SXSW 2016 | 2015
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Ah, sweet relief! Our coverage of SXSW 2016 is very nearly in the books here at TGTF. I’ve now attended the music festival for 3 consecutive years, and each year for me has ended in a combination of heady exhilaration and overwhelming exhaustion. Over the course of those 3 years, I’ve learned that creating a positive and memorable experience depends largely on your level of preparedness. Flexibility is the key to making the most of your time at SXSW, and a little bit of advance planning can make switching gears on a moment’s notice much easier to accomplish. With that in mind, I’ve put together the following SXSW survival kit, a list of items that any punter worth his or her salt will need to make it through the week.
Light jacket or sweater – The weather in Austin during SXSW-season is notoriously temperamental. It could be sunny and blazing hot one day, cool and rainy the next. It could even be both in one day, if you’re really lucky! One thing you definitely DON’T want to deal with is an umbrella. Bring a rain hat instead, and a plastic bag to stash it in if it gets wet. Dress in layers, and have a sweater or jacket handy for when afternoon fades into evening.
Comfortable shoes – Wear shoes you know to be comfortable for long days of intense walking. Again, keep an eye on the weather forecast and choose accordingly, especially if the prediction is for rain. Style is secondary; nothing will ruin your day faster than soggy socks, blisters or sore feet. If you insist on a certain degree of fashion (and I speak from painful experience here), you might want to carry a spare plaster or two, just in case your footwear plan goes awry.
Bag – You obviously don’t want to schlep a huge and heavy bag all over Austin, but you’ll need a good-sized tote or messenger bag to carry your personal items, as well as the odd items you’ll invariably find yourself collecting through the course of the day. Bring a sturdy bag that you can carry comfortably and that you don’t mind getting dirty. Be aware that some venues may have bag restrictions or need to search your bag on entry.
Sunglasses – Outdoor gigs and long walks between venues in the bright Texas sunshine necessitate a good pair of sunnies. Also, they work in a pinch to disguise the dark circles under your eyes after the previous night’s shenanigans.
Suncream – I can’t emphasise this one enough. If I had a dollar for every sunburnt British or Irish musician I’ve met at SXSW over the past 3 years, I could probably finance my trip to Austin for 2017. If you’re spending any time outdoors, you’ll want some SPF on any exposed body parts, especially if you’re fair-skinned. [I met a Scottish woman at SXSW 2015 who actually wanted to go home red as a lobster. Don’t be that person. Your body will thank you for it, especially when laying down to sleep at night, and painlessly. – Ed.]
Earplugs – It took some pretty steady convincing on Mary’s part to sell me on the need for earplugs. I normally hate wearing them, as they (obviously) dampen the sound of the music and make conversation generally difficult. However, by the end of a long day of showcases, your ears will undoubtedly be tired from the constant barrage of noise. Even if you plan on seeing only acoustic-style shows, many of the showcases feature a variety of genres, and you never know when your favourite folkie might be preceded or followed by a considerably louder act. Added bonus: I’ve had some great conversations with fellow punters at SXSW, but wearing earplugs is a great excuse for not conversing, if you so choose.
Smartphone – Absolutely indispensable. You’ll need it for keeping in touch with your friends and business contacts throughout the festival, as well as for any social media sharing you might want to do. You can access maps and directions if you’re not familiar with your surroundings, find RSVP information for unofficial parties and shows, as well as keeping up with the latest official schedule information on the SXSW App. Keep it in a safe place, like a buttoned pocket, where you can access it on the run if you need to.
Camera – This seems like a no-brainer, but have a separate camera ready for photo opportunities. Don’t depend on your smartphone for pictures! Taking photos will quickly eat up both the storage and the battery on your phone, especially if you’re live Tweeting or otherwise sharing events on social media. Also keep in mind that most of the venues, with the exception of outdoor day parties, are low-light settings, which are difficult to photograph without flash and nearly impossible with smartphone cameras. (Do I need to remind you to keep your flash turned off when photographing artists on stage?) I’ve found it convenient to wear a small camera bag with a neck strap during gigs, so that I can have my hands free between photo opportunities but still get to my camera quickly when I need it. [SXSW is also a prime opportunity to take photos with the future stars of tomorrow. Enjoy a band’s performance? Be respectful, don’t be pushy and let them pack up first, then say hi and express your appreciation. Remember, the majority are far from home, they’ve worked hard to get to Austin and they’ll appreciate your effort. – Ed.]
Spare batteries, chargers and cords – There are often charging stations set up at different locations around the downtown area, but you never know where you’ll be when one of your devices runs out of power. Plan to recharge everything overnight and make sure your devices are fully charged before you set out each day, but also have extra power sources at the ready whenever you can. Keep a second charged camera battery in your camera bag and carry a mophie (Mary’s preference) or other spare smartphone battery pack—mine saved me more than once near the end of a 12-hour (or longer!) day at SXSW 2016. Don’t forget the connection cables!
Energy bars or other snacks – The food options at SXSW are as many and widely varied as the music options, and showcases and parties often include free refreshments. But you might find that you’re so busy running between shows that you aren’t able to partake in the provisions as much as you’d like. Take every possible opportunity to sample the local fare, but also keep a protein bar or other handy snack in your bag in case you need a quick nibble to keep your energy level up. A bottle of water is also a nice idea, but keep in mind that many venues won’t let you bring it inside, so you’ll have to drink it before you go in.
Even with a handy list like the one above, it’s practically inevitable that you’ll forget something or encounter a circumstance you hadn’t predicted. The trick to surviving those moments, I’ve found, is keeping your head and maintaining your sense of humour. An awkward moment in the present will translate to an interesting story to tell later on! (Just ask Ciaran Lavery, who wins our ‘prize’ for ‘suffering’ the most unforgettable pre-show incident at SXSW 2016.) If you need a helping hand, don’t be afraid to interact with your fellow festival-goers. Almost everyone at SXSW is in the same situation—far from the comforts of home, operating on precious little sleep, and loving every minute of the chaos.
See ya next year, Austin!
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 18th April 2016 at 6:00 pm
Manchester’s PINS released on Saturday on Record Store Day release a red 10″ single of their song ‘Trouble’. The Bella Union girl group appeared last month in Austin for SXSW 2016, wowing crowds with their dream-tinged, punk style music. The black and white presentation and aesthetic PINS have used in the past works well with the single’s dark, sinister sound and the words, “you’ve got yourself a sickness that just won’t leave”. Ouch. Watch the promo video for ‘Trouble’ below.
Want to read more about PINS on TGTF? Go here.
I’ve always had a fondness for stories with tidy endings, so it seems quite natural that I finished SXSW 2016 on Saturday night at the British Music Embassy, even if Mary and I were a bit delayed in getting there. After our dinner hour activities at the Hilton Austin’s Liberty Tavern (which you can read about right back here), we stopped for a quick drink across the street from Latitude 30 before heading over for the NME / UK Trade and Investment showcase. As often happens with when I’m with Mary, we ended up engaged in a rather interesting conversation with some industry acquaintances of hers, and we had trouble tearing ourselves away for the final evening of live shows.
As much as we might have liked to stay and chat, Mary and I both had other activities planned for the evening, and we made our way to Latitude 30 just in time to catch the first act on the showcase, groove rock brother act Lusts. In the brief snippet of what I saw and heard, their music was an interesting combination of heavy rhythms and hazy vocals, but it was really their insistent and compelling energy that left the strongest opening impression.
The next act originally scheduled on the showcase was rap collective Section Boyz, but a last minute substitution gave us instead Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin. She facetiously introduced herself and her band as Section Boyz just to see if her audience were paying attention, but in truth, Jacklin’s warm folk rock couldn’t have been stylistically farther from the act she stepped in to replace. Jacklin’s music had more sonic impact than her diminutive appearance might suggest, and the lyrical substance of her track ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ particularly tugged at my heartstrings after she shared that she had written it for her little brother because she wanted him to think she was cool. Those small personal details can make a song seem much more special to a listener, and Jacklin certainly won herself a new fan in me that night.
Following Julia Jacklin was self-described “industrial spiritual” band Pumarosa, who I’d seen previously on the Tuesday night showcase at Hype Hotel. They had the same lengthy setup issues here at the British Music Embassy, but once they got started, they fairly shook the stage with a much more confident sounding set than what I’d heard from them earlier in the week. The lighting at Latitude 30 allowed me to get a better photo of frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s unusual guitar technique (which you can see below), and I was thrilled to have another go at dancing to Pumarosa’s exotic hit song ‘Priestess’.
Next on the bill was an artist I’d been looking forward to seeing since our initial preview of this showcase, rock singer/songwriter Barns Courtney (pictured at top). After seeing him blaze through a spectacular set including his currently released tracks ‘Fire’ and ‘Glitter and Gold’, as well as the curiously-titled ‘Hobo Rocket’, I’m more convinced than ever that he has the potential to be a breakout superstar on the order of James Bay or Hozier if he plays his cards right. In the intermission between sets, I snagged Courtney for a quick back alley interview, which turned out to be quite possibly the most unforgettable conversation I had all week long.
I came back inside just in time to catch dance pop duo Formation, whose number had apparently multiplied ahead of their appearance at SXSW. Comprising brothers Will and Matt Ritson along with Jonny Tams, Sasha Lewis and Kai Akinde-Hummel, the band and their equipment fit on the small British Music Embassy stage with very little room to spare. But despite the close quarters on stage, the band played a beat-driven, movement-inspiring set list much to the liking of the late night dancers in the crowd.
Formation were followed on the docket by another Special Guest, who hadn’t been officially announced before the show but was rumoured to be American veterans-turned-newcomers on the music scene, PARTYBABY. I’d seen PARTYBABY along with Pumarosa on the Tuesday night Hype Hotel showcase, and I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with the choice. PARTYBABY would certainly make an energetic closing act, I hadn’t found them engaging enough to stick around for twice. Fortunately, Mary arrived back at Latitude 30 just as they came on stage to set up, and we took the opportunity to make a final round of fond farewells to our friends at the British Music Embassy before officially bidding adieu to SXSW 2016.
Au revoir, Austin…until we meet again.
After the frenetic Friday of SXSW 2016, (which I spent here and here, in case you haven’t been reading along), Saturday dawned sunny, if a little chilly. I found myself running at a slightly slower pace. I had only two interviews scheduled for the day, both with exciting female singer/songwriters, and though I was glad for a later start to the day, I was eager to get moving by the time Mary and I arrived downtown.
Recent California-to-Iowa transplant Lissie was on the schedule for the SPIN Magazine day party at the Bud Light Factory at Brazos Hall, and I had a standing appointment for an interview with her after her set. The atmosphere at the venue was relaxed but energetic, as you might expect on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And Lissie’s mellow, mostly acoustic set fit perfectly with that vibe. She played a set of songs centered around her new album ‘My Wild West’, but to my delight, she also included her well-known cover of Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’. I hadn’t heard Lissie perform live before this, but after having reviewed ‘My Wild West’, I would say that her voice in person was every bit as rich and warm as it comes across on the record, and its raw power is only magnified by being in the same room.
The sound and lighting were both excellent at the Bud Light Factory, and aside from Lissie, the showcase promised high-energy performances from hip-hop artist Lizzo (who had been first on the afternoon docket), UK indie rockers Bloc Party and genre-bending alt-pop artist Santigold. In the end, though, I only saw Lissie’s set from in front of the stage. After she finished playing, I was escorted upstairs to the VIP area for our scheduled interview. This was Lissie’s final show of SXSW 2016, and she had other press commitments as well as ours, but I was happy to wait my turn. There were plenty of amusements to pass the time, and I took the opportunity to try out a cool virtual music making machine, as well as watching part of Bloc Party’s set on the venue’s closed circuit TV. After that bit of fun, I had this casual chat with Lissie about her new album and where it has led her, both personally and professionally.
After leaving the SPIN party, I took an hour or so of “personal time” to try something new at SXSW. On a bit of a whim, I headed to the ChiveTV pop-up party on the west side of downtown, where I heard country rock band Poor Man’s Change. I can be picky about country music; it isn’t always to my particular liking, but this Southern California quartet fit nicely with my genial Saturday afternoon mood, and I had a chance to chat with several friendly people while I took in the scene.
Following my short stopover at the ChiveTV party, I headed back east to meet up with Mary at the Hilton Austin hotel. We saw a few familiar faces and had a quick dinner ahead of Brighton singer/songwriter Holly Macve’s set at the hotel’s intimate Liberty Tavern. The audience here was captivated by Macve’s unique singing voice and dramatically stark song arrangements, and particularly in her cover of Patsy Cline classic ‘Crazy’ and her own haunting track ‘Sycamore Tree’. I had a chat with the fresh-faced and undeniably talented Macve after her set, and it was truly a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak with her at this exciting juncture of her career. Mary shares thoughts on the early evening showcase just below.
Mary: I wanted to note here that if a club atmosphere is not for you, and/or you’re keen on catching fresh – and free! – entertainment during SXSW, the festival offers up the Second Play Stages at several hotels in downtown Austin, plus the Hyatt Regency south of the Colorado River where I caught Demi Louise last year and Carrie saw Roo Panes on Wednesday during this year’s festival. Liberty Tavern, located at the Hilton on E. 4th Street, had 3 acts scheduled each night of SXSW 2016. We were present for Holly Macve’s set to start the dinner hour at 6, and while Carrie was speaking with her after her set, I also had a look-in on 18-year-old James TW, who will be having his debut London live appearance the 12th of May at Islington Academy 2 (tickets on sale now).
The young James – the “TW” in his act name refers to his double-barrelled surname Taylor-Watts – holds the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to sign to Island Records UK. Prior to coming out to Austin, he released the single ‘When You Love Someone’ in February, which has already charted on the Spotify Viral Top 50. With boy next door charm, his music is easy on the ears, bridging the gap between country/western / singer/songwriter and urban vocal stylings of today, his voice at times twangy and soulful. His debut EP ‘First Impressions’ (how appropriate to reference his first showcasing at SXSW) is scheduled for release this Friday.
Carrie: Following James TW’s set and my interview with Holly Macve, Mary and I met up again to plot our course for the final evening of SXSW 2016. You can read Mary’s Saturday night reviews here and here; my own Saturday night review will post soon.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 18th April 2016 at 11:00 am
Please note: as we recommend with all of our festival previews, the information we post here on TGTF on Live at Leeds is current at the time of posting, but we encourage you to check in at the Live at Leeds 2016 official Web site closer to the start of the event to confirm venues and set times. Wristbands for the event in Leeds on Saturday the 30th of April are still available at the bargain price of £32.50. This year for the price of £45.00, a VIP option is also available; it will allow you to jump queues at venues (subject to capacity), entry to the VIP bar at the First Direct Arena and free entry to the afterparty at the Wardrobe. More information on where you can purchase your tickets in person or online is available here.
SXSW 2016 alums: I’d be remiss not to give a shoutout to the artists we saw in Austin that we enjoyed and we think you will too (in order of appearance):
Barns Courtney (5:30 PM, Leeds College of Music)
The Sherlocks (5:30 PM, Leeds Uni Union Refectory)
Declan McKenna (6 PM, Brudenell Social Club main stage)
Clean Cut Kid (6:15 PM, Leeds Uni Union Stylus)
Autobahn (6:30 PM, Leeds Beckett Uni Union Stage 1)
DMA’s (6:45 PM, Leeds Uni Union Refectory)
Blaenavon (7:00 PM, Oporto)
Isaac Gracie (7:15 PM, Holy Trinity Church)
Pumarosa (8:00 PM, Wardrobe)
Haelos (10:00 PM, Belgrave Music Hall)
In addition to those acts, here are 10 more acts recommended from the amazing Live at Leeds 2016 schedule:
In the mood for sparkling, upbeat synth rock? This quartet with ties to nearly all of the great Northern towns (Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester) will start your day at Live at Leeds on an energetic note. Check out Atlantic Shore’s latest single, ‘The Comedown’, which was released last month.
Atlantic Shore are set to perform at the Faversham at 12:30 PM.
Staying in th’ North (this festival is in Yorkshire, am I right?), turn your attention to music of a harder edge. Forget Manchester for a moment: The Jackobins’ ‘Waiting on the Sun’ will remind you of Oasis in the brashness of their anthemic rock.
The Jackobins perform at Leeds Beckett Uni Union Stage 2 at 1 PM. (Incidentally, Plaitum – who Rebecca introduced you all to when they received a shout for SXSW 2016 – will be playing at the same time of day at Headrow House.)
Let’s not kid ourselves, surf rock came back, so what’s to stop the other trends of past decades returning? Co-ed group from Leeds The Velveteens will be leading the charge when the revolution comes. ‘Simply Plain Mary Jane’? Hardly!
The Velveteens play at the Brudenell Social Club’s Games Room at 2:30 PM.
From Leeds, you can either go north to Newcastle or south all the way to the coast to Brighton for Demob Happy. As a science boffin by (day) trade, I am more than a little amused they’ve got a song called ‘Junk DNA’. “Gene Manipulator” should have been my nickname in uni. Make of that what you will… And we could all use a little bliss, eh?
Demob Happy are scheduled to play at the Brudenell Social Club’s main stage at 3:00 PM, which make them a nice follow-up after The Velveteens.
Cover me, folks, I’m going into Carrie’s usual bailiwick and into the singer/songwriter den. A girl duo signed to Rob da Bank’s Sunday Best label, Xylaroo have done a fantastic acoustic treatment to cover of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’, turning a song I don’t even like to a palatable one (!), so suffice to say, I’m looking forward to their debut album ‘Sweetooth’ (not a typo) out the 3rd of June, which includes ‘Sunshine’.
So if singer/songwriter-y, harmonising type music is more your thing, you can catch Xylaroo at Leeds College of Music Recital Room at 3 PM.
Okay, I’m outta there and back to my specialty and having gone on to another duo. Girl Friend, a girl/boy pair from Manchester (seriously, where else would they have been from? ha), do clean, crisp electropop that’s music to my ears and heart, not to mention my feet. Check out the fab ‘Nocturnal’.
Girl Friend will play the Belgrave Music Hall at 4 PM.
Jones has the kind of voice music producers clamour over: soulful, rich, strong. Her voice lend well to both electronic/urban pop and acoustic treatments. Judging from her collaboration with TGTF friends Honne on their track ‘No Place Like Home’, she’ll be a sought-after vocal talent for years to come.
Jones is set to perform at the Wardrobe at 7:00 PM.
Ready to do some hand clapping in my favourite venue in all of Leeds? Then you’re definitely ready to have some fun with Catholic Action and fall in ‘L.U.V.’ with this band from Glasgow. We have!
Catholic Action will appear at Nation of Shopkeepers at 8:00 PM.
Staying in the pop realm, we arrive at London’s Anteros. Their sci-fi name makes them sound like they’re from another planet. However, to our benefit, they’re just writing really great pop songs. Have some ‘Breakfast’ with them below.
Anteros perform at the Brudenell Social Club’s Games Room at 9:30 PM.
I’ve been a fan of these Scots and their uplifting, swooning anthems since I saw them in Edinburgh 2 years ago. And it’s a great time for them to appear at Live at Leeds, as they’ve just released their newest single, ‘Just the Point of Breaking’.
Fatherson appear at Leeds Beckett Uni Union Stage 2 at 9:30 PM.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 15th April 2016 at 6:00 pm
Mon the Biff! Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro have unveiled a new video for ‘Wolves of Winter’, a taster track of upcoming album ‘Ellipsis’. As one should expect from the the hard-rocking group, the song is a punishing mix of guitars and percussion. The accompanying video is animated, starring a high-tech wolf (what else?), a sinister looking castle with a menacing knight who springs back to life, and silhouettes of curvy women (#lads), before the action moves into outer space. Right… So the video suggests a complex nature for ‘Ellipsis’ that might be better suited for novel format? Watch the video below.
‘Ellipsis’ is due out on the 8th of July on Warner Brothers.