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SXSW 2016: Tuesday night’s DIY Presents showcase at Hype Hotel – 15th March 2016

 
By on Friday, 25th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Tuesday night of SXSW 2016 found me queueing on East 5th Street (east of the interstate) for the DIY Magazine stage at Hype Hotel. The street outside the venue was packed with punters headed for either the highly anticipated Hype Hotel showcase or the equally popular Fader Fort event just across the street. I waited in line for over an hour before finally getting into Hype Hotel, just as hotly-tipped American duo Diet Cig struck their first guitar chord and drumroll.

Diet Cig internal

Descending on Austin from New York, Diet Cig were the subject of much chatter in the queue outside the venue, and once I saw them on stage, I realized why. Frontwoman Alex Luciano introduced her bandmate Noah Bowman with the witty one-liner “this is your mom’s new boyfriend,” setting a deliberately not-so-serious tone for the evening’s festivities. The bratty lyrics to Diet Cig’s early tracks ‘Sleep Talk’ and ‘Dinner Date’ struck a chord with everyone’s inner teenaged self, and Luciano’s punchline “it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt”, seemed remarkably appropriate to her vivacious but wildly irreverent personality. The stage at Hype Hotel at first seemed too large for the pair’s single guitar and drum kit, but as it turned out, Luciano was quite a spirited guitarist, running and jumping around the stage (dare I say it? even ironically?) like a high school cheerleader.

Partybaby internal

Even fresher on the music scene than relative newcomers Diet Cig, Los Angeles band PARTYBABY proved themselves straightaway as an act to be reckoned with. Comprising veteran musicians Noah Gersh and Jamie Schefman, the band premiered their defiant first single ‘Everything’s All Right’ just last summer, and they quickly followed it up with the equally pugnacious ‘Your Old Man’. Gersh and Schefman already have a full album prepared for release, and they chugged through their setlist at a frenetic pace. Despite the obvious aggression in their music, PARTYBABY were clearly determined to party as hard as they rocked, and the Hype Hotel crowd on Tuesday night seemed fully in favour of that idea.

Hinds

After a brief DJ set by Bleached, Spanish band-of-the-moment Hinds swept breathlessly onto the stage, appearing to be dressed for a slumber party rather than a gig. Co-lead singer Carlotta Cosials mentioned that the band had only gotten to town half an hour before their set, so perhaps their attire could be excused on those grounds. However, a slumber party theme isn’t entirely inappropriate to Hinds’ lo-fi and free-wheeling style, and despite their somewhat disheveled appearance, Hinds sounded much more polished than when I heard them at the British Music Embassy last year.  The ladies certainly appeared to enjoy their all-too-brief moment on stage as they raced through a set comprising tracks from their recent debut album ‘Leave Me Alone’.

Pumarosa internal 2

London synth-rock band Pumarosa played an equally short but sweet set, after apparently sorting through some sound issues before they were able to begin. Their playlist included ‘Lion’s Den’, which saw frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome bowing her guitar strings with a fuzzy mallet, and the dramatic breakthrough dance hit ‘Priestess’, which has quickly become a personal favourite track of mine.  It might well have set everyone in the room into motion, except that we were all completely mesmerised by Munoz-Newsome’s own interpretive movements on the stage.

Jack Garratt

Pumarosa were followed by another British act, electro singer/songwriter Jack Garratt, whose Mercury Prize-nominated, Brit Award winning reputation had evidently preceded him to Hype Hotel. Having gained a fair few followers at SXSW 2015, Garratt played a blinding set on the Tuesday night that was in sharp contrast to the more muted tone I had heard from him on last year’s Communion showcase. His enthusiastic reception has been well and truly earned over the course of a year, and I was most pleased to see him having this kind of success on American shores so quickly upon the release of his debut album ‘Phase’.

Empress Of

The headline act of the DIY Presents showcase was American synth-based artist Empress Of, who is better known off stage as Lorely Rodriguez. Much like the electronic sound of Jack Garratt before her, Empress Of’s quirky dance pop belies the emotional depth of her lyrics, creating songs that are at the same time cerebral and intuitively visceral. Her show on the Tuesday night drew largely from her 2015 debut LP ‘Me’, and apropos to the album’s shimmery synths and ethereal vocals, this late night (er, early morning) set was swathed in hazy blue stage lighting, which cast a markedly chill vibe over the night’s final stretch.

 

Video of the Moment #1963: Empress Of

 
By on Tuesday, 24th November 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Lorely Rodriguez, better known under her stage name Empress Of, released her debut album ‘Me’ in September on XL Recordings / Terrible Records. Two months ago, she was showing off some incredible physical skills in the video for ‘Standard’ (watch the video in this previous Video of the Moment feature). This time around, for ‘Icon’, she splits her time between the forest and the city for a much less physically demanding promo, albeit with plenty of swagger (check out those finger snaps). Watch it below.

Empress Of’s debut LP ‘Me’ is available now on XL Recordings / Terrible Records. Want to find out more about Rodriguez on TGTF? Right this way.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxN5kbsWhWo[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #1916: Empress Of

 
By on Wednesday, 16th September 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Empress Of, better known to her parents as Lorely Rodriguez, released her debut album ‘Me’ last Friday on XL Recordings / Terrible Records, which is receiving a lot of critical and popular hype at the moment. Have a read of my Bands to Watch on Rodriguez and her music, which posted on Monday, here.

In her new video for ‘Standard’, she sings, “you always keep me coming back for more”, while hanging upside down from the shoulders of a brute. Even with him holding her up by her legs, it couldn’t have been a comfortable position to maintain. Talk about suffering for one’s art! (In another shot, she’s seen varnishing the fingernails of the same said brute. Huh?) Watch the promo for ‘Standard’ below. ‘Me’ is available from all fine music outlets now.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht5d7gVqo1I[/youtube]

 

Bands to Watch #357: Empress Of

 
By on Monday, 14th September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Lorely Rodriguez, better known by her stage name Empress Of, is not truly a new artist in the conventional sense of our Bands to Watch feature. However, her debut album ‘Me’, recorded in Mexico and released on XL Recordings / Terrible Records just last Friday, and it’s already garnering the Honduran-American who grew up in Los Angeles serious critical plaudits, so we’d be fools not to give her some of our time.

For a young woman who was once a competitive jazz singer and attended – and then quit – an East Coast music school to which she’d won a full scholarship to, it’s not a surprise her vocal acrobatics shine on her debut. For more evidence, have a watch and a listen to ‘How Do You Do It’, a frenetic behind the scenes look at Rodriguez’s touring life. She’d best be getting used to this, with her North American tour campaign to support ‘Me’ having just begun in earnest in her current home in Brooklyn Sunday night at the Music Hall of Williamburg.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLDCjV5TsYc[/youtube]

Jon Pareles of the New York Times lauded her debut LP, saying of her sound, “Empress Of provides the neatness of pop minus the reassurance.” For sure, her coolness makes her come across like a modern day Kate Bush on album track ‘Need Myself’, who Rodriguez said on Twitter makes her “immediately feel hungover and 19 again”. Presumably Ms. ‘Babooshka’ was a good childhood influence? The influence of another idiosyncratic and uncompromising artist, Bjork, seem also apparent on ‘Kitty Kat’, Rodriguez putting her voice through its paces in an almost Oriental way, synths buzzing and beats booming. I’m imagining it must be quite a feat to behold live. (Sadly, I didn’t get a chance at this in person, as she cancelled her appearance at the Great Escape 2015 back in May.)

When I saw that Rodriguez’s early Spanish/English language EP ‘Systems’ was released in 2013 on UK indie label Double Denim Records, that rung a bell…because New York via Colombia and Vancouver artist Tei Shi signed with them late last year. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, owing to them both having Latin backgrounds and their predilection towards electronic music with dreamy vocals on top. Will they be friends? Will they be rivals? Either way, I think we’re headed towards a total renaissance of strong female singer/songwriters firmly in the electronic realm. Which can be nothing but a good thing in my books.

‘Me’, the debut album by Empress Of, is out now on XL Recordings / Terrible Records.

 

Great Escape 2015: Day 2 Roundup (Part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Part 1 of my Friday roundup at the Great Escape can be found here.

At the recommendation of my host in Brighton to check out the Old Market stage west of the city centre during the Great Escape 2015, I had hoped to see XL signing Empress Of play, as the schedule indicated two shows on the Friday. However, when I scanned her Twitter and Facebook, she made no mention of leaving the States for the Great Escape 2015 so all I can assume is that she must have cancelled at some point but the schedule was never amended. It then fell to my new SXSW 2015 buddy Rival Consoles to give me the electronic oomph I needed that night. I am proud to say I navigated the bus system in Brighton like a pro, arriving outside a hospital and finding St. George’s Church easily from there.

After arriving, I was really happy to be seeing a different kind of space than what I was used to in Brighton. The only other real church space I’d ever seen a show at in town was the Unitarian Church, and that was only briefly in 2013, where Marika Hackman held the room spellbound with her voice and guitar. St. George’s Church was a whole ‘nother matter: in addition to being a beautiful space with stained glass windows, you could sense the air filled with the power and glory that only a place of worship can offer, and that was before a single note was played.

Rival Consoles at the Great Escape 2015

Rival Consoles got to work on his consoles (no pun intended), thoughtfully turning knobs and pressing sequencer keys to craft several of his masterpieces live while a ever changing display of dots and lines pulsated on the projection screen behind him. The acoustics, as you can imagine for a cavernous, sparsely furnished space like a church, made for incredible music. It was, in an word, awesome. When he was finished, the applause was deafening.

Then it was back on the bus into town, where I snuck in for the last couple of songs by Hooton Tennis Club, who were playing the BBC Introducing stage at Shooshh. Everyone I know it seems has gone gaga over their Heavenly Records’ laid back single ‘Jasper’, but I’m still not convinced, and even less so after I saw them play. Having seen astronomyy there the night before, I know the sound system is decent, but all I could hear was loud, loud guitars and even louder drums, all muddied. Guess this music just isn’t for me.

Unfortunately for me, I arrived at Coalition minutes too late to be admitted for the press guest list. To be honest though, getting in halfway in the middle of Slaves’ set list was sufficient for me to get a flavor of what the live Slaves experience is like. They were scheduled to play at the NME showcase Saturday night at the Corn Exchange but somehow I just felt that Coalition would be the better place to see them at, and I am pretty sure I was on the mark with this one. Coalition is a dark, sweaty basement venue, just the right kind of atmosphere for the wild antics of punk rockers Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent.

In the vein of Brighton’s own Royal Blood, they’re a duo who really don’t give a monkey’s, but there is a comedic element to their music. It’s not all doom and gloom. These are guys who clearly never take things too seriously, as during the airing of recent single ‘Feed the Mantaray’, a man dressed in a manta ray suit jumped into the crowd and crowd surfed. I couldn’t help but laugh. The moshing and shouting reached a fever pitch during songs ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Cheer Up London’, and during set closer ‘Hey’, both members somehow found themselves crowd surfing, shirtless, to the crowd’s utter delight. What the hell did I just witness? I’m laughing about it now just typing this out.

Slaves' Manta Ray at the Great Escape 2015

Having not been tempted at all by any of the headliners – I’d already seen Kate Tempest at SXSW 2015 and had my fill of her in Austin and I had no interest in seeing Alabama Shakes, Skepta or JME – I thought I should probably see at least one big name I might not get a chance to see otherwise. The VEVO UK-sponsored Wagner Hall, where other friends caught young Derry singer/songwriter SOAK the night before, seemed to be just the ticket.

There is a lot of buzz about George the Poet at the moment, and how much of that comes off of Kate Tempest making social commentary through the spoken word can be quite the debate in certain circles. There is, however, no denying that the man has incredible charisma as a performer, which is crucial for any entertainer and even more so if your craft is dependent on the word. George Mpanga has an interesting take on things, having graduated from Cambridge despite being talked down to by a teacher who said he shouldn’t even have tried to apply. But his mother believed in him. And in response to support the disenfranchised and in his words “if I can embody a viable alternative, the idea that it might be OK to stay in school, to aspire to university, then people will hear what I’m saying”, he writes to educate but also to entertain.

George the Poet at the Great Escape 2015

The live experience begins unusually with hip hop performer Shelz the Dancer and Mpanga is joined onstage at times by blonde sidekick and sometimes support act Tom Prior. Generally, Mpanga’s messages lean towards the positive and when they don’t, they seek to inform those who might not know or understand circumstances because, as we all know, knowledge is power. The only moment I cringed was during his song ‘Gentleman’, where he describes how girls with low self-esteem sleep around because they’re looking for love in all the wrong places. I get the sentiment and where he’s trying to go with it but the story he tells seems to suggest he took advantage of such a girl and it’s hardly a sympathetic angle, is it?

The headliner for the night were the Cribs from Wakefield, whose mere headline appearance to an essentially hometown crowd at Live at Leeds 2015 threw everyone in town off schedule. The trio, ubiquitous live since the release of their latest album ‘For All My Sisters’ on Sony in March, hadn’t played in Brighton for several years and naturally, a good portion of Great Escape 2015 wristband holders were chomping at the bit to see them play live. I give props to the security at Wagner Hall, because they kept a close watch on how many people were allowed into the performance space, ensuring it was not dangerously crowded. Which you can imagine is a major problem when a band like the Cribs perform, a band that notoriously invites and incites wild moshing at their shows. You’re probably wondering why someone who has claustrophobia would venture into a rowdy mosh pit late on a Friday at a music festival, but I have to say, having not seen the Cribs live in 3 years, I was curious. (Although I stood my ground pretty well, I do wish to thank the photographers and their gear near me, as I basically dove for cover into their crowd when things got to be too much.)

Ryan Jarman of the Cribs at the Great Escape 2015

While songs from ‘For All My Sisters’ seemed requisite given it was the band’s most recent release, in general it was the much older material – in particular, ‘I’m a Realist’, a particularly boisterous version of ‘Mens’ Needs’ and the Johnny Marr-era ‘We Share the Same Skies’ – that really got the crowd riled up. I don’t know if it was a matter of where I was stood in the performance room, but the audio didn’t sound as crisp and good as I would have expected a VEVO-sponsored venue to have. Make no mistake, the lighting rig and other production values at Wagner Hall made for a classy experience, I was just really surprised that the sound wasn’t any better.

At the end of the day though, it wasn’t so much as how good the Cribs sounded to their fans as how physical and mental their performance was. This was evidenced by the antics by the Jarman twins at the end, with both Ryan and Gary seemingly all too eager to destroy their guitars by launching them directly into their amps. If that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is. Below you can watch VEVO UK’s recap of Friday’s performances at Wagner Hall, including interviews with the artists by Radio 1’s Phil Taggart and a fleeting glimpse of yours truly.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ0bJk0OX4U[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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