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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 31st March 2015 at 2:00 pm
The first must-see act on Thursday night of my dogeared and beaten up paper schedule for SXSW 2015 didn’t go on until 9:30 PM, which let Carrie and me have an actual sit-down dinner at one of our favourites, Crave, before going back out to see bands again. In a span of an hour, I had tasters (some good, some so-so) from Canada, Brazil, America and France before going forward with my previous plan. Something else funny: on my way to my first band of the night, I spied a famous quiff-cum-mohawk that couldn’t belong to anyone but Daniel Heptinstall of Skinny Lister. “Skinny Lister!”, I shouted. That’s the sort of thing that happens at SXSW: you’ll be walking down the street, minding your own business, and then you’ll run smack dab into someone (or several someones) famous. But I had to run. I’ll have to drink from their flagon of rum another time.
Canada: friends during our time in Austin and on Facebook had recommended a Montreal girl duo named Milk & Bone, which I decided to give a shot at the M for Montreal show at Sledge Hammer. They were running terribly behind schedule and it was unclear if it was an issue with the sound system, the duo’s own equipment or even a delay from the first band having trouble getting started, but a famous friend with me that night said this sort of thing never happens at Reading and Leeds because the stage manager makes sure bands start on time.
Finally, the ladies were ready to roll. I think when you’re doing pop, especially with the ever ubiquitious synth, you need to set yourself apart from everyone else, and that’s especially true in female vocal-led dream pop, an already crowded field with fellow Canadians Purity Ring, The Hundred and the Hands, Beach House and acts of similar ilk. My impression? Milk & Bone are a downbeat CHVRCHES in monochrome. Not my thing, thank you. Next!
Brazil: The Autoramas from Rio de Janeiro have been going since 1997, so we’re talking nearly 2 decades in the business with no signs of slowing down. The way they were working the crowd at B.D. Riley’s, punters stood up and cheering, I’d say they make a good living from their keep. They blend no nonsense punk and garage rock into a winning formula. In the moment, I kind of wished I knew Portuguese. One wonders though how much bigger they might be if they had a couple of songs in English?
America: When in doubt in Austin (well, if you like electronic music like me), follow the big beats into a grimy basement, and you can’t go wrong. If I didn’t have a full evening lined up already, I might have been quite happy staying at Barcelona all night, giving myself to the beats and scratches of the DJs for the evening. I only stayed long enough to hear San Francisco DJ Landau do his thing. (I can’t find anything on this guy, and at the moment I’m assuming he’s one of the head honchos of Surefire Agency, who put on this night. ) I noticed nothing exemplary about his style but there were plenty of punters cutting a rug, drink in hand, having a good time and being good to one another, and we need more of that in Austin. Good stuff.
France: Opening your SXSW 2015 band pocket guide and choosing a showcase to visit without any sort of idea of what you want to see is pretty much like throwing a dart on a map. So I went with the most ridiculous sounding venue on the list: the Vulcan Gas Company. According to Wikipedia, it was once the place to see psychedelic bands in Austin back in the ’60s, which is pretty cool to begin with. But as I walked through its doors, you could immediately tell the place had gotten a major facelift, as it’s now a handsome dance club, complete with a sign welcoming you in that’s literally in flames. What a different vibe than Barcelona. You’re beautiful, Vulcan Gas Company. Live long and prosper.
I stopped in just in time for Dream Koala, French teenager Yndi Ferreira and his dreads, who was playing the Kitsune party there. Up to that point, despite my support of many Kitsune compilation albums and Kitsune-related artists (Delphic, Is Tropical, Juveniles, Owlle, Two Door Cinema Club) who have gone on to bigger things, I’d never been to an actual Maison Kitsune-sponsored show, so it was nice to have things come round full circle. As you might expect from his act name, Dream Koala’s music is sleepy, atmospheric pop, yet with some interesting things on guitar and dreamy falsetto vocals to give an overall feeling of cool. This isn’t normally the kind of thing I like, but even to a small crowd, it was evident Ferreira was killing it, consumed by the music and letting it take him where he needed to go. I’ve read he showcased at last year’s CMJ but I’m wondering why we hadn’t heard of him! You’d think this is exactly the kind of man fans of the xx would be eating up.
‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’. For a change, it’s an album title that actually has some substance and explanation as you work your way through Aussie slacker Courtney Barnett‘s full-length debut. A year ago she’d never set foot with her music outside Australia, yet a year on she’s playing a stream of shows across the UK, followed by American dates and European festivals too. On her debut album you discover just why she’s found her feet so quickly. Put simply, Barnett’s style is straightforward, everyday even.
Opener ‘Elevator Operator’ has a sharp, psychedelic rhythm, and even before you delve into her lyrics, you realise she might not mean to be witty, but these everyday tales of hers are entirely relatable. On ‘Aqua Profunda!’ she recalls a flirtatious encounter at a swimming pool (“I was getting dizzy, my hair was wet and frizzy”) against a backdrop of burning bass, and then there’s her tales of house hunting on the folky ‘Depreston’, previously featured as a Video of the Moment on TGTF. She might be adding narrative to everyday occurrences, but as a lyricist, she turns mundane stories into attention grabbing cliffhangers.
‘Pedestrian at Best’ is the closest she comes to producing a single, brimming with a bolshy confidence that Barnett delights in toying with. She maintains her wit, but beneath the grungy ’90s rock and fizzing riffs her anxieties are still apparent, chanting “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”, and adding “my internal monologue is a saturated analogue”.
This debut album offers just that, an expose into the chaotic mindset of a modern songwriter. There are times when billowing riffs appear on ‘Dead Fox’, or wild abandon sets in on ‘Nobody Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party’. It has fluid choruses and an Aussie drawl to die for, as the garage rock slowly concentrates itself into an overwhelming bridge. But, how the ideas for these songs have developed sometimes feels a little muddied; case in point, ‘Debbie Drowner’ and its wishy-washy melody. ‘Small Poppies’ also feels lacking in sophistication: there’s stylistic touches with blues riffs, but nothing to really get excited about, and the same holds true for ‘Boxing Day Blues’. She thrashes out a few select, punky and single-worthy songs at light-speed, only to follow up with several songs that feel overthought and hard to stomach.
‘Sometimes I Sit…’ results in an intense listen, and whilst the album has its turbulent moments, it’s about as true as you’ll come in 2015 to finding an album that truly wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s fascinating, likeable and relevant, but crucially leaves you at a crossroad. Do you want to follow this Melbourne native down the road of a rebellious garage rock to soundtrack wild summer parties; or would you rather have a slow-burning, heavier affair of late night smoking and wistful memories?
‘Sometimes I Sit, And Sometimes I Just Sit’, the debut album from Courtney Barnett, is out now on Mom + Pop Records. For past TGTF coverage on Courtney Barnett, go here.
The weather in Austin during most of the SXSW 2015 week was smattered with clouds and occasional rain showers, which had us keeping our jackets and umbrellas constantly at the ready. But the Wednesday morning and afternoon turned out to be bright and sunny with a slight cool breeze, perfect conditions for attending the inaugural FLOODfest event in the open air Cedar Street Courtyard. I arrived to the venue early for an interview before the show started, and I got settled inside just in time to catch the end of the Dutch Impact showcase preceding the afternoon’s official activities.
Bright guitar pop band Taymir rounded off the Dutch delegation with a lively and upbeat set including their catchy singles ‘Aaaaah’ and ‘What Would You Say’, both taken from their debut album ‘Phosphene’. The group of fans filtering into the courtyard for the afternoon showcase soon found their toes tapping and hips shaking to Taymir’s sharply energetic pop tunes, which were a perfect preliminary to set the mood for the stellar lineup ahead.
First on the set proper for FLOODfest was Los Angeles songwriter Jacob Dillan Summers, known here by the stage name Avid Dancer, with whom I’d had a nice interview outside the venue before the show began (if you missed it, you can stream the interview here ADD LINK). As he mentioned in our chat, Summers played in Austin with two bandmates, and his set at FLOODfest highlighted tracks from Avid Dancer’s upcoming debut album ‘1st Bath’. Both Summers’ singing voice and his songwriting are tenderly melodic, but his songs have a very definite lo-fi grit that gives them traction in the ears and the hearts of their listeners. Outside the confines of ‘1st Bath’ tracks, the real gem of Avid Dancer’s set was a recently written track that didn’t make the album, which I believe he called ‘Gazing’.
In the 2:00 PM time slot was English folk punk collective Skinny Lister, who really got the party started with their exuberant set, which included a delightful blend of pub rock sing-alongs, rollicking sea shanties, and old style dance tunes. When you see a band whose instrumentation includes both an accordion and a stand-up bass, you don’t necessarily expect crowd-surfing as part of the festivities, but at one point bassist Michael Camino dove right into the audience, trusting himself and his double bass to our enthusiastic hands-on support.
Singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-described “show-off” Lorna Thomas stole the show with her high-spirited dance moves, even closing the set with an interactive waltz in the middle of the crowd. If you didn’t catch it previously, we featured Skinny Lister’s video for ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’, which shows off exactly the kind of hair-on-fire shenanigans they put on display at FLOODfest, along with their signature brand of over-the-top, rock-infused folk music. Skinny Lister’s new album, ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is due out on the 20th of April via Xtra Mile Records; watch TGTF for more coverage of the band, including my interview with them on the Thursday of SXSW 2015, in the coming days.
After Skinny Lister, the mood at FLOODfest took a slightly more mellow turn with San Francisco-based Geographer, whose sensual synth pop sound recently took the form of a new album called ‘Ghost Modern’, released on Roll Call Records. I was taken off guard by frontman Michael Deni’s smooth falsetto and cool vocal delivery as his singing blended seamlessly with the silvery legato of the keyboard, cello and guitar lines. Geographer’s set list included the broadly expansive, airy texture of older track ‘Kites’ as well as the more percussive recent single release ‘I’m Ready’.
The audience in the Cedar Street Courtyard had begun to fill in during Geographer’s entrancing set, and by the time Carl Barat and The Jackals took the stage, we were rammed tight into the open air venue. There were clearly a few long-time fans in attendance, excited to see the former Libertines frontman with his new band. Barat took the stage in true punk rock fashion, dressed in a black leather jacket that he eventually had to remove in the heat of the afternoon. His drummer, Jay Bone, played the set entire set shirtless and was still drenched in sweat by the end, which is a testament to the frenetic energy of the new songs on ‘Let It Reign’ (reviewed here back in February by editor Mary). Barat did manage to squeeze in a couple of back catalogue tunes on his FLOODfest set list, most notably Libertines track ‘Death on the Stairs’, but the band’s heavy emphasis on ‘Let It Reign’ was thunderously well-received, especially the ominously prescient track ‘A Storm Is Coming’, played as clouds started to build up over the courtyard’s outdoor stage.
After Carl Barat and The Jackals’ hard-edged set, our appetites were whet for FLOODfest’s final performer of the afternoon, Frank Turner. Appearing in a solo capacity with only his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and admittedly still recovering from a slight hangover (he actually described himself at one point as “sweating booze”), Turner eased into his set with a few old favourite tracks before launching into a pair of brand new songs, which he said would feature on a new album expected for release later this year.
One of the new tracks, titled ‘Silent Key’, is a stark yet transfixing recollection of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which, though exquisitely written and performed, was a difficult listen, and I found myself gritting my teeth through its turbulent emotionality. The other new track, a rebellious four-to-the-floor belter called ‘Get Better’ was released on YouTube the following Friday, coincidentally just as I was finishing up a quick chat with Turner; watch the new video just below, and stay tuned to TGTF for the audio of my interview with Turner in the coming days. ‘Get Better’ seems a perfect follow-up to Turner’s recent hits ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘Recovery’, which were both vivid highlights of the afternoon’s final performance, as was set closer ‘Photosynthesis’.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 6:00 pm
Wait, what? Passion Pit are back? Glad to hear Michael Angelakos has gotten treatment for his mental exhaustion related to bipolar disorder; the band are ready to release a new album ‘Kindred’ on the 20th of April on Columbia Records. Evidently, epileptic seizure-inducing light shows don’t faze him now, and considering those can take down other mortals, we can only take that as a good thing. Watch ‘Kindred’ taster track ‘Lifted Up (1985)’ below.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 4:00 pm
Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep have revealed a new live video, filmed in their hometown’s Vessel studio. It’s of them performing ‘Not Real’, the title track to their next album out the 13th of April on Heavenly Recordings. We Liverpool Sound City 2015 at the end of May. Watch the performance below.
Past coverage of Stealing Sheep on TGTF is this way.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 2:00 pm
One thing everyone learns at SXSW – and hopefully sooner than later – is to not sweat it when plan A doesn’t work out and you have to go to plan B, or even plan C or D. It is an inevitable fact of a city festival and the size of their smaller hole in the wall type venues (whether you’re in Austin or Brighton for the Great Escape) that if where you want to go is one of the hottest tickets in town, you’ll likely be disappointed. But during SXSW, there is always tonnes more things to do and bands to see, and the beauty of such a large event is that you might just happen upon something brilliant you’d otherwise never have crossed your mind.
The announcement that Danish band Mew were going to play only three shows in Austin seemed to be broadcast on all the music Web sites and blogs ahead of SXSW 2015, and I can’t say that I really was bothered about seeing them. However, as a music editor, it’s sometimes your duty to seek out what the people want to read about, so I had them scribbled down on my Thursday afternoon schedule as part of the Under the Radar magazine showcase at Flamingo Cantina. Wednesday afternoon I chatted with Will Doyle (East India Youth) about the Under the Radar show, as he was playing directly before Mew and headliner Of Montreal; he was quite pleased to be playing the showcase, as it meant he had an automatic in to the event. Curious, we looked up the capacity of the place on my phone, staring at the number with a mixture of marvel and horror: 299. Eep.
Considering how massively hyped the elusive Mew had been even before anyone made it out to Austin, I figured I’d probably be queueing outside all afternoon with no joy, so I decided to give it a pass. Later that night, I ran into a close Glaswegian industry friend (a much bigger, taller person who can hold his own more than I can, I might add) who said he’d made it into the showcase but stayed only for 5 minutes because there were too many people inside the club and he had struggled to breathe. I understand event organisers want to hype things up and purposely cause queues to form via FOMO, but it sounds like this particular event may have been violating safety codes and I count my lucky stars I didn’t even try to get into it Our friend Larry Heath, Editor-in-Chief of The AU Review, got into Mew’s third show on Saturday afternoon as part of the Brooklyn Vegan day party, and you can read his thoughts on them here.
But no tears were shed by this editor. I’d been blessed with an invite to the BBC barbecue that afternoon at Old School Bar and Grill, which had some lovely surprise live and acoustic special guests. Due to a mishap with the #17 bus, I arrived too late to catch first act James Vincent McMorrow, who appeared Wednesday night at the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room (I reviewed that showcase here). Apparently Catfish and the Bottlemen were also due to appear on the afternoon’s bill, but they were nowhere to be seen. Another surprise for me was the sense James ‘Chaos and the Calm’ Bay was following me around, as the man and his now famous hat were seen going back and forth across the floor. I think he liked the food?
Between dining on the complimentary barbecue from venerated Texas meat institution the Salt Lick (which was delicious, thank you BBC and Salt Lick!), I watched amazing sets from now hugely popular singer/songwriter Frank Turner and the soft-spoken young Derry talent SOAK (Bridie Monds-Watson). Turner, who was bouncing from venue to venue all week and seemed to be in his element in this town, explained he was road-testing new material at SXSW and was playing different sets at every show in Austin; I’m sure this revelation delighted fans I met who were following him around all week. From the new song that he introduced with “this is about losing at tennis…again” (‘Love Forty Down’) to his raucous, yet loving tribute to his nan (‘Peggy Sang the Blues’), Turner proved why he’s become such a popular live draw both here in America and in Europe. Carrie interviewed Frank Friday morning in Austin, and her interview will be posted soon here on TGTF.
SOAK, the surprise guest at Monday night’s Creative Belfast showcase at Latitude 30, also captivated punters this afternoon with her gentle yet emotional voice, framed by her acoustic guitar playing. You wouldn’t expect something as placid coming from someone dressed like a skater, but somehow…it works. She now has a deal with Rough Trade, so I know Beggars will certainly help spread her music far and wide.
I met the lovely Bridie briefly late one night at the British Music Embassy, just as she was thanking Steve Lamacq for all his and BBC Introducing’s support. It was a sweet yet important reminder of how vital these mutualistic relationships and respect are key to our promoting deserving young artists and giving them the help and attention they deserve. Later on, I also helped facilitate the recording of a live BBC 6music session by my friends the Lost Brothers, who appeared on Steve’s radio programme. I take great personal pride in my part of the process, and I think everyone who is anyone in the industry who comes out to a massive event like this at SXSW with the purpose to help support bands should pat themselves on the back!
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