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On the night before the official start of SXSW 2015, the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 played host to the Creative Belfast showcase, sponsored by Generator NI and featuring several of Northern Ireland and Ireland’s most promising musical acts. One of the bands appearing on the showcase was Belfast-based alt-pop quartet GO WOLF, who have just released a new EP titled ‘Running’ on Ooh La La Records here in the States. If you’re curious, you can listen to the tantalizingly synth-laced EP on GO WOLF’s Soundcloud.
Ahead of the evening’s festivities, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with GO WOLF’s frontman Scott Jamison, who during the interview below gave me a quick introduction to the band and the recent EP release. We also discussed the cooperative nature of the music community in Northern Ireland and how that atmosphere of collaboration and support brought GO WOLF to Austin this year. Go Wolf made several appearances on TGTF’s radar throughout the week; keep watching this space for more coverage of the band at SXSW 2015.
I arrived in Austin for SXSW 2015 on Monday the 16th of March, a day that fell at the crossroads between the end of Interactive festival and the official beginning of Music festival. As in the past, this intersectional Monday night was the scheduled date for the Creative Belfast showcase hosted by the British Music Embassy and Generator NI. More than a simple networking opportunity for the Northern Irish contingent at SXSW, the showcase was also set to feature three of the best up-and-coming music acts from Belfast and its environs as well as one of the area’s seminal punk bands, recently reborn to the modern era.
Opening the musical activities for the evening were folk duo The Lost Brothers, comprised of Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland. Their flawless vocal harmonies and poetic lyricism draw more than a passing comparison to the famed American pair Simon and Garfunkel, winning the attention of NPR here in the States and the BBC back across the pond. The Lost Brothers’ most recent LP release ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ (reviewed here by editor Mary) expands slightly on the sparse instrumentation of their traditional Americana style, but on this night the pair depended solely on the blend of their voices and acoustic guitars. Luckily for those of us in the audience, that enchanting combination is all The Lost Brothers really need in order to demonstrate their expressive artistry and finely tuned craftsmanship.
Following The Lost Brothers’ set, the night’s emcee, Mark Gordon of Generator NI, announced a special guest addition to the music lineup. With a plea for silent attention, Gordon introduced the youthful and delicate Derry singer/songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson, known professionally as SOAK. Reserved almost to the point of shyness, SOAK nevertheless possesses a quiet confidence on stage that belies her youthful age. She chooses to let her songs speak (or perhaps sing) for themselves, and from the moment she began, her audience listened raptly. I didn’t immediately engage with SOAK’s singing voice when I listened to her debut single ‘Blud’ early last year, but the fragile grace of her vocal sound in live performance, combined with her deeply introspective lyrical style, left a much stronger impression in my mind on this occasion. Watch for her upcoming debut album ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’ on Rough Trade later this year.
Following SOAK’s quietly triumphant SXSW debut, the British Music Embassy stage played host to Belfast indie pop quartet Go Wolf. Having just released a new EP titled ‘Running’, they played an enthusiastic and irresistibly danceable set including the eponymous track featured in our SXSW preview of artists from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Before the evening kicked off at Creative Belfast, I had a chance to chat with Go Wolf’s frontman Scott Jamison about the EP; head this way to hear what he had to say. Go Wolf’s trippy beats and bright synth sounds were a welcome burst of energy at this point in the evening, raising the level of excitement in the room for the acts still to come on the lineup.
Raising the decibel level in the room was left to More Than Conquerors, who turned out to be more than up to the task. Their hard-hitting alt-punk set naturally included recent single ‘Red’ as well as tracks from their debut LP ‘Everything I’ve Learnt’. Frontman Kris Pratt’s vocals rose above the raucous volume level of their sound, hinting at a strong melodic foundation that Mary and I would see on display in an acoustic setting later in the week; be sure to watch TGTF for more on More Than Conquerors at SXSW 2015.
Segueing from modern alt-punk to a classic 70’s punk sound, veteran Belfast band Protex are seeing a resurgence of interest after some of their original Polydor recordings were discovered and re-released by New York’s Sing Sing Records in 2010. Originally formed in 1978 after The Clash’s historic visit to Belfast, Protex were quickly signed to Polydor after releasing singles on Rough Trade and Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label. The band officially split up in 1981, but have reformed with a new lineup including original member Aidan Murtagh along with Norman Boyd, John Rossi, and Gordie Walker. Aside from providing their audience with an opportunity to look back on the history of rock music in Belfast, Protex showed above all that they still have the rock ‘n’ roll chops to share a stage with younger up-and-coming talent as they brought the Creative Belfast showcase to a blistering close with hit track ‘Don’t Ring Me Up.’
At the end of the evening, Mary and I had a quick chat with Mark and were fortunate enough to be invited to a St. Patrick’s Day brunch with their team the following morning. Several of the bands featured above played at that event in a setting quite different to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. Keep it here at TGTF for coverage of the St. Patrick’s Day brunch to be posted soon.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 6:00 pm
Duke Special has revealed the promo video for a new single to his upcoming album ‘Look Out Machines!’, which will drop the 6th of April on Stranger Records. ‘Nail on the Head’ has an interesting driving rhythm, with the video seeing Peter Wilson in a dilapidated house and playing a squeeze box. Watch it below.
Previous coverage of Duke Special on TGTF is this way.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 3:00 pm
While South by Southwest is mostly known to those who have never attended the big event in Austin, Texas, as the world’s stage for up and coming artists, the event also hosts plenty of festival veterans who keep the young’uns and SXSW virgins on their toes. Thanks to an array of song syncs that placed her music in prominent and popular film and tv shows (hello, Grey’s Anatomy!) and on the strength of her past releases that has seen her shoot to the top of the charts in many countries around the world, Australian singer/songwriter Lenka is now a global household name.
The prolific singer/songwriter is about to release her fourth album ‘The Bright Side’ this summer, and SXSW 2015 proved to be the perfect place to test drive some of her new material in front of long-time fans and punters curious – or shall I say entirely uneager to venture out of the Aussie BBQ tents Friday afternoon in Brush Square Park and into the pouring rain – to see what the spunky Lenka had to offer. You’ll read more about her performance and those of some of her countrymen in my upcoming review of several acts from Friday’s Aussie BBQ.
Prior to her set, we tried to find the quietest corner of the West Tent to have a chat. She was dressed appropriately for Austin with large cactus-shaped earrings and a flowery dress, both of which I commented were perfect for trying to bring the sun out on this grim day. She gives her tips to SXSW newbies on how to survive the week-long music marathon, and we talk about her upcoming album and how it differs from her past releases and specifically her newest single ‘Blue Skies’, which turnes out to have been written in a car on a rainy day.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 1:00 pm
One of the biggest challenges for a music editor is fitting in every artist and band you want to see somewhere in your week in Austin during SXSW. Some misses are unavoidable and you can’t fret too much about it, and with other acts, sometimes it’s just not in the cards to catch others. Swedish supergroup Amason, who I had tipped at a SXSW 2015 Bands to Watch back in February, had a full week of gigs planned and yet the only way I found to squeeze them into my schedule was to depart Friday morning after eating at the full Irish breakfast early (Carrie’s review of that afternoon at B.D. Riley’s forthcoming) and running over to the Sweden showcase taking place early at FLOODfest, presented by Lyve at Cedar Street Courtyard, where Amason was one of three Swedish bands on the early bill.
I totally made the right decision. Despite storm clouds looming above us, Amason banged out an absolutely brilliant set practically right before the skies opened and poured heavy rain on and off on us all day and evening. ‘Duvan’, with Amanda Bergman’s smoky vocals that most everyone is comparing to the young Stevie Nicks of the pre-Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham/Nicks era, nearly brought tears to my eyes with its beauty. The driving rhythm of ‘Älgen’ proved irresistible to the FLOODfest goers who just happened to arrive early and got a special treat from a band they’d previously never heard of, and I was more than happy to put the new fans straight on the correct spelling of the band’s name.
After their set, I was whisked upstairs to the VIP bar where I awaited to meet up with Nils Törnqvist (drums and percussion) and Petter Winnberg (bass) to chat about their time in Austin and their debut album ‘Sky City’, which has already received kudos stateside from NPR. Listen to my interview with the pair below.
Among the ever-growing milieu of soulful singer/songwriters, Hertfordshire’s James Bay seems poised to become the next big thing. In more ways than one, he is following in the very successful footsteps of an immediate predecessor, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. Bay toured in America as Hozier’s support act last year (look back at our live review here), and just last week in Austin, Texas at SXSW 2015, he played the very same Communion Music showcase where Hozier made a name for himself in America at SXSW 2014. (Keep an eye on TGTF for upcoming coverage of last week’s Communion showcase, including Bay’s live performance.)
Hot on the heels of his SXSW 2015 appearances, Bay has just released his debut LP ‘Chaos and the Calm’, which continues with the blues rock, gospel-tinged song formula that first drew attention to his music. Comparison to Hozier’s debut album is probably inevitable, given the convergent career paths and superficial stylistic similarities between the two. While Bay’s sound is less boldly experimental than Hozier’s, on his LP Bay has done one notable thing that Hozier didn’t quite manage on his debut: specifically, Bay has found the sweet spot between variety and predictability. Where Hozier’s album was an intricate exploration of blues, gospel, folk and pop, Bay’s record is almost stunningly simple, drawing its power from his soulful vocal delivery and subtly evocative guitar lines. Bay’s lyrics on ‘Chaos and the Calm’ are likewise consistent, focusing on the heartache of love in transition, at the crossroads of breaking apart.
‘Craving’ is an immediately anthemic track with a driving rhythm and a passionately sung chorus that are particularly well-suited for opening live shows, which Bay has done on both of the occasions I’ve seen him. Hit single ‘Hold Back the River’, typically the final song on Bay’s live set list, begins with the stark yearning of a solo guitar, then gradually builds intensity by adding gospel harmonies behind Bay’s emotionally charged chorus and increasingly husky vocal timbre. The frenetic energy of harder-edged tracks ‘Best Fake Smile’ and ‘Collide’ provides propulsive momentum among moments of intense emotionality.
The album’s quieter moments are equally effective, including the achingly sensual slow-burner ‘Move Together’ and the gentle pleading of ‘Scars’. Bay closes the album with the more pensive ‘Incomplete’, which is true to its title in that it leaves behind a sense of longing for resolution. Rather than offering closure, however, Bay seems to be deliberately leaving himself open to further possibilities.
Bay’s songs might not be groundbreaking, but they are authentically and unapologetically emotional, and that is a large part of their appeal. Combined with Bay’s unique voice and the production assistance of Nashville’s Jacquire King, that quality has resulted in a strong album of engaging and instantly relatable tracks, which is becoming something of a rare find. In the midst of a singer-songwriter genre that is growing ever less focused and more loosely defined, ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is, despite its title, refreshingly sincere and straightforward.
James Bay’s debut album ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is out now on Virgin / EMI. Bay is set to embark on a run of live dates in the UK next month; find all the dates here.
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