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SXSW 2014: a short stay at the Hype Hotel before bidding this year’s festival adieu – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

After we left Latitude 30, I decided we needed a real meal before we went home for the week. (Come off it, people, that veggie burger that everyone was complaining about there was delicious! But it was probably because I was hungry, and you know how everything tastes 1,000x better when you’re hungry?) I’ve been a regular at Piranha Sushi just down the street from the venue every year I’ve come out for SXSW, so it made sense to get some good food and drink from there before we said goodbye to SXSW 2014.

Carrie ordered the one with the strawberries on top, which I have to say looked pretty good but it just wasn’t my thing. (If anyone fancies seeing what I ate while in Austin, I’ve got a whole slew of photos I can share. My love for music is the only thing that trumps my love for food and cooking. You can blame my Chinese upbringing.) Our waiter Zachary was ubercool and was so nice to us, even though we were a little tipsy from our time at the British Music Embassy earlier. Seriously though, it was Saturday afternoon, and how could I not indulge in multiples of my namesake drink, the Bloody Mary?

We had every intention of going home after our bellies were full. But after a fortuitous accidental run-in with more friends from the AU Review and the reappearance of our Canadian friend Jordy, who insisted we should join him at the Hype Hotel with the promise of the famous free drinks and free tacos, we relented. I argued with myself in my head, when else am I going to see Gary Numan? He ain’t coming to DC anytime soon! Actually, we didn’t need as much arm twisting as I make it sound. Edinburgh’s Meursault, who had rocked our world at the British Music Embassy just hours prior, were playing again right before Numan, so we could make it a two-fer.

Following minimal queueing, we got inside and I was surprised how much smaller the Hype Hotel was this year compared to previous years; the location moves every year. Last year when I saw then unknowns Kodaline and the Specials there on the Thursday night in 2013, the space seemed ridiculously cavernous and empty when I arrived, #2 in the queue to get in. To be honest, this time I was little crestfallen in the lack of overall grandeur. It also didn’t help that by the time I’d gotten the munchies and wanted a free taco, they’d closed up shop.

The first band on at the Hype Hotel Saturday night was Caught a Ghost, a project of LA songwriter and producer Jesse Nolan. His Twitter describes the music as ” vintage soul with modern electronic influences”, and I would agree wholeheartedly. Songs like ‘No Sugar in My Coffee’ show off Nolan’s soulful, jazzy tendencies, evident in the vocal stylings and the bass-y grooves. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because it was used in season 4 of Boardwalk Empire, probably for its sleazy slinkiness. As a full band, they’re pretty cool to watch and enjoy.



Next up as promised were Meursault. I was so pleased for them that by then – 9 PM – there was a sizable and highly receptive American crowd just waiting to hear then do their best (er, or worse, depending on which side of rock you’re on lingo-wise). What an exciting thing it must have been for them to play on such a massive stage and in front of so many more people who didn’t know who they were, and it was their chance to shine. I was excited for them too because the Hype Hotel was so much larger than Latitude 30 and the sound system at the E. 7th Street venue made them sound huge. Contrast that with the show Cheryl and I saw in Baltimore on Sunday night, and I think I’ve gotten the full Meursault live experience over a 9-day period. I’m a lucky girl.


Then came 10 o’clock. Time for Gary Numan. Gary Numan is not Carrie’s kind of music at all. So I give her a lot of credit for hanging in there for the first three songs before she bailed, patiently waiting outside for the set to finish and for me to come out. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to his new material; he is, of course, most famous for ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric’, his hits of yesteryear. But what was more amazing to me was how huge the sound was from his evolution into an industrial rock god in the late ’90s, following on from his mastery of being a commercially viable electronic artist with those aforementioned hit singles, at least for a time in his early career. (I apologise for the poor quality of the below photo, but I wanted to show you just how excited I was and how grateful I was to the Hype Machine to put him on the Saturday night bill.)


The ‘Splinter’ LP, released last year, continues Numan’s commitment to uncompromising industrial, goth-y rock. ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ sounds more Nine Inch Nails than Nine Inch Nails does, if that makes any sense. But in the same set, ‘Cars’, despite all its layers making it sound so much more complicated than in its original form, easily proved why the song has endured in the collective hearts and minds of us synth heads. It’s just that good, as is Numan. At age 56, the man is still wearing eyeliner, has a shock of punky hair on his head, can rock out on a guitar like nobody’s business and wail on the microphone too.

For me, it had been an extremely emotional week, meeting up and spending time with the dear people in my life I don’t often see, while also finally meeting others who I had known for a while online but this being the first time I got to meet them in person. Saturday night was the culmination of a marathon I and all of us at TGTF had been running since the first band announcement was made in November, and now it was over. So this was the show where I truly let my hair down, allowing it to fly as I just gave myself over to the music.

I had been sad for the needless deaths of innocent music fans at the Mohawk Wednesday night, and I had been sad because I received signs over the weeks before arriving and while I was in Austin that certain things in my life had reached an end. But after several important conversations on Saturday, I became optimistic that my music career had only just begun, like the feeling you get when you open a brand new book for the first time and you run your fingers down the first page, anxiously awaiting for what is yet to come. I’m a little scared but also raring to go into this next phase of my life. Gary Numan looked over at me a couple times and smiled; I doubt he realised he was witnessing a transformation.

I gave Jordy a final hug and when I finally emerged into the night to meet up with Carrie, I found her grinning from ear to ear as we were leaving. She said we definitely had to do this again next year. Shall we? I think yes. Until then…goodnight, dear Austin.

 

SXSW 2014: a flying visit to a New Zealand festival and doing a re-make/re-model at the British Music Embassy – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

When we woke up on Saturday, we were greeted by rain. Not just rain. Very heavy rain. So heavy initially that I considered going back to bed. But it was our last day in Austin and I intended to make the most of it. While it was a wee dreary walking around with an umbrella after so many days of carefree strolls in the Texan sunshine, when life hands you lemons, you have to make lemonade, am I right?

Carrie went to find coffee (if you’re reading all our posts, are you sensing a theme here?) and was to meet me later, having a leisurely early afternoon, while I went off in search of the London act I didn’t think I’d be able to see all week but somehow the organisational gods smiled down on me and suddenly I found I could. St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is an annual music event in Auckland, New Zealand, and at this year’s SXSW, they hosted an afternoon showcase covering both stages of Holy Mountain out on 7th Street.

I arrived too early for who I was there for, so I walked between the stages to see if my ears perked up to anything I heard. In the backyard stage when I arrived were Brisbane rockers The Creases, who have that Beach Boys-ey, Best Coast-esque sunny surf pop sound nailed down all right. Not my thing at all but certainly enjoyable enough under a tent that was keeping us dry from the elements. Far more impressive to me was the guitar singer Jarrod Mahon was playing, in a shape that defies description. Maybe ‘The Preposterous Pentagon’?


After the Creases finished, I almost got impaled by one of Bo Ningen‘s guitars (that would have been awful) and quickly went back to the indoor stage to find a very tattooed, not at all huggable one man band Kirin J. Callinan, who according to this FasterLouder article was one of the big Aussie success stories of SXSW 2014. There was nothing about his performance that screamed ‘trailblazer’ to me, but I suppose for you ladies (and certain men) who enjoy a shirtless man with tattoos performing on a guitar and screaming into a microphone, you should probably get on this bandwagon ASAP.

By this time, you’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing at Holy Mountain in the first place. I’m glad you asked! Tourist, aka London musician and producer Will Phelps, was due on shortly after 1 PM. I actually saw him skulking around outside the venue beforehand. It must be really hard to psych yourself for an afternoon of DJaying when you really want to be playing your music in a dark club late at night, but Phelps took it in stride, even taking a joyful stab at the weather:


I’m not sure how best to describe the Tourist set to you. It was way too short – it seemed like less than 20 minutes – and Phelps doesn’t sing, so when you’re watching him perform, it’s him attacking a wide array of synthesisers, sequencers and other electronic gizmos, while he’s bopping his body around, clearly caught up in the music. Dance without words is hard to explain to other people, because you have to *be* there experiencing to really ‘get’ it, to have the music pulsing through your veins.

“I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go”
-’Re-make / Re-model’, Roxy Music

Carrie and I had decided the night before that we were going finish up at the afternoon session of the British Music Embassy, where I had made plans to meet Steve Lamacq and have a meeting of the minds there (about bands of course). The very funny thing about Latitude 30 is that no matter who you know or have met during the week and is/are British, inevitably you will run into him/her/them at the venue at some point, because it’s like Latitude 30 has a beacon only Brits can hear and they are drawn in, usually multiple times during the week, to the place.

For me, going back to the British Music Embassy would bookend a mental week of seeing bands old and new as well as seeing old friends while making new ones. I didn’t want to miss the chance of saying goodbye and best wishes to any of my friends before I left Austin. We arrived in time to order a round of drinks (it was our last day, after all) and get positioned for Meursault, a trio from Edinburgh.

I had heard of Meursault and maybe two songs of theirs, so going into their performance pretty much uneducated about them, I was surprised when I was faced by their fabulous aural assault on our ears, led by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Scotsman be witty with his banter between songs in which where he’s practically ripping your ears off with a scream of emotion. This kind of harder rock is more John and Cheryl’s domain, but Meursault’s two performances on Saturday came to be defining moments of my SXSW 2014: Carrie and I were so impressed with their set, we changed our plans entirely to have an early night and swung by the Hype Hotel that night to see them again for the second time in 7 hours. I still don’t understand how another blogger could have confused their sound and called it alt-folk. That one definitely needs his (her?) ears checked. Emotionally raw vocals, raucous guitar, accompanying bass to feed the raucous sound, and driving rhythm on drums? Meursault ticks off all the boxes.

Carrie had seen Glass Animals on Tuesday at the Haven for the Harvest Records showcase Tuesday night, but I hadn’t up to that point. On paper, Glass Animals’ formula of pop and r&b with synths seemed to be right up my alley, while entirely not Carrie’s bag at all. Sadly though, I wasn’t impressed with them live. As Carrie was busy getting pregnant to ‘Black Mambo’ and ‘Gooey’, I had to wonder if my countless hours of listening to exemplary electronic music had jaded me, because their set was very much to me a “I’ve already heard that before, nothing new to see here” kind of disappointment.


Thankfully, I had the next band to look forward to, and look forward I did, as singer George Waite tuned up his bass. The Crookes, whose shows either in the UK or here in America I’ve covered on TGTF, were about to restore my sanity. It’s quite funny being in Austin with other American Crookes fans, of which there weren’t that many for SXSW 2013. However, word had clearly spread about the Sheffield band, as Latitude 30 was rammed for their 3:50 PM set.

As they played, the front section of friends new and old turned into one of the most fun dance parties I’d had in a long time, as we kicked up our heels to the infinitely rough on the edges single ‘Play Dumb’ and the driving ‘Before the Night Falls’, both of which figure on the band’s third album ‘Soapbox’ out in April on Fierce Panda. (My review of the album can be read here; it’s fantastic.) This display of unfettered dancing did not go unnoticed by Steve Lamacq, who commented on one of his first 6music programmes after returning from Austin that he felt it quite heartwarming that there were so many of us who were singing along to the Crookes because we knew all the words to ‘Afterglow’. We don’t dance alone, indeed.

“The night is still young, but the story’s so old.” The first part was most definitely true at 5 in the afternoon, but as you will read soon, my SXSW story wasn’t over just yet…

 

SXSW 2014 Interview: Luke Carson and Neil Gillespie of CYMBALS

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

Mary and I arrived in downtown Austin late on the Thursday night of SXSW 2014, after we attended a special Sofar Sounds show earlier in the evening. Once we were back in the now-familiar downtown area, we split up, Mary rushing to see Longfellow at the British Music Embassy, while I headed off to try to catch The Strypes at Swan Dive before my tentatively-scheduled interview with CYMBALS.

Like everyone at SXSW, CYMBALS were on kind of a crazy schedule, and it took a flurry of texts and e-mails to arrange the final meet up for the interview. In the end, I only managed to catch a few minutes of The Strypes before I diverted to Cheer Up Charlie’s to chat with CYMBALS before their late night show. Cheer Up Charlie’s is another dual-stage venue with bands playing both inside and outside, but I managed to find a fairly quiet place to talk with the CYMBALS’ rhythm section, bassist Luke Carson and drummer Neil Gillespie, about their recent album ‘The Age of Fracture’, their busy touring schedule and some of the other bands they had the chance to see during their time in Austin.

 

Thanks to Daniel and CYMBALS singer/guitarist Jack Cleverly for sorting the details of this interview.

CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS bassist Luke Carson

 

CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS drummer Neil Gillespie

 

CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS keyboardist Dan Simons

 

SXSW 2014 Interview: Casual Sex

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Ah yes, the band on everyone’s lips, Casual Sex. (In case you haven’t figured this out yet, it’s very important to refer to the band with their proper name to avoid embarrassment in the wrong company…) They had a whirlwind of a week gigging, playing in all sorts of places across Austin, but I would have imagined that their Friday night appearance, surrounded by their fellow countrymen at the Showcasing Scotland night at the British Music Embassy was particularly special for them. It was certainly special to me, even from the get-go: once inside Latitude 30, I was greeted by a burly yet kindly man in a kilt!

It was amazing to have all four members of Casual Sex – Sam Smith, Ed Wood, Pete Masson and Chris McCrory – sat down next to me for this great interview in which we talked about their brilliant week in Austin including the amazing food, where the band name came from (come now, we all wanted to know that surely, yeah?), and they talk to me about Glasgow as well.

Also of note: usually it’s me bringing things to shows for the bands I know, but this night, I was the one to be surprised. Many, many thanks to the guys who brought me a special EP as a present and signed it for me. It is now installed in a place of honour on my desk at work. Cheers guys for your time and your kind present!

 

SXSW 2014: Friday night free-for-all via London, Tokyo and Glasgow – 14th March 2014

 
By on Wednesday, 26th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

After my rather chill Friday daytime experiences at the Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s and interviewing some fab folks, it was time to get back to work. First things first, however. I arrived early to the Mohawk to meet up with Sivu for a cheeky chat at the Omni before his soundcheck at the House of Vans evening showcase there. He turned out to be one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, and to be honest, being able to see him with a full band and full set up at Liverpool Sound City is the one of the main reasons I’ve decided to visit England in May. Not saying that I didn’t like his stripped back performance with guitarist and backing vocalist Lucy Parnell, but I just have this image in my head – and can hear in my ears – that the full experience will be 1,000,000x better.

Sivu is just finding his feet release-wise in America, recently having signed a deal with Canvasback Music, who have released music by alt-J here in the States, and if you listened to my interview with him, this association makes total sense. But as he is relatively unknown in our country, it’s not a huge surprise that a set so early in the evening (8 PM on the nose) didn’t attract a huge group of people. However, I met a girl in the queue outside and convinced her further that she should stay; she did, and she thoroughly enjoyed the set, as did I. While the song collboration of ‘I Hold’ Sivu did with Marika Hackman sounded bare, Parnell did an amazing job standing in for Hackman and the combined vocals of hers and Sivu’s were amazing. The stripped back version of last year’s single ‘I Lost Myself’ was mesmerising, and it was like the Mohawk indoor stage, with its boudoir lighting and red walls, were custom made to go with it.


Not sure what I would do after Sivu, my new friend said that the Japan Nite at Elysium would be a good shout. I then realised it might be the only time I might run into my good mate Johnny Au, Head Photographer at The AU Review. Was I right, or what? He was down the front, covering the entire showcase. I had no prior knowledge of Jungles of Red Bacteria Vacuum from Tokyo, but whoa mama, they were certainly different than anything else I had been seeing all week in Austin. Originally from Osaka, I’ve read they’ve suffered from various band member changes, but whatever they’ve done to get to this place, the all-girl, all-punk band now based in the capital of Japan rock out with a ferocity that I really needed to see and hear that night. I now own one of their albums called ‘Pleased to Eat You’. Not exactly my usual British pop fare, yeah?


After the face melting experienced at Elysium, I headed back down to British Music Embassy to catch a band whose name is guaranteed to elicit a giggle from anyone aged 8 to 80 for as long as they persist to exist. Casual Sex, the indie rock band based in Glasgow, have been dogged by comparisons to Franz Ferdinand ever since they made their first appearance in the blogosphere. However, I get the feeling from with the ease that singer/guitarist Sam Smith applied lipstick on himself, explaining he wanted to be more like us girls, he’s been doing this far longer than Nick McCarthy in the recent comical video for ‘Erdbeer Mund’.


However, while the moment of lipstick application could be perceived merely as a gimmick, Casual Sex the live experience (that sounds dirty, not my intention, sorry) was actually more interesting than I expected (as the band were in person too, as evidenced by my interview with them post-gig; stay tuned for this tomorrow) and I think we all should give them credit for taking funk, rock and even a bit of pop, mix them all up, and take them to the next level. Yes, I can see the ‘sexy’ comparisons to Franz, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all they are. Jangly guitars, a funky rhythm section and irresistible vocals? Hello. Just say yes to Casual Sex. Just be sure you use the proper name of the band, for if you don’t, I’m not responsible for any activities you get up to.


My evening was supposed to have ended with an interview with Dems after they played at Buffalo Billiards. But when we arrived at the door to the venue, security told us we could not go in because “we’re counting the money inside”. What the heck does that mean? We must have waited a good 20-25 minutes before I said I was going home. With a signed vinyl all the way from Glasgow in hand, I’d already had an excellent night.

 

SXSW 2014: eating Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s and chatting with new friends on Friday afternoon – 14th March 2014

 
By on Wednesday, 26th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

At some point in your SXSW experience, it is inevitable, do not fight it: you will hit a wall. Your body and brain will be close to shutting down from all the running around and shenanigans you have been up to all week. By Friday morning, I’d hit my own personal wall. The mere thought of going through the exercise of figuring out various walking and bus routes for a trip out of town for a show just didn’t seem enticing at all. What was far more appealing was the traditional free Irish breakfast served every Friday morning at SXSW at where else but B.D. Riley’s?

It was also a chance to spend some quality time with the lovely Angela Dorgan, who tirelessly runs the Music from Ireland programming at the festival every year and who happens to be a dear friend. While I was disappointed in the complete lack of black pudding, rashers and mushrooms in my fry up, the eggs scrambled and not sunny side up, and the tomatoes raw and sliced as if they were ready to go into a BLT, it was the strange appearance of two slices of entirely uncooked rye bread that had my friends back in blighty confused. However, it was good, hearty sustenance that both Carrie and I needed to start our day off right, though the food was more important to me than it was to Carrie, who needed her coffee.


SXSW 2014 was the first time in 3 years straight of covering SXSW that I decided to take a load off and relax a little and have a cardiovascular workout to the Wonder Villains. Carrie covered the Irish breakfast and afternoon line-up at B.D. Riley’s, staying in her place all afternoon, while I could chill before my next social engagement. Scanning my Twitter feed, I noticed DJ Colette was in town to do a late night DJ set with friends at Lanai Lounge, an ubercool dance space and bar on Congress where Carrie and I had met up with our Canadian friend Jordy on Monday afternoon. I took a chance at Tweeting at her to see if she’d be willing to do an entirely impromptu interview. That’s how this interview with her at the Hilton happened. And that’s how we roll at SXSW.

My next interview to take place at Latitude 30 had been arranged the afternoon before at the Universal Music Group takeover on Thursday and would be with Pete Winfield Lawrie, better known as the man behind Until the Ribbon Breaks. (Listen to the interview here.) I watched him perform again and this time, he had a much larger and captive audience at the British Music Embassy, which I was very pleased about. I think of what I hear on top 40 radio here in the States and the Radio 1 playlist, and the direction mainstream pop music has gone doesn’t excite me. What does excite me about what Lawrie is doing is how he incorporates the best of his own personal influences as if putting everything he loves in a electronic blender of sorts, and what comes out is this multi-pronged animal of sound.

When Delphic first really hit UK radio in 2009 with ‘Counterpoint’, a lot was made about their rock and dance hybrid sound being novel. If that’s true, Until the Ribbon Breaks’ mixing of rock, dance, r&b, experimental and of course electronic is truly trailblazing. It’s a bit of a problem that I’m the only one at TGTF who loves electronic and dance music, so I’m hoping my fellow writers – and some of you too! – will listen to this track ‘Perspective’ and maybe have a change of heart. The best electronic music will make you want to dance and will make you feel sexy, and as far as I’m concerned, Lawrie’s doing an excellent job on both fronts.

I hung around for THUMPERS, who were next and had been highly recommended by friends, but I was sorely disappointed. Maybe I was stood in the wrong place, but the thumping (no pun intended) of the bass was drowning out anything and everything else, including the vocals, so I didn’t stay too long. Too bad. Well, you can’t win them all and you are going to encounter some bands that just don’t live up to their promise live in Austin. But I had an interview lined up in early evening that I was positively going out of my mind thinking about, so all was not lost. Not at all.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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