SXSW 2016: Friday afternoon with strong women at the International Day Stage and with Cerdd Cymru / Music Wales – 18th March 2016

By on Thursday, 7th April 2016 at 5:00 pm
 

Another day dawned after the awful event of Thursday evening at SXSW 2016. Despite my still shaken nerves, I was determined to make the most of my remaining time in Austin and my Friday afternooon would include the Cerdd Cymru / Music Wales showcase at Latitude 30. First up though was a lovely breakfast and quick catch-up with our friends from Music from Ireland / First Music Contact’s Angela Dorgan and Brendan Millar at B.D. Riley’s ahead of the full Irish breakfast lineup (Carrie’s review of their act are forthcoming). Then I was off to the Austin Convention Centre for a visit to the panel entitled TV Promos: Sync’s New Best Friend, which was a follow-up of sorts to another sync-orientated panel I sat in on at Norwich Sound and Vision 2016 in October. (For a review of my time at convention panels during SXSW, read my roundup post here.)

TV Promos - Sync’s New Best Friend panel Friday at SXSW 2016 Music Conference

After being sufficiently buoyed by the hope that song syncing for tv, film and adverts continue to be a good way for artists to make much needed income to support the music-making side of their craft, it was off to start seeing band trying to make a go of it. Staying in the Austin Convention Center, I went up to the 4th floor to the International Day Stage to catch London-based electropop duo Avec Sans. They clearly had made a good impression prior this appearance, as several megafans of theirs appeared to see them again at this afternoon appearance.

Avec Sans at the International Day Stage at Austin Convention Center, Friday at SXSW 2016

Avec Sans are platinum blonde Alice Fox (originally from Manchester) on vocal duties and Jack St. James on electronics. As TGTF’s resident electro fan, I’ve seen my fair share of duos with a similar setup, and I can say without a doubt that this pair are in the top tier of acts I’ve had the pleasure to witness live. Like Claire L. Evans of YACHT at Easy Tiger the previous night, Fox is a charismatic presence live, providing the human side of Avec Sans with beautously yearning vocals and the perfect foil to the deliciously mechanical machinations of St. James. Watch and listen to the duo’s latest single ‘Heartbreak Hi’ below; their debut album will be out on the 3rd of June; you can donate to their recording effort on PledgeMusic. A headline UK tour will be accompanying its release (all the details here on their Facebook).

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k993pVu1TY4[/youtube]

It was a nice coincidence, according to Cerdd Cymru / Music Wales manager Fionna Allan that their line-up scheduled for Friday afternoon at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 was entirely made up of acts with strong female or female-fronted acts. Allan was all the more prouder about her showcase when I explained to her that there was an important feminist element to this year’s SXSW, as Carrie previewed in this feature prior to our week in Austin. Three of the five acts performing on this bill were Welsh, including first two acts Rozi Plain (a favourite of BBC 6 Music’s Marc Riley who I unfortunately missed) and Violet Skies, who I covered as part of the Trackd showcase and chatted with Monday night. True to her word and despite her relative newness to America, Violet was the consummate professional, garnering a massive audience hanging on to every soulful word she sung. As she sung her debut single ‘How the Mighty’, I became even more convinced in her chance at worldwide success. Good luck to her!

Violet Skies at Cerdd Cymru Music Wales at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, Friday at SXSW 2016

As I had been with Jane Weaver on Wednesday, I was more than a little excited to finally see Gwenno perform live as part of the Cerdd Cymru / Music Wales showcase. After making the difficult decision to give her appearance Wednesday night at the Heavenly Recordings showcase at Barracuda a pass, I was grateful to have another chance, and to be honest, it was probably best to see her here, as part of and also swaddled by her fellow strong female artists’ presence. Further, Gwenno’s ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ – originally released in Wales on Peski Records, then given another life by Heavenly with its re-release in 2015, as well as winning Best Welsh Album at the 2015 National Eisteddfod and the 2014-2015 Welsh Music Prize – is completely fitting for such an afternoon.

Gwenno at Cerdd Cymru Music Wales at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, Friday at SXSW 2016 1

The LP’s key themes include fighting against Big Brother and the constraints of a patriarchal society, which Gwenno helpfully and eloquently pointed out in between songs is sadly a reflection of today’s times, stressing the importance of individualism, strength and feminism. This banter between this strong, female and Welsh artist and the audience created an indelible connection between artist and fan, and that’s even before we even consider the music. As an electro head, watching her simultaneously sing like an angel and manage an impressive set of synths and sequencers and effortlessly was a real treat. Adding more fuel to Ms. Saunders’ argument of the Man holding women down, stage management warned her she had to cut her set. Instead of stopping when she was supposed to, in true revolutionary fashion, she kept going. Way to stick it to them, Gwenno! To hear my interview with her that we posted on TGTF last week, go here.

Gwenno at Cerdd Cymru Music Wales at the British Music Embassy on Latitude 30, Friday at SXSW 2016 2

Fickle Friends were up next. If you’ve been keeping tabs on indie British music in the last few years (and America’s similar scene, for that matter), you know that synthpop bands are a dime a dozen. If you have been keeping up with our SXSW 2016 preview coverage, you would have read Rebecca’s great Bands to Watch on both this Brighton band and their seemingly similar Liverpudlian counterparts Clean Cut Kid, who I saw on Wednesday night at the Paradigm Agency showcase at Maggie Mae’s. Due to Rebecca’s piece featuring both bands, I could not help but compare their performances in Austin.

Fickle Friends at Cerdd Cymru Music Wales at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, Friday at SXSW 2016

Fickle Friends put on an admirable performance that received a great response with loads of cheering from the audience, especially when they swapped out the words to their song ‘Brooklyn’, changing them to ‘Austin’. However, I didn’t find anything about their music that distinguished them particularly from all the other synthpop bands Britain has been churning out over the last few years. Will there be a North vs. South divide over these two bands’ corresponding success? We’ll have to wait and see how things go this year.

Concluding the female-strong afternoon of Cerdd Cymru / Music Wales at the British Music Embassy were Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep, who I had the great pleasure of seeing play in their hometown, at the cavernous Red Bull Studios at the Garage stage at my first Liverpool Sound City in 2012. Since releasing ‘Not Real’ in April 2015, they’ve adopted a much more colourful stage presence, which in Austin meant neon bright leotards and tights and mirrored sunglasses. Without a doubt, it’s an attention-grabbing look within a dark club; some may call it a gimmick, but it works for them and will keep them firmly in festival-goers’ minds. (In comparison, Fickle Friends looked like they could have been any American band in t-shirts, baseball caps and jeans.)

Stealing Sheep at Cerdd Cymru Music Wales at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, Friday at SXSW 2016

The talent and fun with Stealing Sheep is multifold. Each of the three band members have a strong enough voice to take the lead, yet their harmonies together on album title track ‘Not Real’ are fantastic enough to make you think they’re all sisters (they’re not). The handclap-happy ‘Apparition’ (watch the video below) demanded audience participation, and you can’t help but get drawn into the percussive nature of their music. Despite stage management calling them to stop, they kept on going, to the delight of the punters. Of all the British acts I saw in Austin, I’d rank these Liverpudlian ladies in the top 5 of having made a lasting impression on American audiences that should serve them well in their continuing career.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-HmtWyAH0Y[/youtube]

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