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SXSW 2019: Wafia and Mansionair at Next Level Apparel, Seazoo, The Snuts and Sports Team at Good Karma Club, Talos and whenyoung at Music From Ireland, and PAWS – 14th March 2019 (Thursday, part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th March 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

After APRE’s performance, I really wanted to see The Joy Formidable at the Dr. Martens showcase at Container Bar. However, many, many other people had the same idea, and you could tell the staff were stressed. My merely asking if there were different priority badge lines led one bouncer to think I was trying to cut the line. Seriously, come on. I’ve been to SX seven times before, and I’m not going to start being a jerk and cutting in front of people now. From what I understand from friends who had actually made it in, it was just as well, as the band were only allowed to play four songs, frustrating them and their fans.

Directly across the street at Clive Bar was the Next Level Apparel showcase, Australian electronic artist Wafia was performing to a jammed-in crowd on its patio. She occupies a similar place in the industry to Grace Carter, providing a young female viewpoint through honest lyrics. However, Wafia is also a political lightning rod, being a Muslim and of Iraqi and Syrian ancestry and daring to make politically-charged music. Read some of her thoughts here.


I say all the more power to her to do exactly what others would call her out on and crucify her for. I remember reading a quote once where someone said that it’s when we’re made uncomfortable that we learn the most. A outspoken twenty-something woman with ties to the Middle East who has written ‘Bodies’, a song about the Syrian refugee crisis? The topic isn’t new or unusual, but the woman who is singing it is speaking her truth. Young people like her, not the establishment, will be the key to changing minds and lives. And you know what? The Austin crowd absolutely loved her.

Following Wafia was another Aussie act, one that was celebrating the recent release of their debut album. Mansionair, who have been a SXSW mainstay over the last few years, came to Austin with the long-awaited ‘Shadowboxer’ available now from Glassnote Records under their belt. I have always respected the Sydney band’s confidence whenever I’ve seen them play, and that didn’t stop with their closing set at the Next Level Apparel showcase. If anything, they had added swagger this time now that their biggest group of released songs to date have been released to the wild.


The menacing electronic machinations of ‘Alibi’, paired with Jack Froggatt’s swirling vocals, was a sultry earworm of the highest calibre. Moving things uptempo, ‘We Could Leave’ led to loads of heads bopping in appreciation, while the rhythmically interesting ‘Technicolour’ provided another opportunity to dance. SXSW could have just been another tickbox for the group in the middle of a long North American tour, but they turned in a memorable performance.


During SXSW, you’ll find bands playing in the oddest, most unusual places, some considered Second Play stages. Seazoo’s second performance in Austin turned out to be in the restaurant in my hotel! While it seemed that the primary listeners were all Welsh friends of theirs, their ‘nook’ to play was only a little strip of real estate near the bar and they played sans two band members and in stripped back fashion, the band was in fine spirits.

Another one of my SXSW 2019 Bands to Watch, Scottish band The Snuts, were due to play Abbie McCarthy’s Good Karma Club showcase at Swan Dive. Singer Jack Cochrane very seemed to be extremely nervous, as every other word out of his mouth, except when he was singing, was the f word. There shouldn’t have been so much anxiety: word must have spread about the band, as I was surrounded by very excited new American fans of theirs. Even better for the band, there was a loud, drunk group of non-industry-affiliated Scots down the front who appeared to know all of their songs, shouting for ‘Seasons’ as their favourite of all. That’s a long way to travel for your favourite band, especially if they’re only playing for 30 minutes, isn’t it?


With last year’s Thursday night drenching still a vivid memory, it became a bit of an unfortunate game of mine to avoid them and their spilled drinks. They ended with ‘Sing For Your Supper’, which was explained as their rallying cry of the importance of friends on this journey called life. I stand by my Bands to Watch feature on the Snuts but I felt disappointed in their sound live against some of the other bands I’d already seen in Austin.


The next band on the Good Karma line-up was another band I previewed, the supremely unGoogleable Sports Team. While Swan Dive’s indoor stage isn’t the smallest stage you’ll encounter during SXSW, trying to fit six people and all their equipment on it is no mean feat. The comparison I made between singer Alex Rice and a spastic-dancing David Byrne seems even more apt in person. Like a ball of energy never to lose steam, Rice proved his place within the band isn’t so much staying in one place to deliver the lyrics but while posturing and jumping all over the place.


When I felt like I had enough of Sports Team to have gotten a good idea of their music, I headed to the Velveeta Room and the Music From Ireland showcase. This time last year, there was no issue getting in this venue for Talos. What a difference a year – and the release of a deluxe version of ‘Wild Alee’ and a second album, ‘Far Out Dust’ – makes. Word clearly has gotten around about Eoin French’s electronic-filled, Bon Iver-esque post-rock soundscapes and him and his touring band’s emotional live show. From my vantage point, it looked like most who showed up for him were amorous couples. Groan. Right in front of French was a pair making out and being borderline inappropriate. I think next time I listen to Talos’ music, it’ll be in comfort through a pair of ear buds!

I may have been denied in my attempt to see Limerick, Ireland’s whenyoung at The Great Escape 2018. However, I refused to leave anything to chance at this SXSW, anchoring myself down the front for their Music From Ireland evening showcase slot. Following Talos, their straightforward pop/rock style brought the energy back way up in the venue, even as we edged closer to midnight. whenyoung’s sound is anchored in a powerful and unrelenting style with a pop brightness and catchiness. You can’t help but want to pogo to this kind of music.


This is best exemplified by the beat-heavy, fast tempoed ‘The Others’, which was inspired by the Grenfell Tower fire and highlights the divide between the haves and the have nots. Wearing outfits prominently displaying the EU circle of stars was another sign of their solidarity with being part of a bigger whole, even though they’ve chosen to live in London. Their most recent single, ‘Never Let Go’, is their contribution to the mental health discussion, frontwoman Aoife Power’s soaring vocals providing a measure of hope and understanding.

The Ernest Jenning Record Company showcase at the Mohawk was my next port of call. Running behind schedule, I arrived at the end of a set by New York City punks Flower. Next up was Glasgow’s long-soldiering PAWS, who have become a bit of a name on this side of the Atlantic thanks to past tours with fellow jokey rockers We Are Scientists. I figured PAWS’ appearances at SXSW would be to road test material from upcoming album ‘Your Church on My Bonfire’ and of course, to crack a few jokes, with frontman Phillip Taylor as ringmaster. New songs sat well with old favourites; the only thing perturbing was the presence of a fourth live band member, which confused some of us, as well as those keeping tabs of activities at SXSW at home.


A surreal moment in the set occurred when drummer Josh Swinney appeared to be doing a magic trick with his snare drum. One moment you’d see his drumstick, the next, you wouldn’t. It could have been because it was well past my bedtime but I was not comprehending what had happened: Swinney was demonstrating that the top of the drum had been completely broken through. Mohawk stage crew were able to rectify this quickly, locating a replacement and receiving Taylor’s appreciation for “Mystery Snare Drum Man”. Upon leaving the Mohawk, I noticed the stuffed bear in the bar had been dressed in denim. Laughing at this, I decided it was definitely time for bed.

 
 
 

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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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