| SXSW 2014
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As we hope you’ve already read, Mary and I spent the early part of our Wednesday of SXSW 2014 at the dark and hollow Empire Control Room for the iHeart Austin showcase (read Mary’s full recap here). Mary’s enthusiasm was still at full throttle, but by this point in the week, I was in desperate need of coffee and sunshine. We arrived early for the show, and luckily I was able to get a quick fix of both before the afternoon’s activities got underway.
I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands listed for the showcase, except of course for The Crookes, so I tried to go in with open ears and an open mind. This attitude helped me to discover two things: (1) the need for a set of earplugs, which I had to purchase in Austin because I didn’t own any, and (2) a new-to-me band based in Echo Park, California, called simply NO.
As I tweeted during their show, NO is a definite yes. This 6-piece band had a huge guitar sound, especially in the sparsely populated Control Room (this was a daytime show, and there was another gig going on outside), which necessitated the earplugs mentioned above. They reminded us a tiny bit of The National, in no small part due to the deep, menacing baritone of lead singer Bradley Hanan Carter, but also for their broodingly melancholic lyrics. Where The National are refined and restrained, NO are often more visceral and emotional, using their full array of instruments to greater dynamic and dramatic effect.
I was able to catch Carter after NO’s set for a very brief interview before he had to hurry off to their next engagement. The venue was incredibly noisy but we managed to get a quick soundbite about the band’s album, ‘El Prado’, which is out now on Arts and Crafts Records. Have a listen to the first track from the album, ‘Leave The Door Wide Open’, at the bottom of the page.
NO are Bradley Hanan Carter (vocals), Sean Daniel Stentz (bass), Reese Richardson (guitar), Ryan Lallier (guitar/keys), Simon Oscroft (guitar) and Michael Walker (drums). They are currently on tour in North America.
Think of an annual music festival that takes place in verdant countryside, set amongst rolling hills and centuries-old oak trees, featuring a populist main stage, a superbly-programmed and forward-looking new music stage, with jazz, world, dance, and even hidden woodland stages, an exclusive lakeside VIP performance area, and an arts strand curated by a bona fide rock star. Which was voted best medium-sized festival of 2013 (which TGTF can confirm from personal experience – it was). Sound good? You’re thinking of Kendal Calling.
With a heady mix of Mancunians, Glaswegians, and Geordies in the audience, the atmosphere at Kendal is rarely far from party central, but this year’s lineup is shaping up to be the finest yet seen at Lowther Deer Park. The big headline news is that London’s finest flop-haired, council-estate glamourists continue their epic rebirth with their first full summer of festival performances – the first of which is Kendal. Anyone who just a few years ago put money on Suede being the one of the hottest live properties of 2014 would be singing all the way to the bank right now, but it’s true: a new generation of so young beautiful ones are going to be driven star-crazy by the chemistry between us – Europe is our playground and we have the power to stay together. Or something.
Frank Turner (pictured at top) brings his Sleeping Souls to headline Saturday at the Calling Out stage – as Kendal’s most-requested artist, he’ll surely have no trouble in filling the tent, or struggle to exhort a capacious crowd to sing along to his punky, Americana-influenced ditties. A slice of true American chaos arrives in the shape of Reel Big Fish, replete with parping horn section, lots of jumping around, and huge helpings of tongue-in-cheek-and-down-throat ska-punk. Here’s hoping for their cover of A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ – surely the cue for the Kendal crowd to go pogoing mental.
Those for whom festivals simply aren’t fulfilling experiences without not one but two helpings of Johnny Borrell need look no further. He’s there with old band Razorlight, or what’s left of it, presumably with a “performance as history lesson” ethos, given the band haven’t released a record since 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’. Perhaps this will please the of-a-certain-age Saturday afternoon main stage crowd, but overall seems a Noughties revival too far. Potentially far more interesting is Borrell’s new project, Zazou: heavy with sultry saxophone and avant-garde arrangements, this is the sound of a former rock star going just that little bit off the rails. ‘Cyrano Masochiste’, anyone? Well worth popping one’s head in for.
Everyone’s favourite postmodern diva Findlay will be there, the ever-underrated Athlete will no doubt remind everyone why they were the sound of 2003 (because they’re very good), and Happy Mondays will no doubt manage that combination of inspired madness and total car-crash that they’ve been known for, well, pretty much forever. Other highlights: Breton will be defining the actual sound of 2014, TGTF favourites Catfish and the Bottlemen will be again proving why they are the future of British pop-rock, and the North-East of England is strongly represented by the beautiful, fragile pastoralism of Lanterns on the Lake, and the beautiful ginger hair of the identical, and identically noisy twins of Gallery Circus, the North-East’s answer to Drenge. Except better. Oh, and Goldie’s DJing.
If you’re within walking, cycling, or hitching distance of Westmorland, Kendal is a summer essential, like a rain cape and warm lager. Except it never rains at Kendal, and the beer is always cold. Honest.
Also headlining the festival will be Brett Anderson and Suede. For more information on Kendal Calling including finding out how to book tickets, visit their official Web site.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
Something that sets SXSW apart from all other festivals is just how much afternoon programming is available if you’re raring to go and wanting to catch music even before the noon hour. Even better, most of it is free, as long as your RSVP ahead of time. For music journos like us, it gave us more opportunities to catch bands that we might not otherwise see because of evening conflicts. The iHeart Austin showcase at Empire Control Room, sponsored by local Austin radio station 103.1, was perfect timing on Wednesday afternoon, as Wednesday is the day when things really ramp up – and all day long too – at SXSW.
After getting the run-around from security who sent us to different entrances and couldn’t agree on where the Control Room was at Empire (I thought only Great Escape bouncers were rude like that! ::snort::) and after I was refused entrance into a VIP area with fake grass (how tacky), we finally made our way into the correct location to catch an afternoon of bands inside. Unfortunately for you, our faithful readers, the lighting inside wasn’t great and a rotating series of strange coloured slides were projected onto to the bands as they played, so a lot of my photos didn’t come out great.
We arrived just in time for Austin band SPEAK, who I’d previously written about years ago when they covered Daft Punk. Synth pop bands are a dime a dozen these days, American or not. Honestly, after a while, they all start to blur together. but if you’re into this genre, SPEAK are a pretty poppy and agreeable proposition. They were given a slot shortly after noon, which meant unfortunately they had a pretty paltry audience.
Carrie seemed to think she could get through the festival without earplugs, but somehow I managed to convince her this wasn’t smart. However, I questioned my own wisdom when I met the booker of the Pabst Theater in Minneapolis and had to confirm the name of the next act. I swore they were called ‘Bats on the Move’. (No-one steal that name. That’s mine for whenever I start my own band.) Turns out they were actually Max and the Moon, a trio from Los Angeles. They released an EP, ‘Crazy’, a couple weeks ago and the title track is a good example of their pop-infused synth brand of rock.
The Black and White Years are another Austin band and another synth pop band, but rhythmically they’re art rocky, with bass lines popping everywhere. After the first two bands who were good but not terribly exciting to me, I felt like I’d finally been defibrillated. Their eccentricities didn’t go unnoticed, least of all by Talking Heads alum Jerry Harrison, who produced their first album. Frontman/guitarist Scott Butler even has a David Byrne-esque voice, sometimes yelp-y, sometimes percussive. I particularly liked his hand gestures to the bright ‘Up’, even if Carrie thought it was too gimmicky.
Then the line-up moved back to SoCal – specifically Echo Park – for a motley group called NO made up of a New Zealander, a South African, a Canadian and three Americans. Their singer, Kiwi Bradley Carter has a baritone voice ala Tom Smith of Editors or Matt Berninger of The National, and with grinding synths and sinister guitar lines, the band has a melancholic yet epic post-punk sound not dissimilar to White Lies. They’re already signed to Arts and Crafts label in Canada, which seems to indicate indie greatness is just around the corner. Expect their debut album ‘El Prado’ to drop later (at least on this side of the pond) this spring.
Carrie ran off to grab Carter of NO for a quick post-gig interview (stay tuned for that) right before a band on the afternoon bill that we actually knew of. The Crookes, who were making their triumphant and what I had always thought an impossible SXSW return by appearing at the festival 2 years in a row, would be offering up new tunes from their forthcoming album out in April ‘Soapbox’ (reviewed by me here) mixed in with old favourites from their back catalogue. It seems a little strange to be using the words ‘back catalogue’, seeing that the band have only been putting out music since 2009, but ‘Soapbox’ will mark their third release with London indie Fierce Panda (no small feat) and their second with local Austin indie Modern Outsider, who also serves as The Black and White Years’ label home.
They could have been tentative, starting out with a song everyone already knew; instead, they began with ‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’, one of the two most growly tracks on the new LP. A surprise later in the set was ‘Howl’, a more introspective number near the end of ‘Soapbox’ that I didn’t think would work all that well live but maybe in the live setting, it’ll act as the song to which you’d catch your breath after dancing so hard, the wind is knocked out of you. Not surprisingly, they ended with the terribly catchy pop opener to 2012’s ‘Hold Fast’, ‘Afterglow’, and I lost a drink bet with Carrie over whether or not they’d play that song. (I was sure the smart money was on ‘Maybe in the Dark’ but sadly, Lady Luck was not on my side.)
After a cheeky pint of cider and a quick fish and chips for dinner at our fave B.D. Riley’s Irish pub, I was off again to the Rooftop on Sixth to catch another band who was playing the rooftop bar. I got a definite case of deja vu, as my SXSW 2013 ended at that exact spot. I showed up to see Kent band Broken Hands, who I gathered fit the genre of space rock rather well. I am pleased to report that they did not disappoint after my writing of this Bands to Watch last month.
Because it was so windy that day, aluminum foil had been hung over the ‘windows’ behind the band, I guess so that the wind wouldn’t blow the bands over. This seemed rather fitting to me as the child of a NASA scientist, as for me it had the effect that we were on a spaceship with them. A pretty damn good rocking spaceship, with wigged out synths. Just enough wind passed through those ‘windows’ such that under any other circumstances, you might have confused singer Dale Norton and his gorgeous long flowing hair undulating in the breeze like he was in a Pantene commercial. (It’s really not fair as a woman when you see a man who has hair more beautiful than yours. It’s just not on, fellas.) Up to that point, I hadn’t done any serious headbanging in Austin – I was in charge of hard rock while we were in Austin – and I nearly got whiplash as I enjoyed myself far too much getting sucked into Broken Hands’ devastatingly severe live set. Good stuff.
Photos of Syd Arthur and Glass Animals courtesy of sourced.fm
After a brief stop at the British Music Embassy with Mary early on Tuesday evening, I made my first solo foray into SXSW 2014, heading off to the Harvest Records showcase at the Haven to see a set list that included several bands featured here at TGTF: Syd Arthur, Glass Animals and Arthur Beatrice. The venue was already packed when I arrived just ahead of the first act on the list, US-based music producer Young & Sick. Already a successful graphic artist and album artwork designer, his self-titled first album is due out on Harvest on the 8th of April. Judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd at the Haven, his reputation has preceded the release.
It was only after Young & Sick finished playing that I was able to take a good look around me and truly realize the atmosphere of the event. I edged a bit closer to the stage between sets only to see that the stage and wings were roped off from the general audience area, and that the seating in the wings was occupied by members of the bands on the docket and (presumably) their label and PR people. My hopes for grabbing any interviews with the bands were dashed, but I have to admit to watching the behind-the-scenes action with interest while I waited for Syd Arthur to begin.
Syd Arthur’s brand of old school psychedelic rock was kind of a strange contrast to the slick, ultra modern feel of the Haven. Their violinist had a hairstyle mildly reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, and his technical prowess on the violin only served to strengthen that mental analogy in my mind. Despite the sound problems that were beginning to surface on the stage during their set, Syd Arthur melted the faces off of those of us standing near the front.
Next due on the bill was Oxford-quartet Glass Animals. My only previous experience with them was our own Martin’s Bands to Watch feature written back in October 2013. Little did I know that I was about to be blown away in my second amazing new band discovery of the day. Glass Animals’ languid bass grooves and smooth vocal melodies quickly heated up the otherwise chilly room. Before I even realized it, my body was grooving right along with the dizzying ‘Psylla’, and when they played their hot new single ‘Black Mambo’, I was irretrievably hooked. (Luckily, I had the opportunity to see Glass Animals again on the Saturday; keep an eye out for our coverage of that day’s events.)
Of all the bands on the Harvest showcase, I was most anxious to hear Arthur Beatrice. I wasn’t madly in love with their album ‘Working Out’ when I reviewed it, but I was interested to see if the songs would have more personality in the context of a live performance. To that end, I wasn’t disappointed. The group’s slick, groovy sound, and particularly their vocal harmonies, took on a more lively energy than what was captured on their recording. Lead singer Ella Girardot was in good voice on the night, hitting high notes that left us literally gasping (even the unfortunate one when her vocal mic cut out). Sound issues plagued the performance in a few spots, but the overall impression was that Arthur Beatrice had made their mark on the American audience, particularly with their catchy single ‘Midland’. Keep your eyes open for this band in the near future.
I left the Haven after Arthur Beatrice to catch a couple of local Austin bands at another nearby venue. The conclusion of the Harvest Records showcase was slated to include Australian band The Preatures, solo artist BANKS and Los Angeles-based togetherPANGEA.
Thanks goes out to my gig partner for the evening, Jordy Fujiwara.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th March 2014 at 11:00 am
We all had heavy hearts after the tragic drink driving accident at the Mohawk on Wednesday night. However, everyone admirably soldiered on Thursday. I think a lot of us felt like we had renewed purpose to live life to the fullest and not get too down by the freak accident that marred an otherwise joyous week of music for music lovers.
Part of my effort to go back to ‘business as usual’ was to seek out a band that I had not yet seen but had heard so much about. Harlow’s Morning Parade, playing their last show at SXSW 2014 before they headed out on a drive to South Carolina for another music festival on the East Coast, went down a treat at the Universal Music Group afternoon showcase at the Palm Door on 6th and I was lucky to grab Steve Sparrow (vocals, guitar; above centre) and Ben Giddings (keys; above right) for a quick chat before they went into post-SXSW celebration mode. Thanks very much guys for chatting with me!
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
The great thing that you don’t realise about SXSW unless you actually witness it firsthand is the wide variety of venues there are in Austin during the festival. So from a rammed, stifling, claustrophobic Latitude 30 for the first half of my Tuesday night, I headed over to far more relaxed digs. It’s amazing to me that after 3 years in a row of covering this festival, I’m still finding new and exciting places to see bands play.
Stephen F’s Bar is on the topmost floor of the very swish InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel on Congress Avenue. It’s not a far walk at all from bustling and mental 6th Street, yet it feels like a world away on any night the festival is running. Having been there now, I would highly recommend it if you need a quiet oasis from all the late night craziness, for getting a drink at their well-appointed bar will surely make you feel human again. (For you historical buffs out there, Austin is known as the ‘father of Texas’ and that is why the capital city of the state is named after him.)
After my interview with Prides at Latitude 30, I arrived in the midst of Amy Cook’s set. As a local Austinite, I guess you can forgive her for all the audience heckling she was doing. To her credit though, she thanked punters throughout the set and asked us to give ourselves a round of applause for hanging in there to watch her. You see, Stephen F’s Bar is a ‘seated’ venue, with benches and various types of poufy, leather cushioned loungers, so you could be easily forgiven if you had one too many G&Ts that night if you fell asleep to the strumming of a guitar. The three acts I caught there were all folk acts, including Cook. An established singer/songwriter in her own right, she and her throaty voice, accompanied by her backing guitarist, felt right in the confines of the hotel bar.
Cook was followed by Australian folk duo Falls, who have now begun their conquest of America, having recently signed a record deal with Verve Music Group of Universal Records and uprooted from their home in Sydney and decamped to Los Angeles to make it here in America. I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing the harmonies of Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston-Brown; some things are just meant to be, and I think the two of them were meant to be musical partners for life. ‘Home’ seemed to be the most heartfelt track of the evening, as even though Austin is not Falls’ home, the locals and SXSW punters made them feel like they were there. Also tearjerking was Kirwin’s dedication of their cover of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ to a friend who had been following them around for moral support all over the East Coast of America who they’d learned had had a particularly trying day trying to get home to Australia.
This was Falls’ triumphant return to SXSW after appearing last year, and the many fans they picked up at last year’s festival also returned in droves to see one of their festival favourites perform. It’s really heart-warming when you see a band interacting with their fans, knowing each and every one of them by name. It may seem impossible to achieve, given the fast pace of life these days, but Falls proved that it is possible to do and they will never forget the people who welcomed them into their hearts when they were unknown Aussies in Austin.
The Carper Family rounded out the evening at Stephen F’s. I was a little disappointed to learn the three women on stage weren’t actually related. The Austin band is named for Melissa Carper, who plays upright bass alongside Beth Chrisman (fiddle) and Jenn Miori (guitar), and despite not sharing the same bloodline, they sound like they could have been separated at birth. With tinges of bluegrass and country in their songs while also maintaining their own originality, they bridge the distance between the traditional and modern. This isn’t my kind of music at all – we joked all week while we were in Austin that I usually palm off the singer/songwriters on Carrie! – but as we don’t have 100 versions of ourselves, the other benefit of SXSW is that we could each go see bands that we could recommend (or not recommend) to the other and our friends.
My night ended surrounded by friends old and new, with the clarity and support they afforded me to hit the rest of SXSW hard.