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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 27th March 2015 at 12:00 pm
So how exactly does a Chinese-American girl find herself partaking in complimentary paella and sangria and watching a bunch of Spanish bands with a bunch of people from there or of that heritage? If it’s in March, it can only mean one thing: SXSW. The glittery, colourful music carnival that was SXSW 2015 included six vibrant acts performing as part of Sounds from Spain in a tent Wednesday afternoon; none of them were like no another, which added further interest to the proceedings at Brush Square Park. Initially, when Carrie and I began planning out our Wednesdays, we were both bracing ourselves for an afternoon of poncho wearing and outdoor drenching by the rain that had been forecast.
It did rain – we awoke to it tapping on the roof of our friends’ house and we both groaned to ourselves for the terrible weather misfortune we anticipated later – but by the time I reached Brush Square Park to begin my coverage of the Sounds from Spain showcase at the exceedingly early time of 11 AM, the rain clouds were gone and about 2 hours later, the sun came out and started beating down on us, causing both of my interviewees Xavi Marín of Oso Leone and musician/producer beGun to yelp that even for Spaniards used to oppressive summers, it was too hot! As the week went on though, we wished that the sun had held out, for hot sun is still better than rain chucking it down, agreed?
Oso Leone was first up on the afternoon’s bill. Drawing their inspiration from nature for some of their song titles (‘Ficus’, ‘Cactus’), this band mixes up experimental, psychedelic, and chill and drone-y rock ‘n’ roll to create some of the most interesting soundscapes I’ve heard in a long time. The only other band I can think of who have been this inventive in producing unearthly music is Sigur Ros, so think Sigur Ros, but more melodic.
Disco Las Palmeras are essentially a Spanish-language Pixies, with frontman Diego Castro preferring a deadpan, disaffected vocal ala Black Francis. They played it loud, they played it fast, and they had a good time.
Madrid girl group Hinds (formerly known as Deers until American band The Deers sicced their lawyers on them) and their sunny, ’60s-style garage rock need no introduction. As popular as they are in the UK and Europe, they’re just starting to make inroads here in America, which might explain why someone in their camp had the crazy idea to book them for 16 shows during their week in Austin. Hey, the 1975 played some 13 shows at SXSW 2013 and look where they are now, so maybe there’s some method to the madness. (Stay tuned for Carrie’s impression of them Saturday night at the NME/PRS showcase at the British Music Embassy, where I believe I should thank my lucky stars for not being allowed into the venue, as Carrie described the situation like being stuffed like sardines in a tin.)
Rulo Y La Contrabanda have a very classic rock ‘n’ roll sound and since I speak so very little Spanish, I lost of the emotion of the songs not comprehending what was being sung. Most of the crowd didn’t have the same problem, cheering wildly for them and I assume having arrived early for the next act.
Phew. Okay. No amount of mental preparedness could have readied me for the punters’ reception of Macaco. A blonde Spaniard isn’t very common, is it? Apparently, this band with this guy Dani Carbonell out front is huge. I mean, massive. The amount of oestrogen in the tent went sky high just before they took to the stage, so it’s a safe bet they’re a big deal in the Spanish-speaking world.
Personally, I couldn’t see or hear it (I felt like I was witnessing a cartoon), but maybe if I was a 20-year old living in Spain interested in pop, I might think differently? I’m embedding a recent video of theirs for your benefit and you can tell me what you think. I can only guess from this Facebook post of theirs that they guessed incorrectly that I was Japanese (haha).
Last but certainly not least was my main reason for being there that afternoon at all, my pre-SXSW 2015 discovery of self-described “landscape electronica” artist and producer beGun, who I previewed in this Bands to Watch post. Most of the time, electronic artists are draped in darkness, playing at night in purposefully shadowy environments such as clubs. I think it’s a special treat to watch a master like him at work during daylight hours, so you can see how much goes into his live performance. I loved every minute of it.
As he mentioned in my interview with him before he performed at the showcase, the Barcelona producer is adamant about electronic artists including “added value” to their performances, to make it worth it to fans to see a real, live human being actually making the music live instead of just pushing a succession of buttons on a laptop or synth. On this afternoon, beGun certainly delivered, creating a swirl of music enveloping you and taking you and your mind to another place. I had a word with Huw Stephens about his music, so fingers crossed you’ll be hearing his music on Radio 1 soon enough.
Thanks very much to Rocio, Xavi of Oso Leone, the Agoraphobia girls, beGun and Agustín and everyone else at the Sounds from Spain party who made this American feel so welcome. Music, paella and sangria…let’s do it all again next year!
After my chill time in Sounds from Spain, it was a shock to the system to run – I mean, like run – to the convention center in an attempt to catch Laura Marling on the Radio Day stage. Who designs a convention center with escalators that don’t go up to every floor? Texans. I finally gave up on the escalators, deciding on a lift and nearly knocking over James Graham of the Twilight Sad, who was coming out of one, in the process. I guess he had had his fill of Laura?
The Radio Day stage, being as tall as it is and sat in a room that feels cavernous, isn’t exactly going to give you the warm and fuzzies. That said, what we do know of Marling’s new direction and album ‘Short Movie’ released this past Monday, her new material isn’t intended to give you the warm and fuzzies. Marling’s new pixie haircut, matching with long cream coloured trousers that made her legs look like they went on forever and with some fierce, military-style buttons down the left side, gave her a look that meant business at the KCRW afternoon showcase.
Because Sounds from Spain was running a little behind schedule and I refused to leave Brush Square until I said my goodbyes to all my new friends, after I arrived at the convention center, I only managed to hear half of one song and the final one, which was ‘Short Movie’ that everyone’s already heard. Despite obvious fans clamouring to be close to their goddess, the room was devoid of warmth and charm, which for me detracted from the performance and overall, I was disappointed in what seemed to be a lack of energy onstage as well. I also think they could have cranked up the volume on the amps for a more emphatic impression, but maybe the performance was meant to be muted for this all ages crowd? Well, as Meatloaf sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.” Or six out of seven…
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 27th March 2015 at 11:00 am
There was some question whether or not London duo Public Service Broadcasting, who enjoyed popularity and recognition for doing the unusual on their first album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ by putting public service announcement clips to music, were going to be able to wow us again the second time around. Or would they suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump? Suffice to say, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the spaceflight-themed ‘The Race for Space’, which was released in late February; not only did it prove that the project still had legs, it made me optimistic that there were shedloads of ideas still there up in the brain of PSB’s mastermind, the honourable J. Willgoose, Esq.
After closing out back-to-back British Music Embassy bills – Thursday night during the Ben Sherman / UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)-sponsored showcase, then Friday afternoon during the Embassy’s daytime programming – I had the absolute privilege of interviewing Mssr. Willgoose to ask him how the Austin shows had went, seeing that this was their second year in a row of showcasing at SXSW. We also chatted about the new album and how it fits into the continuing Public Service Broadcasting story, and what’s ahead for them this year, including several exciting festival announcements, and he bigs up Dublin as the best gigging city in Europe.
Willgoose also admits getting emotional about playing the 6 Music Festival 2015 in Newcastle last month (where our head photographer Martin had a whale of a time seeing them play and photographing them performing on the Gateshead Sage’s concourse Sunday night at the festival) because he has fond memories of camping with his then-girlfriend (now Mrs. Willgoose) and buying a digital radio to bring on their trip for the expressed purpose of catching the first broadcast of a Public Service Broadcasting song on 6music. See? Even behind that bow tie, all that tweed and glasses, there lies the true heart of an artist. I knew it was in there, I just honestly feel so honoured I had the opportunity to chat with him. Listen to the interview below.
On the St. Patrick’s Day Tuesday morning of SXSW 2015, editor Mary and I attended the Generator NI-hosted Brunch on a Boat, which featured smaller and more intimate performances from several of the artists featured on Monday night’s Creative Belfast showcase at Latitude 30. The first performer on the Brunch on a Boat bill was Hannah McPhillimy, a solo singer-songwriter who made the trip to Austin as part of indie pop quartet GO WOLF. As I hadn’t realized that she was also a solo artist, I was immediately intrigued, and her lovely singing voice served to pique my interest further during her short opening set.
After the idyllic boat ride down the Colorado River had come to an end, I had a few minutes to stop and chat with McPhillimy outside the Hyatt Regency Austin, where the trip had started and concluded. McPhillimy talked with me about her solo work, including her first EP ‘Seeing Lights’ and her upcoming recording plans, as well as how she came to be part of GO WOLF. My interview with McPhillimy is streaming below, and just under that, you can find a live performance video of her track ‘Homecoming’ from The Little Blue Room Sessions at the end of last year.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at 4:00 pm
Part 1 of my review of the Tuesday night Cerdd Cymru : Music Wales at SXSW 2015, starring Paper Aeroplanes, The People the Poet and East India Youth is here.
Next up, another 2014 Mercury Prize-nominated artist, but in an entirely different vein. Kate Tempest and her observations on life at its grittiest can stand alone as gripping social commentary in spoken word form, but with Speedy Wunderground label head and producer Dan Carey providing beats to add additional oomph to Tempest’s art, the result is nothing short of brilliant in songs such as the infectious ‘Lonely Daze’ and Steve Lamacq favourite and downbeat mesmeriser ‘Bad Place for a Good Time’. As should be expected, the opinionated Tempest punctuated her set with equally powerful spoken word pieces, reminding all of us to “hold our own” (stay the course and keep your chin up) and to be good to one another with “more empathy, less greed!”
An aside: Saturday night outside Latitude during the NME/PRS showcase, I found myself stood in the wristband queue with Tempest, Carey and crew and I asked Tempest how she’d been enjoying Austin. She said she’d had a good time but thought it’d been going on for weeks! As she shared a fag with Carey, I commented even with something as simple as sharing fags, the English were more polite with such things. She laughed at this, her blonde curls bouncing at my suggestion; she went on to smile at Carey and excessively called him “love” and “darling” for my benefit. In that moment, I was reminded that despite Tempest’s soaring success, she is like all of us. It gives me hope that the words and love she spreads will serve as inspiration to many.
From one woman, we go to another woman, Manchester’s Shura. If you’re into ‘80s music and New Wave, you can help but think you’ve heard this one before. ‘Indecision’, with its refrain of “you’ve got my love, boy” feels like a throwback to early, lace gloved Madonna, you know, before she thought lesbian kisses and naughty books were de rigueur. You know times have changed when a girl from Manchester comes to SXSW wearing a shirt emblazoned with the Hulk and plays this kind of music, am I right? She also pulled out a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘She Drives Me Crazy’: not earth-shattering, but interesting enough.
In what would be surely one of the rowdiest, most crowded club shows of SXSW 2015, Catfish and the Bottlemen played under a continuous red light (no Police ‘Roxanne’ jokes, please) to a packed house of fans and industry bods. This makes total sense, given that their UK and North American tours in the first half of 2015 are already sold out, making them a super hot commodity in the business at the moment. Rabid Catfish fans who were likely going to stalk the band all week arrived early to stake their places down the front, while those who arrived not so early grumbled behind them that they were being “rude.” Um, as in all gig situations, you wanna be up front, you get there early, ya dig?
All the hits from their debut album ‘The Balcony’ – ‘Pacifier’, ‘Fallout’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘Cocoon’ – were fired out in rapid succession, with the crowd bouncing to the band’s catchy melodies and frontman Van McCann’s charismatic drawl and yelps. McCann, most likely aware that everyone in Austin was watching them, climbed atop the drum kit at the end, hanging the neck of his guitar precariously off a cable in the ceiling before they left the stage. Truly rock ‘n’ roll, innit?
Last up but certainly not least were Until the Ribbon Breaks, Welsh singer, musician and producer Pete Lawrie-Winfield and his live band. When I saw the now LA-based artist perform and chatted with him last year, I don’t think too many people knew of him or his music. What a difference a year makes: in January, he released debut album ‘A Lesson Unlearnt’, and he’s managed to cement his own fanbase while touring as support for the likes of London Grammar and Run the Jewels (who appear on ‘Revolution Indifference’.
Hearing women behind me howl with delight over his sexy delivery of ‘A Taste of Silver’ and beat-heavy yet passionate ‘Pressure’ was incredible validation of what I already knew in 2014. I think sometimes people forget how important production is and what a talent triple threat artists (those who can sing, play instruments and produce) really are.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at 2:00 pm
This year, we saw a shift in showcase programming at Latitude 30 on San Jacinto Boulevard, the home of the British Music Embassy during SXSW. The conspicuous absence of a fully coordinated Showcasing Scotland night that had been put on for many years in the past and seemed to always be a given meant that there was a void ready for the taking, and at SXSW 2015, Cerdd Cymru : Music Wales and with the kind auspices of Welsh BBC radio presenters Huw Stephens and Bethan Elfyn stepped in to take over Latitude 30 on Tuesday night, lining up an eclectic bill to usher in this year’s festival with a bang.
Traditionally, there are much fewer showcases on offer on the Tuesday night of SXSW, which basically means that wherever you go Tuesday night, you should expect to queue and expect part of your evening will be spent groaning and swearing, stood outside your preferred venue of choice, unable to get inside. I am quick to point out this phenomenon happens not just to mere mortals such as ourselves, but even the man and friend of mine Steve Lamacq had trouble getting into Latitude 30 to see one of the Welsh acts he himself championed on BBC Radio. So now you know…
Before you ask, “just how many Welsh bands were there at SXSW 2015?”, I also should note that only half of the acts (three out of the six; four out of seven if you include the act who played the invite-only reception party) who played on the Cerdd Cymru : Music Wales bill are actually Welsh, though the choices of Welsh acts for this evening were perfect in my book, either for their potential or having already made it in the States. In my interview with Will Doyle, aka East India Youth, the day after the show, he explained despite his non-Welshness, his addition to the bill had more to do with Huw Stephens’ support of his music, and I suspect the inclusion of Londoner Kate Tempest and her sociopolitical rhetoric and Manchester electropop musician and producer Shura had similar backstories.
During the drinks reception, Richard Llewellyn and Sarah Howells of Paper Aeroplanes from West Wales provided a gentle easing into the evening with their brand of alt-folk. As many of you know, the singer/songwriter genre isn’t my favourite, so I really couldn’t tell you if they sound unique or not, but they were pleasant enough as background music to the inevitable industry conversations that take place in venues at SXSW.
Things, however, were about to go up to 11 with the next band. The People The Poet, introduced by Huw Stephens as being from the same town as Tom Jones (Pontypridd, in South Wales), were about to give anyone who the previous band might have put into a near stupor (sorry, that would be me) a swift kick up the arse. The prior impression I had that The People The Poet might be and sound like a precious folk band was quickly dismissed as the group barrelled ahead with their set. (Read my Bands to Watch ahead of SXSW 2015 here.)
If frontman Leon Stanford had any anxiety playing to a crowd of strangers in America, he didn’t show it. He was dressed like probably what most people think is typical Texan, with a large, wide-brimmed hat and a cowboy-style shirt that I’m sure he purchased on their travels here. His voice sounds like the youth of a young, yet still satisfyingly husky Caleb Followill (‘Molly Drove Me Away’) crossed with the wisdom of classic Joe Cocker (‘People’), with the band’s loud yet richly detailed instrumentation channeling the anthemic, feel good spunk of Bruce Springsteen (‘Heart of a Lion’) and even the blues / hard rock variant patented by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Considering that all the band are in their early 20s and weren’t actually alive when most of those people were in their heyday, creating such a sound is no mean feat. To play SXSW at such a young age and to make such an impression on people who had never heard of you and who leave and go around Austin telling everyone about you is a pretty big deal indeed. Mark my words, keep an eye on this band, or you’ll be left behind.
East India Youth provided a much needed injection of electronica early on in the proceedings. While Will Doyle’s appearance early in the night may have seemed a strange choice to those who aren’t into electronic music, my interview with him and indeed, the reveal of ‘Carousel’ in early February from upcoming album ‘Culture of Volume’ out the 6th of April on XL Recordings indicates him shifting towards a more pop-orientated sound that agreed with many of the artists on this bill. As an electronic fan myself, I personally didn’t need proof of his musical talent, but Doyle also played bass on stage, which he played with the same perspiration-inducing freneticism as when he attacked the synth, sequencers and drum pads assembled as part of his complicated rig onstage.
The compelling ‘Hearts That Never’, which premiered on stateside on American public radio system NPR the week before SXSW, also demonstrates his conscious decision to head in a dance direction, which I reckon will make his new material even more accessible to the masses. ‘Looking for Someone’, a sweeping cut from Doyle’s 2014 Mercury Prize-nominated debut album on Stolen Recordings, ‘Total Strife Forever’, has a slower tempo but serves a nice reminder how human electronic music can be, in the right person’s hands. I’m really looking forward to hearing his new album.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at 12:00 pm
Part of mentally preparing for SXSW is looking over the weather forecast for the week in Austin so you can pack appropriately. And this year, the forecast was not good, with rain predicted for most of the time while we were in town. It turned out not to be as grim as weathermen had predicted – Wednesday morning rain soon gave way to a blistering bright sun beating down that even the Spaniards complained about being too hot, as you will read about soon – but the front end of the week definitely boasted the better weather, which was a good thing because everyone started off with optimism and plenty of patience, both which sadly waned with some people as we marched towards Saturday.
Tuesday is just the beginning, when you can still breathe, your eyes are fully open and not red and you’re on the sidelines, just stretching your legs and gearing up for everything. As the popular saying goes, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that is indubitably true with any SXSW. As we awoke Tuesday morning to an overcast sky and light drizzle on our way to the St. Patrick’s Day brunch boat ride being sponsored by our friends at Generator NI and Invest Northern Ireland (Carrie’s write-up on that forthcoming), my day got exceedingly better after a nice, relaxing lunch – a short rib burrito bowl at the Chi’lantro food truck at SX Bites south of the Austin Convention Center – that was then followed by an equally relaxing stroll in the half-sun to Clive Bar.
Here, in this humble bar with reasonably large patio was the hub (no pun intended) where the StubHub and Culture Collide Web sites had joined forces for 3 days of afternoon and evening showcases. I knew full well I had no chance in hell in getting into their Thursday night showcase headlined by The War on Drugs, which, based on talking to a lot of music fans, bands and industry folks alike all over town leading up to it, was one of the biggest tickets in town that week. But I was perfectly okay with that. As you regular TGTF readers know, it’s a rarity, not the norm, that we head for the more popular, mainstream and, dare I say, hipster-buzzed about bands at a music festival.
No, I had arrived Tuesday afternoon to catch two great bands I discovered through my best attempt to listen to and rate each and every single band on the first three big band announcement lists for SXSW 2015 Music. To my great delight, both were entirely up for it! First on my roll call was The Lonely Wild, of the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. As I was surprised and wowed many times this week in Austin, I think I wasn’t prepared for the bombast of The Lonely Wild’s live performance. Neither or even both genres of indie folk or indie rock are sufficient to describe their sound.
‘Buried in the Murder’, whose video I featured in the SXSW 2015-flavoured Bands to Watch I wrote on them in January, ended the set on a sweeping note, as the melody just begs you to sing along with the band as they emote the notes of the chorus. On it, the lead vocals of Andrew Carroll are raspy, as if he’s desperately trying to cling on to life, while the guitar line sounds like something Slash would admire. As mentioned in my interview with the whole band just outside Clive Bar after their set (don’t forget to have a listen to it here), they also premiered new song ‘Free From Harm’, which will appear on their forthcoming album ‘Chasing White Light’, due out later this year.
Next up was Melbourne, Australia’s The Delta Riggs, who were about to rip Austin a new one. Having just arrived in Austin, three of their band members admitted to me in an interview post-gig they were suffering from jetlag but had hoped one night’s good sleep would sort them right. There was, however, no indication whatsoever of exhaustion or vertigo when they took to the stage at Clive Bar. Frontman Elliott Hammond, resplendent in a New York Yankees shirt he said his girlfriend got off eBay (sorry New Yorkers, he’s not actually a Yankees fan, or a baseball fan for that matter), oozes with charisma and owns his microphone and its stand, not unlike a young Mick Jagger or a more recent, non-beardy Chris Robinson, so much it felt like we were experiencing the second coming of the Black Crowes.
This is rock that is uncompromising and balls to the wall, probably best represented by the incredibly catchy ‘The Record’s Flawed’ and the sleaze of ‘Bobby’s Flowers’. I unfortunately couldn’t make their other showcases that week in Austin, but I certainly hope they make it back for a headline tour of America one day, as I’d love to see them play again and maybe this time I can just go mental and not have to take photos!