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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 2016: rock on the last day in Austin (Saturday, part 1) – 19th March 2016

 
By on Monday, 11th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

It’s been a bit of a tradition since Carrie came along with me to Austin to send SXSW off with an amazing (and free) lunch, plus Bloody Marys at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. However, this year, it made more sense for her to cover Lissie at the SPIN party at Brazos Hall, so I was all by my lonesome. I gobbled up back two delicious tofu wraps and two of those divine, tomatoey creations under the watchful eye of the barmaid who made them for me. It was probably for the best, though, because the music slated for the afternoon isn’t exactly Carrie’s speed…

The Northern Powerhouse showcase was a good who’s who of bands who are currently knocking about in the great North of England and showing who’s boss with their own personal brands of rock, generally on the harder side of things. Sheffield duo Nai Harvest started the afternoon on a frenetic, yet still melodic note. I think the great lesson that the success of Royal Blood, Drenge and Slaves has taught us is that despite the conventional wisdom that had been around for several decades post-Beatles and Stones, it is entirely possible to make a go of it – to be loud enough and be successful at making rock music – only having two blokes in a rock band. And going for it seemed to be the theme of the day, as it was the last day in Austin for most bands and the last time to make a lasting impression.

Nai Harvest at Northern Powerhouse at the British Music Embassy, Saturday at SXSW 2016

Based on the music videos I’d seen prior to SXSW, Nai Harvest seemed like funny guys: I mean, guys who named their last EP ‘Hairball’ can’t take themselves too seriously, right? Live, they didn’t disappoint on either the music or the stage patter front. As evidenced by most recent single ‘Just Like You’, Nai Harvest’s style is less about being massively loud than to embrace the lo-fi, slacker vibe that currently sweeping Britain. Guitarist Ben Thompson bemoaned that they’d forgotten to bring along Yorkshire Tea to Austin with them. Umm…didn’t they get the memo that there would be *plenty* of Brits at SXSW, some of whom must have had brought some over to avoid the curse of the American, non-descript dark water, black tea problem? At the very least, I could have helped them with their dilemma from my own stash specifically for travelling purposes. Well, now you all know who’s your dealer…

Following the Sheffielders on the afternoon and moving the action due north, up to Leeds, was Autobahn, who were playing their third and last show at the British Music Embassy. I’d seen them earlier in the week, Tuesday night at the felte / Part Time Punks showcase at Barracuda. As is true for nearly every act I’ve ever seen on the Latitude 30 stage during SXSW week, Autobahn’s sound was great, both in volume and pomp. I mean, really, how can you go wrong with guitars being banged and flailed about while there’s a beacon of light, via a voice in the darkness…er…in a trenchcoat. The raw and unforgiving nature of their music as described previously by Rebecca makes all the more sense to me after having the opportunity to speak with their singer Craig Johnson. He explains that there’s not only a dark melancholy that comes through their music but also the coming to grips of reality of what’s outside one’s bedroom window, of which there’s too little of in the greater landscape of manufactured top 40.

Autobahn at Northern Powerhouse at British Music Embassy, Saturday at SXSW 2016

Continuing later on the bill and whose punishing tones I heard well outside of the venue – because they were really all that loud! – were Sugarmen (Liverpool), Fizzy Blood (Leeds) and Demob Happy (Newcastle and Brighton). Lads, don’t be too discouraged that I did not join you. I’m currently going through a reboot of my hard rock loving phase and I’ll probably catch up to you soon.

In the evening (cue the Led Zeppelin song), Carrie and I got a bit of a taste of Lusts at the British Music Embassy before I left her to cover the rest of the NME / UK Trade and Investment showcase there. I needed to find a venue and I should have thought more about this at the time, as if it was some foreshadowing of what was to come later in the evening, but I didn’t. I got lost on 6th Street and when I asked around for help, a bouncer of another establishment on the block stereotyped me, warning me that “a nice girl like you shouldn’t be going to a place like that.” Uh huh… At that moment, I kind of wished Gwenno had been there to clock the meathead. I didn’t have time to waste, or else I would have started quoting lyrics verbatim off ‘IV’ or doing my now world-famous ‘Whole Lotta Love’ guitar solo humming.

Abjects at Sledge Hammer, Saturday at SXSW 2016

I finally got to where I was going (Sledge Hammer), and no thanks to any help from the chauvinist pig. As part of a coincidental continuing-on of the feminism theme and without any injury to myself, I witnessed Abjects‘ entire set. They’re lo-fi, they’re garage, they’re surf-y…they’re a little bit of everything but to be sure, a whole lot of fun. Yes, the sound can be in your face, but it’s in the name of having a good time, and the ladies were smiling the widest grins I’m pretty sure I saw onstage all week. I think the inevitable comparison will be to Manchester’s PINS, but after having seen both bands in a festival atmosphere and now being able to compare them, I think Abjects take it for their sheer audacity.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my review of Saturday at SXSW, which will post tomorrow. For more of my photos from Saturday in AustinE, visit my Flickr.

 
 
 

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