By Mary Chang on Friday, 5th April 2013 at 1:00 pm
So after spending a full week in Austin for SXSW 2013, I thought it would be nice to do a summary post to reflect on the experience the second time around…
My SXSW by the numbers:
I saw 41 different bands/acts in total, some multiple times. The bands I saw the most were the Crookes and Kodaline, both 3 times.
I managed an average of 5 hours of sleep per night. Not really all that bad. I learned from last year to make sure I got as much rest as possible.
I saw shows at 8 venues that I’d not previously stepped foot in.
I rode a pedicab 3 times (versus zero times in 2012) and all the drivers were amazing. Note to all attendees: pay these people a little bit more – they’re hiking you up hills and over long distances while sweating their arses off in the Austin heat. A special mention goes out to Andrew who drove me all the way home Thursday night after I’d just about given up on finding a taxi and was ready to cry. He was a total sweetheart!
Unforgettable (good) moments of the week:
Learning that David Baldwin of the Dig is affectionately nicknamed “Baldy”, but it has nothing to do with the status of his hair follicles.
Accidentally running into Rhydian Dafydd of the Joy Formidable at a sushi bar and having lunch together to talk about the industry and such. I found out he’s a Dutch Uncles fan!
Dropping my jumper by accident at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room Wednesday night after already resituating myself at its rooftop, then getting forced by security to go all the way up, down and around to retrieve it. Lucky I don’t have a walking impediment.
A crazy drunk bloke tried to pick me up on Cesar Chavez Street when I was trying to hail a taxi Thursday night. He said he was going to follow me home. I eventually somehow lost him when we ran into a group of people and I ran. It was terrifying at the time, but now I can laugh about it.
Best quotes of the week:
“Thanks for interviewing us. You’re probably the prettiest person to ever interview us. We usually get interviewed by ugly dudes.” – Emile Mosseri of the Dig after this interview by the river outside Stubb’s. They said they want to start a new side project called “Poppa Squat”. I don’t know if they were joking.
“Mary, Mary. You’ve been disowned!” / “But…a 5-string. You can play Korn on that guitar!” – George Waite / Tom Dakin of the Crookes to me the same night, after, perhaps a little too proudly, I showed off a picture of my 5-string ESP. We did some rechristening of guitars in Austin and he’s still yet to provide me a new name for mine.
By Mary Chang on Thursday, 4th April 2013 at 2:00 pm
If you are still standing after 4 straight days of punishing your body with running around, gigs and libations at SXSW and are no worse for wear, then you deserve a gold star. I’ll be the first to admit, Friday night…er, in the wee hours of Saturday morning I didn’t crawl into bed until about 6 AM after a very enjoyable night of dancing and boozing, having been taken out as a very special guest by some boys in a band I’m fond of. Ahem. I won’t embarrass by naming them but they know who they are, and if you are reading this my friends, that was truly one of the most fun nights of my life. Cheers for that. I owe you one when you make your first triumphant visit to DC.
I had such a good time on Friday night and gosh darn it, it was my last full day in Austin on Saturday the 16th, and I was going to give myself the gift of a nice lie-in. I had been invited to see Dan Croll at noon, but my argument was that he was going to be at Liverpool Sound City where we’re having a stage and I’d have a chance to see him then, and since he now has an American record contract (so I heard?) I will see him on this side of the pond eventually anyway.
I had made a promise to Larry and Johnny of our friends the AU Review to check out the Aussie BBQ this year, since I didn’t have time in 2012, so I stopped into Maggie Mae’s, where I was overwhelmed with all the Australian talent that was going to be showcased across the three stages there. I used to think the Brits were the only country to have an awe-inspiring presence at SXSW, but Australia makes good work of taking up the entire last day of the festival to showcase their country’s musical best. See all of the AU Review’s excellent coverage of this year’s Aussie BBQ, as well as previous years, through this link.
After popping my head in to say hello to Larry between his very busy schedule of video interviews, I went looking for Johnny, who was tasked to take photos of bands on all three stages. When I couldn’t find him, I went downstairs to enjoy a bit of Bearhug, an alt-rock band from Sydney. Kind of slacker rock / Lemonheads sounding. Then I went upstairs to catch a bit of indie band the Rubens, who I saw at the triplej Unearthed night at the Oxford Art Factory during ARIA Week in Sydney last November. I was hoping to see if I would change my mind on them, given that they were playing in an entirely different environment. Nope. ‘My Gun’ still sounds cheesy and a poor man’s Oasis. Sorry, guys.
After a brief catch-up, some laughs and hugs and wishes for each other for safe travels home, I was off to my next destination. Emails had flitted back and forth in my inbox the previous night before and after I caught some shut eye, and suddenly I found myself being invited to see a couple different bands at a free showcase on Sixth Street. As fate should have it, all three of the bands happened to be playing at the same exact showcase being put on by Captiva Records, a music promotion and indie record label based locally in San Marcos, Texas, taking place on the Rooftop at 6th. I am not sure who decided which bands would play on their afternoon shows that went on all week, as at least on Satruday there was no emcee present or anyone who looked like he or she was running the show. Whoever it was though, he/she did an impeccable job of choosing some great artists to play, especially on the Saturday.
I was proud of myself that I arrived in good time before I really needed to be there. What I found when I arrived was Australian singer Kitty Clementine, who self-proclaims to be a “big mouth wee belter from down under” on her Web site. Her outfit was vaguely Mad Max apocalypse meets Lady Gaga, which I suppose was appropriate as she found herself using the raised platform in this outdoor atrium-cum-rooftop, writhing against one of the tent poles. I’m no feminist but just…ugh. Please don’t. It makes me take you even less seriously. Her vocal styling was like she was trying to be Amy Winehouse, but Amy has nothing to worry about: it felt like an imitation, and not a great one at that.The guys in attendance appeared to appreciate the sexual writhing around though, with some of the bands I knew joking that they should include some pole dancing routines in their sets. (Just for the record, it didn’t happen. Phew.)
The next band was Kent’s Story Books, who if you recall, I saw on the Wednesday night Communion showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop and then interviewed three of the band on Thursday at Blackheart. The show at night was miles away from this last hurrah for the band, playing in the sunshine. I guess you could say that the Austin sunshine is something magical indeed. Their keyboardist Andrew was even wearing sunglasses for the entire set. (Well, almost. Afterwards he said, “I tried, but they kept slipping off my face”. And it’s the trying that counts.) ‘Simple Kids’, from their debut EP ‘To Be a Hunter’ on Communion to be released on the 29th of April, is a melancholy number about young love and how Kris Harris insists, “stay close to your troubles, don’t let them interfere/ with your sense of wonder, ’til it disappears”. Which is what being young and falling in love is all about, right? I think though in Story Books’ case, what got punters into the band was the reckless abandon in which Harris and guitarist Jack Tarrant banged on their guitars. No, sir. This is not just a folk band. Cross those words out and write underneath “rocking out band with folk tendencies”. That’s more accurate.
Furniture and Things
To Be Good
Glory and Growth
All Those Arrows
By nature of being close to the action, a good proportion of bands showcasing at SXSW every year happen to be Texan bands. Such was the case with the band up after Story Books, called In the Works. Later that night, I had a run-in with one band members’ parents on 7th Street; his mum recognised me from the venue, asked me why I was photographing all the bands, then asked me (putting it mildly) to write nice things about him on here. Er…
Okay, so here’s my entirely unbiased opinion on this band after hearing them play. Point #1: I don’t know how long they’ve been together or have known each other, but it doesn’t engender much confidence if when you’re playing SXSW, you have to make a point to acknowledge that your next song “is an original”. This made me think most of their arsenal is made up of covers. Huh? Point #2: I didn’t find anything particularly exciting or noteworthy about their set. They’ve also got a vague country/western twangy vibe, which generally doesn’t go down well with me. The good news though is, the band are still in university and have plenty of time to find their sound – or rather a unique sound that will set them apart from any other American band from Anytown, USA. I wish them luck.
And then for the third time in 24 hours, it was again Crookes time. It was their fifth and final show of this SXSW and well, it’s like they say: go big or go home. Guitarist Tom Dakin and singer/bassist George Waite were dressed in colourful shirts they’d purchased in Austin; Tom’s, with a tropical flower theme, was most appropriate for playing a gig under the gaze of late afternoon sun. Out the gate they played ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ with so much gusto, it probably caused this neck ligament accident reported a couple days ago on Twitter. On behalf of America, I wholly apologise to the band and the whole of England for any injury caused by SXSW. But it was a wild week of shows, wasn’t it? Trust me, I know. I almost got impaled by George’s wayward mike stand. Last year I had a close call with one of Cashier No. 9‘s guitars.
I’ve questioned the wisdom of posting a video of mine of them playing ‘Backstreet Lovers’ because you can hear me singing along a little bit too loudly. There is also a lot of arms and legs flailing from the vocal Crookes’ American fan contingent described previously in Friday night’s review. Our crowd’s singing along was even more evident during the Crookes’ foray onto the atrium platform to perform ‘The Cooler King’, with Tom quipping and pointing at all of us, “you’re our official back-up section!” But what was more important was the amount of cheering and hollering the band got not from us, but from people who had just a half-hour before had never heard of the Crookes before. Maybe this best exemplifies why SXSW is like Christmas to music lovers: keep your ears open, take a chance on a band playing in the sun on a rooftop, and you might just have stumbled on your new favourite band.
Where Did Our Love Go
Maybe In the Dark
The Cooler King (on top of the atrium riser!)
After the sweat-athon that was the Crookes’ set, there was a brief changeover before the Ghosts, who became the last band I would see at SXSW. They’re a project that was started by Alex Starling, who was a supposed “secret” fourth member of the all too short-lived Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, who disbanded following their singer Charles Haddon’s tragic suicide at 2010′s Pukkelpop in Belgium. Out of tragedy, Starling didn’t wallow in his sorrow long. He regrouped, joined forces with drummer Ian Palmer, then headed west to North America to pick up some additional band members.
There’s a roughness, a hardness to their sound, relying on guitars, synths and drums to make something like single ‘Everything Will Do’, with sections loud and punishing like Led Zeppelin’s height of grandeur, interspersed only slightly softer moments. At other times, they’re definitely channeling the most fun aspects of ’80s New Wave dance (have a listen to ‘Underrated’), and as a connoisseur of that era, I can appreciate this fully. It’s definitely a unique style, and I’m glad it just so happened that I got to see them at the conclusion of my SXSW 2013 experience.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 3rd April 2013 at 2:00 pm
After a bit of a breathless afternoon running after Irish bands and in and out of venues on Sixth Street, I gave myself a break on official festival evening #4 at SXSW 2013 to have a civilised dinner at a steakhouse (paid for by a Christmas gift card from work) before I was out and about again for shows. The initial plan was simple: I was going to try and see a couple bands near and dear to some of my writers, capping off the night with one of my favourites. It didn’t entirely go to plan, but actually, later that night, things turned out better than I ever could have imagined…
The first stop was dive bar 512 for the Virginmarys. This was the stop for WWJD, as in “what would John do?” The queue assembled outside the club was kind of what I expected: hard-looking men with or without long hair. Being a Friday, a lot of locals were trying to buy their way in with single tickets, but I was whisked right through the doors with my wristband. Then came probably one of the loudest, most punishing sounds I’ve ever put my body to the test with.
I really tried, John, I really did. But I could only hold my own against the Virginmarys for a grand total of two songs. It’s not uncommon for my body to feel like it’s vibrating when I’m seeing a dance band, but having the skin of my cheeks vibrating from a rock band some good distance away from me? Guitars crashed and the drums bellowed as frontman Ally Dickaty gave it his all in screamy, growly vocals. Yes, hard rock is alive and well in Macclesfield. You can be sure of that. While I made my getaway, I watched as Austinites headbanged with unbridled delight to the music. This band might not be for me, but they were definitely ticking off the boxes of many punters.
Next on my agenda was to head to Bethell Hall, a smaller multi-purpose room at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, located in the same building where I’d seen the Communion showcase in 2012. I was going in that direction for the Dunwells, who Cheryl saw and interviewed in Washington when I was in hospital the previous month with flu. I had looked forward to that DC gig for so long and to have it robbed from me, the only recourse was to see them in Austin and say hello. In hindsight, I should have done some more research on what exactly this ‘Grammy Museum – Musical Milestones: 50 Years of the Beatles’ was. I arrived to hear the recognisable musical strains of ‘Yesterday’…sung in Italian. What?
I had been so confident – probably overconfident – that since nearly every showcase I’d attended had started and run late that week, I would have arrived just in time for the Dunwells. But instead on ‘stage’ was long-running and beloved by his countrymen arrist Jovanotti, oddly wearing a red knitted hat like the bassist in Y Niwl on Tuesday night at Huw Stephens’ UK Trade and Investment showcase. He made a joke about translating English into Italian isn’t always accurate, which caused a roar from the crowd. I frowned as he jauntily launched into an entirely Italian version of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. As a longtime, longtime Beatles fan, let me just tell you, that is probably one of the weirdest moments in your life, hearing a song that is burned into your brain…but it’s an entirely different, unexpected form. Batting 0 for 2 so far for the night.
Getting to the church requires scaling a hill, and I flipped through my SXSW guide for where to go next. I decided to cut my losses and go back down the hill and straight to Latitude 30, even though I’d done no research for all but two of the bands playing there that night and had not expected to arrive so early. Helpfully, George Waite of the Crookes explained to me that Kilimanjaro was a tour promoter in Britain, so at least I knew the background of our hosts; the other ‘host’ was PRS for Music, who benevolently has granted many a UK band funding to come over to America for SXSW. I missed highly-feted Luke Sital-Singh and just hung out until the next band was due on stage. Okay. Can someone tell me when turtlenecks are ever necessary in Austin? I could say the same thing for red knitted hats, but this turtleneck thing was a first in the week.
The Ruen Brothers, actual brothers Rupert and Henry Stansall from Scunthorpe, get extra points for purposely coordinating their outfits and hair (white turtleneck and platinum blond hair; black turtleneck and dark hair) but I seriously questioned their wisdom wearing the turtlenecks *and* blazers even in the thick of an Austin night. Their bass player had a quiff to rival Boz Boorer‘s. This should have given the first clue to what kind of music they play. (In case you haven’t heard of Boz Boorer, he’s a rockabilly artist with his own band the Polecats but he’s also famously known as a guitarist of Morrissey‘s touring band.) And rockabilly is exactly what we got, with their lead singer fancying himself the second coming of Elvis, complete with the curled lip and swiveling hips and vaguely sounding like Roy Orbison. Okay, but not great.
Then we went from a bunch of guys in suit jackets to a bunch of kids in denim and t-shirts. China Rats from Leeds were in the building. I’ll admit, the one song that stuck with me when I looked them up for the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013, ‘(At Least Those) Kids Are Getting Fed’, sounded pretty good live. I think what kind of irked me about them – and something that I am sure kids here in America will love and latch on to immediately – was the sneery, Sex Pistols-y, anti-establishment vibe I was getting from them.
And indeed, Nylon magazine here have already taken a shine to them, which shows how the tide back to guitar music has already turned here in this country: just a few years ago, the same rag was getting hot and bothered over Friendly Fires and Patrick Wolf. If anyone dares to remember, their grammatically incorrect debut single ‘To Be Like I’ is a lot sweeter and Beatle-y, sounding nothing like this punk version of themselves they are now. Similarly, ‘Take No Prisoners’ is a less frantic attempt at the Libertines. China Rats have been compared to the Clash and the Ramones by Clash Magazine, but hold up here: they’re very young and I think we need to see some longevity and in this version of the band before making any hasty comparisons!
You know how I was whinging about bands cancelling earlier in the week? This night, I was actually glad that another band I knew had cancelled, because I otherwise would have had to split the difference between a club on Red River Street, many, many blocks northeast and Latitude 30 for the 11 o’clock hour. With the other band cancelling, I was free to watch Sheffield’s Crookes without having to worry about having to up and go to see someone else.
The British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, from what I gather, is truly where British bands come to play, wanting – and needing – to shine while they are here in America. While I think ‘make or break’ is the wrong term to use because it is so final, you definitely want to bring your A game to your BME appearances, and for most bands, you only have one such shot all week to prove to the people watching you that you matter. And in some cases, that you deserve an American recording contract. For Reverend and the Makers and Cave Painting, Wednesday afternoon was when they needed to and did shine. For a poorly Jamie N Commons who did not appear on Friday night and was replaced by Berlin-based Englishman electronic artist Seams, it was an opportunity wasted. For the Crookes, they had a coveted evening slot on Friday night with I’m sure many industry folks in attendance.
As a longtime fan of the Sheffield band since they got their first plays on BBC Radio and having seen them totally smash it at a daytime showcase for the Orchard at the Great Escape last year, I was now interested to see how the new songs from summer 2012′s ‘Hold Fast’ album would go down in Austin. As mentioned in my Friday afternoon report, there was a devoted American contingent of mostly Austin and Dallas natives who were following the Crookes around wherever they were playing. In 2010 I had a conversation with a punter and small time DJ from San Francisco at a Postelles show at DC9; I had recommended him that if he liked the Postelles, then he would probably like the Crookes as well. (Bit of trivia for you: both bands independently covered Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole Wide World’. What are the odds? They were meant to be together!) “The Crookes? Who are the Crookes?” He gave me a look of confusion. And that is usually the expression I get when I tell anyone I know in DC about one “English band I like” or another. So to have a specific group of people who knew all the words to the songs, who knew when to clap or snap their fingers without being told by the band *and* them not being English themselves, that really blew my mind. I had serious reservations that I would be the only person at their shows singing along, but instead, I got drowned out!
As it should be, the band concentrated mostly on the new album material, but they couldn’t leave out old favourites ‘Bloodshot Days’ or ‘Backstreet Lovers’ (but of course). It was at this show that I fully came to appreciate ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, a song written for their former guitarist Alex Saunders, who left the band in 2011 to get a ‘real’ job: “you’re on the clock, I’m out of time / were you ever a friend of mine?…you work to live, I live to dance”. It’s a tender ode to a friend who used to be part of their tight unit of brothers, their gang, until reality ducked its head into their lives and changed things forever for the band.
It was then, as our merry group of revelers danced to the immortal words “I wonder if you know / we don’t dance alone!” that I was reminded why Daniel Hopewell’s lyrics are often compared to Morrissey’s in his Smiths days. There is something incredibly comforting in being able to dance your cares away, to lose yourself in a joyful melody, but wrapping yourself in lyrics that touch your heart in that moment and mean so much. Of the ones I have been able to decipher and put my finger on, Hopewell’s lyrics have always been a happy and emotional discovery to me and proven to me that the Crookes are not just four young, cute English boys who happen to play in a guitar band. While the first part of this is clearly true from their very devoted ‘Bright Young Things’ young fanbase who I’m guessing are mostly fond of the frenetic pace and carefree guitars of their seemingly happy-sounding songs, I’ve learnt how empathetically intellectual their songs are for me. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will get signed here soon for the former reason and that the wealth we are being given from the latter will bleed over to the fans once they make it here.
The crowning moment of their set was at the end, when they jumped into the crowd to do an impromptu version of ‘The Cooler King’. Hopewell was tasked to play acoustic guitar, while singer/bassist George Waite harmonised perfectly with guitarist Tom Dakin and drummer Russell Bates, all providing the requisite claps and wolf whistles to faithfully recreate the same feeling of the track from the album but in a live setting. Of course our group had to participate as well. Hopewell stated in a past interview with us that ‘American Girls’ was inspired by their first trip to SXSW in 2010; I hope that means that on the next album there will be a song written alluding to the magic of this night, because I don’t think it really gets any better at SXSW than this.
Just Like Dreamers
Maybe in the Dark
Where Did Our Love Go
The Cooler King (acoustic and in crowd)
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 2nd April 2013 at 2:00 pm
Friday afternoon I spent hanging around on Sixth Street, which is probably the best advice I could give anyone attending SXSW for the first time. Four days in and you’re tired. You’re rough from all the alcohol you’ve been drinking, and most likely, your body is screaming because it hasn’t gotten enough sleep. This year I made a pledge to myself to sleep as much as possible, which worked mostly, except I missed out on the Irish breakfast at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s. I had it last year and it was so good, so next year I am setting my alarm clock earlier! I ain’t missing it in 2014.
However, not was all lost. Music from Ireland puts on an all-day, no cover day showcase at the pub and it’s just a good excuse as any to have a delicious, cool pint of cider (there is a god, thank you Ireland!), sit down, relax and take in some amazing Irish music. I missed The Mighty Stef but the next band up were duo The Lost Brothers, who I’d been treated to at the NI@SXSW showcase on Monday night. Could it just be the confines of an Irish pub, but doesn’t every Irish band sound even better in such a place? I though the Lost Brothers, who already sounded great at Latitude 30, dazzled while framed by the Austin sun. Like last year when I spied Squarehead, General Fiasco and Cashier No. 9 at B.D. Riley’s, the shutters of the place were open, letting natural light in, passerby ducking their heads in to see what was going on.
Dubliner Declan O’Rourke and his band were next. Cheryl and I have a running joke that if it’s a singer/songwriter, I will run screaming from him/her and she will take to him/her like a duck to water. I really tried to absorb, trying to channel Cheryl and appreciate his music. Unfortunately, it sounded schmaltzy, in a kind of Irish Julio Iglesias fashion (listen to his track ‘Galileo’ on Spotify). His style struck me too precious for my liking.
I had an idea on where I wanted to go next, but I thought, hmm, let me walk around the bar once and see if I can find any Irish bands partaking in the free breakfast and maybe they will want to do an interview? Girls Names‘ American PR told me they would be difficult to find except at their gigs, but somehow providence stepped in and tucked in the back were Cathal, Claire and Philip from the band, and as I rightly suspected, having breakfast. I apologised for butting in during their brekky, asking them if they’d be willing to have a chat with me. They agreed and I left them to their breakfast, telling them to find me later. The interview went well and you can hear it here. Rather hilariously, the lovely Angela Dorgan who organises the Music from Ireland showcases took our picture, quipping, “ahhh…I see you’ve met the infamous Mary!” Since when have I been infamous? Chuckle.
Before the Girls Names interview, I was able to catch one final band at the Music from Ireland afternoon showcase. The band Kool Thing is made up of Irish and Australian members, but they are based in Berlin. This might explain their affinity to electronics, and I can’t be the only person who was surprised to hear electronic buzzing from the Irish showcase in early afternoon. I think if they’d been presented me a year or so ago, I might have had a different reaction, but I can feel myself moving away from oversynthesised music. They sound like a darker School of Seven Bells or Hundred in the Hands to me.
And then it was off to catch a band that I had criminally somehow missed at too many festivals last year. I made my way back to Maggie Mae’s before getting entirely confused by their staff, who didn’t know who was playing which stage. Real helpful. So this is how completely by accident I saw Royal Teeth from New Orleans on the rooftop. Their sound is of the sunny variety that mixes Two Door Cinema Club optimism with female/male vocals of Of Monsters and Men. In short, they’re tailor made for MTV. Not really my cup of tea either, but they were having a lot of fun, and this is exactly the sort of music shines in sunny Austin, even if it’s not entirely memorable.
So after I realised I was in the wrong place – the American accents were a dead giveaway! – I ran back downstairs to the other stage in Maggie Mae’s for who I was really there to see, Glenrothes, Scotland’s Tango in the Attic. I suspect if they were based in New York a couple years ago, they might have beaten Vampire Weekend in the jaunty, happy guitars race.
I saw a synth and thought, oh dear, not plinky plonky notes again (this seemed to be a running theme of nearly every band I saw at SXSW this). I saw guitars, but I wasn’t expecting the rocking out I witnessed. Wow! Singer Jordan Craig has that slacker / devil my care kind of drawl, which is not something I’d expect from the Scottish, but it works brilliantly. It cemented in my mind that this is a band that could be so much bigger…if they were on my side of the pond. While their music ‘sounds’ just as happy as Royal Teeth’s, I’d rather dance to Tango in the Attic, with catchier rhythms, winsome lyrics and even an occasional horn.
There was one band that my eyes fixated on the first list of SXSW bands were announced in autumn 2012. Figuring I had a better shot seeing them at a daytime showcase than at a night one like Stubb’s (yeah, what a joke) I planned the first half my afternoon around them and the HGTV and Paste showcase at the Stage on Sixth. I figured it would be better to arrive early, stake a spot and not be disappointed. This meant that I arrived just as Canadian act City and Colour just ended, so I didn’t really get a feel for Dallas Green except that he has a huge fanbase and screaming fans.
I chilled out and waited for the next act up, another Canadian, Ron Sexsmith. Singer/songwriter. Oh dear. Where is Cheryl when you need her? I did talk beforehand with a very excited Australian woman who said, “I’m a huge fan of Ron’s, he’s the main reason I came out to SXSW”. Well, with a ringing endorsement like that, I couldn’t just well leave, could I? He was wearing a flowery shirt that Stuart Maconie would covet, so that was in his favour as well. The highlight of his set was ‘Me, Myself and Wine’, which accurately summed up the SXSW experience: watching bands gig while relaxing with your favourite tipple. He explained it as an ode to his favourite hobby, listening to albums while drinking wine. Well, different strokes for different folks, right?
If you haven’t figured it out already, the band that I had been waiting for were the Zombies. I was freaking out madly as their members were mingling in the audience before their set. I was just too nervous to approach any of them; I doubted they remembered the interview two of them had with Braden in London a couple years ago. Sadly, this excitement was misplaced, I was entirely underwhelmed by the Zombies’ set. Don’t get me wrong, they are hugely important in the British music lexicon and so many bands were influenced by them years after they hit it big and made it out of St. Albans.
Rather confusingly, as later when I talked to other people who had seen the same set or seen them elsewhere such as Stubb’s that night, and their reaction was entirely different: I heard how “mind-blowing” and “amazing” they were. Did we all watch the same exact band? I realise they are getting on and they’re not going t be as animated as 20-somethings but I couldn’t get into it. (It also did not help that since it was an all-ages venue,I was surrounded by young kids who strangely were hyper about seeing the Zombies and they were pushy. I’d gotten there early, so I didn’t appreciate getting pushed around.) Finally, by the time they rolled out ‘Time of the Season’ out on a gurney, I decided to make a quick escape. Well, as quickly as I could. While in hindsight I suppose I can now say, “yes, I’ve seen the Zombies”, it was a wasted opportunity to see a couple of people I had not seen in nearly a year.
SXSW or no SXSW, I don’t think I’ve ever run out of a venue so fast like a crazy person and to another one. I’m sure I amused some people. Luckily I didn’t have to go far to the Blind Pig, where PledgeMusic was hosting an afternoon of free music and free booze. Always a winning combination, right? I went to the upstairs area, wended my way through the crowd and arrived at the stage just as the Crookes were hitting their stride. For the second time that afternoon, a pronouncement was made about my presence. I don’t think he meant to do it this way, but singer/bassist George Waite, pleased that I had come to see them, said into his microphone and to everyone there, “hell-o Mary!” I laughed to myself. Oh great, so everyone knows who I am now, huh?
This was the first time I had the opportunity to see the Crookes since ‘Hold Fast’, their second album and the one I’d anointed with my Best Album of 2012 honour at the end of last year, had been released, and I was raring to see them perform the songs that had become so important in my emotional life in the prior 8 months. I won’t wax too philosophical about them in this post, as I saw them two more times in Austin before all was said and done. But I will say at this juncture that there is something just so amazing watching an English band perform in the sunshine, as they’re clearly having the time of their young lives and soaking up this once in a lifetime experience. Though young, the Crookes are seasoned performers and are just bursting with confidence with every banged chord of a guitar and every frantic drum pattern by drummer Russell Bates.
It has been 3 years since they’d been in Austin and even though I was not there for their first time, I am positive that this visit, armed now with two full albums and tons of swagger, went down better the first. I mean, I had met local folks from Austin and Dallas who expressively came out to as many of their five shows that week as they could; we kept running into each other and as an American music lover, my heart melted that so many Americans were coming out to see this band that I had first heard being played on Steve Lamacq’s radio programme and whose sound I had fallen in love with years ago. There was no question what song would end the set. It would have to be *that* song: ‘Backstreet Lovers’. Sounding as fresh as the day Lammo chose to spin it on Radio1, they absolutely killed it. Cue the mad dash of new fans towards the band for photos and autographs, along with my mind silently saying to the crowd, “see? I told you so!”
By Mary Chang on Friday, 29th March 2013 at 2:00 pm
Today’s SXSW 2013 post has been written to remind everyone of the size and stature of the SXSW music festival. While in my 2 years of festivaling in Austin I’ve managed pretty well on a press wristband, not really ever been shut out of a showcase I was desperate to see because the place was at capacity, there comes a time (or times) in your SXSW life that you just decide you want to see a big name. But at the same time, I implore you to seek out the smaller shows too, because those might just change your life.
When Depeche Mode were announced to be celebrating the opening of a new, 900-capacity club in town, I knew as soon as I read those words, the faithful had already been queued up around the block and it was pointless to even contemplate the thought of trying to go. (Not is all lost: NPR has a complete transcript of the band’s interview with KCRW’s Jason Bentley here, if you fancy reading it.) Similar thoughts went through my mind about Vampire Weekend‘s closing out of the festival at Stubb’s; gunshy after Tuesday night’s tussle with security there and knowing the New Yorkers playing brand new songs would be a huge draw, I just thought…no, never mind.
As I had been recommended to see at least one band at Brighton Dome during the Great Escape last year (which didn’t happen…), I thought I should make it a point to see one big band. Thoughtful perusal of the SXSW music guide made this decision relatively easy: I decided on the Specials, who ironically will be touring widely in the UK when I am over in May, but don’t tour very often in America. They weren’t due to appear until 11, but with my wristband, I thought it was better to queue early, arriving a whole 2 hours before doors were set to open. A very nice Austinite named Pat saved my spot in the queue so I could get a Thai dinner in me so I wouldn’t faint from hunger later. Turns out there weren’t a huge number of badge holders who wanted in early on, so after about 100 passed into the place, we were let in.
Unlike last year’s Hype Hotel where I’d spied Oberhofer as my first SXSW band ever, the place that had oozed character with brick archways, this year’s at the Whitley was more warehouse-like and less warm. Whoever decided that this year the stage should be lowered to just an inch shorter than me should be sacked. Pretty disappointing in that regard. I don’t know, do they expect their punters to be that much taller? The stage was also far, far away from us, and it wasn’t like there were any higher-up balcony vantage points that would have made viewing any better. Free Taco Bell tacos and drinks flowed, but I was more keen on getting down the front to stake my spot.
While I was stood there waiting, I met a new friend from Toronto and tried to extol the virtues of Kodaline from my experiences seeing them twice the night before. (He has since written me and said he thought they were excellent. Yes. Job well done.) I also met a photographer for Getty Images, Andy Sheppard, who I would fortuitously run into later in the week. A delayed soundcheck and what I’m guessing was a delayed entrance time into the place for the bands themselves forced all three bands prior to the Specials to cut their sets short, and as you shall read, two took this in stride and the other, well…not so much. During the intervening time while waiting, we entertained ourselves with actual production props for the night, which was pretty cool.
Kodaline had the unenviable task of being first that evening, and I learned later that they were only in Austin for 2 days (read Wednesday night’s review for more explanation on this). Their tour manager, who was nervously puttering around the stage, stopped a moment in front of me, smiling broadly to shout to the band, “hey! The woman that came to see you twice last night is here!” That was pretty heartwarming to know I’d been remembered. While there weren’t a huge number of people who had shown up for them – remember, this is America, and they had never heard of Kodaline and probably not paid attention to the BBC Sound of 2013 like we have – I did get a sense that the four of them were overwhelmed by the size of the stage they had been asked to play.
Steve Garrigan nervously cracked jokes and I could hear myself saying “bless” to myself as they were obviously nervous. But as soon as the music started up, any delay or misgivings were soon forgotten. The sound I’d seen on the night previous that easily filled a club and a rooftop also proved to fill a much larger space with similar ease. They only got to play four songs and their stay was far too short, but ‘All I Want’ and ‘High Hopes’ soared in the surprisingly decent acoustics of the Hype Hotel. While I am sad I will miss their first visit to Washington DC in May, I have no doubt in my mind that they will use their support slot with the Airborne Toxic Event to make that name for themselves in America that I know will become huge.
My new Canadian friend came to the Hype Hotel that night to see Trails and Ways from Oakland, California. He explained to me that they incorporated Latin sounds with pop. Don’t know why, but the Oakland origin threw me; shouldn’t they have been from South America or something? (If you Google them, they are described as making bossa nova pop, and one of their songwriters KBB used to live in Brazil.) It all didn’t make sense in my head until they actually started playing.
Latin music has such a strong and beautiful reliance on percussion, and this band’s sparkling percussion with the ethereal harmonies of two boys and two girls were truly stunning. The thing though that stood out most for me during their set was their cover that KBB introduced as being from “one of the most gifted artists of our time, Miguel”. Groan. I can’t stand Miguel, but for Trails and Ways to have taken a Miguel song and make it palatable, that alone makes them stars in my book. If you like to hear them, you can get a free EP from the band from their official Web site.
The third band of the night was Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils, who endeared themselves (I guess?) to the audience as soon as frontman Dustin Payseur got fixated on thanking Taco Bell for “feeding the fucking beat!” Um…yeah. Compared to the two previous groups, Beach Fossils’ sound was decidedly edgier and punkier. Unfortunately for me, I’d lump them into the same lo-fi, laddish Peace / Palma Violets / Vaccines pile and they didn’t do a thing for me. Been there, heard that. Actually, heard that kind of sound far too much in England these days…
My opinion of them dropped further when later on how they ended their set. Evidently the band had not been told until it was far too late that their previously promised set of x songs had to be curtailed for the Specials coming on next. Payseur proceeded to throw a temper tantrum onstage, though it was unclear who exactly he was angry with: Taco Bell, the event organisers or the Specials themselves. It’s too bad because everyone I know who was at the Hype Hotel that night remembers the temper tantrum and how badly it reflected on them as performers, and not their performance.
The Specials were, in a word, good. There was something about singer Terry Hall that put me off a little, but I’ve been told by others that “he’s always a little miserable” behind the microphone. Oh really. Maybe it is just his singing style, but I had envisioned this animated guy in the front. Singing has always come naturally to me and brings me a great source of joy, so to see someone who didn’t look 100% happy to be there was a little disappointing. Luckily, sound-wise they were on point.
I got chills hearing ‘A Message to You Rudy’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ live for the first time. You don’t understand; up to this point I had been subsisting on live performances from Maida Vale via Steve Lamacq in December, for example. I explained to a couple people in Austin that when I went to uni, all the girls I knew either had posters of John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, or one of the Specials. Did I ever think I would ever see the Specials gig in my lifetime? Honestly, no. This, too, is part of the SXSW magic: being in the same room with a band that has loomed so large, in near mythological proportions, in your past. I nearly had to pinch myself to remind myself what was going on before my very eyes was reality.
And then there was guitarist Lynval Golding, who cracked me up nearly the entire time. In a dapper purple suit, he looked like the happiest guy on the planet, grinning constantly in my direction, and every time he mentioned “the younger crowd” who now come with their parents to see the Specials play, he kept pointing to me as an example of the younger crowd. You rock, dude. The crowd was rough and moshing but I was glad I was at the front, being able to hold on to the barrier. Hey, I survived.
Because the Specials and the whole night really went on far beyond when they were supposed to, I had to make a decision: do I call it an early night before 1 AM, or do I go see someone else? My energy was flagging – I guess the pad thai I’d eaten earlier was gone from my stomach – and I didn’t think my feet would get me the nearly 8 blocks up a hill to Hickory Street club. So I grabbed a pedicab to save my tootsies. Admittedly, it was a selfish move. But I didn’t feel like sleeping just yet. I had a date with and needed to save them for…a rave. Well, the closest thing you can find to a rave in Austin on a Thursday night. With some new friends from Sheffield.
Though it was never going to be the most highly attended show of SXSW 2013, Reverend and the Makers turned this 100 or so group of people (mostly men) in their own private party. The very energetic American bloke super dancer I’d seen yesterday afternoon at their British Music Embassy show was present as well, so I knew I was going to be in for a good time. I’m not sure what the Brit to American ratio was, but it didn’t really matter. Everyone was there to dance, and Jon McClure and company weren’t going to disappoint. I found Jon to be so incredibly nice and candid during my chat with him the day before, it seemed almost rude if I did not show up for their final official showcase at SXSW! (It also seemed awfully rude at the show to be photographing and not dance. This is why I don’t have any photos of my own from this event either.)
‘Shine the Light’, ‘Out of the Shadows’, ‘Bassline’: there are just so many corkers on their third album ‘@Reverend_Makers’ that has only just been released in America this month that I hope it’s just a matter of time that our country will take to them and their energetic set. I never would have taken McClure to be a wrestling fan, but his dedication of ‘The Wrestler’ to a fallen comrade of the sport was strangely sincere before the band laid into you with groovy beats.
Back to the audience though. An Englishwoman from an indie label amused me by continuing to drink, until she got to the point where she as walking into people in her drunken stupor and finally had to sit down next to a speaker and rest because she couldn’t speak. And she missed out on the best part of the night. During their closing number, McClure was pulling punters up on stage to dance with him, and he gestured that I should do them the honour. And I couldn’t very well say no, could I? I found out later that members of the Enemy had also turned up to Hickory Street and joined the party onstage; when else am I going to say I was dancing onstage with Reverend and the Makers and the Enemy? I was so high on life afterwards from the amazing set that I gave Jon’s wife Laura a hug, and she was beaming. When I was leaving, Jon gave me a quick peck on the cheek and said whenever I found myself in Sheffield, we all should have a drink.
There are a couple photos floating around on the internet of the mayhem (this is probably the best one) but all that’s important is I was there and I enjoyed myself immensely. Ha! It must have taken me 2 hours to get home because a pedicab driver finally took pity on me and drove me back to East Austin (Andrew, you’re a star!) but all I could think about was the amazing night I’d had. A little bit of Sheffield in Austin? Yup. And I couldn’t have been happier.
By Mary Chang on Friday, 29th March 2013 at 11:00 am
One of the best ‘discoveries’ of mine from SXSW 2013 was guitar band Girls Names from their spiffy appearance at the NI@SXSW showcase on Monday night. I put ‘discoveries’ in quotes, because I really should have heard of them prior to this trip to Austin. No matter though; I’m going to keep a close eye on this Belfast band.
I didn’t think I would be able to find them, as their American PR told me to try and find them at one of their gigs. But I took my chances at showing up at the Music from Ireland breakfast on Friday morning at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s, convinced that I would find at least one hungry Irish band partaking in the free brekky, keen on an interview. After Cathal, Claire and Philip of Girls Names had their breakfast, they kindly answered some questions for me about the lack of punctuation in their name, about their releases to date and much more. I should also mention that we were on the same flight from Austin to Houston Sunday morning, and it was nice I got to see them again and wish them safe travels back to Belfast!