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(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #374 and #375: Avec Sans and Plaitum

 
By on Thursday, 28th January 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

Avec Sans (pictured at top) and Plaitum are a pair of female-fronted synthpop duos, that are both scheduled to appear at SXSW in Austin this March. Both bands have crafted a lofty and ethereal sound, drawing comparisons to CHVRCHES and Purity Ring.

Avec Sans embody a soft, yet steady electronic spirit. The London-based duo comprised of Alex Fox and Jack St. James released two singles in 2015, ‘Resonate’, and ‘When You Go’. They have been compared to CHVRCHES on numerous occasions, and fans of CHVRCHES looking for something in a similar vein won’t be disappointed, as both bands create an addictive synth sound. Whilst the bands are similar vocally – namely by being fronted by a talented female singer – Fox’s vocals are more mature and sharper than Lauren Mayberry’s own saccharine pipes. Fox’s throaty, breathless vocals fit well with the whispering notes that almost float through the tracks.

But this doesn’t mean Avec Sans have created a sound that is limp or easy to overlook: there’s something soft and strong about their music at the same time. ‘When You Go’ and ‘Resonate’ both ooze subtle, well-crafted electronic melodies, tethered to simple, catchy choruses and hooks. ‘Hook’ is the operative word here, as both singles are memorable, grabbing you by the ear and pulling you in. ‘When You Go’ is lofty and buoyant, and really shows off Fox’s vocal range. The track is otherworldly and full of cascading sounds, which rise and fall throughout.

‘Resonate’ is equally unearthly, but is softer and gentler. The lyrics are equally gentle, with a striking sentimentality: “The sky falls away, so they come see him / in the light, holds its place / Inside of me and your heart, your heart, your heart / bears my name, to hold me now, to resonate”. It’s the kind of song that grapples with everyday occurrences such as falling in love, but takes them beyond the realm of the ordinary.

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Just as unearthly in sound are Plaitum, an electro-pop outfit rooted in Colchester. They’ve just released their eponymous EP, featuring four enticing tracks produced by superstar producer Paul Epworth. Like Avec Sans, Plaitum have created a series of unique, well-crafted tracks. Matt Canham and Abigail Dersiley, who have been friends since they were 11 years old, signed to Epworth’s own Wolf Tone record label towards the end of last year.

Like Avec Sans, Plaitum’s music includes a range of electronic influences but is better compared to Crystal Castles’ blend of eclectic synthpop than Avec Sans’ subdued melodies. Plaitum are also similar to Purity Ring (another female lead synth duo), both in musical style and make-up. And, like Purity Ring, Plaitum ventures into the realm of witch house that Crystal Castles do so well, with bewitching industrial sounds and distorted noises weaving throughout each track.

Dersiley’s throaty and guttural drawl only adds to their atmospheric aesthetic. The track that has everyone talking is ‘LMHY’ (Let Me Hold You), which begins with a gnarly scream. Being the first track on the EP, it sets the precedent for the rest of the record, which continues on in an equally unusual and captivating way. ‘LMHY’ itself is vampish and bold, densely packed with a murky ambiance that calls up all manner of ghouls and eerie shapes that might be lurking in the edges of your consciousness. For fans of Glass Animals, also signed to Wolf Tone, Plaitum will be worth a listen as both bands capture a similarly eerie quality. In particular, Glass Animals’ ‘Holiest’ featuring Tei Shi echoes Plaitum’s spectral mood.

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The ‘Plaitum’ EP has a decidedly mature sound to it, and I was surprised when I discovered that Matt and Abigail are both only 20 years old. It’s always seriously impressive when people so young can come together to produce something so vivid and different, considering the way that teens of this generation are often looked down upon. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do next.

Both acts are sure to big on the radar in 2016, melding pop, indie and electronic elements into their music. Both Avec Sans and Plaitum are scheduled to perform at SXSX 2016 in March in Austin.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #372 and #373: Fickle Friends and Clean Cut Kid

 
By on Wednesday, 27th January 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

This is not a drill. I’m about to throw down the term “summer anthems”, and we’ve not even seen the back of January. But that’s exactly what Fickle Friends (pictured at top) and Clean Cut Kid have me dreaming about. These two bands tend to lean towards pop, making for fresh, easy, joyful listening from both.

Fickle Friends have created a sound that leaves you yearning for the summer. The quintet out of Brighton bring a breezy blend of synth and indie pop that’ll have you thinking about those dog days lying in the sun and chilling at festivals. Shortly after forming in 2013, Fickle Friends began to garner attention when they won Jamie’s (Jamie Oliver) Summer Jam competition, which was a battle-of-the-bands type of contest for unsigned acts. The winner was given the opportunity to perform at Big Feastival alongside Rizzle Kicks and Basement Jaxx. The festival was co-hosted with Alex James of Blur and held on the bassists’ farm in the Cotswolds.

The band announced this month the exciting news that they’ve signed a record deal with Polydor. While they are yet to confirm a release date, they’ve been tweeting candid shots of themselves working away in the studio. Over the past couple of years, Fickle Friends have released a number of solid and catchy singles, from their debut ‘Swim’(a particularly Haim-esque track), through to their latest ‘Say No More’, on which it sounds like they’ve found their groove.

‘Say No More’ is energetic, with a seriously catchy chorus, and it will have you singing along after just one listen. The track has a glistening electro rhythm and a funky, ’80s feel. Its upbeat air reminds me of The 1975, especially with its jaunty bass line and feel-good vibe that pours indie, synth and pop into a vibrant cocktail that’ll have you nodding your head along in no time.

Equally spirited and also bursting with fresh, interesting indie pop are Clean Cut Kid, who have recently announced that they will be joining Fickle Friends on some dates of the Brighton band’s forthcoming UK tour in February and March. The band, a four-piece from Liverpool, are husband and wife Mike and Evelyn Halls plus Saul Godman and Ross Higginson. Their music boasts incredible harmonies from the Halls in a series of addictive singles. Clean Cut Kid sound like a delicious melting pot of a lot of great indie pop bands. Imagine Vampire Weekend, mixed with a less gloomy Mumford and Sons, with Haim thrown in for good measure.

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‘Vitamin C’, Clean Cut Kid’s debut single released in the summer of 2015, is a catchy, quirky tune. It has a sentimental, life-affirming texture, its upbeat, spirited tempo of the song reminding me of the first time I heard Vampire Weekend’s debut album. At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy, it’s the sort of song that makes you want to stop and look around a bit more, and enjoy the moment you’re in, even in spite of the melancholy edge to the lyrics.

‘Runaway’, from their latest single, has a lilting and pleasing melody that belies the darker implications of the song’s title. While in ‘Vitamin C’ we hear much more of Evelyn Halls, Mike Halls’ vocals, are at the forefront of this track. His voice doesn’t match with his appearance in a way that I find oddly satisfying, in the way that with some great books that can’t be given away by their covers. With full beard and trucker hat, I was admittedly expecting a deeper vocal from Mike than the silvery, gentle tones that you hear on the track. Both singles are uplifting and catchy, and I’m excited to see where the foursome are going next.

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Fickle Friends will be touring the UK in February and March 2016, with support from Clean Cut Kid on some dates. Both bands are scheduled to appear at SXSW 2016 in Austin in March.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #371: VANT

 
By on Tuesday, 26th January 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

VANT are an English rock band fronted and formed by songwriter Mattie Vant in 2014. The band signed to Parlophone Records last year, releasing two singles with them, ‘Parasite’ and ‘Parking Lot’. The fact that Parlophone Records signed the band immediately after hearing their debut single ‘Parasite’, without having the benefit of hearing them perform live, really says a lot about the energy and attraction of VANT’s music.

Mattie Vant met band mates Henry Eastham (guitar) and Billy Morris (bass) early on after moving to London and working at the Dalston venue Birthdays, and in 2015 the band was joined by David Green (drums). So far, they’ve supported Royal Blood, and they have also twice received the accolade of Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World for ‘Parking Lot’ and ‘The Answer’. 2016 is set to be just as interesting for the foursome: after appearing at various festivals last summer, including Reading and Leeds and Secret Garden Party.

VANT are producing hard-hitting, punch-packing rock music that isn’t just here to sit pretty, but that is making a bold statement too. The music has an overtly political edge. In an interview with DIY, songwriter Mattie was honest and open about his preference for having “something to say, rather than going on about popping pills and dancing in a fucking club”. This drive to put a worthwhile message out there, to go along with the assertive music, reminds me of the angle towards social commentary that a lot of artists have used throughout history. This drive makes sense, as the band cites the Clash and Rage Against the Machine as influences.

Mattie’s ideas are reminiscent of those of Lennon or Dylan in the sense that he picks up on wide-reaching themes that affect the whole world rather than focusing solely on the smaller issues. Lyrics such as “100K is A-OK, it’ll all blow over, what the hell can I say? / 1000K, well, Iraq was Iraq, you know the USA will take and never give back” from ‘The Answer’ show the big ideas that the band are working with and aren’t shying away from. These intense messages are mirrored by the force and vitality of the music itself.

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The songs are well put together and has a professional finish, in the sense that they doesn’t sound thrown together or rushed: you can really feel that a lot of thought and passion has gone into the production of the music. The heavy guitar and drum rhythms don’t overpower or drown out Mattie’s vocals. The sound is distinctly punk/garage: it’s energetic, dynamic and intensely listenable, a la Queens of the Stone Age or the Strokes. Mattie Vant even looks like a young Julian Casablancas.

‘Parasite’, VANT’s first single, is a double A-side also including the ‘Do You Know Me?’, the latter racking up the most listens on the band’s’ Spotify page. ‘Do You Know Me?’ is more everyday than the politically charged ‘The Answer’. The catchy, repetitive chorus consists of Mattie screaming, “you should know me / you should know me by now”, an anthem for anyone whose ever been stuck in a rut and feeling as though they aren’t reaching their potential, and the associated feelings of frustration.

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‘Parking Lot’, released towards the end of 2015, is a loud and vigorous concoction of indie rock ‘n’ roll. At times during the song, particularly during the reiterations of “wait a minute / wait a minute” I’m reminded of the everyman ease of Chris Martin’s vocals, albeit a far edgier Martin. The track builds through the opening chorus before crashing like a wave, with trippy guitar riffs thrown in for good measure.

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VANT don’t seem likely to drop off the radar any time soon; they are scheduled to appear at SXSW 2016 in March. If you don’t happen to be in Austin then, no worries: the band have just announced a UK headline tour for April too, with tickets to the tour on sale now.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #369 and #370: The Spook School and WOMPS

 
By on Wednesday, 20th January 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

Scottish bands The Spook School and WOMPS have two traits in common aside from their origins in Scotland: both released new music in October 2015, and both are scheduled to appear at SXSW this coming March.

Edinburgh twee-pop outfit the Spook School are taking it easy to start off the new year, as transgender band member Nye Todd (guitar/vocals) recovers from his recent “top” surgery, which he has discussed on the band’s Facebook.  The Spook School, comprising the aforementioned Nye Todd, along with Adam Todd (guitar/vocals), Anna Cory (bass/vocals) and Niall McCamley (drums), collectively write and perform sunny, upbeat indie pop songs whose lyrics forthrightly tackle the deep issues of gender identity, sexuality and romantic relationships.

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Their aptly-titled second album ‘Try to be Hopeful’ was released last autumn on Fortuna POP! and featured the high energy single ‘I Want to Kiss You’. The song is described in the album’s press release as “[capturing] the excitement and anticipation of meeting someone, thinking they’re the most interesting person ever and not wanting to wait to see them again.”

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WOMPS

Glaswegian punk-grunge hybrid duo WOMPS is an evolution of the now-defunct experimental music project Algernon Doll, involving Ewan Grant on guitars and vocals and Owen Wicksted on drums. Their first double-sided single was produced by none other than Steve Albini, who worked with grunge rock legends Nirvana and more recently with American indie rock band Cloud Nothings. The WOMPS single release included the tracks ‘Live a Little Less’ and ‘Dreams on Demand’, which is featured in the video below. WOMPS are expected to release their first full-length LP in the early part of this year on London indie record label Damnably.

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(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #368: Banners

 
By on Monday, 18th January 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

Solo artist Mike Nelson, hailing from Liverpool, is better known these days by his alias Banners. Previous to his work on Banners, Nelson honed his talent in his younger years, singing across Europe in variety of concert halls and cathedrals with the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and Liverpool Kop choirs. Upon hearing his eerie and ethereal vocal range on his latest single ‘Start a Riot’, you can see how this unusual training paid off. It was through collaboration between Nelson and Canadian producer Stephen Kozmeniuk, who has previously worked with the likes of Madonna and Nicki Minaj, that Banners was born. It’s safe to say that Banners is a big departure from both.

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‘Start A Riot’ already has a 2.7 million listens on Spotify, while ‘Shine a Light’, which was also released in 2015, has an even more massive 3.6 million listens. This is impressive, considering that all of Banners’ releases have only been within the last 12 months. While there isn’t a lot out there for those keen on hearing more from Banners, what is available is quality stuff. Nelson’s smooth vocals are often reminiscent of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: while Vernon’s voice is a tad more gravely, both artists capture the howling, haunting vocal range that evokes mountains, forests and misty seascapes.

The wavering guitar on ‘Start a Riot’ is reminiscent of Snow Patrol’s ‘Open Your Eyes’ or ‘You’re All I Have’, while Banners’ ‘Shine a Light’ reminds me of Imagine Dragons, specifically the hammering drumbeat and the warbling oohs in the background of the track. The dreamlike rhythm of ‘Start a Riot’, combined with the soulful oohs that are scattered throughout the track, both really make this song stand out as a bold and beautiful number. ‘Start a Riot’ begins gently, with just Nelson’s vocals and a soft piano, before building into a genuinely interesting and enthralling pop track of cascading sound and striking vocal melodies.

Along with the news that as Banners, he’s already signed to Island Records in America, the gravity and authority of the singles gives the distinct impression that Banners is set to make a big dent in the music industry over the next 12 months. Mixing catchy lyrics with a pop sound, Banners embodies a particular mainstream pop aesthetic that contemporary listeners are drawn to. Judging by the recent meteoric success of Ed Sheeran and Bastille, Banners appears ready to follow in the footsteps of giants.

Banners is scheduled to appear at SXSW 2016 in Austin in March.

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(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #366 and #367: The Big Moon and Abjects

 
By on Thursday, 14th January 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Original of cropped header photo of The Big Moon by Laura Allard-Fleischl

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

I always love an all-girl group. While there have been more of them in recent years, fully female groups are still relatively uncommon and inevitably, you end up comparing them all to each other. You run the risk of potentially diminish these bands in their own right by such comparisons but overall, it’s reassuring to see women making a respectable dent in the world of music, particularly in the vein of hard-hitting rock, and comparing them to one another is simply to rejoice in their numbers.

London group The Big Moon are a dynamic mash up of indie rock/pop with a similar sound to Manchester’s PINS, yet they appear to be set to hold its own. Juliette, Soph, Celia and Fern haven’t been together that long, yet they create a timeless sound. Their two recent singles, ‘The Road’ and ‘Nothing Without You’ are well worth a listen.

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‘Nothing Without You’ is an upbeat tune that you can imagine dancing around to in your living room or playing full blast in your car on a road trip. ‘The Road’, in contrast, is softer and drawling, the jangly guitar hook running throughout the song quirky and playful. Juliette’s vocals are crisp and smooth, with just a touch of grit. Maybe how Haim would sound if they had a tad more Hole about them? The Big Moon have a bunch of upcoming dates in the UK as well, as the Dutch event Eurosonic Noorderslag Festival in Groningen this week.

Like The Big Moon, Abjects are an all female ensemble also from London. Whilst the two bands are equal in gender, Abjects are not entirely similar in sound. This trio favour punkier, garage rock numbers, coiffed with hairstyles to rival the Ramones. Their sound is bold, guitar-heavy and so edgy, you’d be afraid to reach out and touch it for fear of getting cut. [How ironic, then, that the below shot is their current Facebook profile pic? – Ed.]

photo of Abjects in a beauty shop, from the band's Facebook

Their debut EP ‘Gone’ features four catchy, confident tracks with no shortage of energy. The opening hook of ‘Gone’ reminds me of White Stripes, particularly ‘Fell in Love with the Girl’, with the raucous guitar being joined by the brash drums just moments into the song. At times, I can hear Ramones’ own ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, or Sex Pistols caught up in the thrumming guitars and unflinching drumbeats. This mix of garage and punk echoes throughout the EP, and really makes me excited to see what they do next.

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Abjects’ aesthetic, whilst involving punchy riffs and a fearless tempo, feels refined and stylised. Even the EP artwork and 12” vinyl is impressive and evocative of a different era: the pastel background colours layered with the black and white image of the band are a joy to look at and make me wish I owned a record player.

For years, critics and various and artists have been claiming that rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Back in 2014, Gene Simmons of KISS was advising young musicians to forget about learning how to play guitar and focus on X Factor auditions instead. Abjects are the kind of band that can restore faith in the future of exciting, authentic-feeling music.

The Big Moon and Abjects are scheduled to appear at SXSW 2016 in Austin in March.

 
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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.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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