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SXSW 2019: catching up with my top 6 acts of the festival – 16th March 2019 (Saturday, part 3)

 
By on Thursday, 4th April 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

One of the great things about SXSW as a whole and that doesn’t really happen at UK or Irish multi-day city festivals is that you usually have an opportunity to catch acts again. If you didn’t get a good look and listen the first time around? No problem! If you enjoyed yourself so much on the first go-around, good news, you can get a second helping! Rather conveniently, the 6 acts I saw again on Saturday turned out to be my favourites from this year. If you haven’t heard of them, you have been alerted. Write their names down, put them in your phone, tattoo them lovingly on your body, I don’t care what you do. Remember them, because they are who I thought shone the brightest this year in Austin.

ROE at Flatstock Stage, Austin Convention Center (see also Thursday the 14th of March at Output Belfast at Latitude 30; read more on her on TGTF through here)
As Music and Film wind down as the week ends, Saturday at the Convention Center during SXSW takes on an entirely different feel. Part of this is the growing influence and attendance of the Gaming portion of SXSW. It’s family-friendly, so it’s not uncommon to see kids at the Flatstock Stage with their parents. Two young girls were dancing around and in front of the ever-approachable ROE, her guitar and her impressive setup of electronics. She gestured around to her setup, quipping, “Me and my band members are having a great time here!” A very funny moment.


ROE Flatstock Stage Saturday SXSW 2019

In all seriousness, though, young Roisin Donald from Derry has a charmingly disarming nature, and the sincerity of her onstage banter continues into her songs, written out of personal hardship and deep emotions. One of the biggest hurdles a singer/songwriter of any genre has to overcome is one of credibility, and ROE has gotten past this easily before she is even allowed to touch a beer in our country. If there is one important message that we all should take to heart from the young people making their way in the music business, it should be that young people have a lot of say and can do it thoughtfully. All we need to do is listen. And if you haven’t seen an artist or band at the Flatstock stage, you simply must. It’s free to all, so what’s stopping you?

Mansionair at Antone’s (see also Thursday the 14th of March at Clive Bar; read more on them on TGTF through here)
Established before I was born, Antone’s is an Austin institution for the blues. When I first starting coming out for SXSW 8 years ago, I knew I would get there one day, but it just never happened over the years. While not an official showcase, American audio innovators Shure hosted 2 days of afternoon ‘Bedroom Sessions’ in the upstairs area at Antone’s on Friday and Saturday, free to anyone in the know. It wasn’t until I got there Saturday afternoon that I realised they weren’t kidding on the theme. Beds were on the floor where punters could sit or stand, and there was also a big bed onstage, I guess in case any of their scheduled acts needed a catnap? Ha. Jack Froggatt of Australian electropop group Mansionair was well aware of the strangeness of it all, commenting from the stage that “it all feels like a dream I once had”, as he felt disorientated because of the bed’s presence and drummer Alex Nicholls was on his right when he’s usually on the left.


Mansionair Shure Bedroom Sessions Saturday SXSW 2019 2

As weird as it must have been for the artists, without a doubt, it was one of the more imaginative performance spaces I witnessed this year. With coloured balloons in the air and plenty of seating if the audience wanted it (it’s Saturday, are you kidding?), I appreciated the super chill atmosphere. Neither stuffy as a traditional seated venue or a free-for-all like Clive Bar Thursday afternoon, it was more like a Sofar Sounds-kind of situation where you’ve been welcomed into an intimate room. Though I felt abnormally tethered to my chair during set closer ‘Astronaut (Something About Your Love)’, I felt that Mansionair ‘beat the odds’ and gave a good performance, weirdness nonwithstanding. Following this unusual appearance, I also saw the Sydney trio perform in DC, which you can read about here.

APRE at Latitude 30 (see also Thursday the 14th of March at the International Day Stage)
Just prior to Boy Azooga at the British Music Embassy, London-based, electronic-driven duo APRE began the BBC Radio 1 showcase in exemplary fashion. Had it been my choice, I would have put them later on in the lineup for the night, as their super-energetic pop show here definitely puts them in my top acts seen at SXSW 2019. Alas, Radio 1 didn’t ask me for my advice. Moving effectively and effortlessly from song to song, from slow vibe to more upbeat, mark my words, these guys are gonna go far.

APRE British Music Embassy BBC Radio 1 SXSW 2019

Though it was so late in the week, Charlie Brown and Jules Konieczny gave it their all, proving to be some of the most energetic performers I’ve seen in a long time. ‘Gap Year 2008’, their rhythmically spellbinding single with an unforgettable chorus and a killer guitar line, was my set highlight. I thought they were so good, you would have heard no complaints from me if they had just repeated their entire set a second time. Read my pre-SXSW 2019 Bands to Watch on them through here. I’m glad they and Boy Azooga were the last bands I’d see here. Sniff sniff, sob sob.

Jealous of the Birds at Swan Dive (see also Wednesday the 13th of March at Central Presbyterian Church; read more on her TGTF through here)
Perhaps it already happened long before she and her band arrived in Austin and I just missed it by virtue of my being stuck here in the States. But I feel that the now Belfast-based Naomi Hamilton and her recording name/entity Jealous of the Birds truly came into her own this year at SXSW 2019. Hamilton rocked hard in sharp purple plaid and bright yellow suits and was backed by her band who were also thematically dressed in tartans, so the professional feel of their performance was unmatched by anyone else I had the pleasure of seeing.

Jealous of the Birds Swan Dive Line of Best Fit Saturday SXSW 2019

Their busy week of gigging was capped off by an early evening performance at the Line of Best Fit showcase at Swan Dive, jam-packed with punters. The closest I got was crammed in on the side, white wooden railing in my face, somewhat mesmerised by the bobbing of her bass player’s new armadillo arm tattoo he got on this trip, ha. While the mood at Central Presbyterian Church Wednesday was overwhelmingly one of reverence, this last performance by Jealous of the Birds was one of revelry and pure joy, as bright as the gold of Hamilton’s suit.

The Dunts at 720 (see also Wednesday the 13th of March at Latitude 30)
Okay, so I wimped out and didn’t join The Dunts and the other excited moshers at the Rascalton show Friday night at Valhalla. Still, The Dunts themselves were scheduled to produce a sonic thrashing at my favourite place to see hard rock in Austin, 720, so how could I say no? I was stood safely by the bar (my version of being game, ha) as the Scots began their campaign of making the loudest, chaotic noise possible.

Although they bowed out of an earlier Second Play Stage appearance, arguing they weren’t an electronic kit band, their reputation off the back of their sweaty performance at the British Music Embassy Wednesday afternoon must have spread like wildfire. Though I didn’t see it firsthand – I smartly arrived early to stake my vantage point – a long queue had built up outside 720, no doubt curious to see what the fuss about these lads from Glasgow was all about. Some of the band reportedly celebrated a bit too heartily afterwards, necessitating yours truly acting as a big sister to assist in reuniting them. I remember what it was like at that age and frankly, had I gone down as well as they had in a foreign country on arguably the biggest stage for international emerging bands, I think I would have been celebrating, too! All good.

whenyoung at Swan Dive (see also Thursday the 14th of March at the Velveeta Room and Friday the 15th of March at B.D. Riley’s)
I decided to end my music loving time at SXSW 2019 with a band who had wowed me twice earlier in the week. I just couldn’t stay away. London via Limerick three-piece whenyoung also performed at the Line of Best Fit’s Swan Dive showcase and boy, did they bring it. I don’t think I can reiterate enough just how much fun their music is and how powerfully spirited they are in live performance. Run, run now, and get your tickets to see them live. Do not press snooze on this.

whenyoung Swan Dive Line of Best Fit Saturday SXSW 2019

You can’t help but enjoy the colourful, dynamic spectacle of whenyoung. Then when it’s over, you take a deep breath and walk away with a big, goofy grin on your face. We have enough pain and sorrow in this life, and there’s a time and a place for that kind of music. Saturday night at SXSW, all you want to do is live in the moment and go for it. Of all the bands I had the glorious opportunity to see live in Austin this year, whenyoung best epitomised the feeling of carpe diem.

And with that, my SXSW 2019 was over. To everyone who made SXSW possible, to all the staff, friends, artists and bands who made my experience so wonderful this year, I salute you. Goodnight and goodbye.

 

SXSW 2019: a mishmash of bands not yet seen during the week – 16th March 2019 (Saturday, part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 4th April 2019 at 11:00 am
 

In past years, I’ve used Saturday as a breather. I usually use it as a lie-in day. By then, everyone’s spent: they’ve drank too much, they’ve run around too much and the reality that we’re all going home on Sunday is sadly starting to set in. I also Saturday as my catch-up day to try and pick up anyone I might have missed during the week. In order to make this post and the next and last of my SXSW 2019 live review posts efficient, I will recount in this post the bands I only saw on Saturday.

Fatherson at Latitude 30
Fatherson are no strangers to TGTF or to Austin for that matter, having come out here for SXSW 2015 when frontman Ross Leighton had a much larger beard! The Scottish trio have undergone a musical evolution since then, trading their previous more all-encompassing anthemic sound for (dare I say it?) a more poppy, mainstream rock approach. These details inside a music editor’s mind were lost on the British Music Embassy crowd, Austinites and for-the-week British expats enjoying the music being bashed about on stage.

Fatherson British Music Embassy Saturday SXSW 2019

Rizha at Austin Taco Project
I wouldn’t call Rizha an accidental find, as I happened to be passing through and wanted to be sure I did not miss who was up next. She is a young (19) Argentinian now in university in Madrid, continuing a musical career that I understand began in 2013. Most, if not all of her songs, contain swear words and therefore have been anointed as explicit on Spotify. This ordinarily wouldn’t disqualify an act for me, but I wasn’t impressed with the music or Rizha’s singing. Had I been a good 2 decades younger (or 3?), this music might have spoken to me. As it was, I found her synth-reliant music unremarkable.

Rizha Austin Taco Project Second Play Stage Saturday SXSW 2019

On the other hand, the Austin Taco Project, attached to the Hilton and which opened just in time for SXSW 2018, is worth a visit for the delicious tacos and the very nice bartenders, even if you’re not there to see a band on their Second Play Stage. While we’re talking about the Hilton, I’d be remiss to not mention the Hilton’s other restaurant Cannon + Belle, which also acts as a Second Play Stage during SXSW. Carrie and I saw Holly Macve and James TW there in 2016.

Kidsmoke at Austin Taco Project
The next band were much more up my alley. Having run around like somewhat of a crazy person on Wednesday night, I could not stay at the Focus Wales showcase for Welsh band Kidsmoke. Luckily for me, the Wrexham four-piece made another appearance at the Austin Taco Project before leaving for home. I’ve seen the term ‘pastoral pop’ being bandied around when they’re discussed, and I think it’s a good description of their music.

Kidsmoke Austin Taco Project Second Play Stage Saturday SXSW 2019

Maybe it’s just me, and admittedly I have never been to Wales (!) but I have this romantic vision of its picturesque countryside, of rolling green valleys and white blots of sheep. If I had the opportunity to drive around this beautiful land, I’d want Kidsmoke’s newest single ‘Passenger’ playing while I had the windows rolled down, my hair flying in the breeze. Want to make it feel like it’s summer every day? Guitar-driven melodic pop? Yes, please!

Boy Azooga at Latitude 30
Arguably the biggest success story out of The Great Escape 2018, Cardiff’s Boy Azooga capped off a busy week in Austin with a 9 PM appearance at the British Music Embassy during BBC Radio 1’s showcase. Probably dead tired, Davey Newington and his live band showed no signs of flagging and certainly brought out their Four Tops-ey dance posturing to the Latitude 30 stage. Coming into Austin on a raft of hype, the song ‘Taxi to Your Head’ seemed quite appropriate by title, its funky grooves received well by the audience. The laidback ‘Jerry’, another from the critically acclaimed debut album from last year, ‘1, 2, Kung Fu’, was another set highlight.

Boy Azooga British Music Embassy BBC Radio 1 SXSW 2019

 

SXSW 2019: the first half of the End of the Trail Creative showcase, Fangclub at 720 and Joshua Burnside at the Driskill – 15th March 2019 (Friday, part 3)

 
By on Wednesday, 3rd April 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Friday night began in a very relaxed way for me. After 2 days of hustling, I decided it was time for a nice break: a salmon dinner and a prickly pear margarita at Caroline on Congress Avenue. After such a civilised meal, I was back in the (crazy) game and high-tailed it to Valhalla on Red River, for the first few acts of the End of the Trail Creative showcase. Without fail, Valhalla is one of the hardest places to photograph musicians. Most are bathed in a steady, all-enveloping red light that does no favours to anyone’s looks. I didn’t have much of a prayer there shooting the Sandinistas or Laucan as part of the Sunday Best showcase there in 2017.

Preston singer/songwriter Pip Hall was up first. For an artist so obviously young, you don’t expect such a rich voice belying her tender years. Hall was smiley and confident, which isn’t something you necessarily see with young artists coming out to play in America for the first time. Her guitar-driven songwriting is definitely on the rock end of the spectrum, whether it be on one of her earliest songs ‘Devil You Don’t’ to newest release ‘So Easy’, which was released at the start of March and has echoes of Fleetwood Mac, one of her biggest influences. While Hall’s set of coming of age songs was never going to be one of the most exciting performances at SXSW – she played a guitar and was accompanied by another guitarist, and that was it – massive respect to her for coming out to Austin and performing with such aplomb.

Pip Hall at the End of the Trail Creative Friday SXSW 2019

Ah, yes. Sam Eagle. From one underage youngster to another. My friends I brought along to Valhalla this evening adored this Essex artist and his band. How would you describe the music? It’s jazzy – note the obvious trumpet onstage – but it’s clearly not straight jazz. It’s funky, but would it meet Prince and Bootsy’s standards? Possibly. Valhalla’s stage is not a large one and yet Eagle (is that really his surname?) managed to fit a five-piece band on there. Though the songs lacked linearity, the band – not to mention the audience – fully embraced the chaos, Eagle and band doing a great job in raising the energy level in the shadowy venue.

Glaswegian punk band Rascalton has been on my radar since early 2018, being one of my best bets at last year’s editions of Live at Leeds and The Great Escape. I followed this up with this SXSW 2019-flavoured Bands to Watch piece on them in February. Having seen their frenetic performance at the Green Door Store Saturday night in Brighton, after fellow Scots and friends Declan Welsh and the Decadent West I might add, I was quick to recommend them to the friends of mine who had already taken to similar acts IDLES and LIFE. Their appearance at Valhalla didn’t disappoint and funnily enough, the mayhem on the floor was further ratcheted up by the front by their buddies The Dunts, shouting back lyrics to the stage with gusto.


Rascalton End of the Trail Creative Valhalla Friday SXSW 2019 by Pamela Erickson
photo of Rascalton frontman Jack Wyles crowdsurfing
taken from above by my friend Pamela Erickson

The feeling behind this performance was very different than Rascalton’s set at Green Door Store last year, a relatively tame experience save for a few folks cutting a rug good-naturedly. After falling in a Biffy Clyro-incited mosh pit at Roskilde in 2010, I know when to set back and to the side when things start getting violent. While I wasn’t part of the melee of aggro, mad fer it fans, even I could see the frenzied result of hearing the punk strains of Rascalton in this club. Checkmate.

After their fine showing on the sunlit stage of B.D. Riley’s that afternoon as part of the full Irish breakfast, I decided I wanted to see Fangclub in a venue tailor-made for them. If Plush is the place to be to watch the hottest electronic producers, 720 – at 720 Red River, natch – is where you go for hard rock.

Fangclub 720 Friday SXSW 2019

You don’t come here for high production values and an awe-inspiring light show. No further decor beyond clinical white walls and a simple bar that only serves alcohol in cans, it’s the place to see rock at its most primal and visceral on show. As expected, 720 was perfect for Fangclub. Long hair flying and with sustained, menacing chords up to 11 aplenty, they wowed the crowd waiting for a good sonic pummeling. And that we got. I only took a handful of photos because I wanted to step back and take in the spectacle.

After two back-to-back, no-nonsense hard-rocking groups, I decided sitting down and resting my feet at the end of my third day in Austin was just what the doctor ordered. For a second year in a row, Joshua Burnside and his band were set to perform at 11 PM at the Victoria Room at the Driskill. Though I saw part of the band’s performance at the Output Belfast showcase at the British Music Embassy Thursday afternoon, this performance at the Driskill was truly what I was waiting for. Like that show, Burnside threw his hat of the evening in the crowd but implored to the Victorian Room crowd that he wanted it back. Ha. Dressed in decidedly relaxed togs – well, we were in Austin after all, right? – he and his band proceeded through a lovely set of songs that showcased Burnside’s twangy, folky Irish accent against eclectic instrumentation.

Joshua Burnside Victorian Room at the Driskill Friday SXSW 2019

Emotional, beautiful and touching in equal measure, I thought I might float away on a cloud from the gorgeousness. ‘Holllllogram’, which I mentioned of my review of him on Thursday, was introduced with a joke. Burnside explained that the song was intended to be a duet for a man and a woman, and he suggested that we “…imagine I’m a beautiful woman singing the second verse…or you can just imagine I’m beautiful the whole way through!” A disarming comment that led to peals of laughter.

 

SXSW 2019: the second half of Music From Ireland’s Full Irish Breakfast and two acts at the British Music Embassy – 15th March 2019 (Friday, part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

Changes are to coming to the the British Music Embassy in 2020 but as no news about them has been made public, you’ll have to wait until next year (hopefully not that long?) to hear about them. What has been great in the 8 years in a row I’ve attended SXSW is the close proximity of Latitude 30 to B.D. Riley’s Irish pub, which has played host to Music From Ireland’s annual full Irish breakfast day showcase. As long as there’s no queue to get into either place, you theoretically could see 8 or more bands in a span of less than 3 hours. I tested out this theory again Friday afternoon in Austin.

Following on from their energetic performance the night previous at Music From Ireland’s official evening showcase at the Velveeta Room, I was curious to see how whenyoung would fare when subjected to the sun streaming in from the open windows at B.D. Riley’s. Neither I nor the rest of the patrons at the Irish pub would be disappointed. And what better to enjoy emerging new Irish music than with a pint of Guinness?

whenyoung Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 1

‘Pretty Pure’ was emblazoned in red lipstick on the back of guitarist Niall Burns’ white jumpsuit at the Velveeta. The song itself begins with a bright guitar note sequence reminiscent of the Vaselines’ ‘Molly’s Lips’ before continuing on in fine pop fashion. Their debut 7” with Felix White of the Maccabees’ YALA! Records is an energetic wonderful first taster to anyone new to the Limerick band. Bassist Aoife Power’s lead vocals have the duality of sweetness and dynamism, an interesting juxtaposition against an instrumental backdrop of fun and strength. Another fast-paced track, ‘Given Up’, is a workout for the senses, drummer Andrew Flood in his eyeliner hitting his skins like this life depended on it.

I popped out after their set to check out Westerman at British Music Embassy. Sadly, the thoughtful, soft-singing London singer/songwriter whose first name is Will but goes by his surname was nowhere to be seen. His bandmate apologised that Westerman would be unable to perform. Based on this Facebook post, his SXSW appearances earlier in the week in Austin took it all out of him. Admirably, his bandmates soldiered on without him, one of them assuming lead vocal duties in his absence. Full marks there. I have to admit that I’m a purist and decided to duck back out, deciding I wanted to see him perform as nature intended in the future instead.

Returning to B.D. Riley’s, I finally corrected a mistake made at Canadian Music Week 2016. Because of the large distances between venues in Toronto and suffering from a bad cold while in Canada, I missed Dublin’s Fangclub when they performed at the Music From Ireland show at the Rivoli. In hindsight, I think this was destiny. Phwoar. It wasn’t until after I became a music blogger that I truly realised the blessing in disguise I received as a child. Growing up in the presence of a much older brother who schooled me in the music of Led Zeppelin, the Who, Pink Floyd and Megadeth gave me an education that went beyond the British Invasion basics I’d researched on my age on my own before the age of 10. Later on in life, he gifted me with his 5-string ESP bass. In the context of my hard rock upbringing, Fangclub were a 21st century revelation.

Fangclub Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 2

My favourite hard rock bands have always been those who can harness the sheer power of guitars and drums but direct them into a toe-tapping, headbangingly good time. Bonus points if the singer also sounds like he (or she) is shredding vocal chords. The blistering instrumental delivery of ‘Knife’, with Stephen King screaming “twist the knife” in the context of a romantic obsession…you had to have been there. As non sequitur this music was performed on a sunny, warm day in Austin, there is no denying the sheer testosterone-filled brawn of this band. Wipe your brow, son.

I hung around at the pub for a bit longer to catch part of Kojaque’s set. After only a few bars of verse, I knew I was out of my depth when it came to the Dublin rapper whose name is pronounced but not spelled like the famous detective played by Telly Savalas. I have trouble providing a useful review of the Irish hip-hop artist, joined onstage by a smiley musical friend and some lounge-y backing tracks. Having made a new friend with a music lover from Newcastle, we agreed that this kind of music wasn’t made for people our age. Kevin Smith, I know you’ve got loads of adoring fans your age or younger and you must be extremely talented in both music and the visual arts. Sorry, this just isn’t for me.

https://flic.kr/p/2fhZz2C]Kojaque Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 1

I must have been in the 0.1% of the music-loving world who had never seen Fontaines D.C. live up to this point. I’d been poked and prodded by friends for weeks leading up to SXSW, well-meaning friends who implored me to see them live. I’m no dummy. Music editors hear all the hype and unfortunately for hyped bands, unless I’ve heard about you independently of said hype, I am probably going to come to your show with a jaundiced editor’s ear. If you know me at all, you know I prefer to fight for the underdogs, the little guy.

Fontaines DC Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 2

Fontaines D.C, who had been announced as IDLES’ North American support long before receiving their shout for SXSW 2019, fell into this category. Arriving with so much fanfare even before they stepped foot in Austin, I knew they didn’t need my help. Maybe it was where I was sat? They sounded loud, muddled and without anything that set them apart from the crowded current UK punk market. I sat through two songs before I’d had enough. Hey, I am nothing but accommodating! We could see Sam Fender and his band peeking his head through an open window. I’m not going to stay in a venue when people are just chomping at the bit to get inside.

Elder Island British Music Embassy Friday SXSW 2019

It was time to return to the British Music Embassy to rinse out the ol’ music editor ears. I’d seen SXSW 2019 TGTF Band to Watch Elder Island in the decidedly more clinical confines of the International Day stage on Wednesday, were set to close Latitude 30 for the afternoon. The Bristol trio who thrive on turning their music and everyone in the room on their head turned out another excellent performance. The sultry ‘Black Fur’, which is actually about singer Katy Sargent’s dearly departed late cat (tuck that piece of pub trivia away), was a bluesy tour de force. ‘I Fold You’, featuring their super cool electric cello, wowed their new fans, bopped heads and moved bodies. While I regret not having seen them at Bungalow that night at Majestic Casual’s showcase, I feel incredibly lucky to have seen them on Wednesday and at this show. Elder Island do Bristol and his rave-loving history proud.

 

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.

 

SXSW 2019: Matt Maltese at the Back to Amy photo exhibition, ROE and Joshua Burnside at Output Belfast and APRE – 14th March 2019 (Thursday, part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

After a luxurious sleep (read: more than 6 hours) and the breakfast buffet in my hotel, it was time for a trip to the often neglected west side of Austin, which has some of the most chill and interesting watering holes in town. Holy Roller played host all week to the Back to Amy photo exhibition, displaying never before seen images of the late and great Amy Winehouse at age 19, before she became a household name and before the release of her seminal debut album ‘Frank’. The photos were taken by Charles Moriarty and introduced by producer Gabriel Gornell, who also served as emcee for a specially curated group of promising young artists playing in a cute performance nook of the restaurant.

I was curious about both the photos and Matt Maltese’s performance there at 11 AM. Not the best time to perform during a full-on festival at SXSW, but let me say as a music editor, any opportunity at any time of day to sit down on a chair and enjoy a lovely hand-crafted pink beverage called the She Bad is more than welcome. Following his set the previous night at Central Presbyterian Church, I preferred this performance in more relaxed surroundings for its intimacy. We probably could have sat at his feet if we wanted to. A large cartoon drawing of Amy hung as the backdrop, a poster that all artists playing at this exhibition would sign after their performances. During a week of watching all sorts of artists with seemingly increasingly complexity in instrumentation, watching a master at work with the simplest of setups served as a good reminder that at its very basic, sometimes stripped back is best.


During this set, he had been introduced as creating Brexit pop; Maltese was quick to be humourously contrary in correcting this as he started, saying he was now in post-Brexit pop. Maltese wrote ‘As the World Caves In’ with two world leaders in mind, imagining them getting intimate as their decisions have led to the end of the world and humanity. Given the problems in his country and ours, it has become strangely more appropriate than he could have ever realised when he was writing it. ‘Strange Time’, another one of his songs that is no hurry to get to the finish, muses on an unconventional relationship that somehow works: “They say I’m too old for my age / And you’re just the same / Yet we make love like kids, again and again.” Like Maltese himself, it doesn’t sound like it should work on paper but is such a pleasant surprise when you’re finally get an opportunity to be properly introduced to it.


After some time mooching around at the posters on offer at Flatstock, I returned to the British Music Embassy for the first two acts of the Output Belfast afternooon showcase there. Young Derry singer/songwriter ROE impresssed straight out of the gate with her aplomb. Being stood on a stage entirely alone except for her guitar and electronics in front of Texan fans and industry types might have shaken the nerves of lesser mortals, but not her. The precocious, smiley artist explained the origins of her songs as she went along, lending sincerity to her stories of adolescent angst. The last festival we covered her at was Hard Working Class Heroes 2017, where she performed at Dublin Grand Social.


The poppy ‘Thomas’ specifically calls out a situation where she was teased for her short hair and compared to a male classmate, but the treatment is incredibly catchy. Songwriting was her method of catharsis from depression when coming up wth ‘Down Days’, broaching a difficult, ongoing subject that needs to keep being discussed and continually. ‘Wasted.Patient.Thinking’ is a surprisingly adult admission that we all should taking care of ourselves first, especially when a relationship no longer serves its purpose to us. It is a sobering thought that ROE has able to come to these conclusions and write them into infectiously amazing pop and at an age when the rest of us were all twiddling our thumbs. If she can keep this up – and I do think she can – she’ll have a long career ahead of her.

Joshua Burnside and his live band returned to Austin after a series of rousing performances at SXSW 2018 last March. This time, he arrived in Texas with a prominent moustache that made him look like a cross between a cowboy from days gone by and Matthew McConaughey. Throwing a beloved flat cap into the audience might not have been the best idea – I’m still not sure if he ever got it back? – but it sure led to a whoop of cheers around Latitude 30. ‘Holllllogram’, from his 2017 Northern Irish Music Prize-winning album ‘Ephrata’, still wows in its exposition of how a broken heart can remain haunted.


I unfortunately had to leave Burnside’s set early to catch what I thought would be an enlightening talk given by Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA and his work colleagues at Auddly at the Hilton. Auddly has been now rebranded as Session, though I had to find that out on social media, as there were technical difficulties preventing their Thursday afternoon session at SXSW from starting on time. I sat there for a good 20 minutes before calling it quits in favour of the International Day stage.

APRE’s most prominent appearance during SXSW 2019 would no doubt be their slot opening the BBC Radio 1 showcase Saturday night at the British Mustic Embassy. Given my past experience having difficulty getting into Latitude 30 for that showcase in multiple years, I didn’t want to miss out on seeing the London-based duo up close and personal. If you’ve followed APRE for any length of time or indeed, you read Bands to Watch preview of them from last month, you are well aware that they don’t take themselves seriously. They also enjoy wearing bright red jackets, which they brought to Austin!


okay, so there’s no red jacket here, but…

This electronic-driven duo occupy a nice niche between tropical pop and r&b, which gives them the opportunity to cover more music territory when songwriting. The delivery of the anthemic ‘Without Your Love’ and ‘Don’t You Feel Like Heaven’ suggest they could their music to stadiums. Conversely, in a different way, a r&b-inflected song like ‘Blackstreet’ pits them favourably against acts like Jungle who have proven they can reach those stages. Although like when I saw Elder Island the day before I got the distinct feeling I was probably the only person in the room who’d heard of them before this, APRE impressed a different set of punters than the ones who saw them the night before at the Communion showcase at Augustine.

 
 
 

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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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