Check out our festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, through here.

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Video of the Moment #2746: Aquilo

 
By on Monday, 20th November 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Last Friday, electronic soul duo and SXSW 2017 alumni Aquilo released brand new music. Deciding to embrace the trend towards streaming music, ‘ii (Side A)’ is a five-track EP that will also be the first half of their upcoming sophomore album, and you can check out the video for ‘Who Are You’ from it below. It’s particularly of interest, as it’s the first one of theirs Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher have actually starred in themselves.

‘Silhouettes’, Aquilo’s debut album, is out now on Island Records in the UK and Harvest Records in America, and you can read my review of the album through here. For much more of our coverage on Aquilo, such as my interview with them in Austin and their appearance at the the British Music Embassy the last night of SXSW 2017, go here.

 

SXSW 2017: Saturday night’s fond farewell to SXSW at the British Music Embassy – 18th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 24th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

In contrast to the rest of the hectic week, the Saturday night of SXSW 2017 was a fairly relaxed one, at least for my weary feet. According to my smartwatch, I had logged over 87,000 steps and almost 45 miles of walking distance over the course of the week, and I was happy to be staying in one place for the evening. Even happier because that place happened to be the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, which hosted the BBC Music / UK Department of International Trade showcase. Mary’s additional thoughts on this showcase are back here.

Anna Meredith internal

The first performer of Saturday night was Scottish art-pop composer Anna Meredith. She and her rather unusual band (comprising cello, electric guitar, tuba and drums along with Meredith herself on synthesiser, clarinet, xylophone and vocals) made a truly joyful noise on stage, starting the showcase on an incredible high. Meredith has carved herself a unique niche on the classicial-popular music continuum in Britain, and the presence of NPR’s Bob Boilen at Latitude 30 on the night may well indicate that Meredith’s star is on the rise here in America as well. NPR recently featured ‘Dowager’, from Meredith’s 2016 debut LP ‘Varmints’, on All Songs TV.

Alice Jemima internal

Singer/songwriter Alice Jemima created a very different mood in her set, one with significantly fewer bells and whistles. Jemima’s stage presence was reserved, but in a flirty kind of way, and the same could be said of her songs. They catch your attention in a subtle way, with clever lyrics, trippy electro-dance rhythms and Jemima’s softly soothing voice. ‘Cocoa Liquor’, from her recent self-titled debut album, was one of the standout tracks on her set; you can find out more about the song in my post-performance interview with Jemima.

Aquilo internal

While I was outside chatting with Ms. Jemima, Lancashire pop duo Aquilo were taking the stage inside Latitude 30. By the time our short interview was complete, the venue had filled to capacity, and we had some difficulty getting back inside. We arrived back to find that Aquilo’s soulful pop sound, defined by Tom Higham’s falsetto vocals and Ben Fletcher’s deft keyboard playing, had quickly set the entire room swooning and swaying.

SuperGlu

I’m not a big fan of so-called slacker rock, but Manningtree four-piece SuperGlu brought an unexpected and infectious energy to the genre in their live set Saturday evening at the British Music Embassy. Bold, colorful, and never too serious, this band is just flat out fun to watch. Take a listen to their anything-but-sleepy latest track ‘Dreams’ just below.

Sundara Karma Oscar internal

The midnight slot on the Saturday night showcase was occupied by Reading alt-rockers Sundara Karma. Frontman Oscar “Lulu” Pollock gave us a bit more banter between songs on this night than he had at Stubb’s the night before, and the injection of character was quite welcome. He’s a curious persona, is Lulu, elusive in some ways but nevertheless engaging. His three bandmates didn’t do much speaking, but it quickly became clear that they didn’t need to. Their slick, seemingly effortless playing style is almost unintentionally flashy, yet visually and sonically mesmerizing. [Check out Carrie’s interview with Pollock and drummer Haydn Evans in Austin through here. – Ed.]

LIFE internal

BBC 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq did his final duty for the evening, introducing the last band on the bill, Hull punk rockers LIFE. He was clearly excited to see them play, even rubbing his hands together in delight at one point after he stepped offstage and before he joined in the moshing. Once the band started, it was easy to understand Lamacq’s eagerness. This band is unapologetic, unalloyed punk, with none of the qualifiers (folk punk, post-punk) we so often see in this genre-bending era. Lead vocalist Mez Green really played up that rebel quality for the gathering of cameras at the front of the stage, but it felt authentic to their in-your-face, devil-may-care sound. The photo above was taken just before Green descended from the stage and mounted the bar, prowling its length like a predatory cat and sending his audience into a fit of wild, ecstatic dancing to close out the final night at the British Music Embassy.

Though Mary and I left Latitude 30 on a euphoric high, chatting and laughing about the great bands we’d heard, I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of sadness at leaving it all behind for another year. The British Music Embassy has played host to some of the best up-and-coming artists and certainly some the most exciting showcases in my SXSW experience; this year was no exception. So, rather than goodbye, I said a silent “au revoir” to the venue, to the people inside, to the artists who graced the stage, and to SXSW for another year.

 

SXSW 2017: living it up at the British Music Embassy, and Mary’s goodbye to Austin (Saturday night, part 2) – 18th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

It’s the “best American champion of British music” part of Mary Chang that always pulls me back to the British Music Embassy at the end of every night during SXSW. But then Saturday evening comes, and the final visit to Latitude 30 turns bittersweet. It’s where my friends from Britain – the new ones made here, and the old stalwarts I’ve known for years – and I say our final goodbyes. We order our last drinks in Austin and share our last tearful hugs and the wish that we’ll meet again next year in the same exact place or hopefully sooner, and with loads more success under our belts too.

No-one ever says it out loud, but it is understood that some bands will leave Austin with new business deals, the luckiest signing to labels. Others will go on to similar deals after they get back home, off the back of having showcased at the biggest music festival in the world. And yet others will either stay at the level they’ve already achieved in their home country or region, or otherwise fade into obscurity altogether, never to be heard from again. I say this not with cynicism about the industry, but with the egregious disappointment I feel when a band I’m crazy about doesn’t achieve the heights I thought they would reach. It has become my personal challenge to do as much as I can with what gift I have been given: the written word to tell the stories of music and the people behind it. Some people might say I take SXSW way too seriously, but for these bands, these musicians, these singers, this is their life. And I feel incredibly honoured to be taking part in their stories.

Having gotten my Scandi pop fix satisfied, my intention was to join Carrie at the British Music Embassy so we could enjoy the rest of the bands on the UK Department of International Trade showcase together. This was the first year that I can recall Latitude 30 letting people who didn’t have a wristband or badge pay a cover charge to get access to the venue. As a result, there were three queues outside the venue: one for badges, one for wristbands and one for those who paid the cover.

I get that the people who paid the cover really wanted to get in, and rightly so: the British Music Embassy is rammed every year on Saturday night, and it’s always a stellar line-up. It’s to the credit of the bookers that the bill on the last night is always amazing, but it’s definitely a victim of its own success. Two years ago at midnight on Saturday, I was stuck outside in the queue with Huw Stephens and Kate Tempest and her entourage, and eventually Huw gave up and left. So how fair is it to charge people in an additional queue when you have no idea whether they’ll even get into the venue? To add even more incredulity to the situation, Carrie had interviewed showcasing artist Alice Jemima outside the venue after her set. Alice wanted to do the right thing and go back in through the front door, and staff wouldn’t let either of them through. Hey, you guys did see her onstage earlier, right? Sorry, rant over.

I eventually got in and rejoined Carrie inside for her first taste of Aquilo live. Along with two others of the four remaining bands left on the evening’s showcase, I had seen them earlier in the week, so I’ll keep my comments here brief. In Aquilo’s case, the two shows I’d seen them at previously – the KCRW showcase at Elysium Wednesday night and the Get Buzzzed showcase at the Brew Exchange midday Friday – eased them into their much higher profile appearance at the British Music Embassy. For the bands who are chosen to perform there Saturday night, it’s practically the biggest coup ever. It would be completely understandable for nerves to show.

Tom Higman of Aquilo, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

However, whether it had to do with the length of time Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher have been in bands separately or together in Aquilo or not, onstage they were the model of aplomb, winning over a new crowd with their brand of emotional, soulful pop tailor made for mainstream radio. I couldn’t have been prouder of them. You can practically hear their future fans screaming and squealing.

I was keen on finding out what Carrie thought of SuperGlu, who had already wowed audiences in Austin twice, Monday night at the DIY / Ticketweb showcase here, followed by Tuesday night at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase at Scratchouse. As I expected, their carefree, fun rock songs that were more pop than slacker were just the ticket for the last few hours left to punters at SXSW 2017.

SiriusXM favourites Sundara Karma took over on stage next. Carrie knows more about them than I do, having reviewed their debut for RCA / Chess Club, ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’, when it was released back in January. Young musicians who write and perform pop music often get a bad rap about being lightweights and sellouts. While for sure there are many manufactured pop bands and singers, or at least a lot acts whose label pays off some hitmaker to write a bunch of songs, the Reading group are an exception to the rule.

Oscar Pollock of Sundara Karma, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

As enjoyable as single ‘She Said’ is, a closer examination of the lyrics shows that singer Oscar Pollock and his band have thought about what it means to be young on a philosophical level. Certainly more than any other 20-year olds you know. This is exactly the kind of band we need to nurture and support going forward to keep not only music alive, but to inspire the next generations of musicians that it’s possible to be thoughtful in your artistry and make a statement, while still becoming a success.

Steve Lamacq, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

The “Special Guest”, to be introduced by none other than Steve Lamacq to close out the evening, was not a well-kept secret. For sure, LIFE were my favourite closing act of the last 6 years that I’ve been going out to SXSW, which says a lot. It also seems almost too appropriate that LIFE were chosen for this coveted spot, as now more than ever is the existence of each and every one of us and the things we love are being threatened. As the world grows more me-centric and selfish, those without will fall through the cracks, but who will speak for them? As their Bandcamp biography reads, this is a band who make “Irresistible dark pop that holds a dirty mirror up to modern life”. No-one ever said life was easy, or perfect or pretty for that matter, right?

Mez Green of LIFE, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

LIFE had already shown Thursday afternoon at the British Music Embassy that they weren’t afraid to pull a few punches and point a few fingers at the crooked establishment, all the while rough and ready. Frontman Mez Green dressed for the occasion in a Don’t Mess With Texas t-shirt, suggestive of what laid ahead for us. The band took it up another notch Saturday night, Green clambering on the bar to deliver his vitriolic barbs while his brother Mick Sanders jumped into the crowd with his red Stratocaster. While they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they were the final loud, sweaty, uncompromising parting blow the British Music Embassy would deliver to Austin, and I wouldn’t have wanted to end my SXSW 2017 any other way.

Now to rest up the next 6 months before the preparing for the next carnival of crazy in 2018. Good night, Austin, and all you sweet princes and princesses. See you next year!

 

SXSW 2017: Get Buzzzed at the Brew Exchange and pop-ins at Output Belfast, the Glasgow Buckaroo and Sunday Best showcases (Friday, part 1) – 17th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Getting away from the general hive of activity in Austin, at least once, is a good thing. Our friends at Music for Listeners put on several days of free afternoon shows out at El Sapo. West of Congress Avenue, there’s Waterloo Records and Whole Foods and their free shows. There’s also a whole host of bars that turn into venues while a whole bunch of people who are in town for SXSW remain oblivious to them. I’d never been to The Brew Exchange, but I took the opportunity to check it and the Get Buzzzed showcase sponsored by a few different music companies early Friday afternoon. While I was out there, Carrie held down the fort at the BMI brunch at The Four Seasons.

Mt. Wolf, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Remember what I said about maximising your number of acts seen by visiting venues that have two stages? The Brew Exchange has two and with staggered set times, you could enjoy the music while also enjoying one of the many beers on tap, because what else would a place with a name like The Brew Exchange offer up in libations? Atmospheric electronic pop group Mt. Wolf played first on the stage actually inside the venue. (I also saw them Tuesday night at ScratcHouse at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase there, as well as Thursday at the British Music Embassy.) Electro soul pop duo Aquilo followed them, playing with their backs to the open windows at the front of the place. Following two great but all too brief performances, Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher of Aquilo and I took a walk around the corner to do this interview.

Aquilo, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Something I revel in when I’m at a music festival is talking to fellow music fans. On my walk back to the British Music Embassy, I met an Austinite who was a fellow hat wearer on this windy day, and we struck up a conversation. We had a mutual love for dance and electronic music, so I knew I had someone to show him back at Latitude 30. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but my new acquaintance was best buds with the bouncer there, ha!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

I had been rushing back to catch Derry electronic musician and producer Ryan Vail, who had first performed in Austin that week on the Generator NI and Belfast City Council-sponsored riverboat cruise that Carrie covered for us. I was eager to check out his live show. Our Adam had spoken highly not only of Vail’s music, having seeing him at an Output Belfast showcase in February, but also of the visuals by Plume Studios that were projected behind him as he performed. The combination of music and projection reminded me of Rival Consoles’ (Ryan L. West) performance on the same stage 2 years prior and also at The Great Escape 2015, both which I highly enjoyed. I was pleased to learn from Vail himself after his set that he not only knew of Rival Consoles but that they were fans of each other’s music. Hey Ryans, you gotta tour together. DO IT!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

Vail is a unique electronic artist, in that he is equally comfortable with emotional, starker pieces, where the focus is on the piano, as he is with the comparatively more forward-thinking, ambient soundscapes within which he calls on his various effects and sequencers to help him build the experience. He is also not too shy to sing, which not all electronic musicians are eager to do, but I don’t think many of them fully understand this adds an important human touch that non-electro heads appreciate. I am always on the hunt for an engaging beat and an electronic tune that draws me in, and Ryan Vail’s music succeeds on both counts. Two thumbs way up.

I’m going to fast forward past my second time seeing / dragging Carrie to witness Welsh group The Sandinistas’s set at Valhalla and sitting in on Simon Raymonde’s talk with Eric Pulido of Midlake and BNQT fame and actor and music lover Jason Lee at the convention. It’s now night, and I’m queuing outside the Mohawk, a place I have to admit I’ve avoided since the tragic car crash in front of it during SXSW 2014. I was joined in the queue with a Japanese woman from a Kyoto blog who was very excited to see The Lemon Twigs. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the CD of Kyoto (Kyotan?) bands she gave me, but I hope to soon.

The Mohawk indoor stage was to be invaded by Scots via a showcase dubbed The Glasgow Buckaroo. It has been a few years since Scotland has had an entire showcase to themselves, so their return to Austin with the most bands from their region in recent memory was entirely welcome. Glaswegians Catholic Action, starring former Casual Sex drummer turned effective frontman Chris McCrory, would begin the festivities with their brand of fun, clap-happy pop/rock.

Catholic Action, The Glasgow Buckaroo, Mohawk indoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Is it wrong to compare them to the Beatles? The comparison seems inevitable tonight, as McCrory is sporting a floppy black hat that seems a purposeful nod to John Lennon. Will Catholic Action be the Next British Guitar Band, via Mud? The jury is still out on this but for sure, they had many a tail feather shaking at both the Mohawk and the British Music Embassy later that evening, as I can fully attest to.

Appropriately enough, the outdoor stage at Mohawk was revving up with another Scottish act. Young Sam Gellaitry began 4AD’s night there with his take on electronic dance, stood in front of his Macbook and equipment high above all of us. In this day and age, it’s unusual to describe the music from an electronic artist whose focus is on dance as “cinematic”, but I’d have to agree with Billboard here.

Sam Gellaitry, 4AD showcase, Mohawk outdoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Despite his young age, it’s obvious from listening to his tunes that the Stirling native has a lot of imagination and ideas, but he’s also honed his craft to be able to strike the balance between weird and wonderful and providing the masses something they’re going to embrace and dance to. I thought he was incredible. I was practically weeping that I had to leave his set early. Mark my words, one day I will interview him.

Speaking of weird, I was out of the Mohawk and down the street quickly to catch a bit of recent Sunday Best signing Laucan. Laurence Galpin performed as the first artist of the Rob Da Bank label’s showcase at Valhalla, where Carrie and I had been that afternoon. The alt-folk artist was joined by a cellist, as well as a backing track coming through the speakers of the venue that can only be described as vaguely terrifying. You don’t expect to hear other voices other than the performer on stage, so I was sufficiently weirded out by both that and the disorienting darkness of Valhalla. Galpin quipped that his intention for the set was for it to be truly an “immersive experience”, so he should consider his appearance there a success, even if it was a bit muted.

Laucan, Sunday Best Records showcase, Valhalla, Friday 17 March 2017

 

SXSW 2017: a taste of Norway and the KCRW showcase at Elysium (Wednesday night, part 1) – 15th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 29th March 2017 at 4:00 pm
 

Inevitably, there’s going to be at least one evening at SXSW where things don’t really go to plan for you and you want to rip your hair out. You can have the best, most beautiful, seemingly airtight schedule ever created. And then bands miss shows, sets run horribly late due to technical difficulties and other things happen that you can do absolutely nothing about. I would guess Carrie would say Friday night was her moment of disaster at SXSW 2017, but it came 2 nights earlier for me. After watching The Heart Collectors at the Westin on E. 5th Street, I went on to my next stop, realising I wouldn’t have time to stop and eat a proper meal. Cue an editor’s surreptitious nibbles of a granola bar under the cover of darkness in clubs…

Something you forget after a year of being away from Austin: that monster of a hill up towards the Omni Hotel and St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. However, no hill was going to thwart me! I fixed my gaze on cocktail bar CU29, an oasis of tranquility on Brazos Street, amazingly not far at all from the nightly crazy going on 6th Street. Due to a delay in forcing non-SXSW patrons to vacate the club, first band of the night Tuvaband would begin late. The Oslo act is named after singer Norwegian songwriter Tuva Hellum Marschauser, and only half of Tuvaband was actually showcasing.


Tuvaband, CU29, Wednesday 15 March 2017

Suffering a similar setback to fellow Scandinavians Rainbrother, Tuva’s musical partner British musician Simon Would had visa problems and was denied entry into the U.S. Thankfully, their manager Ruben Nesse stepped in for Would and with minimal time to practice. Further, from what I understand from this Facebook post, their usual accompanist on piano Signe Eide wasn’t able to make it easier, leading Tuva to invite a random piano player from New York to join her performance. He was smiling and nodding his head during the set, so I think he was pleased to be asked to assist. It was just like Tuvaband’s newest single ‘Everything We Do is Wrong’ had come to life. I felt so bad for them, as CU29 seemed to have been the perfect backdrop for their dreamy pop. As their live performance was compromised by actions beyond their control, I encourage you to watch the video for their new single below to get an idea of what they’re supposed to sound like.

You need to take care on your way to the stage at Elysium. The venue has a weird series of steps that I’ve tripped over while completely sober and carrying equipment. There are also sofas placed oddly near the front door, exactly where you would not expect them to be. God help anyone who is in any stage of inebriation in this place. When I arrived, I was expecting the showcase being put on by Los Angeles radio station KCRW to be on their first changeover between the first and second acts. So I was surprised to see Gabriel Garzón-Montano on stage with his keyboards and accompanied by a drummer.


Gabriel Garzon Montano, KCRW showcase, Elysium, Wednesday 15 March 2017

I had to research the Brooklyn soul singer’s background after I saw him play: he was plucked out of musical obscurity by Canadian rapper Drake, who sampled a soulful hook of a song from an EP of his in 2012. His primary onstage gimmick is red makeup applied squarely over his right eyelid. I’m not sure if this is supposed to mean something, but it’s a memorable look. Like I said, I didn’t know anything about him when I saw him perform, but it was clear he had quite a few devoted – and loudly vocal – fans cheering him on.

Following Garzón-Montano were London via Lancashire electro soul pop duo Aquilo, my primary reason for risking the health of my limbs at Elysium. Equipment issues plagued the duo and their backing band, further delaying the KCRW showcase schedule. Aquilo, playing their second of four shows at SXSW 2017, were entirely worth the wait, sounding peerless as they ran through a blindingly beautiful series of songs from their debut album ‘Silhouettes’, which was released in January. If you’re sceptical, read my review of the LP here.


Aquilo, KCRW showcase, Elysium, Wednesday 15 March 2017, 2

Up against the stage, grooving to the music, blissfully unaware (well, almost) that I was the only person in the room singing along to the boppy ‘You Won’t Know Where You Stand’ and the achingly gorgeous ‘Silhouette’, among others. I was in heaven. As much as I detest the layout of Elysium – did I mention if you’re down the front, you’re basically looking up the musicians’ noses? – I was in heaven. The lighting highlighted the duo’s photogenic qualities, making it feel less of a club show and more like as if we were at a fancy tv studio taping. Nice one.


Aquilo, KCRW showcase, Elysium, Wednesday 15 March 2017

 

Aquilo / September 2017 UK Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 28th March 2017 at 9:00 am
 

Electro soul pop duo Aquilo have announced a series of new tour dates for this autumn. A presale for the shows below begins tomorrow; sign up for their mailing list here to get access to the presale. The general sale for these shows will start at 10 AM this Friday, the 31st of March. Under the tour dates, you can watch an exclusive live studio performance of the evocative ‘Silhouette’, from their debut album ‘Silhouettes’, recorded during the sessions creating the album. You can read my review of the wonderful LP through this link. To read more of our coverage on Aquilo on TGTF, including my interview with Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher at SXSW 2017, go here.

Tuesday 19th September 2017 – Cambridge Portland Arms
Wednesday 20th September 2017 – Brighton Haunt
Thursday 21st September 2017 – Norwich Arts Centre
Friday 22nd September 2017 – London Shepherds Bush Empire
Sunday 24th September 2017 – Bristol Thekla
Monday 25th September 2017 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
Tuesday 26th September 2017 – Birmingham Academy 2
Thursday 28th September 2017 – Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
Friday 29th September 2017 – Newcastle Think Tank
Saturday 30th September 2017 – Manchester Gorilla

 
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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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