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SXSW 2017: living it up at the British Music Embassy, and Mary’s goodbye to Austin (Saturday night, part 2) – 18th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

It’s the “best American champion of British music” part of Mary Chang that always pulls me back to the British Music Embassy at the end of every night during SXSW. But then Saturday evening comes, and the final visit to Latitude 30 turns bittersweet. It’s where my friends from Britain – the new ones made here, and the old stalwarts I’ve known for years – and I say our final goodbyes. We order our last drinks in Austin and share our last tearful hugs and the wish that we’ll meet again next year in the same exact place or hopefully sooner, and with loads more success under our belts too.

No-one ever says it out loud, but it is understood that some bands will leave Austin with new business deals, the luckiest signing to labels. Others will go on to similar deals after they get back home, off the back of having showcased at the biggest music festival in the world. And yet others will either stay at the level they’ve already achieved in their home country or region, or otherwise fade into obscurity altogether, never to be heard from again. I say this not with cynicism about the industry, but with the egregious disappointment I feel when a band I’m crazy about doesn’t achieve the heights I thought they would reach. It has become my personal challenge to do as much as I can with what gift I have been given: the written word to tell the stories of music and the people behind it. Some people might say I take SXSW way too seriously, but for these bands, these musicians, these singers, this is their life. And I feel incredibly honoured to be taking part in their stories.

Having gotten my Scandi pop fix satisfied, my intention was to join Carrie at the British Music Embassy so we could enjoy the rest of the bands on the UK Department of International Trade showcase together. This was the first year that I can recall Latitude 30 letting people who didn’t have a wristband or badge pay a cover charge to get access to the venue. As a result, there were three queues outside the venue: one for badges, one for wristbands and one for those who paid the cover.

I get that the people who paid the cover really wanted to get in, and rightly so: the British Music Embassy is rammed every year on Saturday night, and it’s always a stellar line-up. It’s to the credit of the bookers that the bill on the last night is always amazing, but it’s definitely a victim of its own success. Two years ago at midnight on Saturday, I was stuck outside in the queue with Huw Stephens and Kate Tempest and her entourage, and eventually Huw gave up and left. So how fair is it to charge people in an additional queue when you have no idea whether they’ll even get into the venue? To add even more incredulity to the situation, Carrie had interviewed showcasing artist Alice Jemima outside the venue after her set. Alice wanted to do the right thing and go back in through the front door, and staff wouldn’t let either of them through. Hey, you guys did see her onstage earlier, right? Sorry, rant over.

I eventually got in and rejoined Carrie inside for her first taste of Aquilo live. Along with two others of the four remaining bands left on the evening’s showcase, I had seen them earlier in the week, so I’ll keep my comments here brief. In Aquilo’s case, the two shows I’d seen them at previously – the KCRW showcase at Elysium Wednesday night and the Get Buzzzed showcase at the Brew Exchange midday Friday – eased them into their much higher profile appearance at the British Music Embassy. For the bands who are chosen to perform there Saturday night, it’s practically the biggest coup ever. It would be completely understandable for nerves to show.

Tom Higman of Aquilo, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

However, whether it had to do with the length of time Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher have been in bands separately or together in Aquilo or not, onstage they were the model of aplomb, winning over a new crowd with their brand of emotional, soulful pop tailor made for mainstream radio. I couldn’t have been prouder of them. You can practically hear their future fans screaming and squealing.

I was keen on finding out what Carrie thought of SuperGlu, who had already wowed audiences in Austin twice, Monday night at the DIY / Ticketweb showcase here, followed by Tuesday night at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase at Scratchouse. As I expected, their carefree, fun rock songs that were more pop than slacker were just the ticket for the last few hours left to punters at SXSW 2017.

SiriusXM favourites Sundara Karma took over on stage next. Carrie knows more about them than I do, having reviewed their debut for RCA / Chess Club, ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’, when it was released back in January. Young musicians who write and perform pop music often get a bad rap about being lightweights and sellouts. While for sure there are many manufactured pop bands and singers, or at least a lot acts whose label pays off some hitmaker to write a bunch of songs, the Reading group are an exception to the rule.

Oscar Pollock of Sundara Karma, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

As enjoyable as single ‘She Said’ is, a closer examination of the lyrics shows that singer Oscar Pollock and his band have thought about what it means to be young on a philosophical level. Certainly more than any other 20-year olds you know. This is exactly the kind of band we need to nurture and support going forward to keep not only music alive, but to inspire the next generations of musicians that it’s possible to be thoughtful in your artistry and make a statement, while still becoming a success.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRORIKvOR4Y[/youtube]

Steve Lamacq, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

The “Special Guest”, to be introduced by none other than Steve Lamacq to close out the evening, was not a well-kept secret. For sure, LIFE were my favourite closing act of the last 6 years that I’ve been going out to SXSW, which says a lot. It also seems almost too appropriate that LIFE were chosen for this coveted spot, as now more than ever is the existence of each and every one of us and the things we love are being threatened. As the world grows more me-centric and selfish, those without will fall through the cracks, but who will speak for them? As their Bandcamp biography reads, this is a band who make “Irresistible dark pop that holds a dirty mirror up to modern life”. No-one ever said life was easy, or perfect or pretty for that matter, right?

Mez Green of LIFE, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

LIFE had already shown Thursday afternoon at the British Music Embassy that they weren’t afraid to pull a few punches and point a few fingers at the crooked establishment, all the while rough and ready. Frontman Mez Green dressed for the occasion in a Don’t Mess With Texas t-shirt, suggestive of what laid ahead for us. The band took it up another notch Saturday night, Green clambering on the bar to deliver his vitriolic barbs while his brother Mick Sanders jumped into the crowd with his red Stratocaster. While they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they were the final loud, sweaty, uncompromising parting blow the British Music Embassy would deliver to Austin, and I wouldn’t have wanted to end my SXSW 2017 any other way.

Now to rest up the next 6 months before the preparing for the next carnival of crazy in 2018. Good night, Austin, and all you sweet princes and princesses. See you next year!

 

SXSW 2017: Germans and Swedes at Swan Dive, and an Italian and Norwegians at the Sidewinder (Saturday night, part 1) – 18th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Remember what I said in my Saturday afternoon review about relaxing and picking up bands you missed at SXSW? Sounds like conflicting advice. After you’ve done this festival for a few years, you actually get a weird sense of calm coming over you on the last night. You’ve got this, and you know you’re going to have an amazing time tonight. Your feelings are also tempered by the fact that tomorrow, you’re go home and back, begrudgingly, to Real Life. So you might as well make the most of it, yeah?

Before I went out to the Latitude 30 for the final time at SXSW 2017, I had a few more bands to experience. I had never spent much time in Swan Dive during past SXSWs, but I can say from this year’s times I really enjoyed both the indoor and patio venues. The staff there were always super nice and eager to get us scanned and into the venue as soon as possible. Was it because the venues are on the smaller side and they weren’t hosting the most hyped bands? Most probably.

Still, even though I might not have made this obvious in my mad dash through 70+ bands in my reviews, you can’t and shouldn’t discount the human element in making (or breaking) your time in Austin. While some of the volunteers at the convention center could have used a lot more training (there’s a problem when I know more about the building and what sessions are going on than you do), you must remember that we are guests in this city in the Lone Star State and for a week, they have been our gracious hosts. Every act of kindness, for every smile, for every attempt to keep us safe, all of it: we should be appreciative of everyone’s hard work, time and energy in pulling this thing off.

Gurr, Swan Dive, Saturday 18 March 2017

This is what I was thinking when I was watching Berlin girl band GURR (say it with me) play to a packed Swan Dive to start my evening. Happy, peppy pop with the occasional wail of garage rock. Are they sweet or a little bit devilish? That’s the kind of question no-one is going to think about too heavily Saturday at SXSW; all anyone cared about was dancing to the music. If you live in the UK, you’re in luck: they’re embarking on their first-ever headline tour of the Isles with Brighton’s Yonaka later this month through May. They’re also playing Live at Leeds and The Great Escape.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEyXv6gN010[/youtube]

Simian Ghost, Swan Dive Patio, Saturday 18 March 2017

Around the corner and down an alley with no queue, and that was all it took for me to witness Swedish alt-poppers Simian Ghost at the Swan Dive Patio. Compared to the much newer acts getting their first close-up in Austin, they’re relative veterans in the music world, and this showed in singer Sebastian Arnström’s relaxed manner onstage, even giving me a thumbs up as I tried to photograph him. Their syncopated new single ‘Stop Moving’ (ironic, that) is out now on Heist or Hit, and it actually sounds brasher than I remembered them. They’ve always had a light touch with their music, keeping things dreamy, echoey. Is it wrong to say they sound so…Scandinavian? A fourth album is purported to be on the way, so we’ll have to see if they plan to diverge from the wistful sound of their past.

I ducked into the Sidewinder for the first time ever, and what a cute little place. I could see how this would totally be a cool place to see a band for the first time. Both stages here were showcases being put on by The Burning Ear, whose showcases I had partaked in past years in other venues. I had arrived a little too early for who I wanted to see on the outside stage, so I thought I’d hang around for a few minutes for the act who was performing inside. Here I am, trying to snap a photo of a slight girl with long hair from the side of the stage, and it turns out I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

GIUNGLA, Burning Ear showcase, Sidewinder inside, Saturday 18 March 2017

Without warning, GIUNGLA (aka one woman band Ema Drei from Bologna, Italy) leaps out into the crowd, and with her guitar no less. I don’t think the stage crew had any idea she would do this, as I’m the only person who can throw out her lead behind her so she can continue attacking her guitar in the middle of the room. This was the classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve no idea how anyone could classify GIUNGLA as pop: she’s a riot grrrl and wants to wail on her guitar, and it just happens that she has a drum machine. According to The Line of Best Fit, she’s signed to London collective Some Kinda Love, so expect to hear more from her soon.

It can’t be too hard to imagine that any band out of Norway wishes to match the success of a-ha or better yet, surpass it. The last Norwegian band I thought who would go the distance, Casiokids, received a grant from those highly successful ‘Take on Me’ blokes; the last time I talked to them, they told me their collective had started to fall apart once band members were having kids. Enter Chain Wallet, the Scandinavian pop band of my dreams.

Chain Wallet, Burning Ear showcase, Sidewinder outside, Saturday 18 March 2017

Like Casiokids, they are from Bergen, the second largest city in Norway after Oslo. Yes, there are synths. Yes, there are washy guitars. And yes, Stian Iverson’s vocals perfectly match the dreamiest pop imaginable. Give in, because you’re going to get lost in these songs in the end. I recognised ‘Faded Fight’ from their set, which sounded incredible. Just 3 days after I saw them in this back garden in Austin, they were playing with Flyte at London Old Blue Last. Unbelievable. Just remember, you heard about them here first.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeassHTDdCk[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: Sounds Australia’s Sound Gallery II and the British Music Embassy Saturday afternoon – 18th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

By the time you reach Saturday at SXSW 2017, you’re not longer the eager, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed person who arrived in Austin just days before. You can’t remember where you put your shoes last night, you’re dragging your feet and your sunglasses are no longer a fashion staple, they’re a necessary evil to hide the exhaustion that your eyes will betray.

Saturday for me at SXSW is all about taking it easy, picking up the final few bands you haven’t seen, seeing again anyone who really wowed you and hopefully getting in brunch and a Bloody Mary (me) or mimosa (Carrie) somewhere. We shalt not speak further of the fact that by the time I made it to the British Music Embassy on this day, they had completely run out of Bloody Mary mix (?!?!?), so let’s focus on the acts, shall we?


As the opening bookend to SXSW on Tuesday in part I of it that preceded it, Sound Gallery II at B.D. Riley’s on Saturday afternoon is a civilised, chill way to ease yourself into Saturday. I arrived in the middle of a set by The Coconut Kids. The one thing that Austin lacks is a tropical atmosphere, something the Adelaide ‘world folk’ group was all too happy to provide through their music. Lest you think they’re one-dimensional, one of their lead singers Julian Ferguson brought forward a tender, slower song about the Brussels terror attacks. Rather than be a buzz kill, it was nice to see there was more to this folk band than their sunny exterior.

All Our Exes Live in Texas, Sound Gallery II, B.D. Riley's, Saturday 18 March 2017

Country and folk girl group All Our Exes Live in Texas came highly recommended by many friends from Oz and beyond. Not since the Staves at my first SXSW in 2012 have I experienced such tight, female, multi-part harmonies in Austin. They also have two new, very young fans: in the audience at B.D. Riley’s were a couple with two young children, both sporting hip-looking ear defenders that you normally don’t see anywhere except outdoor music festivals. Good on them. Speaking of ear defenders, stay tuned for Carrie’s report on the free hearing tests the both of us did in Austin. (Small spoiler: my hearing is better than Carrie’s, no doubt with my longer use of proper earplugs. Smirk.)

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcaDmeSXENQ [/youtube]

Hamish Anderson, Sound Gallery II, B.D. Riley's, Saturday 18 March 2017

Hamish Anderson is no stranger to SXSW, having come out here for the first time in 2015. After pop and folk acts, this Melbourne singer/songwriter’s approach to blues rock provided a welcome contrast to the acts that came before him. Masterful is probably the best word to describe Anderson’s guitar playing ability, something I’m sure will stand him in good stead for years to come. It is sometimes easy to forget that we wouldn’t have rock ‘n’ roll if blues had not come out of the Mississippi Delta before it. He and I talked about the debt we have to the originators in this interview I had with him on 6th Street after his blazing Sound Gallery II set.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhMi8CA8lBI[/youtube]

More so than any other afternoon, Saturday at the British Music Embassy sees more people who have not frequented the venue for the rest of the week. The weekend warriors have descended on Austin and naturally, the natives are curious to hear what our friends across the water have to show us. This afternoon was devoted to pop from Britain. In salmon-coloured crushed velvet trousers, Welsh popster Casi was ready for her second performance at Latitude 30 after an early evening appearance the night before at the BBC Introducing showcase. I previously saw the Bangor native wow the crowd at Patterns 2 years at the Gorwelion Horizons Welsh showcase at The Great Escape 2015.

Casi, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

It’s a cliché, I know, but the girl is all grown up. Even more so than is usual for entertainers from her region of the UK, Casi is very proud of her Welsh heritage. I’m glad she’s done nothing to change her unique accent, and with the electro and r&b beats backing her, she provides a refreshing combination of new and familiar. The punters of Latitude 30 rewarded her with well-deserved cheers. Check out her performance of ‘The Beast’ at the BBC Introducing show below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgXIG__Cc8U[/youtube]

Youngr, British Music Embassy, Saturday 18 March 2017

Youngr, aka Dario Darnell and son of Kid Creole, would be the last act of the afternoon showcases at the British Music Embassy for the week. Either everyone was well sauced or his reputation must have preceded him, as the crowd went absolutely mental for him. I had to get out of there to get some air! Like a lion (have you seen his amazingly mad hair?) surveying his pride, he held court with his highly accessible blend of soul and electronics. Whether he was singing or going spare on his drum kit, he had a whale of a time at Latitude 30, and so did his audience.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2f5oDL9XTg[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: visits to St. David’s, the Velveeta Room and the British Music Embassy (Friday, part 2) – 17th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

I want to add another rule to those I presented yesterday as part of how I saw five bands in 1 hour on my Thursday night at SXSW 2017. Rule #5: take advantage of secondary or even tertiary shows your favourite artist is playing. Knowledge is power, and any research you do into additional shows an artist is playing will help you make the most of your time in Austin. Research is not just for the purpose of avoiding schedule clashes: smaller, less prominently advertised shows, especially those off the beaten path, are likely to give you the priceless opportunities to meet your heroes and/or to see them in more intimate settings. And if you’re anything like me (short and small) and have any level of claustrophobia, this is an unsaid key to keeping your sanity during SXSW.

For a long while, the only show Berlin-based Dane Agnes Obel had scheduled at SXSW was Thursday night at Clive Bar, in the Rainey Street area of the city. Unfortunately (for me anyway), closer to the time of SXSW, it was announced Clive Bar would become the Twin Peaks Showtime venue to celebrate the reboot of the cult tv show. Further, on Thursday night the showcase would host a very special appearance by none other than FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan. Coupled with the announcement that ‘90s boy band Hanson would be appearing at Bungalow around the corner, it didn’t make sense walking all that way and to queue up only to be disappointed.

Thankfully, Obel announced a second show at the main room at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary as part of the Communion Presents showcase, which afforded her fans like me to have a better chance of seeing her and to be able to sit down while doing so. Many did, filling the venue easily and well before she even took the stage. SXSW was just one stop in her North American tour that had already passed through the East Coast the week before. I’m still unclear why venues seem to think throwing red light on their performers is a good idea. The celebrated Obel and her truly international, all female backing band were under a sea of crimson for her entire set, so I took a rare break at shooting bands at St. David’s.

Released in autumn 2016, her third and latest album ‘Citizen of Glass’ demonstrates the imaginative Dane’s commitment to defying convention in an industry where fitting in is de rigueur. With a flurry of instruments both conventional (piano, guitar, drums) and unusual (cello, celesta, mandolin) the unique performance was beautiful, especially in the confines of such a hallowed space. ‘Stretch Your Eyes’, which I reviewed ahead of SXSW, was a masterpiece live, exceeding all my expectations.

While there are two queues for the two stages at St. David’s, the main room and Bethell Hall, I can think of only one time I’ve been in Bethell Hall in the last 6 years where the place has been packed and they weren’t letting anyone in. In that respect, it’s a placid, infrequently visited SXSW venue hidden in plain sight. Good news for me, as I was wanting to catch up on the new material from an artist who had wowed me in DC a few years ago. Stepping out of Agnes Obel’s show a little early, I was able to catch the tail-end of another set here.

Bethell Hall is less pretentious than its name suggests. It has a recreation / social room-type vibe, and therefore it has more of an everyman flavour. While it’s not like I didn’t enjoy his set at B.D. Riley’s Thursday morning at the Full Irish Breakfast, there’s something very special about seeing Ciaran Lavery performing in such of a room. Think about where many legendary singers of popular music honed their craft: that’s right, with their families and in the church.

Ciaran Lavery, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017

With the acoustics of the bare walls of Bethell Hall bouncing back Lavery’s gritty yet gorgeous vocals and acoustic guitar chords to us, you couldn’t have asked for a better venue to see the Northern Irishman. Deadpanning that he would warn us next time if he was to perform another set of “overly positive songs”, he had the audience not only in rapt attention but also chuckling at his dry Irish wit. Ending with an incomprehensibly rich sounding a capella version of Tom Waits’ ‘If I Have to Go’, it’s not an understatement to say Ciaran Lavery slayed the audience at Bethell Hall.

Ciaran Lavery, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

It fell to Oxfordshire’s Lewis Watson to follow such a great performance. The contrast was unfortunately stark, as even though I don’t think the two artists differ that much in age, lack of festival experience (or perhaps lack of practice in recent months) showed in Watson’s comparatively lacklustre set. While I am very familiar with and loved Watson’s 2014 breakthrough LP ‘the morning’, I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to his latest album released the week after SXSW, ‘midnight’. Based on his performance in Austin, I’m not sure I want to. Maybe his latest breakup knocked him harder than he’s willing to admit? The one bright spot of new material was the wispy ‘Hello Hello’, in which he asked the audience to join in.

Lewis Watson, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017

Watson’s nervously chuckled assurances that the new songs sounds better with his full backing band and his asking us to imagine one song or another with a thumping drum beat implies, whether he meant it or not, that these new songs cannot stand on their own in their original form in which they were written. Further, while I completely understand the prohibitive travel and visa costs involved in bringing a full band over from England to America, one wonders why Watson appeared at SXSW solo at all, when a North American tour with his band was already in the works for later in the spring. It’s also hard to overlook that he broke not one, but two strings in the middle of his set. Chalk it all up to nerves or unpreparedness, but I was sorely disappointed.

After a quick brisket and coleslaw break and a gawk at and a farewell wave to the hordes already queued up to see Rag’n’Bone Man’s show in St. David’s main room at 1 AM, I headed back down to 6th Street. It was St. Patrick’s Day, so a visit to The Velveeta Room’s Music from Ireland showcase was definitely in order. (Sadly, there was not even time for a Guinness!) I had been interviewing Hull punks LIFE at the British Music Embassy while Carrie caught the Academic at the Full Irish Breakfast Thursday afternoon. It was now my turn to catch part of a set by the band I’d been wanting to see live for a long time.

The Academic, Music from Ireland showcase, The Velveeta Room, Friday 17 March 2017

Having seen the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room for so many years, I have to say the Velveeta Room feels like a much better venue for the bands. It also oddly reminds me of The Tivoli where MFI’s Canadian Music Week showcase was in 2016, so it has that going for it. The Academic from Mullingar were worth the wait. Full of the fun and vigour that made me fall in love with Two Door Cinema Club back in 2009, they brought an intensity and energy to the venue that only youth can. Singer/guitarist Craig Fitzgerald is an effective frontman, leading his band into every dynamic number, from single ‘Mixtape 2003’ that we reviewed last summer to their 2015 EP standout ‘Different’. Check out my very funny interview with the whole band that we did after their set through here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu8M3Cw6fuU[/youtube]

I then returned to the British Music Embassy for the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music showcase to witness Glasgow pop rockers Catholic Action have Latitude 30’s punters in the palm of their hand. They proved that being given a much bigger room that earlier at the Mohawk was no problem at all. (Stay tuned for Carrie’s report of their performance Saturday afternoon at El Sapo, which was additional evidence that outdoor Mexican-themed venues are no match for them either.) Following the Scots was another band I’d been recommended to see, though to be honest, I was expecting it to be full of shenanigans. I wasn’t wrong, and it seemed everyone who was there that Friday night to see them couldn’t talk about anyone or anything else the last day of SXSW.

Bristol punks IDLES (yes, all caps again) are probably best known to 6 Music listeners for their track ‘WELL DONE’, which hilariously name-checks not only Steve Lamacq but also ex-Great British Bakeoff octagenarian Mary Berry having a job and enjoying reggae. People are angry with what’s going on in Britain and in a similar vein to what LIFE are doing in East Yorkshire, IDLES are the South West equivalent in providing the opening of a pressure valve. In Red Hot Chili Peppers-style, guitarist Mark Bowen seems to enjoy performing in nothing but his underpants, which if you’re a photographer is not for the faint of heart.

IDLES, British Music Embassy, BBC Introducing / PRS for Music showcase, Latitude 30, Friday 17 March 2017

I get that it’s part of their anarchic style that continues into their debut album ‘BRUTALISM’ out now, but it’s distracting (I think negatively) from the messages Joe Talbot wants to send in his lyrics. Their live performance is everything you would expect: a ruckus onstage, leading to equally crazy scenes down on the floor. IDLES did everything they set out to do: create havoc.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Oxqf_15k0w[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: Get Buzzzed at the Brew Exchange and pop-ins at Output Belfast, the Glasgow Buckaroo and Sunday Best showcases (Friday, part 1) – 17th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Getting away from the general hive of activity in Austin, at least once, is a good thing. Our friends at Music for Listeners put on several days of free afternoon shows out at El Sapo. West of Congress Avenue, there’s Waterloo Records and Whole Foods and their free shows. There’s also a whole host of bars that turn into venues while a whole bunch of people who are in town for SXSW remain oblivious to them. I’d never been to The Brew Exchange, but I took the opportunity to check it and the Get Buzzzed showcase sponsored by a few different music companies early Friday afternoon. While I was out there, Carrie held down the fort at the BMI brunch at The Four Seasons.

Mt. Wolf, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Remember what I said about maximising your number of acts seen by visiting venues that have two stages? The Brew Exchange has two and with staggered set times, you could enjoy the music while also enjoying one of the many beers on tap, because what else would a place with a name like The Brew Exchange offer up in libations? Atmospheric electronic pop group Mt. Wolf played first on the stage actually inside the venue. (I also saw them Tuesday night at ScratcHouse at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase there, as well as Thursday at the British Music Embassy.) Electro soul pop duo Aquilo followed them, playing with their backs to the open windows at the front of the place. Following two great but all too brief performances, Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher of Aquilo and I took a walk around the corner to do this interview.

Aquilo, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Something I revel in when I’m at a music festival is talking to fellow music fans. On my walk back to the British Music Embassy, I met an Austinite who was a fellow hat wearer on this windy day, and we struck up a conversation. We had a mutual love for dance and electronic music, so I knew I had someone to show him back at Latitude 30. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but my new acquaintance was best buds with the bouncer there, ha!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

I had been rushing back to catch Derry electronic musician and producer Ryan Vail, who had first performed in Austin that week on the Generator NI and Belfast City Council-sponsored riverboat cruise that Carrie covered for us. I was eager to check out his live show. Our Adam had spoken highly not only of Vail’s music, having seeing him at an Output Belfast showcase in February, but also of the visuals by Plume Studios that were projected behind him as he performed. The combination of music and projection reminded me of Rival Consoles’ (Ryan L. West) performance on the same stage 2 years prior and also at The Great Escape 2015, both which I highly enjoyed. I was pleased to learn from Vail himself after his set that he not only knew of Rival Consoles but that they were fans of each other’s music. Hey Ryans, you gotta tour together. DO IT!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

Vail is a unique electronic artist, in that he is equally comfortable with emotional, starker pieces, where the focus is on the piano, as he is with the comparatively more forward-thinking, ambient soundscapes within which he calls on his various effects and sequencers to help him build the experience. He is also not too shy to sing, which not all electronic musicians are eager to do, but I don’t think many of them fully understand this adds an important human touch that non-electro heads appreciate. I am always on the hunt for an engaging beat and an electronic tune that draws me in, and Ryan Vail’s music succeeds on both counts. Two thumbs way up.

I’m going to fast forward past my second time seeing / dragging Carrie to witness Welsh group The Sandinistas’s set at Valhalla and sitting in on Simon Raymonde’s talk with Eric Pulido of Midlake and BNQT fame and actor and music lover Jason Lee at the convention. It’s now night, and I’m queuing outside the Mohawk, a place I have to admit I’ve avoided since the tragic car crash in front of it during SXSW 2014. I was joined in the queue with a Japanese woman from a Kyoto blog who was very excited to see The Lemon Twigs. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the CD of Kyoto (Kyotan?) bands she gave me, but I hope to soon.

The Mohawk indoor stage was to be invaded by Scots via a showcase dubbed The Glasgow Buckaroo. It has been a few years since Scotland has had an entire showcase to themselves, so their return to Austin with the most bands from their region in recent memory was entirely welcome. Glaswegians Catholic Action, starring former Casual Sex drummer turned effective frontman Chris McCrory, would begin the festivities with their brand of fun, clap-happy pop/rock.

Catholic Action, The Glasgow Buckaroo, Mohawk indoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Is it wrong to compare them to the Beatles? The comparison seems inevitable tonight, as McCrory is sporting a floppy black hat that seems a purposeful nod to John Lennon. Will Catholic Action be the Next British Guitar Band, via Mud? The jury is still out on this but for sure, they had many a tail feather shaking at both the Mohawk and the British Music Embassy later that evening, as I can fully attest to.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdpMuRXoItA[/youtube]

Appropriately enough, the outdoor stage at Mohawk was revving up with another Scottish act. Young Sam Gellaitry began 4AD’s night there with his take on electronic dance, stood in front of his Macbook and equipment high above all of us. In this day and age, it’s unusual to describe the music from an electronic artist whose focus is on dance as “cinematic”, but I’d have to agree with Billboard here.

Sam Gellaitry, 4AD showcase, Mohawk outdoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Despite his young age, it’s obvious from listening to his tunes that the Stirling native has a lot of imagination and ideas, but he’s also honed his craft to be able to strike the balance between weird and wonderful and providing the masses something they’re going to embrace and dance to. I thought he was incredible. I was practically weeping that I had to leave his set early. Mark my words, one day I will interview him.

Speaking of weird, I was out of the Mohawk and down the street quickly to catch a bit of recent Sunday Best signing Laucan. Laurence Galpin performed as the first artist of the Rob Da Bank label’s showcase at Valhalla, where Carrie and I had been that afternoon. The alt-folk artist was joined by a cellist, as well as a backing track coming through the speakers of the venue that can only be described as vaguely terrifying. You don’t expect to hear other voices other than the performer on stage, so I was sufficiently weirded out by both that and the disorienting darkness of Valhalla. Galpin quipped that his intention for the set was for it to be truly an “immersive experience”, so he should consider his appearance there a success, even if it was a bit muted.

Laucan, Sunday Best Records showcase, Valhalla, Friday 17 March 2017

 

(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Happyness – Write In

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Happyness Write In album coverOne of the most overused cliches in music writing is the term ‘sophomore slump’. It’s pretty much a no go for any writer worth their salt, so when talking about a band’s second album you have to get creative, much like the band themselves. London’s Happyness are a band who are seemingly deep into the idea of not giving a fuck. Following 2014’s ‘Weird Little Birthday’, an album that was as deep as wandering the metaphorical streets in a daze was always going to be a hard task. There’s only so much slacker daze rock you can create without just ending up going in circles, which, unfortunately they pretty much do on this new album.

‘Write In’ opens with ‘Falling Down’, a track that makes you want a whole 2 minutes until you even hear singer Jonny Allan mutter a word. A bold move, but one that is repeated over and over, something that eventually grinds on you after four or five tracks. Sure, slacker rock is what it is, seemingly effortless yet tactile in its execution, but it always leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Track two, ‘The Reel Starts Again [Man Overboard]’, is perhaps the record’s most accomplished moment, which is a shame because that means the LP has peaked so early. Utilising piano, Southern style guitar slides and laid-back romantic vocals, it feels like the soundtrack to a montage scene in a rom-com. A very specific analogy, but one you can try out yourself at home with a muted film.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyecEkrg2s[/youtube]

Writing the entire record off as a repetitive throwaway would be unjust. There are moments that moderately deviate from the spectrum such as ‘Through Windows’, which is a piano-led number with beautifully layered vocals. If you’re a follower of Happyness, you’ll recognise a couple of the tracks such as ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’ and ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’, both of which featured on the band’s previous EP. The latter track closes this full length and does so with a beauty that’s lost on the rest of the record. These are moments that do their best to stand out, but to close it out with an effortlessly beautiful track like this is tantamount to eating a gobstopper and finding the nice bit in the middle.

As a full length album, it has its moments, but ultimately this is quite a slog to listen too. Happyness could do with adding an extra element to their sound, be it a tempo faster than that of a resting heart rate or a break in the monotony of the vocals. It should also be said that some may find the throwback aspect of their sound moderately appealing. There’s a harkening back to the late Eighties and early Nineties with the production, which is a pleasing novelty. The elements are all there, but the band fail to really push them into any real solid development. Slacker rock can only go so far before it folds in on itself and becomes counter-productive.

4/10

Happyness’ second album ‘Write In’ is out this Friday, the 7th of April, on Moshi Moshi Records in the Uk and Bar/None in North America. They just appeared at SXSW 2017 in Austin. For more on Happyness on TGTF, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RopxSLkLosY[/youtube]

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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