SXSW 2015: Transgressive Records showcase – 17th March 2015

By on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 10:00 am
 

On the first official night of the SXSW 2015 Music festival, I attended the Transgressive Records 10th anniversary showcase at Buffalo Billiards in downtown Austin. I had never been inside Buffalo Billiards before, after a failed attempt to get in for a show during last year’s festival, and I didn’t realize how large the venue was. It has a downstairs bar area, the main stage area upstairs, and a mid-level landing between the two. It was nice not being rammed into a tiny club for what was sure to be a popular show with Spring King, Gengahr, Songhoy Blues and Dry the River on the scheduled lineup.

However, the spaciousness of the venue did present a slight problem for me as I attempted to meet up with members of Gengahr and Dry the River for interviews we had previously scheduled via e-mail and text. As we had never met in person, it proved a bit tricky for us all to actually find one another in the club and then find a quiet place to sit down for a chat. In the end, both interviews were accomplished between stage sets, and I was able to listen to all four bands as well. But the interview meet-ups turned out to be the least of what would be a series of technical difficulties surrounding my experience at the Transgressive Records showcase.

First on the docket for the show was Manchester garage rock quartet Spring King, whose lead singer Tarek Musa is also their drummer, so I’m not sure if it’s entirely appropriate to refer to him as the band’s frontman. I’m even less sure about the phrase “garage rock” after reading on the Transgressive Records Web site that the band’s first EP ‘Demons’ was recorded not in a garage, but in a converted bathroom. While Spring King definitely have a grungy, lo-fi quality to their sound, they also have a strong sense of propulsive momentum and energy.

Even from his position in the center back of the stage, Musa engaged easily with the audience, and Spring King played a tight and enthusiastic set to start the showcase. ‘Better Man’ from the ‘Demons’ EP was particularly well-received, as was recent single ‘City’, which will be released on the band’s new EP ‘They’re Coming After You’, due out in the UK on the 20th of April. (You can watch the live video of Spring King playing ‘City’ at the BBC Introducing night Wednesday on editor Mary’s review of that showcase here.)

Spring King at Transgressive showcase 17 March 2015

Following Spring King were the heavily-hyped indie rock band Gengahr, whom I’d had the opportunity to talk with before the start of the showcase. Their soft-spoken demeanor in the interview turned out to be very much in tune with the vibe of their performance on the night, which came across as quite introverted and understated after Spring King’s lively set. Gengahr’s atmospheric psych pop might not have been the best fit for the mood of this particular room, but their set was politely received by the crowd of people filtering in and out of the stage area. The performance included three songs from ‘She’s a Witch’, Gengahr’s current American EP release (the tracks have been released as singles in the UK), including the title track seen in the video below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/sHTLykxtwdc[/youtube]

After Gengahr finished their set, I ducked out again to talk with members of Dry the River, who were due to play last on the lineup. I came back just in time to catch Malian breakout band Songhoy Blues, who released their album ‘Music in Exile’ back in February on Transgressive. The stage area, which had seemed fairly spacious up to this point, was positively rammed with punters who were eager to see the hotly-tipped world musicians, and Songhoy Blues didn’t disappoint. They played an exuberant set for their SXSW debut, their songs blending blues rock instrumentation with traditional Malian rhythm and vocals as lead singer Aliou Toure (pictured in the header photo above) entranced the crowd with his genial smile and commanding stage presence. Take a listen to their track ‘Al Hassidi Terei’, streaming just below.

As the audience collectively took a moment to catch its breath after Songhoy Blues’ incredible performance, things began to unravel a bit for London folk-rock band Dry the River. They began their stage set up and soundcheck, only to discover just before they were about to start that something was seriously awry with the sound equipment. I never found out exactly what the problem was, but in the end Dry the River weren’t able to play their full set. They did agree to do a few tunes in unplugged fashion instead, moving from the stage onto the mid-level landing and actually starting to play before being interrupted by a Buffalo Billiards staff member who told them they couldn’t have the audience gathered there due to fire code restrictions.

They moved once again to the back corner of the main venue, their audience obediently trailing behind, and struck a position atop their large gear boxes to begin the impromptu acoustic set. While Dry the River’s folk-tinged rock and three-part vocal harmonies translate beautifully to acoustic performance, their disappointment in not being able to play a full stage set was very much evident as frontman Peter Liddle, guitarist Matthew Taylor and bassist Scott Miller somewhat reluctantly obliged us with four quick songs before heading back to the stage to help drummer Jon Warren pack up their unused gear. Before I left the venue I said a quick good-bye to Miller, whom I’d met earlier in the evening, assuring him that I would catch them later in the week when they were scheduled to play at the British Music Embassy. If you’re interested in Dry the River, be sure to check back here later this week for my Thursday night coverage, which will include that more successful performance.

Despite the evening’s difficulties, the Transgressive showcase left me with an impression of four up-and-coming bands who are clearly headed for success in the near future. We’ll almost certainly be hearing more from them here at TGTF as the summer festival season approaches, so be sure to check back with us for further release information and live dates, as well as our interviews with Gengahr and Dry the River.

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