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SXSW 2018: bouncing back Thursday night with the Reeperbahn Festival and different genres – 15th March 2018 (Part 3)

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

After removing my wet clothes and hanging them up in ingenious ways off of various pieces of furniture in our hotel room so to not block Carrie’s entry, I returned into the Austin night, buoyed by the brilliance of one Benji Lewis from Australia. There’s been an incredible buzz about Hamburg rapper Ace Tee (say that slowly, and you’ll get it…) and given my good experiences at Friends, I thought I’d stop in at the Reeperbahn Festival showcase there and have a look-in at her and her rhymes.

Not sure what happened with her appearance, but definitely an Oriental woman and not a German-African one was onstage by the time I arrived at Friends. Apparently all the Koreans in the bar knew CIFIKA would be appearing. The twenty-something is an underground favourite back home in South Korea, and she’s spending quite a bit of time in our country post-SXSW on what Billboard has called the longest headline tour of the U.S. by a Korean act ever. None too shabby. An accomplished producer, her electronic creations are already being compared to those of Bjork. And yes, people. She does all her own music. Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp?

CIFIKA Thursday at SXSW 2018

I popped next door to B.D. Riley’s to get a taste of another band from Asbury Park, New Jersey, Dentist, starring husband and wife team Justin and Emily Bornemann. I wondered what kind of people would name themselves after the most unfairly maligned member of the medical community. Instead of making you feel as uncomfortable as if you’re having a root canal, the music of Dentist is actually pretty surf-y. Their quick-moving songs with right-sounding guitars with echoey vocals from Emily sounded like having an ice cream by the beach on a sunny day. Which is pretty impressive, considering I saw them in the dead of night at 10:30 PM.

Dentist Thursday at SXSW 2018

What’s nice about every SXSW is that almost every band plays more than once, so you can see them again if you wish. As mentioned in my review of them performing Wednesday afternoon at German Haus, psych rockers Blackberries revel in doing something different than you would expect from a German band in the 21st century. As the band format is increasingly endangered, we need to support bands like them so we have them making music. Carrie would probably be fine with everyone being solo singer/songwriters going forward, but I’m not!

Blackberries Thursday at SXSW 2018

The Happy Happy Birthday to Me showcase at Seven Grand was running behind schedule, which made my waiting for my intended act longer. I tried to get a brief moment of shut-eye before being admonished by bar staff that “it looks bad” if someone is asleep in a bar. Because I look like I’m drunk? Or because it looks like who you’ve got on is boring? The inexplicably named duo Eureka California from Athens, Georgia, blasted through song after punishing song. They’re so punk, I don’t think they ever introduced themselves. Or maybe they did, and I couldn’t hear them doing it?

David Gedge of the Wedding Present at SXSW 2018

Despite a lengthy soundcheck, during which the bartenders behind me made fun of the vocal checks, I wasn’t disappointed when The Wedding Present finally took the stage. David Gedge is an elder statesman and ambassador of British indie rock now, a position he seems to revel in with all of the live performances he’s willing to put himself and his band through. (Check out my interview with The Gedge just prior to SXSW 2018 through here.) Considering their popularity, it felt odd that they were playing such a small club, and to so few people. To be fair, these were 50 or so uber fans who had appeared near midnight to see them at the Seven Grand, and they were rewarded by having the opportunity to be up close and personal with the band. Chalk up another point for SXSW.

Because of the stage delays at the Seven Grand, I had to leave in the middle of their set to make my way down to the Velveeta Room in time to catch Music from Ireland’s last act of the evening. I somehow missed the mysterious Talos (pronounced “TAH-los”) from Cork at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016, so I was trying to make up for lost time. Seems like caught him at a good time, as it appears he’s making traction here in America. Or, at least, he’s made some superfans in Texas who were plying his backing band with beers?

Talos Thursday at SXSW 2018

The beguiling strains of synths with Eoin French’s gentle, emotional falsetto on the sweeping ‘Odyssey’ proved to be a mesmerising combination. Some young ladies down the front at the venue looked like they were about to faint. (If you wondering, yes, French is quite the looker and seems to be poised to sneak into that cute, yet scruffy Irish boy spot once occupied by Kodaline.) With the added backing of a full live band, the Talos sound is one of bombast, of eye-opening ambition. I am always amazed by the music that comes out of Ireland. I’m sure I’ve said it before: the Irish have faced so much hardship, so much oppression, so many tears. And yet they are able to write and sing some of the most beautiful music ever created. For more photos from my Thursday night at SXSW, visit my Flickr.

 

SXSW 2018: Wednesday afternoon at German Haus and a conference session on Music and the Brain – 14th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Monday, 26th March 2018 at 1:00 pm
 

There are two nice things about afternoon showcases. You get to see acts in less claustrophobic confines, and you can see them without really worrying about running off to your next showcase. Two excellent reasons, if you ask me! Following my time at the JW Marriott for The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants session, I returned to German Haus at Barracuda for two German acts I was excited to see and hear live. When I arrived, a bald Brit with a guitar was on the Barracuda indoor stage, playing to a small, but entirely appreciative crowd. I was confused. Hrm. He definitely didn’t have a German accent. What was he doing there? I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognise Midge Ure of Ultravox and Visage fame. Don’t hit me. I feel embarrassed enough!

Midge Ure at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

You have understand that during SXSW, most of us aren’t checking our emails, and I certainly did not see the German Haus missive that he would be part of the screening of Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise and its related panel that afternoon on which Ure would appear. I can see this was one of those times that it probably would have helped to have the event to all, or at least wristband holders in addition to badgeholders. But maybe Ure appreciated playing to a small crowd for once?

Blackberries at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

I ran out of time to write up my best bets of groups from the Continent showcasing at SXSW, but I have an Excel spreadsheet with many tabs to prove I did all the research if you want to see it. Blackberries were on my list because they’re exactly what you don’t expect from Germany. I think these days, German artists from outside Berlin are overshadowed by the electronic scene in the capital. Blackberries hail from Solingen, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, and have their unique perspective on what krautrock means in 2018. How often do you see psych rock being performed with maracas? I had an idea in my head even before I got to Austin that British artists would be less important to my experience at SXSW than in past years, and that prediction turned out to be right.

Munich experimental electronic duo Joasihno were set up back inside Barracuda. Synth heads, this was a wet your pants moment. If Cico Beck and Nico Sierig’s extended tabletop setup was filled with the usual keyboards, synths and sequencers, I might not have been as impressed. I might have even yawned. Instead, their unusual collection of equipment, which included a mechanically activated xylophone, rods that spun around and what looked like rocks connected to wires (???), plus loads of other things that looked like something out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. This kind of music couldn’t be further from Taylor Swift and other pop stars who top the charts.

Joasihno at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

And you know what? That’s okay. Some of us want to be entertained with new sounds and in new ways. Ryan Walsh said in his talk Wednesday afternoon that 1/3 of the world’s population makes music sometime in their lives. There’s plenty of artists out there now and will be in the future to satisfy all of our music listening needs. And that’s good news for everyone.

I returned to the convention center for one of the last conference sessions of the day, Music and the Brain: How Sounds Become Pleasurable. The first two talks were given by Dr. Alain Dagher, a neurologist and professor at McGill University, and Pablo Samuel Castro from Google. Dr. Dagher began with an explanation on how dopamine release mediating the desire for pleasure, whether it be in anticipation of listening to music or eating food we like. I guess this was a good starting point, as I would guess most attendees didn’t know how dopamine and reward-seeking behavior worked. (I took pharmacology in university and the classic example of dopamine activity is the abuse of cocaine and the feedback mechanism in the human body, so this was simply a refresher for me.) I guess, too, that it isn’t surprising that the reason why as children or young adults we remember music from those periods of our formative years. However, it appears that the reason for these memories is not because our brains were still developing at the time, but because the pleasure we associate with listening to those pieces of music when we were younger essentially burns into our memories. One step further, moderator and third speaker Indre Viskontas of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music showed evidence later in the session that our brains can anticipate specific moments in song that are associated with stronger feelings, such as that feeling of a pleasurable chill down one’s back.

Castro’s talk was about machine learning and artificial intelligence. He specifically had studied building requirements for a computer to learn how to write counterpoints, which J.S. Bach essentially cornered the market on. Read more about his mastery of counterpoint through here. I had a lot of trouble in my early piano-learning years trying to get through Bach, so I was amused to see someone had gone through the trouble to ape his music. Castro played a Bach original against what his computer had come up with and he insisted that the computer had done a pretty good job in approximating the intended counterpoint. My ears weren’t having it, though. As Gunter Loibl of REBEAT Digital said the day before at German Haus indicated, I have every confidence that human being-created and produced music will never be surpassed by AI-made music, at least not in my lifetime.

Music and the Brain Wednesday at SXSW 2018

Before the evening showcases, Carrie and I both checked in at the Townsend for the Focus Wales drink reception. The Townsend is a fancy-schmancy cocktail bar on Congress Avenue. I wondered if the reception would be well attended, as it was a bit off the beaten path when it came to the usual 6th Street-type haunts during SXSW. I don’t know why I was worried. We ran into plenty of friends there, friends who were no doubt tempted by the lure of free drinks and good company. Along with the actual musical performances themselves in Austin, having a drink with your friends is up there with the top experiences you’ll have during SXSW.

 
 
 

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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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