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The weather in Austin during most of the SXSW 2015 week was smattered with clouds and occasional rain showers, which had us keeping our jackets and umbrellas constantly at the ready. But the Wednesday morning and afternoon turned out to be bright and sunny with a slight cool breeze, perfect conditions for attending the inaugural FLOODfest event in the open air Cedar Street Courtyard. I arrived to the venue early for an interview before the show started, and I got settled inside just in time to catch the end of the Dutch Impact showcase preceding the afternoon’s official activities.
Bright guitar pop band Taymir rounded off the Dutch delegation with a lively and upbeat set including their catchy singles ‘Aaaaah’ and ‘What Would You Say’, both taken from their debut album ‘Phosphene’. The group of fans filtering into the courtyard for the afternoon showcase soon found their toes tapping and hips shaking to Taymir’s sharply energetic pop tunes, which were a perfect preliminary to set the mood for the stellar lineup ahead.
First on the set proper for FLOODfest was Los Angeles songwriter Jacob Dillan Summers, known here by the stage name Avid Dancer, with whom I’d had a nice interview outside the venue before the show began (if you missed it, you can stream the interview here ADD LINK). As he mentioned in our chat, Summers played in Austin with two bandmates, and his set at FLOODfest highlighted tracks from Avid Dancer’s upcoming debut album ‘1st Bath’. Both Summers’ singing voice and his songwriting are tenderly melodic, but his songs have a very definite lo-fi grit that gives them traction in the ears and the hearts of their listeners. Outside the confines of ‘1st Bath’ tracks, the real gem of Avid Dancer’s set was a recently written track that didn’t make the album, which I believe he called ‘Gazing’.
In the 2:00 PM time slot was English folk punk collective Skinny Lister, who really got the party started with their exuberant set, which included a delightful blend of pub rock sing-alongs, rollicking sea shanties, and old style dance tunes. When you see a band whose instrumentation includes both an accordion and a stand-up bass, you don’t necessarily expect crowd-surfing as part of the festivities, but at one point bassist Michael Camino dove right into the audience, trusting himself and his double bass to our enthusiastic hands-on support.
Singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-described “show-off” Lorna Thomas stole the show with her high-spirited dance moves, even closing the set with an interactive waltz in the middle of the crowd. If you didn’t catch it previously, we featured Skinny Lister’s video for ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’, which shows off exactly the kind of hair-on-fire shenanigans they put on display at FLOODfest, along with their signature brand of over-the-top, rock-infused folk music. Skinny Lister’s new album, ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is due out on the 20th of April via Xtra Mile Records; watch TGTF for more coverage of the band, including my interview with them on the Thursday of SXSW 2015, in the coming days.
After Skinny Lister, the mood at FLOODfest took a slightly more mellow turn with San Francisco-based Geographer, whose sensual synth pop sound recently took the form of a new album called ‘Ghost Modern’, released on Roll Call Records. I was taken off guard by frontman Michael Deni’s smooth falsetto and cool vocal delivery as his singing blended seamlessly with the silvery legato of the keyboard, cello and guitar lines. Geographer’s set list included the broadly expansive, airy texture of older track ‘Kites’ as well as the more percussive recent single release ‘I’m Ready’.
The audience in the Cedar Street Courtyard had begun to fill in during Geographer’s entrancing set, and by the time Carl Barat and The Jackals took the stage, we were rammed tight into the open air venue. There were clearly a few long-time fans in attendance, excited to see the former Libertines frontman with his new band. Barat took the stage in true punk rock fashion, dressed in a black leather jacket that he eventually had to remove in the heat of the afternoon. His drummer, Jay Bone, played the set entire set shirtless and was still drenched in sweat by the end, which is a testament to the frenetic energy of the new songs on ‘Let It Reign’ (reviewed here back in February by editor Mary). Barat did manage to squeeze in a couple of back catalogue tunes on his FLOODfest set list, most notably Libertines track ‘Death on the Stairs’, but the band’s heavy emphasis on ‘Let It Reign’ was thunderously well-received, especially the ominously prescient track ‘A Storm Is Coming’, played as clouds started to build up over the courtyard’s outdoor stage.
After Carl Barat and The Jackals’ hard-edged set, our appetites were whet for FLOODfest’s final performer of the afternoon, Frank Turner. Appearing in a solo capacity with only his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and admittedly still recovering from a slight hangover (he actually described himself at one point as “sweating booze”), Turner eased into his set with a few old favourite tracks before launching into a pair of brand new songs, which he said would feature on a new album expected for release later this year.
One of the new tracks, titled ‘Silent Key’, is a stark yet transfixing recollection of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which, though exquisitely written and performed, was a difficult listen, and I found myself gritting my teeth through its turbulent emotionality. The other new track, a rebellious four-to-the-floor belter called ‘Get Better’ was released on YouTube the following Friday, coincidentally just as I was finishing up a quick chat with Turner; watch the new video just below, and stay tuned to TGTF for the audio of my interview with Turner in the coming days. ‘Get Better’ seems a perfect follow-up to Turner’s recent hits ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘Recovery’, which were both vivid highlights of the afternoon’s final performance, as was set closer ‘Photosynthesis’.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 2:00 pm
One thing everyone learns at SXSW – and hopefully sooner than later – is to not sweat it when plan A doesn’t work out and you have to go to plan B, or even plan C or D. It is an inevitable fact of a city festival and the size of their smaller hole in the wall type venues (whether you’re in Austin or Brighton for the Great Escape) that if where you want to go is one of the hottest tickets in town, you’ll likely be disappointed. But during SXSW, there is always tonnes more things to do and bands to see, and the beauty of such a large event is that you might just happen upon something brilliant you’d otherwise never have crossed your mind.
The announcement that Danish band Mew were going to play only three shows in Austin seemed to be broadcast on all the music Web sites and blogs ahead of SXSW 2015, and I can’t say that I really was bothered about seeing them. However, as a music editor, it’s sometimes your duty to seek out what the people want to read about, so I had them scribbled down on my Thursday afternoon schedule as part of the Under the Radar magazine showcase at Flamingo Cantina. Wednesday afternoon I chatted with Will Doyle (East India Youth) about the Under the Radar show, as he was playing directly before Mew and headliner Of Montreal; he was quite pleased to be playing the showcase, as it meant he had an automatic in to the event. Curious, we looked up the capacity of the place on my phone, staring at the number with a mixture of marvel and horror: 299. Eep.
Considering how massively hyped the elusive Mew had been even before anyone made it out to Austin, I figured I’d probably be queueing outside all afternoon with no joy, so I decided to give it a pass. Later that night, I ran into a close Glaswegian industry friend (a much bigger, taller person who can hold his own more than I can, I might add) who said he’d made it into the showcase but stayed only for 5 minutes because there were too many people inside the club and he had struggled to breathe. I understand event organisers want to hype things up and purposely cause queues to form via FOMO, but it sounds like this particular event may have been violating safety codes and I count my lucky stars I didn’t even try to get into it Our friend Larry Heath, Editor-in-Chief of The AU Review, got into Mew’s third show on Saturday afternoon as part of the Brooklyn Vegan day party, and you can read his thoughts on them here.
But no tears were shed by this editor. I’d been blessed with an invite to the BBC barbecue that afternoon at Old School Bar and Grill, which had some lovely surprise live and acoustic special guests. Due to a mishap with the #17 bus, I arrived too late to catch first act James Vincent McMorrow, who appeared Wednesday night at the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room (I reviewed that showcase here). Apparently Catfish and the Bottlemen were also due to appear on the afternoon’s bill, but they were nowhere to be seen. Another surprise for me was the sense James ‘Chaos and the Calm’ Bay was following me around, as the man and his now famous hat were seen going back and forth across the floor. I think he liked the food?
Between dining on the complimentary barbecue from venerated Texas meat institution the Salt Lick (which was delicious, thank you BBC and Salt Lick!), I watched amazing sets from now hugely popular singer/songwriter Frank Turner and the soft-spoken young Derry talent SOAK (Bridie Monds-Watson). Turner, who was bouncing from venue to venue all week and seemed to be in his element in this town, explained he was road-testing new material at SXSW and was playing different sets at every show in Austin; I’m sure this revelation delighted fans I met who were following him around all week. From the new song that he introduced with “this is about losing at tennis…again” (‘Love Forty Down’) to his raucous, yet loving tribute to his nan (‘Peggy Sang the Blues’), Turner proved why he’s become such a popular live draw both here in America and in Europe. Carrie interviewed Frank Friday morning in Austin, and her interview will be posted soon here on TGTF.
SOAK, the surprise guest at Monday night’s Creative Belfast showcase at Latitude 30, also captivated punters this afternoon with her gentle yet emotional voice, framed by her acoustic guitar playing. You wouldn’t expect something as placid coming from someone dressed like a skater, but somehow…it works. She now has a deal with Rough Trade, so I know Beggars will certainly help spread her music far and wide.
I met the lovely Bridie briefly late one night at the British Music Embassy, just as she was thanking Steve Lamacq for all his and BBC Introducing’s support. It was a sweet yet important reminder of how vital these mutualistic relationships and respect are key to our promoting deserving young artists and giving them the help and attention they deserve. Later on, I also helped facilitate the recording of a live BBC 6music session by my friends the Lost Brothers, who appeared on Steve’s radio programme. I take great personal pride in my part of the process, and I think everyone who is anyone in the industry who comes out to a massive event like this at SXSW with the purpose to help support bands should pat themselves on the back!
Just ahead of the Transgressive Records 10th anniversary showcase at Buffalo Billiards on the 17th of March, I had the chance to sit down with Felix Bushe, Danny Ward and John Victor of London’s up-and-coming guitar rock band Gengahr. Bass player Hugh Schulte was unfortunately unable to make the trip to Austin due to visa issues, but the band had luckily been able to find a replacement bassist for their SXSW shows. We had to keep our interview short after having some difficulty finding each other in the multilevel venue, but the three on-hand members of Gengahr had time to give me a quick overview of their music, including their current releases in America and the UK, as well as their plans for more touring in the UK and Europe after SXSW 2015 and a full album release expected in Britain this summer.
Bushe, Ward and Victor all seemed very much at ease with both the interview and their upcoming set, despite the general chaos of the evening and the challenge of playing with an unfamiliar bassist. Their comfort level might have to do with the fact that they have quite a long history with each other, though only three short years playing together as a band. As it turned out, the band members’ relaxed, soft-spoken demeanor in the interview streaming below was a good indication of the subtle yet edgy songs I would hear in Gengahr’s stage set later in the evening. Their introspective, atmospheric style was a stark contrast to Spring King and Songhoy Blues, who played immediately before and after Gengahr on the night’s line up. If you haven’t already seen it, you can read my full review of the Transgressive Records showcase, including Gengahr’s performance, right here.
Thanks again to Brid for arranging this interview.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 11:00 am
Paris Hilton aside, it’s pretty much a given that all electronic musicians and producers, based solely on the amount of equipment and software they must familiarise themselves with and become technological adepts with, are technical geeks. Yet one of the wonderful, unexpected awakenings I had this time round in Austin for SXSW 2015 was meeting and getting a chance to chew the fat with three great thinkers in the electronic world. I had a great chat outside the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 Saturday afternoon with Erased Tapes artist Ryan L. West, who records and produces under the name Rival Consoles, and we chatted about his music, as well as the state of electronic music and where it’s going.
Is the recorded form of electronic music stale? Ryan seems to think so, agreeing with Barcelona musician / producer beGun that it’s super important for an electronic artist to make a bold statement when performing live and giving the audience more than what can be found online and bought as mp3s and albums. He also tells me about how he hates the term “EDM” and we discuss the lack of women not only as punters at electronic artists’ gigs but also the lack of women in the genre; coincidentally, our conversation predated this Pitchfork op-ed on the same topic Ryan posted on his Facebook by 2 days.
Not all of our chat was contentious. Ryan explains how he tried to turn on its head the usual “crass and crude” nature of electronic music as a medium in his EP released last year, ‘Sonne’, in in which he strove to bring not just colour but lightness and brightness to his music. He also tells me about his dynamic stage projection and light show he showed off at the Blackjack London / Association of Independent Music (AIM) evening Friday night at the British Music Embassy, which turns out to be at the mercy of whoever’s hands he wants to leave it with on the evening. Interesting? Without a doubt, yes. Listen to the whole conversation below.
Read my preview of his SXSW appearances in my Bands to Watch piece here.
On the first official night of the SXSW 2015 Music festival, I attended the Transgressive Records 10th anniversary showcase at Buffalo Billiards in downtown Austin. I had never been inside Buffalo Billiards before, after a failed attempt to get in for a show during last year’s festival, and I didn’t realize how large the venue was. It has a downstairs bar area, the main stage area upstairs, and a mid-level landing between the two. It was nice not being rammed into a tiny club for what was sure to be a popular show with Spring King, Gengahr, Songhoy Blues and Dry the River on the scheduled lineup.
However, the spaciousness of the venue did present a slight problem for me as I attempted to meet up with members of Gengahr and Dry the River for interviews we had previously scheduled via e-mail and text. As we had never met in person, it proved a bit tricky for us all to actually find one another in the club and then find a quiet place to sit down for a chat. In the end, both interviews were accomplished between stage sets, and I was able to listen to all four bands as well. But the interview meet-ups turned out to be the least of what would be a series of technical difficulties surrounding my experience at the Transgressive Records showcase.
First on the docket for the show was Manchester garage rock quartet Spring King, whose lead singer Tarek Musa is also their drummer, so I’m not sure if it’s entirely appropriate to refer to him as the band’s frontman. I’m even less sure about the phrase “garage rock” after reading on the Transgressive Records Web site that the band’s first EP ‘Demons’ was recorded not in a garage, but in a converted bathroom. While Spring King definitely have a grungy, lo-fi quality to their sound, they also have a strong sense of propulsive momentum and energy.
Even from his position in the center back of the stage, Musa engaged easily with the audience, and Spring King played a tight and enthusiastic set to start the showcase. ‘Better Man’ from the ‘Demons’ EP was particularly well-received, as was recent single ‘City’, which will be released on the band’s new EP ‘They’re Coming After You’, due out in the UK on the 20th of April. (You can watch the live video of Spring King playing ‘City’ at the BBC Introducing night Wednesday on editor Mary’s review of that showcase here.)
Following Spring King were the heavily-hyped indie rock band Gengahr, whom I’d had the opportunity to talk with before the start of the showcase. Their soft-spoken demeanor in the interview turned out to be very much in tune with the vibe of their performance on the night, which came across as quite introverted and understated after Spring King’s lively set. Gengahr’s atmospheric psych pop might not have been the best fit for the mood of this particular room, but their set was politely received by the crowd of people filtering in and out of the stage area. The performance included three songs from ‘She’s a Witch’, Gengahr’s current American EP release (the tracks have been released as singles in the UK), including the title track seen in the video below.
After Gengahr finished their set, I ducked out again to talk with members of Dry the River, who were due to play last on the lineup. I came back just in time to catch Malian breakout band Songhoy Blues, who released their album ‘Music in Exile’ back in February on Transgressive. The stage area, which had seemed fairly spacious up to this point, was positively rammed with punters who were eager to see the hotly-tipped world musicians, and Songhoy Blues didn’t disappoint. They played an exuberant set for their SXSW debut, their songs blending blues rock instrumentation with traditional Malian rhythm and vocals as lead singer Aliou Toure (pictured in the header photo above) entranced the crowd with his genial smile and commanding stage presence. Take a listen to their track ‘Al Hassidi Terei’, streaming just below.
As the audience collectively took a moment to catch its breath after Songhoy Blues’ incredible performance, things began to unravel a bit for London folk-rock band Dry the River. They began their stage set up and soundcheck, only to discover just before they were about to start that something was seriously awry with the sound equipment. I never found out exactly what the problem was, but in the end Dry the River weren’t able to play their full set. They did agree to do a few tunes in unplugged fashion instead, moving from the stage onto the mid-level landing and actually starting to play before being interrupted by a Buffalo Billiards staff member who told them they couldn’t have the audience gathered there due to fire code restrictions.
They moved once again to the back corner of the main venue, their audience obediently trailing behind, and struck a position atop their large gear boxes to begin the impromptu acoustic set. While Dry the River’s folk-tinged rock and three-part vocal harmonies translate beautifully to acoustic performance, their disappointment in not being able to play a full stage set was very much evident as frontman Peter Liddle, guitarist Matthew Taylor and bassist Scott Miller somewhat reluctantly obliged us with four quick songs before heading back to the stage to help drummer Jon Warren pack up their unused gear. Before I left the venue I said a quick good-bye to Miller, whom I’d met earlier in the evening, assuring him that I would catch them later in the week when they were scheduled to play at the British Music Embassy. If you’re interested in Dry the River, be sure to check back here later this week for my Thursday night coverage, which will include that more successful performance.
Despite the evening’s difficulties, the Transgressive showcase left me with an impression of four up-and-coming bands who are clearly headed for success in the near future. We’ll almost certainly be hearing more from them here at TGTF as the summer festival season approaches, so be sure to check back with us for further release information and live dates, as well as our interviews with Gengahr and Dry the River.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 27th March 2015 at 5:00 pm
Given our Web site’s generally UK-directed alignment, it would have been rude not to stop by the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation night at the start of Wednesday night programming. I’m not really into psych rock, but I had been pleasantly surprised seeing Kettering’s Temples live in DC 6 months after giving them a pass at their high-profile slot on the Saturday night at the British Music Embassy of SXSW 2014. So I decided I was ready to have an open mind about Blossoms, whose songs played on 6music didn’t excite me much. I was very pleased that as a live prospect, the Stockport band are much more engaging.
Despite their young age (read: too young to drink in America), they’ve got a lot of swagger, and not just for appearances: musically, they’re a very tight unit. As frontmen go, Tom Odgen is a lanky, Pantene-beautiful, long-haired lad, bound to be a pinup on teenage girls’ walls in the very near future, but he also does a good job at commanding the audience. Then again, I’m a sucker for a Mancunian accent; 2 nights later, out in what seemed appropriate for boys from Manchester, sat out in the rare Austin rain, we complimented each other on our accents…
But the real expert on stage was lead guitarist Josh Dewhurst, whose axe-playing prowess was on full display on the single ‘Cut Me and I’ll Bleed’, among others. The single itself also is a primer on how to construct a radio-friendly pop song, going from a sinister, Scooby Doo-like minor key verse led by Myles Kellock’s keys to more positive chord progressions in the chorus. I had an accidental but entirely enjoyable opportunity to see the Northern lads play again Friday, when they filled in last minute for an absent Ghetts. In short, they won me over, including this possibly unusual tender moment about “the stately homes of England” in ‘Blown Rose’.
After greeting friends from the Beeb, I was off to see Public Service Broadcasting play at LA promoter School Night!’s show at Red 7’s outdoor patio. I wasn’t about to miss my favourite tweedy chaps play a rare outdoor performance. I would have preferred better lighting – the dark reds and blues projected onto the stage seemed more appropriate for later acts to come Beat Connection and Urban Cone.
But despite the darkness, both their older songs from ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ sat well alongside newer ‘The Race for Space’ tracks. “This is a song about an airplane” ‘Spitfire’ was met with audience cheers, as was early ‘The Race for Space’ cut and uber funky number ‘Gagarin’ and 6music favourite ‘Go’. (Catch my interview with J. Willgoose, Esq. of the band here.) I was sad to leave just as ‘Everest’ began his ascent towards its climax, but I had a date with some new Irish friends.
I arrived to Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room in the midst of Meltybrains? mental set for Music from Ireland. Another group of young European lads let loose on the festival environs of Austin, but entirely different results: at one point, everyone in the band jumped off the stage to start a conga line, and their fans were more than willing to join them in the impromptu dance formation. Their thing is masks, having handed out hundreds of lovely spray-painted ones to punters at the Gibson room that night, which was quite the marketing coup. All week, I saw music fans walking around Austin with their mask attached in varying alignments on their heads. You knew immediately they’d been at the Meltybrains? show Wednesday night and had enjoyed it so much, they wanted to help promote the band. Super cool.
The band’s most recent single ‘Donegal’ demonstrates their comfort with mixing up styles and genres, with lyrics in falsetto, atmospheric electronica and compelling beats and percussion, all mixed together, and live, the energy of young Ireland comes through loud and clear through their music. At one point I mused that maybe they were alien Rastafarians.I kind of wish I had arrived earlier to witness more or all of their live set, as I knew I had other obligations Friday afternoon during the full Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s and this would be the only time I’d get a chance to see them gig. But of what I did witness, it became abundantly clear that they were one of the top, if not my top band discovery at SXSW 2015. Stay tuned for Carrie’s interviews with both acts at the full Irish breakfast coming soon on TGTF.
Another nomination for my sound of young Ireland is the lovely Orla Gartland, who already had her first headline tour of North America under her belt even before she arrived in Austin. Wide smiles from the lovely ginger lass and her band were the order of the day, as Gartland played a selection of super poppy, super catchy songs from her catalogue that you know will hit the spot for teenager and tweenager crowds that are already stalwarts of Kodaline and The 1975. I think her success is already assured, with upbeat, synthladen numbers like ‘Lonely People’ and ‘Souvenirs’, driven by her clear, confident voice, which were accompanied by the squeals of delight from young fans excited about every one of her songs.
I found myself at a loose end and let’s face it, there will be moments during your SXSW where you physically do not want to move anywhere, especially if you’re stuck in a mob of people and you can’t move anyway. I caught a bit of James Vincent McMorrow, whose headgear could rival James Bay’s for biggest and most annoying hat of the festival. I very rarely enjoy falsetto – it works in Meltybrains? because there is more than just the voice to lead the song – but I found myself completely underwhelmed by his singer/songwriter machinations. Funnily enough, Carrie was somewhere else in the crowd but because the place was so packed, we never ran into each other; despite her affinity for the singer/songwriter genre and her excitement in seeing McMorrow, we came to the same conclusion about his performance.
I returned to Latitude 30 for the final act of the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation show, Spring King. If there was something that certainly was not lacking this year at SXSW, it was loud rock music, played fast and raucously. While what they offer is not earth-shattering (watch the BBC filmed video of ‘City’ from this set below), hey have the kind of ethos that the Vaccines had on their first two albums, before they went pop with this year’s single ‘Handsome’. Which one of these up and coming bands are ready to take over the Vaccines’ mantle in that part of the music scene is anyone’s guess, but for sure, Spring King is one option.