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SXSW 2018: an editor’s final surprises and wows in Austin – 17th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 5th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

For the first time all week, I didn’t have a plan at the start to my evening. I had some tentative ideas but then decided I should probably queue for Latitude 30, as I had been locked out of the press allocation of the SXxpress passes for Saturday night. Both Carrie and I have seen daunting queues outside the venue in past years but this year, the British Music Embassy didn’t seem as big of a draw. Friday night’s rap-focussed night headlined by SXSW 2016 showcasing artist AJ Tracey had trouble getting foot traffic in, they ended up opening it up to the public. I was surprised that I was able to get in and in plenty of time ahead of the start of Superorganism’s set. There’s been huge buzz around these supposed ‘aliens’ and so they were more of a curiosity to me than anything else. This evening was sponsored by BBC Radio 1 and the UK’s Department of International Trade (formerly UK Trade and Investment).

Superorganism Saturday at SXSW 2018

In reality, the band hail from varied locations as New Zealand, South Korea, and Lancashire, while being led by the teenaged American via Japan Orono Noguchi. As a friend of mine with me that night quipped, “they’re like a mad version of The Go! Team!” Hard to argue with that logic. Their schtick is to act like they’re not from this planet, from the funny raincoats they start their set with, to pretending they don’t know what Teddy Grahams are. I didn’t find them as funny and avant-garde as advertised. I have trouble stomaching young kids swearing and witnessing Noguchi do this as part of her stage patter just came across as uncomfortable. I can see the pop appeal of their weird songs: they’re easy to sing along to, and who doesn’t think dancing shrimp are cute? But is this a project that has legs? Clearly, Domino Records think so, they put out their debut album last year. They’re appearing at the Great Escape in May, and I’m just happy I can say I’ve already seen them and leave that show in Brighton to their crazy fans.

I hung in there so I could watch girl duo IDER, recent signees to Glassnote Records. IDER were invited to showcase at SXSW last year; we previewed them then and I was so disappointed they didn’t come out to Austin. A year of tightening their sound and live performance led to this week in Austin where they performed at show after show and did so with smiles on their faces. Their last chance to impress was at this BBC Radio 1 and Department of International Trade showcase at the British Music Embassy.


IDER Saturday at SXSW 2018

Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville certainly didn’t look like they’d been put through the SXSW wringer. Beginning their set with an arresting a capella duet, it seemed they were eager to prove that their voices could stand on their own and without electronic augmentation. Like their many shows in Austin before it, this one was full up and proof that word had gotten around about their talent. There’s nowhere for them to go but up from here.

Uncomfortable by the sardine situation at Latitude 30, I said goodbye to my friend, extricated myself from the crowd and walked on to my next destination on 6th Street, fully expecting to be to have arrived during a changeover. Returning to the Velveeta Room for a second timethat week, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to catch the latter half of Margate singer/songwriter Dan Lyons’ set. As regular readers of TGTF know, the singer/songwriter genre is Carrie’s forte, not mine. I find that after a while, these artists start to blur in sound and in my mind. Don’t sing to me from atop a stool. Others may think you’re cool, but I’ll just be bored. I’d rather rock out.

Dan Lyons Saturday at SXSW 2018 4

There is a dark edge to Lyons’ songwriting, a world of blown smoke rings, psych and blues and Laurel Canyon harmonies with his bandmate and partner Freya. The songs are Something tells me he’d get along with Stephen Duffy and they’d have a laugh, like I had described New Pope at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 should go drinking with Dylan and Tom Waits. Lyons was previously the drummer for Fat White Family in a previous life, so it’s nice to see an artist coming from behind the skins to do his own thing.

The label ‘synthpop’ LYLO have been given hasn’t done them any favours. I know what I think synthpop sounds like, and there are legends of the genre like my beloved Duran Duran and OMD that tend to used as examples. The Glaswegian band go far beyond the basic synthpop mould by having a saxophone player – seriously, what synthpop band do YOU know has a saxophonist? – and their cool attitude oozing from every pore.

LYLO Saturday at SXSW 2018

You remember Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’, right? Recall that Rafferty was Scottish and this hipness is buried there in their DNA. On ‘Turn My Jacket’, there’s a lot going on, but it’s a happy kind of organised chaos. I found my head bopping to the beat and cheering on these lads. I cracked up as I watched the legs of their keyboardist move around as if they had a mind of their own. Mind you, this was all happening while his hands were at attention on the keys. I guess even he can’t control himself when he gets swept up in the rhythm?

What better way to finish out my SXSW 2018 than with a band that I’d discovered while listening through all the bands from the Continent, poised to find the next big band out of Europe. Moonlight Breakfast, who I’d previewed in the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018, were appearing at Friends. They were prepared: they had brought their own lighting and projection screens on which they could run their own visuals. These may not sound like much and possibly unnecessary at a dive like Friends. But taken together, they made their show stand out as a professional presentation from nearly all the others I’d seen all week. World class. I would like to think that the place was packed because people had heard about them through my write-up and word has spread fast.

Moonlight Breakfast Saturday at SXSW 2018

Make no mistake, ‘professional’ doesn’t mean stuffy. Like LYLO before them, they had a secret weapon in the form of the clarinet that their drummer ‘Bazooka’ played on ‘I Feel Like Dancing’, and to huge audience cheers. The bounce of singles ‘Time’ and ‘Shout’ made them irrepressible and so catchy, you could feel the energy building in the room. Singer Christie sang with a megaphone and with a huge grin on her face. She knew they’d done good. On the final night of SXSW, you couldn’t ask for a better high note. Fans were fighting over who would buy them drinks after their performance. I smiled to myself as I skipped out the front door of the bar. My job here is done.

I went back to the hotel to start packing for the trip back home and to mentally prepare for the difficult return to my normal life. Seeing Moonlight Breakfast wow a crowd like that was another reminder, like many reminders that week, that TGTF and my writing and opinion here makes a difference. I know for myself that although I can’t be that singer I wanted to be when I was a little girl, the next best thing I can do is to help that girl (or guy) with the same dream. Dream big, laugh, love. Goodnight, SXSW 2018.

For more of my photos from Saturday at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

 

SXSW 2018: a slower Saturday afternoon at the convention center and hotels – 17th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 5th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

I’m always amazed how I feel when I reach the Saturday of the SXSW Music Festival. Everyone who is going at it as hard as we do is exhausted. But we’re also sad. Months of preparation have culminated in our coming out to Austin for this event highlight of the festival calendar, and a part of you dies inside as you accept that it’s almost over.

The Irish rugby-crazy throngs were already up and at ‘em at B.D. Riley’s, so we slept in and decided to get brunch instead. The fancy schmancy Stella San Jac in the Westin was just down the road from the Omni where we stayed this time. At first, I was surprised to see that the place wasn’t crowded. But then I considered that maybe everyone else was still in bed at 1 PM, in the fetal position and nursing hangovers. I hadn’t eaten in nearly 24 hours, and Carrie noted I was hoovering a fried avocado and roasted corn salad in front of her. Ha. After Carrie had a few cups of needed coffee and I downed a bacon bloody Mary, we went down to the convention center for one last time.

avocado salad on Saturday
Wasn’t actually that healthy of a salad…

Carrie headed to a session, while I went into the Trade Expo for some music at the Flatstock stage. Unintentionally but altogether happily, I got a bit of a second helping (side dish?) of Montreal’s Bodywash. I said hello to the band afterwards and we had a nice chat about Pop Montreal vs. M is for Montreal. Pro tip: if you ever need information about an event, ask the people who live in the town where it’s taking place for advice. I came away wanting to visit Montreal ASAP.

The coolest thing for artists about the stages at the convention center – Flatstock, International Day and Radio Day – is that the people who attend these are probably going to be different than those who show up to your afternoon appearances and your evening showcases. It offers another opportunity to wow a different crowd. As the SXSW Gaming Expo was in full swing Saturday, some gaming-inclined kids had wandered into the Flatstock stage area and were spellbound by the next act, Ascot’s Febueder, who I previewed ahead of SXSW back in February.

Febueder Saturday at SXSW 2018

I want to describe their music is soulful, jazzy and catchy – it is all these things – but that would be simplifying it too much. If alt-J hadn’t happened, I don’t think an act like Febueder could dream big. Post ‘An Awesome Wave’, the possibilities are now much wider. I think I always worry how an act is going to be received in the bright lights of the convention center, especially on a Saturday afternoon. But in Febueder’s case, the concern wasn’t needed at all. Their trumpet and electronic drum-infused music was out there at times, yes, but it hit the spot for those keen on finding a new band to follow. Afterwards, people came up to the stage excitedly, wanting a handshake and to know how to spell the band’s name so they could find their act on Spotify. Mission accomplished, guys!

Following two drink interludes – hey, it was St. Patrick’s Day, I’m not turning down a green-coloured ginger beer – Carrie and I split up to catch two acts at Second Play Stages. In case you aren’t familiar with these, they are shows that are mostly before the 7 PM hour at hotels and other unconventional venues that are free and open to the public. Carrie used the opportunity to pick up a performance by Harry Pane at the Hilton that I happened to see on the Second Play schedule. I headed down to Davis Street to check out the Hotel Van Zandt for the first time and to see a band for a second time that week. I seriously wonder what kind of parents think it’s a good idea to bring their families with young kids out to Austin during SXSW. Well, at least if they’re hanging around a hotel lobby in the afternoon, they’ll see some good music, right?

STAL Saturday at SXSW 2018 3

Some of these kids sat in front of the stage were lucky, as STAL were ready to roll for their last performance in Austin. Weirdly, the stage was next to the front door with a steady stream of new hotel guests coming through, so for onlookers, it was distracting to say the least. Taking that into account, STAL admirably ignored the weird situation they found themselves in and performed their style of synthpop as if they were in any other venue in Austin. They sounded great, even if the people watching them weren’t dancing as I had hoped they would. Maybe the adults were as tuckered out as I was? For more of my photos from Saturday at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

man milking an armadillo
You think your week at SXSW was bad? I think this man is trying to milk his armadillo…

 

SXSW 2018: Friday night at Canada House, Communion Presents, a Fluffer Pit party and more – 16th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Following an interview at the Omni that went swimmingly well, I skipped in dinner in favour of starting my evening strong at Canada House at Swan Dive. The venue’s two stages were taken over by Montreal’s two biggest music events on their calendar, POP Montreal and M is for Montreal. Though I arrived too late to see buzzed about Montreal rock band Corridor on the outdoor M is for Montreal stage, I did get a drink token and could settle in to watch fellow Montrealians Bodywash, friends who met at McGill University. They play a hybrid between shoegaze and synthpop, with dreamy vocals and a rich wall of guitars. Quite lovely.

I popped outside to catch a few songs from another synth-driven act from Montreal, Anemone (real name Chloe Soldevila) and her backing band. She’s the second signee to Luminelle Records, a new venture between the Gorilla vs. Bear blog and Fat Possum Records. Luminelle will be releasing her EP ‘Baby Only You & I’, featuring the sweetly seductive echoes of the title track.

Anemone Friday 2 Friday at SXSW 2018 at SXSW 2018

Back on the indoor stage at Swan Dive were Motel Raphael, three ladies who GQ UK anointed some years back as “the most exciting band to come out of Montreal since Arcade Fire.” A heady compliment indeed, and one entirely deserved. While successful, all-female harmonising groups are nothing new – consider Wilson Phillips, the Dixie Chicks and more recently, The Staves – I really don’t think there are enough of them in the public eye, and Motel Raphael are the kind of band young girls interested in becoming musicians need as role models. I was impressed with their vocal range on their songs that sat more on the folky singer/songwriter side of the spectrum, as well as those in a more straightforward, bright pop vein.

Motel Raphael Canada House Friday 2 at SXSW 2018

Friday was also an opportunity to see some friends in action. On that note, I was headed to what I knew would be a crowded showcase, Communion’s annual tradition of taking over St. David’s main room. Second on the Communion Presents lineup for the evening was rising Irish singer/songwriter Dermot Kennedy, with TGTF friend Micheal Quinn of Meltybrains? on drums. Along with SXSW, Kennedy was in the States for a series of shows, many of which sold out even before he set foot on American soil.

Dermot Kennedy Friday at SXSW 2018

Melding the popular genre of hip-hop like that of Drake with the evocative singer/songwriters like Glen Hansard who has become a friend, he offers an olive branch to fans of both types of music with his heart-on-his-sleeve type, accessible writing. As fans thunderously applauded him in the church following his last song of the night, I was reminded that watching a star in the making is a priceless moment. I had every intention of staying for part of Sam Fender’s set that followed Kennedy’s, but the stage was running so behind schedule, I decided I better make a move to my next destination.

I had never witnessed a Fluffer Pit party, but it was high time that I did. They had taken over both stages of Barracuda and I hadn’t been aware that there were two entrances to the place. I was so used to passing from one stage to the other through the internal door separating them. It seemed to take forever but I finally gained admittance through the alley door to the Barracuda backyard in the midst of The Wedding Present’s set.

Instead of having the artists perform on the stage, the ‘stage’ had moved to the gravelly ground, with the audience watching the talent in the round around them. Ironically or not, I had heard them playing ‘Kennedy’ (“too much apple pie”) and bopped my head to it when I was still in the queue outside. I entered just as they were just able to break into my favourite Wedding Present track ‘Brassneck’. What a difference from the Seven Grand show the previous night, under weird blue lighting and the pretension of a whisky bar. This was a much more appropriate venue for them.

LIFE Friday at SXSW 2018

The same could be said about TGTF friends LIFE, who appeared next on the Fluffer Pit bill. Hull’s finest were ready to enthrall the crowd with their politically charged numbers with plenty of welly. They appeared in Austin for the first time last year for SXSW 2017, and now they were back with debut album ‘Popular Music’. It was great to let loose with th’ lads as Mez Sanders-Green led the band through riotous tune after tune. You really haven’t lived if you haven’t shout-sang along to ‘Ba Ba Ba’ or ‘Rare Boots’ and headbanged until you couldn’t headbang any more. So that I would still be able to nod in the morning, I said goodbye to dear friends and re-emerged into the Austin night for something slightly more chill.

I next had to choose between Polish psych and Seattle synthpop. After the sweat and workout at the Fluffer Pit party with LIFE, I decided I could do with a nice, soft cushioned seat and a drink. To avoid the mayhem ensuing on 6th Street, I chose Sisters at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. Formerly the Wednesday night home of Music From Ireland, it was nice to revisit a place I’d come to regularly. Friday night, it played host to the Public Access Touring and Superior Music Publishing showcase.

Andrew Vait and Emily Westman are a synthpop duo with a difference. Given their academic backgrounds, that’s not surprising: they both were schooled at University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, which probably explains Vait’s onstage flute-playing and his squeals of guitar, sometimes in the same song. While they weren’t playing to a big room of people, Sisters didn’t let that bother them, putting on an energetic set punctuated by Westman’s big, booming drumbeats and her and Vait’s combined vocals.

 

SXSW 2018: Friday afternoon at the Full Irish Breakfast and British Music Embassy – 16th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

During the week at SXSW, those of us who have day jobs outside of the music industry must check in on occasion on what pays the bills. While I was stuck in our hotel dealing with emails and loose ends, Carrie left early to make our now annual visit to the BMI brunch, so stay tuned for her coverage on the artists who played there at the Four Seasons this year. After getting things in order, I hopped over to B.D. Riley’s for the annual Full Irish Breakfast sponsored by Music From Ireland and First Music Connect, both great friends to TGTF. To my happiness, the place was already full up at noon, requiring quite a bit of jostling and patience to get a bartender’s attention and to find a spot where you could lay out your complimentary breakfast.

Accompanying the free food – with white pudding this year, yes! – were plenty of Irish-born talent raring to go, going nicely with the green décor B.D. Riley’s had already set out ahead of St. Patrick’s Day the next day. Joshua Burnside and his band, who wowed us on the Output Belfast boat ride Tuesday morning, began the day of festivities at the Irish pub. Looking tan in the face (or was that sunburn?), he looked relaxed performing his sixth and final performance in Austin in front of a room of Texan strangers.

Joshua Burnside Friday at SXSW 2018

It’s no wonder why his album ‘Ephrata’ won the Northern Ireland Music Prize in 2017. Burnside’s unique usage of world music influences while maintaining an inherent Irishness through the lilt of his gorgeous voice made the LP released last year unlike anything else. The crowd approved of Burnside and his band’s early yet wonderfully spirited set. A particularly lovely moment was when Burnside went part acoustic for his single from last year, the politically charged and very Northern Irish ‘Red and White Blues’. While its poignant meaning may have been lost on the audience he played it to, the combination of his strong voice accompanied only by acoustic guitar had a quiet beauty, before the rest of his band joined in for added oomph.

The Lost Brothers are Irish, yes. But if you looked at them on the street with their cowboy hats and acoustic guitars, you’d swear they were Americans born and raised in the Wild West. No strangers to SXSW, B.D. Riley’s or Austin for that matter, they took to the stage at the pub with their usual performance aplomb. Whether performing on a boat or in a venue on dry land, the Lost Brothers are the consummate professionals.

The Lost Brothers Friday at SXSW 2018

They arrived in Texas with their latest album effort ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, recorded in Arizona, and the critical acclaim it has received so far, all deserved. (Read my glowing review of the LP through here.) ‘Echoes in the Wind’, the lead single from the album, came across as effortless, as did more recent single, the sweet, yet humourous ‘More Than I Can Comprehend’ (promo video here).

The third act at the Full Irish breakfast was also ready to put his last SXSW 2018 appearance in the can. Cork’s Talos, who closed out the Music From Ireland showcase at the Velveeta Room the evening previous, was back out with his band and alongside the blinding sunshine streaming in from 6th Street. It was a good thing for musicians from abroad and music fans alike to hide inside B.D. Riley’s for the afternoon: for the first time that week, the mercury reached over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 32 degrees Celsius plus). The sunny afternoon provided contrast to their performance Thursday night, though the sun or heat didn’t dampen their enthusiasm or Eoin French’s falsetto.

Talos Friday at SXSW 2018

Friday was the only afternoon at SXSW 2018 I had some free time to spend at the British Music Embassy. And it was a good day for it, as a slice of sticky toffee cheesecake and a bloody Mary awaited me at Latitude 30. I arrived just as most visitors were finishing up their lunch and ready for the first act, The RPMs. Brighton’s brightest prospect in the pop/rock stakes began the afternoon at the Embassy with gusto, blasting out their upbeat tunes with vigour.

The RPMs Friday 4 at SXSW 2018

Although he must have been boiling in his leopard print jacket, lead singer Jack Valero was a great frontman, flashing a winsome smile and showing a youthful exuberance. Under the better lighting of and with the better sound system of Latitude 30, they shone, and plenty of Americans who hadn’t heard of them until that moment started taking notes. I know, because a bunch of people came up to me and asked me to spell their name and for help finding their Facebook. Ha. I was glad to be of service.

Next up on the bill was Natalie Findlay, the Manchester songstress who scorched former writer Martin’s eyes and ears at Liverpool Sound City 2013. Since those days, she’s morphed like a chameleon many times, never staying put in one specific genre. In an otherwise all-male lineup, it was nice to introduce some good ol’ fashioned girl power into the mix and remind the Americans in attendance that there’s great female talent coming out of Britain, too.

Findlay Friday at SXSW 2018

Flyte’s closeup has been a long time coming. We’ve been writing about them for quite a long time; they nabbed the #5 spot in a reader’s poll here at TGTF at the end of 2013. Last year, they released their long-awaited debut album ‘The Loved Ones’, the culmination of years of hard graft. Performing songs from it live in Austin must have tasted so sweet.

Flyte Friday 2 at SXSW 2018

The group from London sounded decidedly different from the acts before them, with a Beatles-esque indie rock edge. While I thought it was unnecessary for them to do a cover (Alvvays’ ‘Marry Me, Archie’), Americans next to me swayed their head to Flyte’s version, stoked in their unexpected selection. Unexpectedly, I found myself at the bar and next to an unlikely fan, or so I thought: folk pop singer/songwriter Lucy Rose stood spellbound watching them play, only stopping to occasionally note to her drinking companion how great Flyte were. Couldn’t have had a nice endorsement, eh?

Dance funk purveyors Le Galaxie were the perfect choice to close out the Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s. Led by well-bearded frontman Michael Pope and performing with ex-Fight Like Apes MayKay on occasional vocals, they turned the Irish pub in the late afternoon into an enthralling disco, the thumping of their catchiest tunes reverberating in every molecule in the place.

Le Galaxie Friday at SXSW 2018

I last saw them in the basement of Audio in Brighton (now Patterns) at The Great Escape 2015. Times may have changed but some things stay the same, and thankfully, Le Galaxie is in the latter. It may not have been 5 o’clock yet in Austin, but it was 5 o’clock somewhere, and punters had no problem shaking a tail feather to their songs.

 

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: Thursday night with artists around the world and dealing with the unexpected – 15th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

This was my seventh SXSW. Having been punched and groped in 2016 and then having been turned away at a venue despite my having a SXxpress pass this year, I thought perhaps I’d experienced all the peculiarity and awfulness that was meant for me in Austin in this lifetime. You may say I’m getting old and I should just shake these things off, but my tolerance for BS is minimal these days at best. Having crossed off Munich’s Joasihno and Solingen’s Blackberries at German Haus’ Wednesday afternoon programming, Thursday night was supposed to be a pretty relaxing evening stroll from venue to venue. Pretty sure I jinxed myself…

Like Wednesday evening, Thursday evening began for me with a stop at a drinks reception, this time the Le Bureau Export New York / France Rocks’ drink and food reception at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. Call me crazy, but I assumed that after visiting the House of Scandinavia on Monday and snacking on some faux meatballs, we’d be getting some champagne and French-themed food at this reception. I think there was a major miscalculation in attendance predictions, as I got there pretty early to queue and by the time I got upstairs, nearly all the food was gone. The French contingent might consider either ordering more food next year, or do a better job limiting access. It was very strange, too, that except for one sign advertising the event that was stood next to a picnic table full of official staff, there were no other indications that this was a French event. At the Focus Wales night the evening before, there were Welsh flags down the bar and on individual tables; German Haus had awesome-looking banners and their unique blue-green design branding in front of Barracuda’s indoor stage.

The reception was useful in that I was in the right place when the first act of the Bureau Export France showcase began. They even began before 8 PM, pretty tops. I had seen electronic act STAL 3 years ago playing at the Clash Magazine showcase at Coalition at the 2015 edition of The Great Escape. At the time they were based in Paris, but they now call Los Angeles home. At STAL’s core is composer Pierre-Marie Maulini, who cut his teeth on rock bands in the early Noughties before forging a friendship with and going on tour with Anthony Gonzalez’s M83. It’s purported that the 2 years Maulini spent touring ‘Saturday = Youth’ with Gonzalez and crew inspired him to start his own project and thus STAL, the word for steel in various languages, was born.

STAL Thursday at SXSW 2018

STAL’s music has morphed in the last few years; recent single ‘The Crime’ (my review here) sees them veering towards a more overtly mainstream pop sound, probably what Maulini meant in a previous Facebook post in which he mentioned them going on “a brand new journey”. Time will tell if this will translate to bigger success for them as I had hoped for when I saw them in 2015. What will help them big-time in this regard is the energy of their live show. You can tell they’re friends and getting into it, and as fun as it is to watch them, the frenetic motions onstage encourages you to join in on the floor and dance. Maulini and live guitar and synths bandmate Jeff Di Rienzo (guitar and synths) were constantly moving their bodies to the beat. Newest single ‘Magic’ that came out last Friday is more in line of what I think of from an electropop band; check it out in its premiere on our friends Glamglare’s Web site.

On my way down the stairs, I stopped to catch a song by girl group TAWINGS who were playing on the indoor stage at the Sounds from Japan showcase. Channelling ‘60s garage rock, the Tokyo group’s sound chugs along like so many bands we’ve heard before. So much that you might think you’re listening to another band. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that’s what they say, right? Any other night, I could be quite happy listening to a band like this. At SXSW, not so much.

TAWINGS Thursday at SXSW 2018

I left STAL’s set before it ended, because I had a long walk to the Kobalt AWAL / blahblahblahscience show at the Palm Door on Sabine Street. I made it just as East Anglians turned Londoners Otzeki, who I’d written about in the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018, began to play. It was some luck that I had given them a pass Tuesday night, instead choosing to stay for The Academic’s full set at The Main II (see more here). Otzeki’s show that evening was shut down by bouncers two songs in because singer Mike Sharp had commandeered a bottle of Maker’s Mark (the Seven Grand is a whisky bar) and refused to surrender it to staff.

The well-lit venue gave folks plenty of room to drink, dance and observe the band however they wanted to. The bounce of their electronic-driven music was funky and seemed to be intriguing the audience, most of whom I guessed didn’t know who they were before wandering into the building. Then things got weird. Sharp repeatedly bounded into the audience with his microphone, leading to impromptu twirls around and serenading of punters. This in itself is not unusual. Most music fans like this kind of interaction, and the women he confronted seemed to enjoy the joke. Having had close calls with guitars and microphone leads in my face in the past, I prefer such interaction at a distance.

Otzeki Thursday SXSW 2018

He decided to take his shirt off, then gaffa tape his chest across his nipples. Er, okay, performance art. Then he decided to pick up the water dispenser that all Austin bars have. Bar owners know that revelers drink too much during SXSW, and their defense is to keep these people hydrated. What happened next seemed to move in slo mo. Sharp must have jumped in the air with the dispenser, and what seemed like all the water in it fell on me. I’ve had some stupid stuff happen to me in my life, but this took the cake.

Was he acting provocatively during SXSW to create a buzz about their act while in Austin? Good that it happened to me and not some A&R dude, I guess. Their manager was kind enough to try and source me some actual towels, but I soon decided I had to get out of the air-conditioning and out of my clothes ASAP. I walked by a hotel staff member on the way back up to 6th Street and she asked me what happened. After hearing the story, she said, “you’re taking it awfully well, considering.” What else could I do?

I refused to let this incident get the best of me. I headed for St. David’s Sanctuary next, warning the door staff that my clothes were wet, and would that be okay if I sat in a pew to enjoy the next performance? They waved me on and said that if I needed a blanket, they had some in the back that I could help myself to. That was nice of them. Being able to sit is not a perk you get in all venues, and after what happened, it was mighty welcome. When I arrived, soulful electropop singer/songwriter Benji Lewis of Melbourne, Australia, was still setting up with his live bandmate and friend Allen. I hadn’t missed a moment of what would be one of the most magical performances I witnessed in Austin all week.

Benji Lewis Thursday 2 at SXSW 2018

Like many Aussies wanting to be noticed beyond antipodean borders, he’s moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of global stardom. In this interview with our friends at The AU Review, Lewis explained that he stripped back his set at St. David’s to respect his environment, choosing to go with lighter sounds. The decision paid off in spades: the Aussie singer’s falsetto floated lighter than air, making songs like his standout single ‘Drift’ sound absolutely beautiful within the incredible acoustics of St. David’s. While I may have been down when I arrived, Lewis’ velvet tones were just what I needed to regroup and remind myself why I was in Austin. Check out his newest single ‘Deep Blue’ below. For more of my photos from Thursday night at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

 
 
 

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.

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