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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.

 

SXSW 2019: Balún, Elder Island, The Dunts, The Joy Formidable and Sway – 13th March 2019 (Wednesday, part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

An often criminally overlooked part of SXSW are the Radio Day and International Day stages on the 4th floor of the convention center. If you have ever attended SXSW as a badge-carrying delegate, I am sure you have walked by these rooms and never considered stopping to catch any of the bands. There was no contest which band on these stages had the most fan turnout on these two stage. That award goes to ‘90s giants Broken Social Scene, who appeared Friday afternoon and had a queue of fans going down the length of the convention center long before they even took the stage – I implore you to stop by in future iterations of SXSW to catch up-and-coming talent.

Two of the Bands to Watch I previewed before heading to Austin had prominent slots on the International Day stage, which in theory freed me up from trying to see them in the crush at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 later in the week. (You’ll see how that panned out later.) First, though, I found myself with some free time and a free Coke from the press lounge, so I ducked in to see Balún gracing the KCRW and NPR-sponsored Alt Latino showcase at the Radio Day stage. They are based in Brooklyn (insert your favourite indie band joke about Brooklyn here) but are originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. They were the perfect pick-me-up to jolt me into life after my 4 AM wake-up call.

The glasses-wearing, synth-driven indie group with unusual-to-rock instruments such as accordion and violin have managed to successfully marry the digital age with their Caribbean roots. ‘Prisma Tropical’, their second studio album released late last year, is Balún’s expression of their self-described dreambow genre. Rhythmically unmistakeably Latino and with frontwoman Angélica Negrón’s ethereal vocals, this is a group doing the Latin American diaspora in America proud and making music that keeps them connected to the country they felt they had to leave in order to access different opportunities.

Following Balún, it was a quick mosey to the International Day stage where Elder Island were just setting up. The Bristolian trio are part of the proud current wave of emerging artists keen on pushing the envelope beyond the traditional genres of independent music. Their debut album, the self-released ‘The Omnitone Sound’, came out last month, a beguiling mix of Katy Sargent’s r&b-inflected lead vocals and cello, guitars, synths and beats probably best exemplified by the driving ‘You and I’. 2 PM might not be ideal for a show more appropriate for a dark club filled with bodies bumping, but Elder Island did a great job in bringing that feeling to the room, eliciting more than a few instances of chair-dancing. You can read my past Bands to Watch feature through this link.

My next stop was to catch The Dunts at the British Music Embassy. As was true all week, the afternoon showcases proved to be a better bet in my mind than their evening ones, and the queues to get in were proof of this. For my money, Glasgow is one of the more interesting centres for new music these days. It has been able to support an incredible range of genres and artists who can all coexist and support each other with nonexistent infighting. Must be the water or the Tennent’s. The Scottish punks, along with their band best friends Rascalton, were unable to secure funding to travel to SXSW 2019 through normal channels, so in typical ingenious Scottish fashion, they came up with limited edition swag including a black Dunts football-style shirt to sell their fans to help finance their trip. (We’re all too late for that shirt, I’m afraid. Damn it.)

Their efforts appear to have paid off. On a 25 degree C spring day that might have led some Texans astray after the awful winter they had, locals and industry jam-packed Latitude 30 to welcome them. ‘Self Proclaimed Council Punk’ isn’t just an EP title, it’s a state of mind. None of their songs overstay their welcome: the intent appears to be to play loud and fast, with barely a breath in between for themsevles or whoever is watching them. This is not music for the faint-hearted. The feeling of two fingers’ immediacy is inescapable. No matter how old you are, you will leave a Dunts gig feeling more alive than you have in a long time.

I spent a brief interlude down on Rainey Street to check out some of the craziness during daylight hours. The armadillo-mobile was out again as last year but had to share the streets with a couple on stilts dressed like flamingoes. I like pink, but you’re never gonna get me to wear a pink bird on my head. Clive Bar was turned into a temporary carnival sponsored by Showtime, with a balloon artist, photo booth and popcorn and cotton candy vendor. Walking back into the centre of town with a large tuft of delicious, s’mores-flavoured cotton candy in hand felt like winning. I returned, making the mistake that I could just walk in for the Joy Formidable’s set at the British Music Embassy. Whoops.

Really, though, my job is done when a band I’ve written about a lot has filled a venue to heaving, right? As is usual with Latitude 30 during SXSW, the windows were flung open, affording us poor souls who couldn’t get in the opportunity to hear ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ even if we couldn’t be in the same room with them. Hearing the final track of ‘The Big Roar’ reminds me of a time in my life when I got my heart broken. This song was my salvation, telling me with absolute certainty that one day I’d stop wanting to kick the guy and instead wish him well with the rest of his life with the woman he eventually chose over me. As the Welsh band’s wall of sound reverberated far beyond the confines of Latitude 30, I felt happy how far I’ve come to that moment and thankful I had friends who got me out of that dark place.

To set myself up for a night of running around the city to be preceded by drinks with the Focus Wales crew, I decided to get dinner at Stella San Jac. The restaurant attached to the Westin has become a firm favourite of mine for food and drink while in Austin. At the bar, I ordered what now will probably be my usual there, the fried avocado salad. Don’t knock it until you try it. I was expecting a low-profile supper, served by some very cute bartenders. What I didn’t expect was being sat next to a man drinking a bartender-recommended tipple. He looked familiar but in an effort to play it cool in case it wasn’t who I thought it was, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked sotto voce.

What ensued was a delightfully impromptu conversation about social media with the uber cool Sway Calloway, who I first came across as a hip-hop correspondent on MTV nearly 2 decades ago. Nowadays, Sway is the coolest of the cool cats, taking his own background as a rapper and radio experience and continuing to be a force of pop culture on his Sirius XM radio show Sway in the Morning. The verdict of our conversation? Neither of us will ever be as great with social media as kids are, but that’s okay. I was reminded of Lance Bass’ talk earlier that day where he talked about the importance of being authentic. If a old fogey like me being old school is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!

 
 
 

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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 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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