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SXSW 2015: an Irish lass and breakfast, a Swedish supergroup, bands at the Aussie BBQ and some more English tweed – 20th March 2015

 
By on Wednesday, 1st April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

My traditional start to Friday at SXSW every year is to arrive at B.D. Riley’s Irish pub in time for the full Irish breakfast and stay for the related showcase put on by Music from Ireland. The only problem in the SXSW 2015 edition: I wasn’t able to stay for the whole showcase, so you’ll have to read Carrie’s review later of the whole shebang. I was however able to partake in the actual breakfast (and I never turn down a decently cooked egg, even if it should have been sunny-side up and not scrambled, and there was no black or white pudding either ::grumble::) and get another opportunity to see the sunny and sweet pop singer/songwriter Orla Gartland play another set. After doing my part on proselytise and promote her as the sound of young Ireland (something I decided the night before at the Music from Ireland evening showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room), I had to bid my goodbyes and head out.

Orla Gartland at SXSW 2015

Luckily, it wasn’t raining. Yet. You know how you can usually smell and/or sense impending rain? Well, I usually can. The winds were swirling above, yet the heavier drops from the sky held out long enough for Swedish supergroup and super buzzed about band Amason to play their set at the Sweden showcase early at FLOODfest Friday at Cedar Street Courtyard. To be honest, I was relieved for them, thinking about how much equipment could be ruined, not to mention how many band members might be electrocuted, if the sky decided to open up and pour down on them in the middle of the set.

Amason at SXSW 2015

Instead, their songs – driven by determined rhythms, the strong vocals of each member of the band and their excellent musicianship – wowed the crowd at who were also enjoying the complimentary Swedish meatball buffet. You can read more about this set of Amason’s as part of my introduction to the interview I did with Nils Törnqvist (drums and percussion) and Petter Winnberg (bass) in this post from last week.

The rain turned out to be quite a damper for most of the day Friday. Because of the bad weather outside, I reckoned that most people either gave Friday at SXSW a pass, not wanting to venture out in a less than fashionable poncho, or they just stayed where they were as long as possible, which is what Carrie opted to do at B.D. Riley’s and St. David’s church later on in the night. Me? I’m not so easily satisfied and so I braved the weather to stick to my original plan of seeing an afternoon of great Aussie bands at the Aussie BBQ, which I unfortunately missed out on last year. While I think Sounds Australia did a great job being prepared for the rain, passing out free ponchos and a handy guide to the Aussie BBQ’s line-up to any punter coming into Brush Square Park, as well as continue serving their promised free loaded hot dogs that punters were grateful for, I think everyone questioned the wisdom of moving the event away from Maggie Mae’s to two outdoor venues.

SAFIA at SXSW 2015

Thankfully, as the setup at Brush Square was the same as for Sounds from Spain on Wednesday, with tents keeping most things dry. Despite the rain and the inconvenience of rain gear and errant brollies, the mood was up in the West Tent as I arrived in the middle of SAFIA‘s set. The Canberra trio – Ben Woolner, Michael Bell and Harry Sayers – are of that crowded electropop genre, but Woolner’s voice is soulful, making beat-driven, hand-clappy songs like ‘You Are the One’ and ‘Listen to Soul, Listen to Blues’ stand out. They got the crowd riled up and ready for a full day of their countrymen’s music.

I knew nothing of Clockwise before he played, so I really wasn’t sure what I was going to get. You know how Nick Cave is a beloved, legendary performer from Oz? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m pretty sure Andy Clockwise is jonesing to grab that mantle away from him. And he can do it with his stage presence. His music’s good too; at first I thought, hmm, an Australian Bruce Springsteen, this is going to be interesting… Then the sound morphed from rock into one that was more mainstream pop. Huh! Things are really interesting now!

Clockwise at SXSW 2015

Then the man jumps off the stage, hands over his guitar to a random member of the audience, faffs maniacally with the knobs of the amp, and tells her to get onstage and wail on it. She does. He then brings the drummer’s high-hat down and hands over a drumstick to another all too eager audience member, who is instructed to bang on the high-hat as hard as he can. Mayhem, I tell you, utter mayhem. Yet it was so quintessentially mental – and fun – as SXSW goes.

Well before her set, I interviewed pop singer/songwriter Lenka, who wore a poncho even inside the tent to prevent the slightest damp or drip from getting on her sundress (it worked) but who was understandably nervous about any of her and her band’s instruments getting wet in a freak accident (it appears everything was spared and in reasonably good working order). Now, I can’t be sure if the rain had anything to do with the terrible feedback that was coming up through her microphone, but during her set, Lenka decided to go unplugged, going out into the crowd to sing a song accompanied by her guitarist. When in Rome, right? It just goes to show what a professional Lenka is, not letting malfunctioning equipment ruffle her feathers one bit.

Lenka at SXSW 2015

As promised by her answers to our SXSW 2015-flavoured Quickfire Questions, her stage setup showed off her keen crafting skills, with clouds and rain being represented on artwork hanging from Macbooks and even her own keytar. While recent single ‘Blue Skies’ didn’t manage to bring out their promised nice weather and at times you could hear thundering from above, it was still great watching Lenka do her thing to a crowd of appreciative fans. I’m looking forward to hearing her upcoming album ‘The Bright Side’, due out this summer.

Sydney’s Mansionair were up next on the West Tent bill. Prior to coming out to Austin, I’d heard several of their songs on YouTube, notably the title track to their 2014 EP ‘Hold Me Down’, and enjoyed what I heard. The combination of haunting, yet minimalist synth notes, guitar and percussion, effective production, and a warbling vocal is one that is not soon forgotten, and the same could be said for their whole set Friday afternoon.

Mansionair at SXSW 2015

Even before seeing them live, I had a feeling of complete validation mid-week in Austin when I’d seen on my Twitter feed that during their time here, they’d been signed to Glassnote Records, aka the NYC indie but not really indie record label that launched the mega careers of Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons in the States. Hold tight, Mansionair, your lives are about to get very crazy very soon.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KslY_vf_V24[/youtube]

I had an interview date in a little while with Public Service Broadcasting, so I thought I’d duck into their set closing out the Friday afternoon programming at the British Music Embassy. Heh. What I expected: a well-attended but not packed out affair full of Anglophiles like myself. What it was like, actually: a totally rammed venue where the audience was even more enthusiastic for the quirky history boffin duo than the night before, which was to my utter surprise, especially for an afternoon showcase. The amount of cheering for ‘Spitfire’, wow! Perhaps we Americans don’t know how to do tea properly, but at least we recognise – and appreciate, often loudly when it’s warranted – our British cousins and their talent.

Public Service Broadcasting Friday afternoon at British Music Embassy at SXSW 2015

 

SXSW 2013: Day 5 afternoon – Aussie BBQ taster at Maggie Mae’s and Captiva Records showcase at the Rooftop at 6th – 16th March 2013

 
By 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.

Bearhug Aussie BBQ SXSW

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.

Kitty Clementine SXSW

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.)

Story Books Captiva Saturday SXSW

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.

Knot
Simple Kids
Furniture and Things
Peregrine
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…

In the Works SXSW

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.

The Crookes Captiva Saturday SXSW 1

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.

The Crookes Captiva Saturday SXSW 2

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
American Girls
Sal Paradise
Sofie
Afterglow
Backstreet Lovers
The Cooler King (on top of the atrium riser!)

The Ghosts SXSW

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.

 
 
 

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