swoon. However, I think it’s the equal parts of vulnerability and sexiness in ONR’s voice that have the potential to cause mainstream music fans, never mind just the indie fans, weak in the knees. The lyrics seem ambiguous enough to me, as if he’s singing of human frailty and our vices, of the dark corners of our pasts and the anxiety of what will come in the future. “Is it simple, is it brave enough? / To go gentle into the cut?”

His newest single released this month, the cardiovascular workout ‘American Gods’, is ONR.’s love letter to the land of the brave. It begs the question, is he clairvoyant? Will ONR. soon be considered a musical god here in America following his live appearances at SXSW 2018? I’ll be standing by in Austin to see exactly what materialises.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, ONR.’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.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #403: Rhys Lewis

 
By on Thursday, 22nd February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

As I’ve mentioned in past live reviews, solo artists have to bear the brunt of all the attention thrown their way, positive and negative. I always think of a quote from George Harrison where he said he felt sorry for Elvis because Elvis didn’t have a gang of friends he did like the Beatles. I tip my hat to every singer/songwriter who has had to audition alone, in front of countless audiences of industry bigwigs, endured rejection after rejection, and made it to the other side with head and heart intact with a record deal. Massive respect. All that taken together, when I’ve discovered a young new British artist with a major label deal, I can be sure that this person has impressed an awful lot of people and must have a lot of potential. It was this potential I heard listening to the songs by Rhys Lewis. I don’t think he has even hit the age of 25 yet, roughly around the same age as the Beatles when they were discovered. However, Lewis has one thing the Beatles famously never did: he got a deal with Decca Records.

The now London-based artist didn’t become a success overnight. Originally from Oxfordshire, Lewis started playing in a covers band with his brother, eventually moving up to performing alone at local open mic nights. Like many aspiring musicians in America, he worked in food service in pubs and credits those days with strengthening his work ethic. He’s also had the opportunity to travel and work in international studios, which have no doubt moulded his songwriting style. In late 2016, Decca released his debut single ‘Waking Up Without You’, the bluesy hit shooting up to the top of Spotify’s Viral Hits chart. With his beautifully smoky vocals drawing comparisons to Al Green and Marvin Gaye, it comes as a surprise to hear that the young man from Oxfordshire was not always comfortable as a singer. Thankfully, he’s gotten over these nerves and will be coming to Austin next month to wow us.

His most recent single ‘Bloodstains’ (listen here), released on the 9th of February, has a more upbeat pop melody guaranteed to keep your toes tapping. The song paints a picture of a beautiful anguish, of being in love with someone you know who isn’t good for you. Loving her hurts him. Lewis soulfully sings, “your love so bitter but I like the taste / your love’s so bitter but it’s sweet that way”, as if there’s an odd sense of comfort, possibly through sheer masochism, that love like this is supposed to hurt. A new EP, ‘Bad Timing’, arrives tomorrow, the 23rd of February.

Feeling things deeply comes naturally to him, as evidenced in earlier single ‘Living in the City’, where a boy from Oxfordshire honestly expresses his misgivings of living in the big smoke, far away from the land he knows best. While moving to London might still be a necessarily evil for some UK artists to attain success, it seems nice that we will be able to host Rhys Lewis away, from there at least for a few days, and hear the stories he sings from his heart. So far, he’s been announced to be opening the BBC Radio 2 evening showcase sponsored by PPL and PRS for Music Wednesday night, the 14th of March, at Latitude 30 and hosted by Jo Whiley.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, Rhys Lewis’ 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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