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SXSW 2017: Get Buzzzed at the Brew Exchange and pop-ins at Output Belfast, the Glasgow Buckaroo and Sunday Best showcases (Friday, part 1) – 17th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Getting away from the general hive of activity in Austin, at least once, is a good thing. Our friends at Music for Listeners put on several days of free afternoon shows out at El Sapo. West of Congress Avenue, there’s Waterloo Records and Whole Foods and their free shows. There’s also a whole host of bars that turn into venues while a whole bunch of people who are in town for SXSW remain oblivious to them. I’d never been to The Brew Exchange, but I took the opportunity to check it and the Get Buzzzed showcase sponsored by a few different music companies early Friday afternoon. While I was out there, Carrie held down the fort at the BMI brunch at The Four Seasons.

Mt. Wolf, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Remember what I said about maximising your number of acts seen by visiting venues that have two stages? The Brew Exchange has two and with staggered set times, you could enjoy the music while also enjoying one of the many beers on tap, because what else would a place with a name like The Brew Exchange offer up in libations? Atmospheric electronic pop group Mt. Wolf played first on the stage actually inside the venue. (I also saw them Tuesday night at ScratcHouse at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase there, as well as Thursday at the British Music Embassy.) Electro soul pop duo Aquilo followed them, playing with their backs to the open windows at the front of the place. Following two great but all too brief performances, Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher of Aquilo and I took a walk around the corner to do this interview.

Aquilo, Get Buzzzed showcase, The Brew Exchange, Friday 17 March 2017

Something I revel in when I’m at a music festival is talking to fellow music fans. On my walk back to the British Music Embassy, I met an Austinite who was a fellow hat wearer on this windy day, and we struck up a conversation. We had a mutual love for dance and electronic music, so I knew I had someone to show him back at Latitude 30. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but my new acquaintance was best buds with the bouncer there, ha!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

I had been rushing back to catch Derry electronic musician and producer Ryan Vail, who had first performed in Austin that week on the Generator NI and Belfast City Council-sponsored riverboat cruise that Carrie covered for us. I was eager to check out his live show. Our Adam had spoken highly not only of Vail’s music, having seeing him at an Output Belfast showcase in February, but also of the visuals by Plume Studios that were projected behind him as he performed. The combination of music and projection reminded me of Rival Consoles’ (Ryan L. West) performance on the same stage 2 years prior and also at The Great Escape 2015, both which I highly enjoyed. I was pleased to learn from Vail himself after his set that he not only knew of Rival Consoles but that they were fans of each other’s music. Hey Ryans, you gotta tour together. DO IT!

Ryan Vail, Output Belfast showcase British Music Embassy, Latitue 30, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

Vail is a unique electronic artist, in that he is equally comfortable with emotional, starker pieces, where the focus is on the piano, as he is with the comparatively more forward-thinking, ambient soundscapes within which he calls on his various effects and sequencers to help him build the experience. He is also not too shy to sing, which not all electronic musicians are eager to do, but I don’t think many of them fully understand this adds an important human touch that non-electro heads appreciate. I am always on the hunt for an engaging beat and an electronic tune that draws me in, and Ryan Vail’s music succeeds on both counts. Two thumbs way up.

I’m going to fast forward past my second time seeing / dragging Carrie to witness Welsh group The Sandinistas’s set at Valhalla and sitting in on Simon Raymonde’s talk with Eric Pulido of Midlake and BNQT fame and actor and music lover Jason Lee at the convention. It’s now night, and I’m queuing outside the Mohawk, a place I have to admit I’ve avoided since the tragic car crash in front of it during SXSW 2014. I was joined in the queue with a Japanese woman from a Kyoto blog who was very excited to see The Lemon Twigs. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the CD of Kyoto (Kyotan?) bands she gave me, but I hope to soon.

The Mohawk indoor stage was to be invaded by Scots via a showcase dubbed The Glasgow Buckaroo. It has been a few years since Scotland has had an entire showcase to themselves, so their return to Austin with the most bands from their region in recent memory was entirely welcome. Glaswegians Catholic Action, starring former Casual Sex drummer turned effective frontman Chris McCrory, would begin the festivities with their brand of fun, clap-happy pop/rock.

Catholic Action, The Glasgow Buckaroo, Mohawk indoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Is it wrong to compare them to the Beatles? The comparison seems inevitable tonight, as McCrory is sporting a floppy black hat that seems a purposeful nod to John Lennon. Will Catholic Action be the Next British Guitar Band, via Mud? The jury is still out on this but for sure, they had many a tail feather shaking at both the Mohawk and the British Music Embassy later that evening, as I can fully attest to.

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

Appropriately enough, the outdoor stage at Mohawk was revving up with another Scottish act. Young Sam Gellaitry began 4AD’s night there with his take on electronic dance, stood in front of his Macbook and equipment high above all of us. In this day and age, it’s unusual to describe the music from an electronic artist whose focus is on dance as “cinematic”, but I’d have to agree with Billboard here.

Sam Gellaitry, 4AD showcase, Mohawk outdoor, Friday 17 March 2017

Despite his young age, it’s obvious from listening to his tunes that the Stirling native has a lot of imagination and ideas, but he’s also honed his craft to be able to strike the balance between weird and wonderful and providing the masses something they’re going to embrace and dance to. I thought he was incredible. I was practically weeping that I had to leave his set early. Mark my words, one day I will interview him.

Speaking of weird, I was out of the Mohawk and down the street quickly to catch a bit of recent Sunday Best signing Laucan. Laurence Galpin performed as the first artist of the Rob Da Bank label’s showcase at Valhalla, where Carrie and I had been that afternoon. The alt-folk artist was joined by a cellist, as well as a backing track coming through the speakers of the venue that can only be described as vaguely terrifying. You don’t expect to hear other voices other than the performer on stage, so I was sufficiently weirded out by both that and the disorienting darkness of Valhalla. Galpin quipped that his intention for the set was for it to be truly an “immersive experience”, so he should consider his appearance there a success, even if it was a bit muted.

Laucan, Sunday Best Records showcase, Valhalla, Friday 17 March 2017

 

SXSW 2017: Monday night variety, including Americana at the Swan Dive, pop at The Gatsby and rock at the British Music Embassy – 13th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

After our arrival in Austin on Monday afternoon, Mary and I officially began our music festival adventures at SXSW 2017 on Monday night at the Swan Dive, which played host to a showcase of alt-country and Americana artists. We only stayed long enough to see one band, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as the first act on the evening’s bill was outstanding Finnish duo Tuomo & Markus. (Mary also wrote about them in this previous SXSW 2017 review post.

Tuomo and Markus internal

Tuomo Prättälä and Markus Nordenstreng are each career musicians in their own right, but they came together recently at Wavelab Studio in my own adopted home of Tucson, AZ to record an album of contemporary Americana, with contributions from well-known friends, including members of Wilco, Calexico and The Jayhawks. Though the album, titled ‘Dead Circles’, has yet to be released outside of Scandinavia (its North American and European release is due later this year), I found out later in the week that Rolling Stone contributor David Fricke had already named it to his list of ‘New Albums from the Best of SXSW 2017’.

FRENSHIP internal

Following Tuomo & Markus’ set, Mary and I set out in separate directions (you can read her Monday evening review here). I headed to The Gatsby, which was playing host to the heavily-hyped and well-attended Pandora showcase. After a brief wait in the queue, I got inside just in time to see another duo act, FRENSHIP, whom I’d already encountered in my preview of Los Angeles bands at SXSW 2017. James Sunderland and Brett Hite’s high energy blend of organic songwriting with electronic dance music is immediately captivating, and their anthemic tracks ‘1000 Nights’ and ‘Capsize’ fit perfectly on the large, brightly-lit stage at The Gatsby. You can hear more about FRENSHIP’s Monday night set in my post-performance interview with them right back here.

"chk

The next act on the Pandora stage was Brooklyn-based dance pop band !!! (aka chk chk chk, if you want to say it out loud). They made an entrance worthy of all three exclamation points, and proceeded to shimmy and shake through a set that was equal parts glitz and Jazzercise. Their new album ‘Shake the Shudder’ is due out on the 19th of May, and if you love to dance, you’ll want to catch them on tour this summer: they already have dates scheduled in the UK and at home here in America.

Lo Moon internal

I’m not sure how I missed L.A. rock band Lo Moon in my aforementioned preview, but I was pleasantly surprised by their intense and atmospheric set on the Pandora stage. The video for their latest single ‘Loveless’ came out just after SXSW, and the drawn out anticipation of its slowly unfolding drama is a fair representation of their music, though they do make a much more powerful impact in live performance.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/bnXkMNyc794[/youtube]

False Advertising internal

Before the first night of SXSW could officially close, I naturally had to pay a visit to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. The last two bands on the DIY + TicketWeb showcase that evening were Manchester-based False Advertising and Exeter trio Muncie Girls. Both bands fall into the rock category, but False Advertisting were more on the fuzzy, grunge end of the continuum, while Muncie Girls have a brighter, cleaner sound. False Advertising do an interesting lead vocal/drums switch between Jen Hingley and Chris Warr, but as I was never able to see Warr’s face beyond his hair when he was singing, I think I’d have to say that I prefer Hingley in the forefront. Fellow frontwoman Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls had a more immediately engaging stage presence, though her pleasant smile was rather ironic, given the subversive lyrics behind her band’s catchy punk sound.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/wEhsPWHAhhY[/youtube]

Muncie Girls internal

Monday night at SXSW 2017 was a grab-bag of different bands and different sounds, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned to TGTF for my further accounts from the week in Austin, and if you haven’t been able to keep up with Mary’s fast-paced coverage of events, you can find everything collected right back here.

 

SXSW 2017: BBC 6 Music at the British Music Embassy, plus Spoon and friends at The Main (Thursday night, part 2) – 16th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

Thursday night at SXSW 2017 at Latitude 30 was a showcase sponsored by BBC 6 Music and the UK Association of Independent Music (AIM). Carrie covered the first act, and I’ll let her tell you about her experience herself. I was able to catch the next three acts on the docket. Lookman Adekunle Salami, who goes by the more streetwise moniker L.A. Salami, is a singer/songwriter who has gentle and bluesy sides to his music.

LA Salami, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

Maybe I had missed his softer, introspective numbers because I arrived after my 5 bands in an hour test, but I was surprised by how loud he and his band was for what I did manage to catch. I realise that the British Music Embassy is the place for UK acts to be seen and to make an impression and while I did enjoy the funkiness of the performance, I felt disappointed the set sounded very similar from song to song. NPR seem to have realised this too, as they invited Salami to perform an acoustic number solo on the rooftop of the Hilton Austin, which I would have enjoyed more.

Meilyr Jones, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017, 2

I’d been pulled left and right to see Meilyr (pronounced “MAY-leer”) Jones at SXSW, and Thursday would be the night I would finally get my chance. There are certain moments you always remember if you are covering SXSW as a music journalist: during the soundcheck, Jones waving and grinning slightly maniacally at me like I was a little kid as I was setting up my camera is one of those moments. Emcee for the evening Steve Lamacq commented that his sound reminded him of Aretha Franklin. White man from Wales, black woman from Detroit…how and why, exactly, would those worlds ever intersect?

Meilyr Jones, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

Listen to the big band foot-stomper ‘How to Recognise a Work of Art’, and you will understand exactly what Lammo means. The man also appears not to know – or understand – that the human body has limitations: this set was the first time I’ve seen anyone attempt the caterpillar on the Latitude 30 stage, coupled with what looked like spastic pop locking. Of any act I saw at SXSW, he was the unlikeliest (I thought anyway) to have fan boys, but there were a group of guys down the front who dance and screamed and shouted for more. He was their ‘Don Juan’, if you will. As echoed by many I spoke with, Jones was definitely an unexpected find for many in Austin for the week For sure, the British Music Embassy will never be the same again.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlGwQYCw-5E[/youtube]

She Drew the Gun from the Wirral were up next. Louisa Roach and her band won Glastonbury’s 2016 Emerging Talent competition and they are a favourite of 6 Music’s, so their appearance on this night isn’t a surprise. After such a strange yet weirdly engaging set from Meilyr Jones, it was hard to get back into more standard indie rock mode. The socially conscious ‘Poem’ is a fragile moment deserving kudos for its content, but I felt unconvinced this was the year for them to come out to SXSW. After a handful of songs hanging out in that weird no man’s land between indie and folk but being neither fully, I left for my next adventure.

She Drew the Gun British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

As mentioned in my review of the sexy title track single ‘Hot Thoughts’, Texan band Spoon took over The Main for a 3-night residency at this year’s SXSW. It was all in anticipation of the release of ‘Hot Thoughts’ the album on Friday. To be honest and based on how many people I guessed would want to see them, I didn’t think I had a chance to get into The Main for any of the nights they were playing. However, I had some luck that morning in getting a press pass for the final night, so that I could hear the single that had impressed me so much being played live.

For all 3 nights, barring the special guests announced on the day (Tuesday’s was The New Pornographers, Wednesday’s was !!!), nearly all of the bands supporting Spoon were from the local area. A fave of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Sweet Spirit are proud to be an Austin band; their ‘St. Mojo’ album out this Friday is being released on Austin’s Nine Mile Records. ‘Collective’ is a better word to describe them than ‘band’: they currently have nine members and somehow all of them, plus all their equipment fit on the stage.

Sweet Spirit, The Main, Thursday 16 March 2017

I’ve seen ‘country rock’ bandied around to describe them, but you’ve never heard a country rock band like this before. ‘Take Me to a Party’, they do. With that many members, theirs is a cacophonous but entertaining mélange of sound and attitude. While I don’t think I’d choose to listen to a band like theirs – there’s nothing subtle or really artful about their music – they’re definitely a band who will get folks dancing. Trouble is, we were packed in like sardines on the floor, so dancing was impossible.

With anticipation building in the Main, I was pretty sure I was the only person in the room that didn’t know who would go on next. At first, all I saw was a cowboy-looking guy pacing on stage with visible anxiety and wondered who he was. It has been a while since his band went on an extended hiatus, with many of their members going on to their own solo projects. But I will always think of Hamilton Leithauser as popular Noughties American band The Walkman’s frontman. For his last solo album, he joined forces with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, to come up with ‘I Had a Dream You Were Mine’. Oddly for someone who has spent most of his adult life performing to people, I never got the sense that he was 100% comfortable on stage. Maybe he felt naked with his wingman Rostam?

Hamilton Leithauser, The Main, Thursday 16 March 2017

Older and wiser than his Walkmen days, Leithauser’s new career as a solo artist has been an interesting evolution. There’s a country air to some of the songs on his latest LP (‘Peaceful Morning’), which makes sense given his preference for an acoustic in live performance. But on LP opener ‘A 1000 Times’, he goes from crooner to tortured performer in the span of 4 minutes. Which is the real Hamilton Leithauser or rather, which guise will he choose going forward? Food for thought.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9FILAkKinQ[/youtube]

Britt Daniel had spent the evening passing in and out of the green room to periodically check on the proceedings. But now it was time for the main event, Spoon. The crowd roared to life when Daniel and co. took the stage; Daniel rewarded some fans who had probably been stood there since the venue opened that night by shaking outstretched hands and kissing ladies’ palms. ‘Do I Have to Talk You Into It’ to start the set seemed like a knowing joke to the devoted; ‘Hot Thoughts’ quickly followed it, bringing up the energy in the room that seemed to have been sapped out during Leithauser’s set.

Spoon, The Main,  Thursday 16 March 2017

But they weren’t there just to preview the new album. Spoon wowed punters with ‘Inside Out’ (with a synthesised harp?) and ‘The Beast and Dragon, Adored’ from earlier albums. I scanned the crowd and saw the look of wonderment on faces and every word to their older songs on their lips. Not only was I out of my depth, it no longer made sense for someone like me who wasn’t a massive fan of theirs to be second row from the front. At SXSW, I’m of the opinion that no-one should stay in a venue any longer than needed, and this is especially true if you’re not paying attention to who is onstage and your sole intention is to get drunk. You can do that in any bar without a band playing.

In a world when a lot of things are inherently unfair, leaving a packed venue to let the next super fan in the queue outside dying to get in is a simple act of kindness not enough people are willing to do. Bending my head down to speak into the ear of the young woman next to me, I told her I was leaving and to get ready to take my spot as soon as I made a move. She had a look of incredulity on her face, but it was clear she was grateful. In the end, this is a music festival for fans and full of fans. BE NICE. It isn’t hard to be nice.

 

SXSW 2017: how to see five bands in 1 hour, or editor Mary’s method to smash SXSW (Thursday night, part 1) – 16th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

If your intention during your time at SXSW is to catch as many bands as possible, you’re in luck. Many of SXSW’s venues are close together. Usually the bigger problem is navigating around the people who aren’t as bothered from getting from point A to point B as you are. That’s avoidable if you detour around 6th Street. Is FOMO still a thing? Maybe everyone who is experiencing it just isn’t announcing it on the internet every 5 seconds.

If the terrible feeling does come over you, I have a solution for those I who worry they might be missing out on the Next Big Thing. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart, so put on your big boy/girl pants and buckle up. I’m going to tell you how I saw 5 bands in the span of 1 hour Thursday evening, and I will provide a few ‘rules’ on how to smash SXSW. None of the venues I visit in this summary were on 6th Street proper, so I feel like a bit of a champ rereading my schedule for the night.

Rule #1: Like switching the radio station or cueing up a new song on your favourite streaming service before the previous song finishes, leaving in the middle of a set, at least to old hands at this, is not only expected but to some extent, even encouraged. Be considerate to the performers and depart quietly to minimise blocking of the view of your fellow punters. Watching a pop band and not feeling it? Step outside, go down the street, and poke your head in to the next club and get some better dance or rock into you. You’ll find it, and it won’t be far.

Rule #2: Embrace venues that have one entrance and two stages to maximise your time in a venue while minimising your time in a queue. Barracuda (formerly Red 7 a few years ago), Scratchouse (formerly Holy Mountain), Cheer Up Charlie’s, Empire Control Room and its associated Garage (not to be confused with the Mazda behemoth set up this year) and the Mohawk are great examples of this.

So is Tellers, where I saw my first two bands of the night, clambering up the stairs, thinking that’s where I was supposed to be. This is where I happened upon The Gift from Portugal, and what a unique surprise they were. An astounding supporter of the band and as well as collaborator is Brian Eno: he cowrote and has produced songs from their latest album ‘Altar’. It appears his golden touch has already translated to a lot of positive attention for the group.

The Gift, Planetary Group showcase, Tellers, Thursday 16 March 2017

If you walked into the room not knowing anything about the band like I did, you’d probably think, “Liza Minnelli! Cabaret!” looking at camp frontwoman Sonia Tavares, looking vaguely gypsy-ish and like she stepped out of a ‘20s film. Yes, the keyword here is ‘theatrical’. The music started, with thumping disco beats and shiny synthpop. Evidently, the hype has extended its reach as far as The Great Escape, as the Portuguese band are headed there in May. Pencil them into your schedule, you have been advised.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMcSvtA4cqI[/youtube]

The Fontaines, Planetary Group showcase, Tellers, Thursday 16 March 2017

Creaking back down the stairs at Tellers, I resumed back on my planned schedule to see brother-sister act The Fontaines on the lower level of the two stages Planetary Group had curated for the evening. The four member, self-described ‘new-wop’ act barely fit on the small squarish stage, but this did nothing to deter singer Charlotte Fontaine, resplendent in red garb, from giving it her all in her performance. Conjuring up the soulfulness of Etta James and looking as sultry as Marilyn Monroe, it was a bit of a (good) head trip. Accompanied with their bass-heavy sound bringing the funk and things back to present day, what’s not to love? Tipped by me and Tidal ahead of them going out to SXSW, I reckon this band has a bright future ahead.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wGREc6huxs[/youtube]

Rule #3: Embrace and accept the stage delays and unexpected performers you come across. See my further thoughts on the Wednesday evening at Elysium, where the KCRW showcase was running behind schedule. Learn the art of chilling out. Scratchouse had taken over for the night by the Kosha Dillz Presents: Oy Vey showcase. Yes, Kosha Dillz is a meshuggeneh who funnily enough worked his way onto this 6 Music programme of Steve Lamacq’s from 2 weeks ago. A DJ was on the indoor stage when I arrived instead of who I was expecting…

Thankfully, there wasn’t too long of a wait for Los Angeles electropop Smoke Season to start. With their soulful tunes and wide smiles, Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen seemed to be oblivious to the fact that people were still shuffling into the venue. They went for it and were soon rewarded for their dynamic show, with keyboardist Wortman putting her voice through its paces.

Smoke Season, Kosha Dillz Presents: Oy Vey, Scratchouse, Thursday 16 March 2017

Let’s be real, there are tons of electropop groups out there right now, so what sets Smoke Season apart? Wortman’s lead vocals – not to mention her firey ginger hair you can see from a mile away – can turn on a dime, from sultry and slow burning when she wants them to be, to delicate and wispy, to emphatic in a take charge kind of way. If you’re a girl and you’ve ever wanted to be a singer, chances are her voice (with all its quirks) is the kind you’ve always wanted. (If you were wondering, my particular alto range makes this impossible, sob!) As a complete package, I find Smoke Season exciting because they’re not a one-trick pony. Equally good at dreamy numbers (‘Emilia’) just as well as more complex, in your face pop tunes (‘Loose’), I found it hard to pull myself away from their set. But as they say, sometimes needs must.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN2pL4pPcC0[/youtube]

Rule #2 was invoked again when I swung back west on 7th Street to Barracuda, where the Secretly Group showcase was also just coming to life. I’d seen Alex Lahey the day before at the StubHub / Culture Collide showcase at Banger’s, where she played in front of hundreds of people swilling beer and munching sausages at picnic tables. I was convinced her performance be different at an evening show, and I was at least right about the vibe. The slacker silliness and rapid fire lyrics of ‘Weekend’ worked better in full sun than it did at night, but it was still came off as fun. You just got the feeling an open-air festival would be a better venue for her.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDBqxBbdWS8[/youtube]

Rule #4: Know when to leave – or better yet, not even join – the long queue. SXSW old timers like me know that you can waste a lot of time queuing to get into venues when you could be elsewhere, seeing a band and knocking back a drink. While there are times you’ll want to queue for your most favourite artists, know when you spot a queue that’s around down the street and many people deep (example: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man opening Friday night at the British Music Embassy) and make a quick decision to bolt if you conclude you don’t have a chance in hell of getting in. Related to this: instead of chasing the big names and the crowds, head for a less busy venue you know you’ll be able to get in so you’ll definitely see a band. Result!

Except for James Vincent McMorrow in 2015 there, we’ve never had a problem getting into and around the inside of Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room (not to be confused with the usually more busy Maggie Mae’s proper and Maggie Mae’s Rooftop). London slackers Happyness, who are gearing up to release their second album ‘Write-in’ on Moshi Moshi in the UK, were appearing on their American label Bar/None’s night there.

Happyness, Bar/None Records showcase, Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, Thursday 16 March 2017

I’ve always liked them much better on record, and I’m a little confused with what seems like a new direction to me. While still embracing the lo-fi sensibility from their previous LP ‘Weird Little Birthday’, I’m not following the Brian Wilson-y meets shoegazing style they’ve now embraced. Jonny Allan in a baseball cap further made me think, okay, so they’re chilled out dad rock now? Mind numbing. This was Thursday night, and most everyone in the room was sitting down. I’m not saying I need to headbang or dance every second when at SXSW, but as Simon Raymonde quipped at his talk at the convention center the next day, “I don’t love it.”

Running around Austin to catch as many bands as you can in an hour isn’t for everyone. But given the carnival of crazy SXSW is, I hope I’ve convinced you it is doable.

 

SXSW 2017: rock in its many wonderful forms at the British Music Embassy Thursday afternoon – 16th March 2017

 
By on Friday, 31st March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

I go through usually unexplainable cycles of change in my musical tastes. However, the impetus for the latest change, while really only reaffirming my long-held admiration for hard rock, has no doubt been the drastic political upheavals that have befallen Britain and America in the last 9 months. The vote in favour of Brexit and the election of Trump have made me feel we’re getting ever closer to the end of days. But rock, in its headbangingly perfect way, has provided a constructive, much needed outlet in which to vent my frustration and anger. At times, rock has provided temporary respite, a brief means of escape when things feel too soul crushing.

I don’t often get the opportunity to stay for an entire showcase at SXSW, but I made time in my schedule for Thursday afternoon at the British Music Embassy at SXSW 2017. Last year, Northern Powerhouse took over Latitude 30 with all Northern line-up of hard-rocking bands. The first band on this Thursday performed on that very showcase, though I missed them then because I was interviewing Craig Johnson of fellow Leeds group Autobahn outside.


Fizzy Blood, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

Now I was finally getting a chance to hear Fizzy Blood‘s ear-splitting, yet oddly melodic brand of in-your-face rock. Dressed like he was going to a Hawaiian luau, frontman Benji Inkley screamed into his microphone like it was no big deal. He told jokes in between their songs and sounded like a good friend of mine from Wakefield. Together with the unrelentingly booming instrumentation behind him, their set was blistering, yet oddly comforting. Somehow, I don’t think Carrie would have agreed with me, ha.


The Sandinistas, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

If I thought I would get a chance to catch my breath, I had another thing coming. Which was fine by me! Next up were the Sandinistas, from Tredegar, Wales. I had a good feeling from the answers their lead singer / guitarist Dan Hagerty gave to our SXSW 2017-flavoured Quickfire Questions that we were on the same wavelength. I wasn’t wrong; you can listen to my chat with him here. But back to their performance. Like Fizzy Blood before them, they were a good, stark reminder that despite the seeming need for pop bands to throw a synthesiser into the mix, all you really need sometimes are the basic band setup (a lead singer, guitars and drums) and well-written songs. Interestingly, they sound less like the Clash (look again at their band’s name, if you missed it) and more like The Libertines.


The Sandinistas, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

The challenge that some bands never manage to overcome is to truly connect with their fans. The Sandinistas, however, made engaging punters look easy by not only being very funny between their songs, but also explaining with a laugh where the inspiration of their songs came from. Hagerty may be happily married but he’s going to take an ex and the village bicycle down a peg, which works well in a room of guys who have been wronged by a woman or two. And they don’t mind taking down another supposedly happily married man, our President, and his trophy wife. “She’s so shallow!” shouts Hagerty and naturally, the crowd approves. Even Hagerty’s own wife can’t escape the same treatment: if he’s to be believed, their single ‘Ready to Blow’ is about the sexual frustration he had before they got together. And so a future hit song was born.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik74yCjG7S4[/youtube]


Chain of Flowers, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

From the valley to the big city: it was on to another Welsh band, Chain of Flowers. And with their own and different approach to rock: gothy post-punk to be more precise. The Cardiff group had the added benefit of having been in America before, touring our two coasts last summer with their eponymous debut album produced by New York City’s Ben Greenberg. Joshua Smith’s vocals, melancholic in the vein of tortured Ian Curtis and Robert Smith before him, were framed by a buzzy, washy wall of sound. ‘Nail Me to Your Cross’? Admittedly, it’s not for everyone but trust me, you know if you favour this kind of brooding kind of denseness to rock out to.


LIFE, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

From Wales, we were then returned back to the North to face some East Yorkshire ‘tude head on. Quite literally. Hull punks LIFE, eager to preview their debut album ‘Popular Music’ in America, came roaring out the gate with crashing guitars and drums. I’m not fond of punk where it’s loud all the time and there’s no semblance of melody. What’s the point of making loads of noise with no purpose? Mick Sanders has solved that problem with his melodic and memorable guitar lines that skirt pop sensibility.


LIFE, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

But if there was any question of this band’s intentions, his brother Mez Green comes through with his biting lyrics. This is a man you wouldn’t want to cross, the sneer on his face unmistakable as he calls out Tories he’d probably chase down with a baseball bat. Try as you might, but you can’t look away. There is something improbably charismatic about him, a Brett Anderson-like presence preening and twirling onstage, deadpanning about looking for ‘Rare Boots’ in the shopping stalls of Hull but with an acid tongue reminiscent of Mark E. Smith. Something tells me Green enjoys this juxtaposition, all while the rest of the band thunders behind him. LIFE hit out at Brexit in ‘Euromillions’ and win the crowd over, drawn in by their devil may care attitude and equally unruly nature. Good thing too, as they would return to the British Music Embassy Saturday to bid this year’s SXSW adieu. Listen to my interview with Mez and Mick after this set through here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbqxNJ2W6G0[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: Thursday afternoon at the Full Irish Breakfast and the Radio Day Stage – 16th March 2017

 
By on Thursday, 30th March 2017 at 4:00 pm
 

It’s become a yearly tradition for TGTF to cover the Full Irish Breakfast, a daytime showcase put on by Music from Ireland at B.D. Riley’s Irish pub on 6th Street. Carrie generally does the honours while I usually take five, tucking into my complimentary breakfast, avoiding the pub’s Lipton tea and bemoaning the absent black pudding and mushrooms. This year for SXSW 2017, however, I stood in for Carrie at the start of the showcase, as she was down at the convention center, listening to Zane Lowe.

This was all fine by me, as the first band on were Belfast’s New Portals specialising in synthpop, therefore squarely in my wheelhouse. We had featured the act’s single ‘Winter Skin’ before Christmas last year and prior to our Derry correspondent Adam’s preview of the Northern Irish acts coming out to SXSW 2017. I should probably read our previews one more time before we go out to Austin because I evidently forgot that Mike and Ruth Aicken are married. They’re way too young and cool to be married! Ruth was wearing a baseball cap and her voice is sultry and poppish, leading me to compare her to Lorde and BANKS, both who young girls seek to emulate.

New Portals, full Irish breakfast, B.D. Riley's, Thursday 16 March 2017

I would think B.D. Riley’s is an unusual place for Irish artists to perform because on most days, it’s sunny in Austin and the windows out to 6th Street are thrown wide open. With New Portals’ music, it’s a bit odd to be hearing electronic music in a sunny environment and not in a club. However, Ruth let herself be totally drawn into the moment, singing with her eyes closed, grooving to the music as if she was in her own little world. But we were welcomed into that world, the buzz of the synths and the catchiness of the beats pulling us into the music despite it being eye-blinkingly 11 in the morning. As I looked around the room, I saw quite a few Guinness and gin and tonics being drunk, so it wasn’t too far from what it’s like being in a club…

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTIWWPB6mOw[/youtube]

The great thing about a man and his guitar: he takes next to no time to set up. For a completely different change of pace, fellow Northern Irish artist Ciaran Lavery was next up on the bill. We’ve been fans of Lavery for quite a while, and we covered him when he came out to Austin last year. The popular ‘Shame’, with Lavery’s plaintive vocals and simple yet effective guitar chord progressions, proved so disarming, I was nearly in tears.


Ciaran Lavery, full Irish breakfast, B.D. Riley's, Thursday 16 March 2017

Lavery clearly impressed the crowd, as several people asked me for his name and I recommended his live album ‘Live at the Mac’ that Adam reviewed for us at the end of 2016. I find his droll hand at stage patter hilarious, though I do wonder if it goes over better in front of Irish fans, several of whom had come all the way over from Belfast that I met at the breakfast. In any event, a job well done.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHd4x9K2-X0[/youtube]

After sitting in on the enlightening and moving talk by Russell “DMC” McDaniels back at the convention center, I was able to catch most of Middle Kids’ performance on the Radio Day Stage early Thursday afternoon as part of the KCSN afternoon showcase there. I included the female-fronted Aussie band in my best bets of acts from Oz showcasing this year in Austin.

Middle Kids, Radio Day Stage, Thursday 16 March 2017

By the time they arrived at SXSW 2017, they had under their belt an appearance on American alt late night tv programme Conan, so they’d already had their American close-up with thousands of armchair viewers. The brashness of their hit ‘Edge of Town’ hit the spot with Radio Day onlookers. For an indie band on one of their first-ever trips to America, you really can’t do much better than having such a great reception on the biggest stage in the convention center.

Middle Kids, Radio Day Stage, Thursday 16 March 2017, 2

 
 
 

About Us

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 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.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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