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SXSW 2016: early bits of FLOODfest and the British Music Embassy Wednesday afternoon (part 1) – 16th March 2016

 
By on Wednesday, 30th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

Wednesday at SXSW 2016 was an unusual day for us in Austin, so let me (Mary) explain the reason for the tag-teaming of Wednesday afternoon’s coverage. With First Lady Michelle Obama throwing Music conference panel schedules off at the convention center and not knowing when the panels I had penciled in for the afternoon would actually start, I cut my losses and met Carrie for the start of the afternoon at FLOODfest at Cedar Street Courtyard. I hung around to interview Alex Robertshaw of Everything Everything after they played there and also managed to catch a bit of the next act, but Carrie had already left to see The People The Poet at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 for the first time, as she’d missed them last year. Interview done and dusted, I turned up to rejoin Carrie and cover the rest of the British Music Embassy showcase, as well as wait for some additional interviews, and she went off to meet Roo Panes south of the river for an interview of her own. ::heavy breaths, cough, wheeze:: Our individual contributions to this piece are marked below.

Everything Everything FLOODfest Cedar Street Courtyard WednesdayCarrie: Mary and I missed opening act Deap Vally but we arrived at FLOODfest in plenty of time to see a band we were both interested in, Manchester’s Everything Everything. Having never seen the band play live myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their performance. They turned out to be a great choice for our first band of the day, upbeat and energetic despite the pesky technical issues that would plague them for the rest of the week. The Austin heat didn’t deter the Mancunian art-rockers from wearing their flambuoyant matching jackets, but the bright Texas sun did force them to perform in what might be called “accidentally stylish” sunglasses through most of the set. They leaned hard on their current album ‘Get to Heaven’, sandwiching old favourites ‘Kemosabe’ and ‘Don’t Try’ in between the newer numbers.

Mary: If seeing Everything Everything in the blinding sun and blistering heat felt incongruous, can you imagine how out of place Hælos‘ performance must have looked? The act signed to Matador Records have a little bit of everything in their sound: a little pop, a little soul, a little trip-hop, a little experimental. This kind of music demands a darkened club atmosphere. Comparisons to the xx because they utilise harmonising male and female vocals well further bolster this argument for a shadowy, mysterious stage setup.

Haelos FLOODfest Cedar Street Courtyard WednesdayLucky for them, they didn’t suffer from the same technical issues as Everything Everything did, which probably explains why they looked completely poised and on their game when their set began. On paper, this is the kind of band I should like, so I guess you should blame the oppressive heat beating down from above that I really had trouble getting into the mood for their music. Expect a better review of them very soon, as I had an opportunity to see them again at the nighttime (the right time!) Friday Clash Magazine / PPL showcase at the British Music Embassy, where they were truly in their element.

The People the Poet at the British Music Embassy Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Carrie: After Everything Everything’s set, I hurried to the British Music Embassy to catch The People The Poet on Mary’s recommendation. As usual, her suggestion that I’d like the Welsh rockers was right on target. Their full-bodied rock sound and Leon Stanford’s rough-around-the-edges lead vocals were just to my taste, and I couldn’t resist introducing myself to full-bearded guitarist Tyla Campbell after their set to tell him so. The People The Poet’s latest single ‘Club 27’ was due for its first play on BBC Radio 1 only hours after this performance, but technically, we heard it first!

Jane Weaver at British Music Embassy Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Following The People The Poet on the BME stage was electro-pop artist Jane Weaver, who we initially previewed in a Bands to Watch feature right back here. I knew I might not get to stay for Weaver’s entire set, as I was due to switch places with Mary at that point in the day, but after learning the history of Weaver’s career in the course of writing the aforementioned preview, I was intrigued, especially by her recent album release ‘The Silver Globe’. I was gratified to hear the hypnotic psych-pop of current single ‘I Need a Connection’ before I had to dash off across the river to the Hyatt Regency Austin, and Mary was lucky enough to get this interview with the magical Ms. Weaver later in the afternoon.

Keep an eye on TGTF for part 2 of our tag-team coverage of Wednesday afternoon’s activities, coming soon to a computer screen or mobile device near you!

 

SXSW 2016: felte and Part Time Punks’ showcase at Barracuda (Tuesday night, part 2) – 15th March 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 29th March 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

As a music journalist covering SXSW, you pretty much have to be a ninja, moving quickly through the city, from venue to venue, often under the cover of darkness. There’s really no way around it if you want to cover and bring attention to as many bands as possible in a span of 5 days, which is how I see my role in the SXSW experience. This year, knowing that my covering SXSW 2016 conference panels at the Austin Convention Center would restrict my afternoon showcase options, I had to be crafty if I was going to fit in as many bands on my watch list as possible. Luckily, to my utter pleasure, Los Angeles via Brooklyn label felte Records were putting on a fantastic showcase in association with LA Sunday night fixture at the Echo Part Time Punks Tuesday night at Barracuda (formerly Red 7) and it slotted in nicely after my activities earlier in the evening at Latitude 30.

felte signees Gold Class has been billed by more than a few media outlets as the Aussie answer to The Smiths and Joy Division, and Jennifer’s review of the band’s 2015 debut album ‘It’s You’ supports this. It is important to note that the Melbourne band are not a carbon copy of either legendary group from Manchester but take the best bits from both and bring the feelings of alienation and revolution from a diffident attitude in ’80s Britain firmly into the 21st century with their personal brand of politically charged post-punk.

There are two levels on which the comparison between them and The Smiths works best. Dressed all in white for the occasion as if his clothes were a form of protest all their own, lead singer Adam Curley commands all of the attention in the indoor space with his booming, bellowing style of vocal delivery. While singing lyrics like “the way you hold yourself / it’s like you’re ready for an execution” in ‘Life As a Gun’, he’s not afraid to be who he is, to sing what he wants to, to explore his identity and confront headfirst the idea of shame onstage. (He’s already getting mauled by hugs by fans after shows in their native Australia, so I imagine becoming beloved to the rest of the world’s misfits is not too far behind.) The other inescapable similarity of their sound to that of the Smiths is the jangly guitar of Evan James Purdey, providing an oddly jaunty lead that counterintuitively soothes against the backdrop of Curley’s otherwise dark vocals, much like what Johnny Marr’s playing did against Morrissey’s tales of gruesome murders and mishaps in love.

Nite Fields are another Aussie band, hailing from Brisbane, way up the coast from Melbourne in the Australian state of Queensland. Though this quartet also dabble in dark themes, their preferred mode is not post-punk but in more of a dream pop direction, synths buzzing away. (This explains their post-SXSW support slot with Scandinavian synthpop band Lust for Youth.) I’m not sure why this was, maybe they were jetlagged, but after seeing Gold Class put themselves out there confidently and as if naked as the day they were born, Nite Fields seemed comparatively pretentious and holding back. One of my friends once said to me that The Jesus and Mary Chain, while a good band on record, proved to be absolutely boring live at the 9:30 Club. I couldn’t escape that image in my mind as I stood less than enthralled as Nite Fields closed out the indoor stage’s bill for the night.

Watford band Sad Lovers & Giants were a surprise addition to my Tuesday night, playing to a decent crowd on the outdoor stage of Barracuda at midnight. The band’s sound is an intriguing mix of post-punk and psychedelia, with an occasional saxophone solo thrown in for good measure (check out their 7″ single ‘Colourless Dream‘). While I fully admit I’d never heard of them before this, it was great to see so many longtime (read: older) fans in the audience, falling into a trance and giving themselves over to the group’s music.

Sad Lovers & Giants at the felte Part Time Punks showcase Tuesday at Barracuda, at SXSW 2016

Following on the outdoor stage to finish out the night were even more (!) post-punks, Autobahn from Leeds. I was intrigued to learn that in fact the band’s name had nothing really to do with the famed German motorway with no speed restrictions, though their driving, muscular industrial sound seems tailor made for putting down the sun roof of your car, putting your foot to the gas (er, petrol?) and speeding away from everything, maybe not on a motorway but down a desolate country road you have all to yourself. There’s a sinister edge to their sound as well, similar to that of their Tough Love Records labelmates Girls Names from Belfast, who I saw earlier in the evening. Frontman Craig Johnson is a commanding bloke who leans on his mike stand defensively and in such a way that suggests he could crush it with the palm of his hand. When he sings, he looks pretty menacing and not someone you’d want to tangle with, which I get, because that’s what this kind of music needs.

Autobahn at felte Part Time Punks showcase Tuesday at Barracuda, at SXSW 2016 2

But curly-headed Johnson insisted to me in our chat Saturday that Autobahn’s music is less about being aggro or depressed than it is about “a celebration of the beauty of sadness and the daring to be emotional in these irony laced times”, as Louder Than War’s John Robb puts it more eloquently than I ever could. As a popular saying goes, “you can take the boy out of the North, but you can’t take the North out of the boy”. As a Yankee outsider, I’ve always viewed music from the North as being the domain of people in touch emotionally with themselves and their surroundings, and being intelligent enough to write it in such a way that someone either ‘gets’ you or they don’t. And if you’re smart enough to tap into their wavelength, you too can find solace in the beauty of the desolate.

Autobahn at felte Part Time Punks showcase Tuesday at Barracuda, at SXSW 2016

 

SXSW 2016: Huw Stephens and PRS for Music’s showcase at Latitude 30 (Tuesday night, part 1) – 15th March 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 29th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

Invariably, I always end up at Latitude 30, the home of the British Music Embassy, every Tuesday night when I go to Austin for SXSW. SXSW 2016 was no exception, and as has been true the last 4 years I’ve attended, there was a stellar line-up organised by BBC Radio 1’s own Huw Stephens. The showcase was also being sponsored by PRS for Music, the society of songwriters, composers and music publishers and the people who make sure these creatives get paid when their music licenced through PRS is used and their music is protected.

The evening began with a bang, thanks to Kent’s own Get Inuit. Not to be confused with Eskimos or any sort of native tribe from a colder clime, the group hailing from the town of Sittingbourne provided a nice kick in the arse via their brash, self-described ‘dirty-pop’. Bespectacled frontman Jamie Glass has an unusual voice for a hard rocking band – it’s a little whiny, but that’s what makes it charming! If you’re questioning this, read my review of their single ‘Dress of Bubblewrap’, which explains the pop part of their music.

Get Inuit Huw Stephens PRS for Music Tuesday

The result: after hearing a few quiet bars from him on a song like ‘I Am the Hot Air’, you’re in for a total surprise if you’re expecting instrumental backing of the twee variety, as the song gets right in your face and . With its guitars that go from squealing to heavy, ‘Pro Procrastinator’ is another clear example that these lads know how to rock. A debut album is currently in the works thanks to a grant from the PRS for Music Foundation, and I can’t wait to hear it.

From the South East of England, the programming then headed north…west and to Belfast and a different kind of in-your-face performance by Girls Names, who I met in 2013. I should probably point out at this juncture that it was around 32 C during the day on Tuesday, so Girls Name should probably be commended off the bat for sticking to their aesthetic (in their case, leather jackets and jeans) and not compromising because of the temperature.

Girls Names Huw Stephens PRS for Music Tuesday

The post-punk group specialise in creating a massive wall of sound, generated by crashing guitars and a heavy rhythm section, and it’s usually so loud and enveloping, wherever in the world you happen to be, you’re left somewhat in awe (and with some disappointment) that the building you’re stood in hasn’t actually taken off the ground yet. Their latest album ‘Arms Around a Vision’ was released on Tough Love in October and in case you haven’t picked it up yet, do, and listen to it in the dark in your bedroom, letting the instrumentation swirl around in your head along with Cathal Cully’s shadowy, existential lyrics.

The third slot of Tuesday night at Latitude 30 last year was occupied by critically lauded political artist Kate Tempest. And for the second year running, another young hopeful not afraid to speak his mind was included on Stephens’ bill. Hertfordshire teen Declan McKenna, only at the tender age of 17, is already signed to Columbia Records and that should tell you something. Making waves with his politically potent single ‘Brazil’ that criticised FIFA, offering a critical view of the international football organisation in the midst of scandal, he’s already proven he’s got talent that’s head and shoulders above and a social conscience well beyond the reach of conventional young pop stars these days. (Watch the video as part of my pre-SXSW Bands to Watch that posted in February here.) I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised when the young McKenna took to the stage looking like he just got out of gym class, in a t-shirt and a pair of Lonsdale shorts.

Declan McKenna Huw Stephens PRS for Music Tuesday

With a table full of equipment and pedals aplenty, he made quick work of recording vocals and guitar lines live, in a way I’ve only seen Badly Drawn Boy do in concert (though Carrie’s explained to me that Ed Sheeran does this as well). Playing in front of a massive crowd in America might have fazed the most seasoned of UK singer/songwriters, yet McKenna was the epitome of poise, as he played through the organ-led single ‘Paracetamol’ and ended with the audience favourite ‘Brazil’. He might not have too many recordings to his name – yet – but given the amount of shouting and screaming there was for ‘Brazil’, I think we can expect him to do very well over here.

London’s Oscar (surname Scheller), who I’d had the pleasure of chatting with just hours before outside a radio promo spot he did at Buffalo Billiards, was up next. I was slightly disappointed that he changed out of his colourful Disney shirt he was wearing earlier. But he represented dear old blighty well in a Union Jack jumper, making no mistake either the country of his own origin or the focus of the night’s showcase.

Oscar Huw Stephens PRS for Music Tuesday

The brightness of his music shone through, though, so it was all okay. While ‘Sometimes’ is the height of fun, infectious guitar pop with a buzzy synth, ‘Breaking My Phone’ is more scuzzy, allowing for the grinding of louder guitars and a feeling of letting go and going with the flow of a fun night out at a show with your friends. This show curated by Huw Stephens was a great official start to my week of showcases at SXSW, but I was soon off to see another four bands up Red River Street.

For more of my photos of this showcase, visit my Flickr.

 

SXSW 2016: highlights from this year’s Music Conference programming – The Obamas, Tony Visconti, Richie Hawtin and the latest in song syncs

 
By on Monday, 28th March 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

2016 marked the 30th anniversary of SXSW and with reaching such a milestone, it just wouldn’t be right to not celebrate with appearances by some heavy hitters, right? And the Austin festival managed a one-two punch in his music conference programming by securing not only First Lady Michelle Obama but the President of the United States Barack Obama as well. The President delivered the keynote address during SXSW Interactive on Friday. Watch below as he discusses the importance of civic engagement and his support for new technologies.

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SXSW Music Conference attendees did not miss out at all, as the First Lady graced the conference with her presence Wednesday, bringing along fellow influential ladies Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah, known as female pioneers of hip hop, and Diane Warren, famed for penning some of pop’s greatest hits in the history of popular music. The three of them were in Austin to promote the Let Girls Learn initiative, which will no doubt be one of Mrs. Obama’s enduring legacies long after she and her husband have left the White House. In the short clip below, she speaks on how she finds young people inspirational and disappoints a good many present in the room with her announcement that she won’t be running for public office in favour of taking care of her and Barack’s two young daughters.

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The Obamas’ separate appearances to speak at SXSW 2016 caused considerable headache to both event staff and conference attendees alike. The understandable security around the First Lady created additional problems, delaying sessions and bringing frustration to people like me who like to keep to a schedule. Not aware that legendary producer Tony Visconti‘s keynote had been moved from Wednesday to Thursday was just another thing to throw a spanner in the works.

One wonders what was going in Visconti’s mind when he received the news that his speech would be delayed by a day due to a more famous, more important VIP. I also had to wonder if his selection was coincidental or done on purpose as a memoriam of sorts for the late David Bowie, with whom Visconti collaborated on and off with for nearly 5 decades. Knowing his audience well, he quipped early on that he’d be speaking about how he met Bowie soon enough, and he did. (Similarly witty stories were shared by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo in another session Thursday afternoon, telling stories about Bowie and Iggy Pop that can’t be reprinted in a family-friendly publication. Mothersbaugh was in town during an exhibition of his art at the Contemporary.) Biographies in print are great of course, but for me, nothing can replace personal, first-hand anecdotes from the people that were there. That’s what makes interviews great for me, to truly be let into another creative’s world, to be let into the little secrets, and part of the fun is doing the research and trying to fit together someone’s pieces before you actually get to the interview and then let your interviewee go off in whatever director he or she wishes.

Hearing Visconti speak, in such a humourous, personable way, it makes total sense how he’s become such a famous producer and been confided in by not just Bowie (being one of the few dear people in his circle aware of his impending departure) but the late glam rock star Marc Bolan and someone as crotchety as Morrissey. Visconti is the kind of guy you wish you could knock a few beers back with because he’d make you feel at ease, but is ever so talented at what he can do in a recording studio, to be able to pull out the best from whoever he works with. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also a writer, sharing with the audience bits from his upcoming book The Universe, that paints a bleak picture of what music will be like in the future.

We can laugh but there’s also a sense of sad acceptance that the signs, the klaxons of warning in our industry have already rung out. “Your product is culture”, Visconti said in a matter-of-fact way, and he believes that boutique labels and self-releasing is a good but not great solution to the lack of support for true visionary artists. He, like us here at TGTF, want to see more quality in music and he gave a great example of going to the grocery store and having variety the kind of ketchup or bacon you want to buy. There isn’t one choice and there shouldn’t one choice in music in all the manufactured top 40 we’re hearing these days, either. Watch Visconti’s keynote in full below.

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At a session for Convergence late Tuesday night, Canadian DJ vanguard Richie Hawtin spoke with Resident Advisor‘s North American editor Andrew Ryce (pictured at top) about his new performance mixer Play Differently, which has been a project he’s worked on for 2 years with Allen & Heath and Audiotonix. What I found most interesting about Hawtin’s responses – in additional to his clearly unwavering passion for DJaying and electronics – is that he’s not all about chasing the next big thing in electronic music.

You’d expect someone like him who’s into making the best sounds possible onstage to embrace every digital technology known to man, and indeed, he made everyone laugh when he air-manipulated an imaginary device he noted as “this is my girlfriend”. So it surprised me when said that he didn’t necessarily agree with digital DJaying as being the be all and end all, saying, “there shouldn’t be a formula to make music and play it…Follow who you are, and make the music *you* want to make.” In that respect, I felt this view of Hawtin’s echoed Tony Visconti said about tapping into culture and talent and going beyond just mere technology. It gives me great hope personally that these titans of the industry still believe that even in spite to everything distracting and potentially detrimental to our business, the cream should and will always rise to the top. Have a watch of Hawtin’s Q&A with Ryce below.

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A topic that has been of interest to me for a long time is the business of song syncs and how one goes from a composer who writes specifically for or has already written a song for a particular commercial use to that composer and any deserving middleman earning money off of the song’s use. As record sales have dwindled in the face of music piracy, song syncing is no longer looked upon as the selling out it once did. And in many cases these days, such syncs have enabled artists to continue working where they might have otherwise run out of money.

Among the many panels on the subject of syncs in this year’s music conference programming, there were two in particular that caught my eye. In the session Creating Custom Songs for Film, TV, Trailers & Ads on Thursday, the emphasis was on the composer side, with the panelists making suggestions to the prospective songwriters in the audience on how to market and indeed, possibly direct their writing to get the best chance for a sync. It was intriguing to me that Josh Collum of Sorted Noise recommended writers to focus on songs about home and coming home, as they’re perennially needed and used across film and TV. Who knew? Meanwhile, Phillip Phillips with his 43 million YouTube views is laughing all the way to the bank…

On the other side and in more specific, the placement of songs in TV was explored Friday in the session entitled TV Promos: Sync’s New Best Friend. Going on from a similar session at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015 last October, it is mind-bogglingly amazing to me that one of the biggest recommendations to fledging artists these days to land a sync is to record good quality, unique cover versions of popular songs. The idea is that because the original song by the original artist will be too expensive and therefore out of reach or too complicated a permission for most copyright clearance offices to negotiate, a music supervisor will instead go for a cover that costs less money, and as a win for the little indie musician, the musician gets paid. Score! A specific example from Joe Berman of MediaHorse brought even more hope: a cover of an Elvis Presley song was deemed too risky, as Presley’s estate had to agree to its use even as a cover, but in a shock turn of events, Priscilla Presley herself liked the cover Berman’s client was putting forward, and it’s now being used in an advert for The Bachelor and for Trojan condoms. So you see, dreams can and do come true…

I look forward to seeing what keynotes and panels are in store for us in the 31st year of SXSW Music. I wish to thank Elizabeth and her team at SXSW Music Press for granting me a badge for the purposes of covering both the conference and music showcases this year in 2016.

 

SXSW 2016: Tuesday night’s DIY Presents showcase at Hype Hotel – 15th March 2016

 
By on Friday, 25th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Tuesday night of SXSW 2016 found me queueing on East 5th Street (east of the interstate) for the DIY Magazine stage at Hype Hotel. The street outside the venue was packed with punters headed for either the highly anticipated Hype Hotel showcase or the equally popular Fader Fort event just across the street. I waited in line for over an hour before finally getting into Hype Hotel, just as hotly-tipped American duo Diet Cig struck their first guitar chord and drumroll.

Diet Cig internal

Descending on Austin from New York, Diet Cig were the subject of much chatter in the queue outside the venue, and once I saw them on stage, I realized why. Frontwoman Alex Luciano introduced her bandmate Noah Bowman with the witty one-liner “this is your mom’s new boyfriend,” setting a deliberately not-so-serious tone for the evening’s festivities. The bratty lyrics to Diet Cig’s early tracks ‘Sleep Talk’ and ‘Dinner Date’ struck a chord with everyone’s inner teenaged self, and Luciano’s punchline “it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt”, seemed remarkably appropriate to her vivacious but wildly irreverent personality. The stage at Hype Hotel at first seemed too large for the pair’s single guitar and drum kit, but as it turned out, Luciano was quite a spirited guitarist, running and jumping around the stage (dare I say it? even ironically?) like a high school cheerleader.

Partybaby internal

Even fresher on the music scene than relative newcomers Diet Cig, Los Angeles band PARTYBABY proved themselves straightaway as an act to be reckoned with. Comprising veteran musicians Noah Gersh and Jamie Schefman, the band premiered their defiant first single ‘Everything’s All Right’ just last summer, and they quickly followed it up with the equally pugnacious ‘Your Old Man’. Gersh and Schefman already have a full album prepared for release, and they chugged through their setlist at a frenetic pace. Despite the obvious aggression in their music, PARTYBABY were clearly determined to party as hard as they rocked, and the Hype Hotel crowd on Tuesday night seemed fully in favour of that idea.

Hinds

After a brief DJ set by Bleached, Spanish band-of-the-moment Hinds swept breathlessly onto the stage, appearing to be dressed for a slumber party rather than a gig. Co-lead singer Carlotta Cosials mentioned that the band had only gotten to town half an hour before their set, so perhaps their attire could be excused on those grounds. However, a slumber party theme isn’t entirely inappropriate to Hinds’ lo-fi and free-wheeling style, and despite their somewhat disheveled appearance, Hinds sounded much more polished than when I heard them at the British Music Embassy last year.  The ladies certainly appeared to enjoy their all-too-brief moment on stage as they raced through a set comprising tracks from their recent debut album ‘Leave Me Alone’.

Pumarosa internal 2

London synth-rock band Pumarosa played an equally short but sweet set, after apparently sorting through some sound issues before they were able to begin. Their playlist included ‘Lion’s Den’, which saw frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome bowing her guitar strings with a fuzzy mallet, and the dramatic breakthrough dance hit ‘Priestess’, which has quickly become a personal favourite track of mine.  It might well have set everyone in the room into motion, except that we were all completely mesmerised by Munoz-Newsome’s own interpretive movements on the stage.

Jack Garratt

Pumarosa were followed by another British act, electro singer/songwriter Jack Garratt, whose Mercury Prize-nominated, Brit Award winning reputation had evidently preceded him to Hype Hotel. Having gained a fair few followers at SXSW 2015, Garratt played a blinding set on the Tuesday night that was in sharp contrast to the more muted tone I had heard from him on last year’s Communion showcase. His enthusiastic reception has been well and truly earned over the course of a year, and I was most pleased to see him having this kind of success on American shores so quickly upon the release of his debut album ‘Phase’.

Empress Of

The headline act of the DIY Presents showcase was American synth-based artist Empress Of, who is better known off stage as Lorely Rodriguez. Much like the electronic sound of Jack Garratt before her, Empress Of’s quirky dance pop belies the emotional depth of her lyrics, creating songs that are at the same time cerebral and intuitively visceral. Her show on the Tuesday night drew largely from her 2015 debut LP ‘Me’, and apropos to the album’s shimmery synths and ethereal vocals, this late night (er, early morning) set was swathed in hazy blue stage lighting, which cast a markedly chill vibe over the night’s final stretch.

 

SXSW 2016: Monday night’s Trackd showcase at Latitude 30 – 14th March 2016

 
By on Thursday, 24th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

After we were sufficiently fed at Casino El Camino – and heard ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ twice, thanks to overzealous Sweet fans feeding the jukebox? – it was time to make it over to Latitude 30 for the first of a week of nights featuring (mostly) British acts who had made it across the pond to perform for SXSW 2016 audiences at what is now famously known as The British Music Embassy. Instead of a Creative Belfast night as had been done for many years past, this year’s Monday night showcase was sponsored by Trackd, a new app for available for iPhone that allows the user to record music, collaborate with your audience (in an artist’s case, their fans), be able to remix other artists’ work, while also providing yet another social media platform where one can build a fan base of like-minded, inventive artists from the ground up.

Northern Irish singer/songwriter Ciaran Lavery played first on the showcase, at what would turn out to be his least problematic performance in Austin all week. (I’ll leave Carrie to tell you what happened to him at the Output Belfast afternoon showcase on Thursday when we get there.) It’s unmistakable from his ginger hair and beard that he’s Irish, and in the great tradition of Irish musicians who came before, he is an incredibly emotional storyteller.

Ciaran Lavery at the Trackd showcase, Monday 14 March 2016 at SXSW 2016 1
His song ‘Shame’ touched me in particular, his voice cracking near the end with the words, “I want to live between the lie and where the truth dies.” Lavery’s next album ‘Let Bad In’ (including the stellar track ‘Return to Form’, which he also played in Austin) is scheduled to be out at the end of May on Believe Recordings, and we’ll definitely want to take that platter for a spin when it arrives at TGTF Towers.

Up next and showcasing at their fourth-ever SXSW 2016 were The Crookes, but with a new line-up since their last visit to Austin in 2014. (Original drummer Russell Bates was replaced by Adam Crofts in early 2015.) With an EP and four studio albums to their name now – their most recent, ‘Lucky Ones’, having been released on their own label Anywhere Records in the UK in January – they clearly had a tough decision in choosing which songs to play during their allotted 30 minutes.

The Crookes - George Waite and Daniel Hopewell - at Trackd showcase, Monday 14 March 2016 at SXSW 2016 2
As one might expect, entries from ‘Lucky Ones’, including single ‘The World is Waiting’, plus both ‘Roman Candle’ and ‘If Only For Tonight’ (songs singled out by Carrie in her album review 2 months ago) were prominent inclusions this night in Austin. The Sheffield band set their devoted fans’ hearts alight, causing a massive danceathon down the front during their time on the Latitude 30 stage. (Hilariously, the same group of fans also followed around Kent’s Get Inuit during the week, including at the same exact venue at the same exact time Tuesday night.) For good measure, though, they could not forget breakthrough single ‘Backstreet Lovers’ nor set closer ‘Afterglow’, and upon the playing of the latter, I told Carrie I refused to honour our 2014 drink bet of the band playing it or ‘Maybe in the Dark’. Hey, it’s not my fault they don’t play their best single anymore, is it? Ha.

Third on the bill was the svelte and sassy blonde Violet Skies from South Wales, who I snuck out during Ciaran Lavery’s soundcheck to speak with outside Latitude 30 earlier in the evening. Her dramatic aesthetic of black, flowy garb matched well with her soulful voice, backed more than competently by her sultry beat-producing band. She was chosen as one of 12 bands for the Welsh Horizons / Gorwelions scheme in 2015, no mean feat considering the wealth of talent currently coming out of the land of the red dragon.

Violet Skies at Trackd showcase, Monday 14 March 2016 at SXSW 2016 2
This is definitely a case of not judging a book by its cover: I mean, how is it possible that from a young Welsh lass so slight – and baring her midriff, too – that such a powerful, emotional voice on a song like ‘Jealousy’ comes out? But it does, and her vocal delivery is near flawless. While the kids might be more keen on the hot goddess image she projects visually, I hope that it’s her gorgeous voice and songwriting talent that are what push her to the top of the heap of young British singer/songwriter hopefuls.

After a thank you to everyone for coming by the founders of Trackd, the evening closed out with a boisterous performance by Ghanese singer/songwriter JoJo Abot, now calling New York City home. When I say boisterous, I mean boisterous. The large black bow atop Ms. Abot’s head should have been a dead giveaway that this was going to be more than an ordinary performance of world music, if there is such a thing.

JoJo Abot at Trackd showcase, Monday 14 March 2016 at SXSW 2016 2

Soulful singing and equally soulful backing rhythms translated to a musical product so irresistible, I went to use the ladies’ for a brief moment, only to come out and find punters had invaded the stage. This was of course much to the chagrin of Latitude 30’s resident bouncer, who we have come to know and love over these many years of covering the festival. At the end of the day (err, night at the Trackd showcase), a good time was had by all and it was a good ease-in into the music festival proper that would begin in earnest on Tuesday.

 
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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.

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