SXSW 2016 | 2015
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Right. Let’s get something straight right from the start. Deer Shed 2016 was essentially perfect: a wondrous box of delights for young, middle and old alike. Whilst the event has evolved over the years, if someone said, “Freeze. This is perfect. Don’t change anything,” I doubt there would be any complaints. The camping is spacious and quiet. The toilets are clean and useable. The food is utterly delicious. The bar is well-run and well-stocked (some of us still mourn the loss of Ilkley’s Mary Jane, however). The crowds are beautiful and well-behaved… well, at least the kids are. Oh, and someone must have paid the weather bill because the sun shone nearly all the time.
And so we come to the entertainment. Deer Shed is effectively two festivals in one – a box of delightful activities for kids – stuff so unique that they only get to do it here – and a proper music festival for grown ups. We’ll come to the kids’ stuff in due course, but let’s consider the music first. If you think a festival that welcomes so many children just tags on a few bands to keep the adults half-amused, then think again. I don’t know how they do it, but Deer Shed’s music lineup is second to none. A festival of any size would be proud to come up with such a fresh, forward-looking bill. For a modest spot of land in the North Yorkshire countryside, it’s nothing less than a triumph.
By the very nature of Deer Shed, one often has a youngster tugging at one’s sleeve, wanting to go and jump around outside the bubble stall for the hundredth time. The list of missed bands gets longer and longer, but that just makes one even more appreciative of the music one does manage to see. First up for me were Leeds’ Eagulls, whose sound is the natural result of owning several Squier guitars, a floor full of reverb pedals and a record collection largely consisting of the Cure’s more introspective records. I’m not exactly sure what the frontman’s on about, and the whole shebang is based on some purposely obtuse chord progressions. But when it all comes together they create an urgent wash of heady nu gaze that urges you to close your eyes and get swept away.
Friday night headliners Everything Everything have made the inevitable, if not a little unsettling, transformation from regular indie band to some sort of futuristic gospel praise outfit. Singer Jonathan Higgs wears ankle-length robes, holds his hands aloft and teases the crowd with his oblique commentary on the state of everything. He even retreats to his own podium at the back of the stage on occasion, cavorting and exclaiming like a greasy televangelist, except with something better to sell than false hope. A quite extraordinary performance: danceable, unforgettable, slightly disturbing. [Should be interesting to see what the Americans make of them on their first headline tour of America that begins this week. – Ed.]
Saturday dawned with the hazy memory of having an impromptu jam session around the piano in the Obelisk tent. Whether real or imaginary, such late-night escapades are soon forgotten in favour of the promise of a sunny day, and plenty to do with it. FEWS shake off the cobwebs with a pre-midday slot of their driving instrumental post-rock. It’s the sort of thing that you can get lost in, labyrinthine melodies hidden within an incessant motorik rhythm section. Teessiders Cattle & Cane give me a little “festival moment”: the weight of a child on one’s shoulders, bopping away in their own little way to a warm-hearted band… such fleeting yet timeless moments of joy make the grind of life worthwhile. TGTF has come across Misty Miller a couple of times before, and she’s never been the same performer twice. Currently in a goth-inspired phase, her rock ‘n’ roll ditties remain as strong as ever, and her passion for reinvention means somewhere along the line she’s sure to hit on a persona that really propels her into the mainstream.
Somehow I managed to get rid of the kids for an hour or so at this point, and found myself in a state of euphoric peace lounging at the back for Emma Pollock‘s set. Hardly a household name, but her former group The Delgados will be familiar to students of Scottish indie bands, and her solo set was an absolute masterclass in grown-up songwriting. One delightful tune after another fell from her guitar, and backed by an excellent band she was an unexpected treat. Her song about dark skygazing was hugely evocative: a more sublime way to close one’s eyes and lay back in the late afternoon sunshine it’s difficult to imagine.
TGTF raved about RHAIN‘s double performance at Kendal Calling last year, and her set in Deer Shed’s Obelisk tent was the stuff that legends are made of. Her voice is nothing less than astonishing, and the rare beauty of her jewelled songs quickly had the tent full to capacity. Her friends Plastic Mermaids, fresh from their own storming set earlier in the day, backed her for a few numbers, but it’s when RHAIN picks some simple piano chords to compliment her extraordinary vocal performance that really showcases what she is capable of. To witness a musician of such powerful talent in such intimate surroundings is a very rare treat; the electric atmosphere and the standing ovation that followed her performance is testament to the intensity of what she is capable. Utterly, utterly wonderful.
Stay tuned: the second half of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016 will post here on TGTF tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel.
Dr. Martens have withstood the onslaught of – and reinvented themselves through – many – if not all – musical eras, fads, and fashions. No doubt ‘60s rockers found them very handy for keeping their feet protected from the tarmac, forcing a sticky gearlever to shift on a careworn Triumph and for kicking mods in the shins. Into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punk and the skinhead movement found DMs perfectly matched their aggressive image, even though most punks no doubt went home to their mums to tuck them in with a cup of cocoa at night.
Later on in the decade, as the hardness of punk split into gothic nihilism and dayglo optimism, Dr. Martens could be found on the feet of both groups – the perfect match to both a pair of leather trousers and a floaty flower-print dress. And then came the 1990s, and with it came grunge, a musical movement tailor made for a decent pair of sturdy footwear. Truth be told, there’s barely an era in music that DMs haven’t been associated with, continuing to the present day. So it’s no surprise that the brand has decided to become directly involved in a bit of music promotion.
Now in its second year, the Dr. Martens #standforsomething tour promises to repeat last year’s achievement of “taking some of the most exciting live acts around into tiny venues”. Which makes it sound like they’ve managed to get White Denim to play a phone box, and that isn’t really the case. I’m not sure the venues involved would agree with the “tiny” description – Newcastle’s Cluny 2 has raked seating, a balcony and 160 capacity. Nor is it unusual for the bands involved to play mid-size venues: Eagulls are playing the Cluny on their own headline tour, for instance.
Such pedantry aside, Dr. Martens have come up with an exciting, directional lineup, heavy on bands that feature the words “post”, “punk”, or indeed “post-punk” in their bios. Wales’ Funeral for a Friend have been plying post-punk pop with a distinctly American twist for over a decade now, and the public’s appetite shows no sign of waning. Leeds’ Eagulls are a touch more ramshackle, more punk and less metal, but nonetheless play in the same league.
A pattern emerges when we come to We are the Ocean – distorted, upbeat guitar riffs, insistent, double-tracked vocals and clean-as-a-whistle production. Only their mothers could tell them apart from Funeral. Things take a left-field turn in Los Campesinos! (pictured at top); instead of distorted guitars, there’s violins, any manner of improvised percussion and vocals that are more sung than screamed.
And then there’s the matter of Sydney’s Tonight Alive. Fresh from gracing the soundtrack of the latest Spiderman film, Jenna McDougall brings her impressively toned abdomen and similarly toned vocal cords to the humble environs of Newcastle’s Cluny 2. A combination of laid-back Australian surf style and distinctly Transatlantic musical chops, there’s no doubt that Tonight Alive will bring a dose of glamour to Tyneside – and to be fair to the promoters, considering the auditoria Tonight Alive are used to playing, the Cluny may indeed appear tiny in comparison.
When you boil it down, #standforsomething is nothing more than a short series of unrelated gigs across the country with a rather large marketing budget attached. The bands are already touring the UK: Tonight Alive, for instance, hit London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, completely independently, before their Martens-sponsored Newcastle date. Similarly, this gig closes We are the Ocean’s and Funeral for a Friend’s tours, whereas it falls directly in the middle of Eagulls’. Nonetheless, a good bit of promotion for some decent bands never goes amiss, so whichever way you slice it, if you’re into DMs, good music, or perhaps even both, there’s no better way to spend a night with your fellow leather enthusiasts. And you might bounce home with a bit of free swag. Catch the tour on the dates listed below and register on the Dr. Martens Web site here to register for tickets.
Saturday 4th October 2014 – Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire starring Funeral for a Friend
Saturday 11th October 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach starring Eagulls
Saturday 25th October 2014 – Liverpool Shipping Forecast starring We are the Ocean
Saturday 8th November 2014 – London Lexington – TBA
Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Birmingham Flapper starring Los Campesinos!
Saturday 6th December 2014 – Newcastle Cluny 2 starring Tonight Alive
Saturday at Tramlines comes with a whole load more excitement. The main stage today features charting stars as well as up and coming artists , but I’m more focused on what’s effectively the second stage in the Nando’s-sponsored New Music Stage. The first band I see, however, really put a dampener on the scorching weather. Eagulls are offensive on the eyes and ears today with a Liam Gallagher meets Sid Vicious 20-something man yelling at people in the form of what I suppose he’ll call lyrics. The crowd that had assembled for the charming Hey Sholay earlier have started to disperse back to the stairs and square of the picturesque city hall. This isn’t the way Copy Haho (pictured at top) will have it though. Indie pop tracks with nice hooks all the way from Scotland see the punters return and get a bit warm to tunes they don’t know such as ‘Going in the Wrong Direction’ (a personal favourite) and with a few “your mum” jokes, Copy Haho have won over some new Yorkshire friends.
Feeling like I’m playing it a bit safe, I decide to stray over to the Bowery to catch half an hour of power rock ‘n’ roll in the form of strangely named Milk Maid. It’s a definite hit with me and seeing as the venue is packed (it’s small, but still…) I’m guessing the buzz around this band is building and rightfully so. I’d have been kidding myself if I thought I would end up anywhere other than back at the New Music stage for the next few bands though. Young Legionnaire are my first and only super group of the weekend, and they certainly prove why. Comprising of members of Bloc Party and the Automatic, their music is nothing like this. Debut album ‘Crisis Works’ is a huge sounding rock album from the three-piece and today they demonstrate that it can even get a crowd that don’t know them, moving in the sunlight to them.
They really are just a supporting cast to the next two acts however. Scottish power-pop group Dananananaykroyd burst on to the stage next with as much energy as you’d expect from the indie rock underground’s heroes. New tracks such as ‘E Numbers’ fit right in the opening of their famously fun set, along with old favourites ‘Watch This!’ and ‘Black Wax’. ‘Muscle Memory’, the lead single from their second album ‘There Is A Way’, produces a huge sing-along (shout along, scream along, something loud) of the ever so angsty “You’d like me better if I liked you less!” as the crowd really get moving. Of course, some, having saved money on not having to buy tickets, go too far on the alcohol and over-exuberant movement. “Dancing is easier than fighting!” the band point out, and that seems to solve that for a while.
It seems it’s all been uphill then, as bands today are constantly out-doing each other, so it’s right to expect good things of tonight’s New Music stage headliners. With a new album in the works and promised for release late autumn, but not really giving away much more, the Los Campesinos! crew look more like a solid unit than they ever have. As such, their sound is now a really tight and well rehearsed one, spanning all three of their albums. This is where the problem starts for me though. I’m starting to think it’s all a bit over-rehearsed and that after a certain point, we’ve heard it all before. ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’, a huge fan favourite is becoming a song absent of the meaning it was written in of late, ‘My Year in Lists’ suffers the same fate and is gone before it ever really starts and even ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’ is now beginning to sound like it lacks the relevance it once did.
Set opener for the last year or so has been ‘In Media Res’ and aside from one or two alterations (‘We Are All Accelerated Readers’ gets a play this evening), it’s all getting a little predictable. That said, when you’ve got a catalogue of tracks this good, and fans as dedicated as LC!’s, it’s hard not to get lost in tracks such as The Sea Is… or shout along to the hugely infectious ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ and as the Cardiff group close their set with the ever joyous ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, it’s difficult to see what tracks need taking out to accommodate for album four’s new ones. So as Saturday comes to a close, it’s hard to wonder what on earth Sunday can throw at us.