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SXSW 2018: Tuesday morning brunch with Output Belfast and my first taste of this year’s music conference – 13th March 2018

 
By on Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo: emcee and organiser Mark Gordon with Touts

Following my frenzied Monday night at SXSW 2018, I started off Tuesday at a slightly more relaxed pace, with my third visit to the Output Belfast Boat Party. The party consists of brunch on a boat, floating down the Colorado River, with entertainment provided by the some of the finest musicians Northern Ireland has to offer. While the brunch and the scenery are always pleasant for this affair, it’s really the high quality of the music that draws me in every year, and Output Belfast didn’t disappoint in 2018.

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Following brief speeches by organiser and emcee Mark Gordon of Score Draw Music and Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala MacAllister, the music began with folk duo The Lost Brothers, who had a hand in organising the inaugural Northern Irish boat party back in 2015. They were back in Austin this year with an excellent new record in tow, titled ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’. You can read editor Mary’s review of the album through here.The album was recorded in my adopted hometown of Tucson, and the distinct southwestern desert flavour of the new songs, along with The Lost Brothers’ yearning vocal harmonies, actually made me feel a bit homesick. Midway through their set, the Lost Brothers were joined by Austin musician Ragtime Willie, who had also appeared here back in 2015 and who added the bright tone color of resonator guitar to the muted sonic mix.

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After a brief stage break, 2017 Northern Irish Music Prize winner Joshua Burnside began his set. As our Adam McCourt reported in his review of the prize-winning album ‘Ephrata’, “the album seems to serve a pivotal point in Burnside’s career, transitioning him from indie folk to a strand of alt-folk that incorporates world music, found sounds, synths and subtle experimentations with techno.” Burnside’s eclectic sound was more rock oriented than I expected in this live performance, where he was accompanied by a brilliant band comprised of drums, bass, and trumpet alongside his own electric guitar.

Touts internal

Lest we in the audience be lulled to sleep as our boat ride drifted from morning into afternoon, the final act on the docket seemed deliberately designed to recharge and revitalise our senses. Derry punk-rock outfit Touts gave off a sullen demeanor that disguised their raw, frenetic energy, and they made more much more exuberant noise than might be expected on a polite brunch cruise. These lads are young and still relatively new on the scene, but in terms of unfiltered potential, I’d put them high on the list of acts to watch from SXSW 2018. Touts also appeared on the BBC Introducing showcase at Latitude 30 on Tuesday night; you can watch part of that performance just below.

After disembarking from the boat, Mary and I parted ways (you can read her Tuesday afternoon recap here), and I headed to the convention center to catch my first conference session of the week. In The Horseshoe: The Roots of Canadian Rock n’ Roll, author David McPherson shared his thoughts on celebrated Toronto music venue The Horseshoe, drawing from his recent book on the topic, titled ‘The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History’.

David McPherson

McPherson was joined by Horseshoe owner and concert promoter Jeff Cohen, who talked about the challenges of maintaining a high quality music venue in an age when so many mid-size venues, notably New York’s CBGB and The Bottom Line, have been forced to shut down. Cohen emphasised his focus on two main factors: his customers and the artists they come to see. Patrons are consistently drawn in by food, drink and the opportunity to interact with other music-loving patrons, while the artists are rewarded with a quality performance opportunity, including full crowds to play for each night. From the sounds of things, the Horseshoe is likely to be a mainstay in the Toronto live music scene for many years to come. If you find yourself in southeastern Canada for whatever reason, it might be worth your time to check the Horseshoe’s schedule of events–chances are one of your new favourite bands will be gracing its stage.

 

SXSW 2017: Tuesday morning and afternoon spent with Irish artists and an exceptional English band – 14th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

The Tuesday morning of SXSW 2017 found me out the door early, headed across the Colorado River to the Hyatt Regency Boat Dock, which the launching point for the Output Belfast Boat Party. The Boat Party, a collaborative event among several agencies including Generator NI and the Belfast City Council, is quickly becoming a Convergence tradition at SXSW, popular among attendees from across the Interactive, Film, and Music categories.

I was lucky to get onboard, as the boat quickly reached capacity. I had only just made my way to the upper deck when I was approached by one of the morning’s performers, electronic musician Ryan Vail. I recognised him from his press photos and felt a momentary panic, worried that I would be expected to say something intelligent about electronic music and drawing a complete blank. Fortunately, Vail was knowledgeable enough for both of us, and he kept the conversation afloat until the official festivities began.

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The morning’s distinguished emcees included our friends Mark Gordon of Generator NI and Belfast city Alderman Guy Spence (pictured above), as well as Help Musicians UK CEO Richard Robinson. All three were cordial but brief in their remarks, wanting, like the rest of us, to get straight to the music performances. Vail took the stage, such as it was, first. Balancing his sensitive electronic equipment on the gently rocking riverboat was something of a challenge, but Vail managed it beautifully, setting a soft and mellow sonic atmosphere for the rest of the show.

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Alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (pictured in header above) returned to Austin this year after a successful debut at SXSW 2016, this time with her full band accompanying her. For this brief semi-acoustic riverboat set, she was joined only by keyboard player, Hannah McConnell who also provided lovely backing vocals. I found myself whistling along to the now familiar ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ and hanging intently on the literary-leaning lyrics of ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’. You can check out another SXSW 2017 performance of both tracks, courtesy of NPR, right here.

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Final performer Ciaran Lavery opened with an a capella take on ‘Let Bad In’ that had me in tears before he had even completed the full song, which made it a bit difficult to take photos. He acknowledged that his songs aren’t exactly upbeat “dance numbers”, but his richly-textured vocals and stark acoustic arrangements felt pleasantly warm and inviting in the early afternoon Texas sunshine.

After the boat party was complete, I took a few minutes to sit down with the three featured artists for this impromptu interview, then I headed quickly back downtown for another interview with a band from the Republic of Ireland, Dublin’s Picture This. I was few minutes late to reach them, but fortunately they were gracious enough to wait, and band members Jimmy Rainsford and Ryan Hennessy gave this fascinating introductory soundbite. They exuded confidence and swagger, which immediately struck me as unusual, but in a positive way, very different from the self-deprecating humility of so many artists I meet. I wouldn’t have the chance to hear Picture This play live until the Thursday afternoon of SXSW, but needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.

From there, it was back to the Radisson for me, where I had arranged an interview with Reading quartet Sundara Karma. They were fresh on the SXSW scene, having only arrived in Austin hours before, but they were chomping at the bit to immerse themselves in the experience. In contrast to Picture This, Sundara Karma seemed genuinely unaffected by the hype surrounding their SXSW appearance. Click here to listen back to my poolside chat with band members Oscar Pollock and Haydn Evans.

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Interviews complete for the afternoon, my next stop was at the Convention Center Next Stage, where I met Mary to catch Irish singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning. Later in the week, (in this interview) Fanning would describe the Convention Center vibe as more like a lecture hall than a proper gig, and I have to agree with his sentiment. The large stage and open seating area was almost too spacious for Fanning’s dark, intimate songwriting, but his captivating lyrics and resonant baritone vocals very quickly minimised the emotional distance between himself and his audience.

AS Fanning internal tall

Keep following TGTF’s continuing coverage of SXSW 2017 in the coming days for more on all of the excellent artists featured here: Ryan Vail on the grand piano at St. David’s Bethell Hall, A.S. Fanning and Picture This at Thursday’s Full Irish Breakfast, Ciaran Lavery at the Output Belfast day show, Sundara Karma at Stubb’s BBQ, and Jealous of the Birds on Saturday’s Music for Listeners showcase at El Sapo.

 

SXSW 2017 Interview: Ciaran Lavery, Jealous of the Birds, and Ryan Vail

 
By on Monday, 27th March 2017 at 1:00 pm
 

On the Tuesday morning of SXSW 2017, Output Belfast and Generator NI, along with the Belfast City Council, the Northern Ireland Department of Communities and Invest Northern Ireland, hosted The Boat Party 2017, a riverboat cruise and artist showcase set on Austin’s scenic Colorado River. The Northern Irish riverboat party has become something of an annual tradition since it began back at SXSW 2015, with two such shows in the same week. (If you missed it, you can read TGTF’s coverage of those events here and here.)

This year’s riverboat showcase featured brief live sets from three Northern Irish artists, singer/songwriter Ciaran Lavery, folk rocker Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) and electronic musician and composer Ryan Vail. After the sunny riverboat cruise was complete, I took the opportunity to sit on the shady back patio of the Hyatt Regency Austin with all three artists to have a chat about the diversity of music coming out of Northern Ireland, the varying trajectories of their individual careers, and their experiences in Austin at SXSW. I’d never done an interview quite like this one, with several musicians all at once. But as you can hear below, the discussion moved along freely and easily, not at all unlike the placid flow of the Colorado River in the background behind us.

Many thanks to Ciaran, Naomi, and Ryan for agreeing to this impromptu roundtable discussion. Stay tuned to TGTF for further coverage of each of these artists at SXSW 2017.

Ryan Vail at Output Belfast Boat Party 2017

Jealous of the Birds at Output Belfast Boat Party 2017

Ciaran Lavery at Output Belfast Boat Party 2017

 

Output Belfast 2017 Music Conference and Showcase Roundup (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th February 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

To read the first half of my roundup on Output Belfast 2017, click here.

Between the daytime seminars and the evening gigs was the perfect time to grab a bite, and head over to the Oh Yeah Centre for a drink and a chat. Networking is key at these events, so why not spark up some conversations and elaborate further on some of the points made throughout the day The speakers were done for the day, the bands were getting ready for the evening shows and everyone else had time to kill. If you found yourself at a loose end, you could have popped to a little room to the left of the front door to the Oh Yeah to catch a stripped back set from Beauty Sleep ahead of their gig at The Dirty Onion.

At 8 PM, the evening’s events kicked off, and with some truly amazing acts. Ryan Vail was one of the first to showcase his fantastic new bespoke live, audiovisual show, which he created in partner with Plume Studios, AVA Festival and Generator NI. Enclosed in what looked like a cage of coloured vertical lights, Vail stood alone on a backlit stage, casting a dark and ambient silhouette across the venue like a physical representation of Vail’s heavy and intricate music. A huge overhead screen projecting real-time outdoor scenes of forests and skies Plume Studios shot themselves, altogether creating an incredible performance made possible by a great network of contacts only found at Output.

The great thing about Output is the wide variety of eclectic artists they book each year. If Ryan Vail lighting up the MAC isn’t your thing, you could also catch theatre pop artist Sullivan & Gold at the Black Box Café, “decent folk” singer/songwriter Robyn G Shiels upstairs at the Duke of York, or indie rockers Junk Drawer at Voodoo. At any given time, there was always an incredible selection of artists to choose from, including some of this year’s SXSW artists New Portals, Silences and Jealous of the Birds. Belfast’s own Robocobra Quartet, another SXSW 2017 showcasing band, landed a play of their song ‘Correct’ on Daniel P. Carter’s rock show the following Sunday night, off the back of their show in at Output.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-SfI3WC0iA[/youtube]

In the midst of running from venue to venue, trying to catch as many bands as possible, I managed to score some personal highlights, dark, electronic pop outfit Hiva Oa being one. They took the stage following Junk Drawer’s grungy, fuzz-infested rock and gave all that they had. Hiva Oa produced a huge sound consisting of tight drum grooves, experimental synths and melodic vocal melodies, which presented a interesting blend of electronica, hip-hop and alt indie that kept the crowd moving from start to finish. The band left their first single ‘A Great Height’ until the end of their set, which was close to shaking Voodoo to bits. Chris McCorry’s heavily distorted synth entered like an approaching stampede, before Christine Tubridy’s pounding drum groove acted like a pacemaker that could set everyone’s hearts to the same beat. Unfortunately, it was harder to make out Stephen Houlihan’s topline; however, as he swayed and stumbled around the stage, it all made for an equally engaging aesthetic performance.

Joshua Burnside was another highlight of the evening. I had caught him 2 weeks previously in Derry. when he played with a full band. His stripped-back set in Black Box Café was equally as astonishing, if not more as when I first seen him. Burnside beautifully serenaded a room filled with people with just his guitar and the exceptional Rachel Boyd on violin. Aside from the cheers between songs, the place was silent, which only added to the fragile atmosphere Burnside created with his songs. One song in particular that I felt hit home to a lot of people that night was the recent, unscheduled release of the politically-orientated ‘Red and White Blues’. Although it is a political song, it speaks from a deeper place relating to Burnside’s own upbringing and family history, with the idea that politics – particularly Irish right- and left-wing politics – is adversely affecting the way some people think and their freedom of speech and abstract thinking. When he performed this track at Output, he had complete attention of his audience, as if the whole conference’s attendees stopped to hear his words and melody. As he strummed the last chord, the room once again erupted in awe and approval. No matter what your views are, it is a beautiful song.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r14gjSvy8ZI[/youtube]

As it was my first year attending Output, I admit it was a little overwhelming. From the minute, you enter the MAC for registration, there is an awareness of being surrounded by top industry professionals. However, once I understood that everyone was there for the same reasons, mainly to network and grow their relationships within the industry, I felt a true sense of community. It helped that the importance of relationships and support in the community was often touched upon in many of the seminars, and in Bob Lefsetz’ case forced onto many of the attendees this year. For musicians/bands, PR and management companies, producers and even a few academics, Output Belfast is without a doubt the perfect place to be for anyone involved in the Northern Irish music industry.

Editor Mary Chang contributed to this report.

 

Output Belfast 2017 Music Conference and Showcase Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 27th February 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

As the dust settles on the 4th annual Output Music Conference and Showcase event, I’m taking a look back over my experiences at the event. This is to give you, the readers, insight into the important messages and valuable lessons I acquired throughout the day, as well as outstanding performances. This was the first covered by TGTF; in the past, TGTF’s words on Northern Irish acts was mostly restricted to showcases at other festivals, such as in Carrie’s coverage of the Output Belfast afternoon showcase at SXSW 2016. Like that event, this year’s Output Belfast was sponsored by Generator NI and Belfast City Council.

This year, Output was held within the oldest part of Belfast city centre, the Cathedral Quarter. It’s a small area in the southeast section of the city packed with fantastic architecture, cosy pubs and underground music venues that lace the narrow cobbled streets and alleys. Named after St. Anne’s Cathedral that still stands here, the Cathedral Quarter was once home to trade and warehousing particularly within the linen and shipbuilding industries. Now it is the cultural hub of Belfast, with a rich music and arts scene that attracts so many people that the bars, venues and even streets are always thriving. No better place to hold Ireland’s leading music industry networking and showcase event, if you ask me.

Throughout the day, seminars and master classes were held in The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) and the Oh Yeah Centre. If you’re an attendee, the daytime programming offered a chance to soak up any and all information, advice and personal points of view from the abundance of industry professionals assembled. Before 1 PM it was possible to catch Crispin Hunt (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and cowriter with Florence and the Machine and Jake Bugg), Lee Denny (founder of Kent music event Leefest) and Amy Lamé (London’s first ‘Night Czar’) during the opening address. Moving to another floor of The MAC, you had the option sitting in on either a pitch and sync talk with Simon Pursehouse of Sentric Music; a production seminar with Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey), Liam Howe (Ellie Goulding) and Rocky O’Reilly (Start Together Studios); or a meeting with the performance rights organizations PRS, PPL, IMRO, MCPS and BASCA.

I opted for the Metal Machine Music talk on artist and business development in rock and metal hosted by Daniel P. Carter, host of BBC Radio 1’s Rock Show, promoter of famed Belfast venue The Limelight Joe Dougan, Head of Marketing at Red Essential Ali Tant and artist managers Ian Rendall (Making Monsters) and Ally McCrae of Two Up Management. The speakers discussed matters relating to the development of the rock and metal scene, what it takes to break into the scene and maintain your success, the importance of hard work, supporting one another and being in control of your work and career. The speakers painted a picture of a tight-knit community within the rock and metal scene by sharing the understanding that being supportive, genuine and respectful of the people in the industry, as well as applying honest hard work with belief in your art, will do more favours than anything else.

These became overarching themes throughout the day. In other sessions and even in the lobby of the MAC where people gathered between talks, a sense of community and support was evident and hugely encouraged. For example, during the Country 2.0 seminar Milly Olykan (Festival and Events Director at The O2) Stuart Banford (Downtown Country, Northern Ireland’s only 24/7 digital country music station), Lynne McDowell (Country Music Association) and Iain Snodgrass (Universal Music Group) discussed similar topics but instead in relation to country music. It seemed no matter what genre of music you listen to, or what area of the industry you work in, the key messages about the pathway to success are the same.

This year’s keynote was an hour-long discussion with esteemed music commentator and analyst, Bob Lefsetz, presented by Mark Gordon of Generator NI. Lefsetz has been an active member of the music industry for over 30 years. Though he began as an entertainment business attorney, Lefsetz slowly moved into the field of analysing and commentating on the music industry. He created and published his own magazine called the Lefsetz Letter, which he eventually put out online for free. He is renowned for his forward-thinking ideas and rational statements towards music, the industry and those within it, and at this year’s Output all those present witnessed this firsthand.

Listening to Lefsetz speak on the music industry sounded as if he was expressing his hatred towards it. He delivered a passionate and intriguing discussion about his beliefs in regards to the music industry: his comments could have been mistaken as negative, but in fact he was purely being realistic. In his own words, “don’t sugarcoat it”. Through his work as an attorney and the Creative Consigliere for heavy metal band W.A.S.P, Lefsetz knows the music industry is a cutthroat business where artists often get taken advantage of. He was able to give advice by relating to his own experience by pointing out the errors a lot of people make and even provided solutions to difficult situations. Throughout his discussion, he covered a wide spectrum of important topics including the use of social media and its algorithms to assist in driving PR and advertising campaigns, the importance of and differences between Spotify playlists vs. top chart playlists, niche marketing, targeting specific audiences and energising those who can spread the word. He said he accepts and confirms sexism and racism exist but that neither should matter, and that hard work and hustle is more important and that bringing up a person’s gender or race is an excuse for “not being great”, clearly something that can be a bone of contention. Similar to the guiding principles presented in the Metal Machine Music session, Lefsetz expressed the importance of relationships in the business and how he believes they are more powerful than money. With a lot to say and a very charismatic and expressive personality, Bob Lefsetz was an intriguing, engaging speaker. He was an excellent conclusion to the daytime schedule, and next up was the evening events.

Editor Mary Chang contributed to this report.

 

Preview: Output Belfast 2017

 
By on Thursday, 9th February 2017 at 11:00 am
 

The 4th annual Output Music Conference and Showcase returns to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter on the 16th of February. Set up by Belfast City Council in partnership with Generator NI in 2014, the conference has continually grown in size and popularity. Bringing hundreds of artists, businesses and students together each year makes it the leading music industry networking and showcase event in Ireland.

Held primarily at the MAC in Belfast city centre, Output will house a lineup of various seminars and lectures conducted by many of the world’s top industry professionals. Once the evening hits, Output turns its sights on the huge number of home-grown talent through a night of showcase gigs held across various venues within the Cathedral Quarter. Confirmed hosts for 2017 include blogs such as Nialler 9, State.ie and The Thin Air. Voodoo and The Nerve Centre will be among the many local venues used. Organizations such as Smalltown America Studios and PRS will be among those presenting and curating gigs.

Last year’s conference hosted the incredible Steve Albini as the closing keynote speaker of the conference. Having someone who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry speak at the conference was a huge honour for the city and the event, providing attendees the unique opportunity to learn from one of the most acclaimed and respected figures in the music business.

Closing the conference this year is legendary industry analyst, critic, commentator and creator of the email Lefsetz Letter industry newsletter, Bob Lefsetz. Output will also offer insightful talks presented by Spotify, PRS Foundation, Adidas and Jagermeister’s music teams, Marc Sylvan (Million Pound Drop, Total Wipeout) and creator of Leefest Lee Denny. Speed networking sessions and panel discussions also figure into the daytime programming.

Acts of note appearing at this year’s Output’s music showcasing portion include SXSW attendees from Northern Ireland Jealous of the Birds, Ryan Vail, Silences, Robocobra Quartet and New Portals, among many others. Although specific details on venues have yet to be announced, many other incredible Irish acts playing this year are Callum Stewart, TOUTS (under the same management as The Stone Roses) The Wood Burning Savages, Joshua Burnside, Sullivan & Gold, Scenery, Autumns and Kerrang! favourites Making Monsters.

Output is a completely free event in Belfast next Thursday, the 16th of February. All you have to do is register on their Web site. What are you waiting for?

 
 
 

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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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