Right. Let’s get something straight right from the start. Deer Shed 2016 was essentially perfect: a wondrous box of delights for young, middle and old alike. Whilst the event has evolved over the years, if someone said, “Freeze. This is perfect. Don’t change anything,” I doubt there would be any complaints. The camping is spacious and quiet. The toilets are clean and useable. The food is utterly delicious. The bar is well-run and well-stocked (some of us still mourn the loss of Ilkley’s Mary Jane, however). The crowds are beautiful and well-behaved… well, at least the kids are. Oh, and someone must have paid the weather bill because the sun shone nearly all the time.
And so we come to the entertainment. Deer Shed is effectively two festivals in one – a box of delightful activities for kids – stuff so unique that they only get to do it here – and a proper music festival for grown ups. We’ll come to the kids’ stuff in due course, but let’s consider the music first. If you think a festival that welcomes so many children just tags on a few bands to keep the adults half-amused, then think again. I don’t know how they do it, but Deer Shed’s music lineup is second to none. A festival of any size would be proud to come up with such a fresh, forward-looking bill. For a modest spot of land in the North Yorkshire countryside, it’s nothing less than a triumph.
By the very nature of Deer Shed, one often has a youngster tugging at one’s sleeve, wanting to go and jump around outside the bubble stall for the hundredth time. The list of missed bands gets longer and longer, but that just makes one even more appreciative of the music one does manage to see. First up for me were Leeds’ Eagulls, whose sound is the natural result of owning several Squier guitars, a floor full of reverb pedals and a record collection largely consisting of the Cure’s more introspective records. I’m not exactly sure what the frontman’s on about, and the whole shebang is based on some purposely obtuse chord progressions. But when it all comes together they create an urgent wash of heady nu gaze that urges you to close your eyes and get swept away.
Friday night headliners Everything Everything have made the inevitable, if not a little unsettling, transformation from regular indie band to some sort of futuristic gospel praise outfit. Singer Jonathan Higgs wears ankle-length robes, holds his hands aloft and teases the crowd with his oblique commentary on the state of everything. He even retreats to his own podium at the back of the stage on occasion, cavorting and exclaiming like a greasy televangelist, except with something better to sell than false hope. A quite extraordinary performance: danceable, unforgettable, slightly disturbing. [Should be interesting to see what the Americans make of them on their first headline tour of America that begins this week. – Ed.]
Saturday dawned with the hazy memory of having an impromptu jam session around the piano in the Obelisk tent. Whether real or imaginary, such late-night escapades are soon forgotten in favour of the promise of a sunny day, and plenty to do with it. FEWS shake off the cobwebs with a pre-midday slot of their driving instrumental post-rock. It’s the sort of thing that you can get lost in, labyrinthine melodies hidden within an incessant motorik rhythm section. Teessiders Cattle & Cane give me a little “festival moment”: the weight of a child on one’s shoulders, bopping away in their own little way to a warm-hearted band… such fleeting yet timeless moments of joy make the grind of life worthwhile. TGTF has come across Misty Miller a couple of times before, and she’s never been the same performer twice. Currently in a goth-inspired phase, her rock ‘n’ roll ditties remain as strong as ever, and her passion for reinvention means somewhere along the line she’s sure to hit on a persona that really propels her into the mainstream.
Somehow I managed to get rid of the kids for an hour or so at this point, and found myself in a state of euphoric peace lounging at the back for Emma Pollock‘s set. Hardly a household name, but her former group The Delgados will be familiar to students of Scottish indie bands, and her solo set was an absolute masterclass in grown-up songwriting. One delightful tune after another fell from her guitar, and backed by an excellent band she was an unexpected treat. Her song about dark skygazing was hugely evocative: a more sublime way to close one’s eyes and lay back in the late afternoon sunshine it’s difficult to imagine.
TGTF raved about RHAIN‘s double performance at Kendal Calling last year, and her set in Deer Shed’s Obelisk tent was the stuff that legends are made of. Her voice is nothing less than astonishing, and the rare beauty of her jewelled songs quickly had the tent full to capacity. Her friends Plastic Mermaids, fresh from their own storming set earlier in the day, backed her for a few numbers, but it’s when RHAIN picks some simple piano chords to compliment her extraordinary vocal performance that really showcases what she is capable of. To witness a musician of such powerful talent in such intimate surroundings is a very rare treat; the electric atmosphere and the standing ovation that followed her performance is testament to the intensity of what she is capable. Utterly, utterly wonderful.
Stay tuned: the second half of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016 will post here on TGTF tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 6th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
Thursday evening began promising enough, with a fantastic set by The Big Pink at Easy Tiger Patio, which had been transformed into the TuneIn Sessions venue during SXSW 2016. I hadn’t been back to Easy Tiger since my first year of SX in 2012, and I definitely didn’t recall the kind of extensive queues I witnessed this year.
With the Big Pink, however, I would stay for the entirety of the set I actually could see in front of my face, as was very eager to see what was up Robbie Furze’s sleeve. Or rather his always heavily tattooed arm, and now that founding member Milo Cordell has left. Cordell has been replaced admirably and ably, it turns out, by Mary Charteris on keys and backing vocals. I was impressed with the way recent single ‘Hightimes’ sounded live: it’s a nice and welcome evolution from the Big Pink’s first album, 2009’s ‘A Brief History of Love’. It’s also, in a way, a return to their former glory after the less successful ‘Future This’ in 2012, in which the duo had worked with producer Paul Epworth and their attempt at shinier electropop never really got off the ground.
I loved The Big Pink’s first album and while single ‘Dominos’ was a given for the set list, I couldn’t believe my luck when ‘Too Young to Love’ was included in the mix. More synth-heavy goodness with a good dose was delivered via songs off the newly released ‘Empire Underground’ EP, out now on B3SCI Records. Of these, ‘Beautiful Criminal’ came out swinging, sounding fresh.
Despite them being American and myself being such a massive fan of electropop, I’ve never managed to see YACHT live. I’ve always been thwarted somehow in seeing them live in DC, so I made a point to stick around at Easy Tiger to finally witness them live to rectify the situation. Whoa. Frontwoman Claire L. Evans, who like me is a science boffin writer type in her ‘normal’ life, is the kind of person one would say was made for the stage.
Her camp demeanour, funny faces and gesturing make it clear she was born to be an entertainer, and she serves as a perfect foil to YACHT founder Jona Bechtolt, who is otherwise confined to his table of synths and keys when he’s not jumping up and down and generally being a badass in a Bernie Sanders baseball cap. While I enjoyed the music, I decided halfway through their set that the dramatic and highly sexualised flair employed by Evans, particularly on ‘Ringtone’ and ‘I Wanna F*ck You ‘Til I’m Dead’ (ya, really) would be better enjoyed by someone outside waiting in the queue. Maybe I’ll see you round at a science expo, Claire?
I had a couple of options on tap for the rest of the evening and oddly only really wanted to see one band on the British Music Embassy lineup for PIAS / AIM, FEWS from Sweden (yes, not a UK band, I don’t get that either). Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy them anywhere as much as I had hoped, after listening to ‘The Zoo’ and thinking I was hooked.
Maybe I was stood in the wrong place, or maybe the mix wasn’t quite right, but that would have been surprising at the British Music Embassy, where the sound is usually peerless. However, everything was simply loud and I couldn’t distinguish a melody. I used to think Temples were bad for this kind of music, but at least there was a guitar hook I could latch on to and appreciate.
Disappointed, I left early to find something else. I realised soon enough that I couldn’t walk across from one side of 6th Street to the other like we always had in the past, getting stuck in a crush of bodies going west. As a pretty small woman with claustrophobia, it’s not the greatest of places to find oneself in. I finally decided to stop inside Friends. Inside, a loud and raucous crowd of Canadians (I’m guessing?) were cheering to The Mariachi Ghost: yes, an actual mariachi-themed band living in the Great White North. I feel bad that after all these years, I’ve never had much time to give to the Canadians, whether it be M for Montreal or BreakOut West, the host for this evening’s lineup of talent from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. When I’m able to clone myself, I’ll let you know.
The Mariachi Ghost describe themselves as “a unique musical fusion of Mexican folk music, progressive rock, spaghetti-western soundtracks, and jazz”. Which is a lot. The band came out of frontman Jorge Requena’s attempt at writing a graphic novel, with the songs based on stories and ideas that first took flight as part of this writing effort. Beyond the many Latino members you’re expecting as part of a mariachi band, this mariachi band also perform with Day of the Dead-esque skull makeup on their faces and with an interpretative dancer bandmate. This evening, she was festooned with flowers in her hair and used a red scarf to great effect, as a visual representation of the music being played, as well as engaging directly with the audience, including one particularly memorable trance-like moment with tango moves with a punter.
The audience rightly ate up this hybrid of gig and ballet theatre, and I bet you there was nothing else quite like it all week in Austin. Requena, clearly buoyed by how positively the audience members were responding, was in near tears at the end of their set, saying how wonderful everyone had been to them all week in Austin and how welcome they’d felt as a band so far from home. His final words before their last song was his pronouncement that he’d been getting a tattoo the next morning to commemorate their great time at SXSW. The whole experience was an excellent reminder of how much SX means to musicians, and we ALL should be reminded that while money may be the means of getting to Austin, it’s the actual experience of playing to an international crowd, among so many other bands getting the opportunity to do the same exact thing, that makes SXSW the experience unequaled anywhere else or by any other event in the world.
It was too bad that I only caught part of their set, as it was over too quick and I then I needed to find someone else to see. After being less than wowed by Polica on Monday afternoon at the Onion / AV Club party at Barracuda, I didn’t fancy queueing to get into the Parish to see them, although I was curious to ex-Smith Westerns member Cullen Omori’s new project directly after. He would be followed by Sydney’s DMA’s, who I’d seen on the Radio Day stage at the convention centre earlier, and I figured I’d see the same set, so I chose by venue instead.
Working my way further west, I ‘treated’ myself to a visit to the all-too-posh Driskill Hotel, with the intention of seeing Dion, of ‘Runaround Sue’ and ‘The Wanderer’ fame. Having grown up with parents who listened to either classical or ‘50s and ‘60s oldies music, Dion was a huge fixture in my childhood, and I remember all the words. Dion (surname DiMucci) was in town to do a q&a earlier in the day and this showcase, both to promote ‘New York is My Home’, a new blues studio album.
As you might expect, the average age of the audience members in the Victoria Room for his appearance exceeded my own by a hefty bit. There was even an older gentleman who jostled me out of place so he could place a recorder on the surface of a speaker near the stage. Cheeky bugger! Dion is the kind of celebrated musician who would be able to keep telling stories all day and to be honest, I found the anecdotes he shared with us more genuine and heartfelt that his actual songs. More power to him that he’s still rocking it in his 70s. Let’s hope we’re all as creative and engaging as him when we reach those golden years.
And now we reach the part of my evening that didn’t go so well. Smartly (or so I thought), I asked a staff member at the hotel on another exit to the hotel, so I didn’t have to go back into the melee on 6th Street. I had every intention of seeing Brighton synthpop group Fickle Friends at the Sidewinder, then returning to the British Music Embassy to give Liverpool slackers Hooton Tennis Club, who I’d seen at the Great Escape 2015, another go. This never happened, because a man walked into me and on purpose on the corner of E. 7th Street and Trinity. I feel sure it happened on purpose, as there was no crowd on the corner (so there was no reason for him to walk into me) and I purposefully walked in the opposite direction of him coming towards me, but he changed course and charged. The next thing I knew, I was on the sidewalk, I was in pain, and my elbow was bleeding. The man ran across the street and was gone.
Some 20-something were kind enough to help me up and ask me if I needed to go to hospital, but I have been to too many in my life and I was not going to get stuck in A&E on a Thursday night in Austin. I said no and went off to find first aid, still shaking. This was when I learned that neither the police or EMS on the beat for SXSW have first aid kits (meaning they don’t carry antiseptic, sterile gauze or plasters), which you’d think would be a simple thing for all these protective personnel to have. I was and am still beyond shocked that these things that every parent would carry in his/her car for basic first aid for their children were nowhere to be found when I was sat on a curb with blood coming out of my arm. I’ve seen EMS cart off revelers with broken limbs, so maybe if I had broken my leg and couldn’t walk, maybe they’d done something. I got an ice pack, which is I guess is better than nothing.
I note my experience as a safety message that you really need to look out for your friends during SXSW, because I’m not sure what I would have done if Carrie could not come to collect me. I certainly shouldn’t have been driving with a bleeding elbow. It’s an unfortunate, scary and not entirely random event that sadly clouded the rest of my SXSW experience and makes me fear for my safety in future years.
For more of my photos from my Thursday at SXSW 2016 when I wasn’t dealing with a stupid emergency, visit my Flickr.