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Great Escape 2018: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 31st May 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

It can’t be emphasised enough that the festival gods really smiled down on The Great Escape 2018 earlier this month. While in Washington, DC, my friends back home were suffering under torrential rains, I was by the sea in picture-perfect Brighton and never once did I have to break out the brolly. (Wasn’t so lucky the following Friday in Newcastle.) For anyone who has been soaked to the bone during The Great Escape in past years, you understand how this year’s impossibly good weather was incredible luck.

While the sunny skies did wonders for everyone’s mood and probably helped the sales of off-licence, takeaway liquor, friend and former writer Braden and I mused if the good weather could have adversely affected foot traffic and turnout to the both the official Great Escape and its sister event The Alternative Escape. As the weekend wore on, it seemed that with the long queues and huge crowds everywhere I went, there were plenty of music lovers in town to make this concern feel nonexistent. You’d have thought performances priot to the noon hour would be sparsely attended, but you would be wrong. Must be that early May sunrise in England!

Model Society Thursday The Great Escape The Alternative Escape 2018

London’s Model Society were already in full swing by the time I arrived at East Street Tap, host of the End of the Trail Records / Amazing Radio showcase. John and I knew this place in its previous incarnation as The Fishbowl. Their energy so early in the day was admirable, but I didn’t hear anything particularly exciting that would set their music apart from their indie peers. I was waiting for the act who would follow, Dan Lyons, who performed with a full band Saturday night at SXSW 2018.

Dan Lyons Thursday The Great Escape The Alternative Escape 2018

Lyons advertised it as a stripped back set, to be accompanied only by his guitar and his backing singer, bandmate and partner Freya. While his set in Austin came across as full-bodied blues, this barer version of Dan Lyons live was an entirely different experience. ‘Special People’ delivered in a deadpan makes you wonder how serious Lyons is being about people watching, or if he’s simply being cheeky. We were also treated to his upcoming single ‘Gargoyle’, which is currently only listenable if you happen to tune into a radio programme playing it. Everyone else, you’ll have to wait until it drops on the 22nd of June.

I thought I had gotten a good jumpstart on the acts following my in-person coverage of BIGSOUND 2017 in Australia last September and SXSW 2018 in March. But I can say now that I feel like there’s so much that I missed on at The Great Escape this year. There was the ever-present issue of clashes, of course, but the lack of separate lines for wristband and badge holders at many venues meant press could show up at a venue, only to be disappointed. Like at BIGSOUND 2017, I was thwarted again from seeing Hatchie properly on Thursday afternoon, but my personal setback could be viewed in a positive way: Sounds Australia’s Sound Gallery, taking up both the main Komedia venue space and its Studio Bar, were rammed all afternoon.

Hollow Coves Thursday The Great Escape 2018

When I made it back up to the Laines from East Street, I was only able to get into the Studio Bar. But with some luck, I managed to get reasonably close up to Hollow Coves. They’re a folk duo whose members are from Brisbane and The Gold Coast. This is a case where looks can be deceiving: they kind of look like smiley, yet unassuming builders. One of them is actually a carpenter, so I wasn’t that far off. At their simplest, I’d describe them as ethereal folk but interestingly, they also use synths on some tracks, taking folk songcraft and pairing it with electronic beats for a more 21st century flavour. I can get behind that! Their gorgeous music, including songs ‘Coastline’ and ‘Home’, took me back to my visit to Brisbane last year, when I took in the city’s very California-like climate and beauty.

On the other side of the Old Steine Gardens and back down closer to the sea is the Latest Music Bar, which hosted the Horizons / Gorwelion showcases Thursday and Friday afternoon. Even with rushing after an interview with Hollow Coves, I couldn’t make it in time before hyped Welsh act Boy Azooga finished. Drat. Cutting any further losses, I headed down to Patterns, Fender UK’s venue for the entire Great Escape, for a unique afternoon.

Declan McKenna Thursday The Great Escape 2018

Young but politically astute singer/songwriter Declan McKenna had been announced as the stage’s opening special guest shortly before the start of the festival, and his fans filling the Marine Parade venue were super excited as he and a female guitarist live bandmate began with single ‘Humongous’. Despite McKenna’s relative live inexperience, he seemed entirely at ease, his stage patter between songs hilarious. “I can’t play ‘Brazil’ now!” he hissed to the punters shouting for his World Cup-themed hit. “Everyone would leave!” Collective laughter. He ran through several other songs from his debut ‘What Do You Think About the Car?’, including ‘Paracetamol’, ‘The Kids Don’t Want to Come Home’ and ‘Make Me Your Queen’, before launching into the inevitable set closer.

Some of the crowd dispersed after McKenna finished, their spots to replaced to, shall we say, a much older crowd for BBC 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny’s interview with legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. I knew this would be an opportunity for Marr to peddle the Fender Jaguar he helped design with the guitar company: at one point, Marr insisted to the crowd that you don’t need so many guitars, his guitar is so great, you only need the one. Hmm, right…I’ll get back to you on that.

Johnny Marr and Shaun Keaveny Thursday The Great Escape 2018

I was happily surprised that the conversation didn’t de-evolve into a boring, gear head kind of talk only accessible to real guitarists. Instead, Keaveny’s humour coupled with Marr’s down to earth nature made for a comfortable interview for both, Marr entertaining us with unexpected guitar interludes that any Smiths fan worth his salt would recognise, including the intro to ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and the dreamy, yet mournful passes in ‘Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me’, the latter that he revealed was his favourite Smiths riff of all, written alone on a tour bus, missing his girlfriend.

He described writing melodies on a guitar as “It’s like chasing an angel”. What a beautiful, beautiful image to give us. I’d describe Johnny Marr as having a quiet peace around him: he’s obviously one of the 20th century’s greatest musical heroes, but he’s not throwing his weight around or feels the need to be showy. He’s content with where he is in life and he’s happy making music with “the best electronic machine” to write pop music on. Being that contented and happy: something we can all aspire to.

 

SXSW 2017 Interview: Hamish Anderson

 
By on Tuesday, 28th March 2017 at 1:00 pm
 

Melbourne blues rocker Hamish Anderson has been on my radar for a few years following my previewing of SXSW 2015. That year, Carrie pinch-hit for me, seeing him at Sound Gallery presented by Sounds Australia on the Saturday at B.D. Riley’s. This year, I got two chances to see Anderson: a special VIP invitation to catch him at the National Geographic closing party Monday night as part of the Interactive stream of the SXSW Conference / Festival, followed by his triumphant return to Sound Gallery on Saturday.

After his performance Saturday at B.D. Riley’s, Anderson was chilled out, having done his final work of the week, finally able to fully relax and take in the city. As I had guessed, there aren’t that many blues artists in Australia, so Anderson feels right at home when he’s in our country. I feel honoured that he introduced me to one of his guitars, Blondie, and he talks about how it felt so much more comfortable and felt more prepared the second time around showcasing at SXSW. We also talk about his debut album ‘Trouble’, which was released last year. Listen to the interview below. For more on TGTF on Hamish Anderson, including my coverage that posted yesterday of his performance at the National Geographic closing party, follow this link.

Hamish Anderson, Sound Gallery, Sounds Australia, Saturday 18 March 2017

 

SXSW 2017: Sound Gallery I, presented by Sounds Australia at B.D. Riley’s – 14th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 27th March 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

In my sixth SXSW, I had little trouble managing my expectations while also pacing myself during the week. However, Tuesday morning, I found my intentions to find milk for tea for the week difficult (I’m assuming the English in town bought it all in the closest grocery store? Thanks, everyone), which delayed my morning. Sadly, I arrived at part I of Sounds Australia’s annual Sound Gallery at 6th Street Irish pub B.D. Riley’s too late to catch first band The Heart Collectors. (More on the folk band later.) As mentioned in the introduction yesterday, it was chilly at the start of the week in Austin. This necessitated a homey (and probably excessively large for yours truly) plate of bangers and mash, accompanied by what else by Guinness at B.D. Riley’s, hunkering down for four more of the acts on the docket.

I’m sure for every person it’s different, but something I hear all the time is the Aussie’s desire to leave Oz for America and weirdly and specifically, for Los Angeles. Singer/songwriter Tim Wheatley did exactly this, telling us during this set this afternoon that he got out of Australia as soon as he could and never looked back. When I did research on Wheatley prior to SXSW, I was confused by his supposed image as a folk / country performer and his video ’78 Benz’, in which he sported long bleached blonde hair. Think ‘80s hair bands.

Tim Wheatley,
Sound Gallery I, Sounds Australia, B.D. Riley's, Tuesday 14 March 2017

So imagine my surprise when I finally see Wheatley in the flesh with short hair and boots. If he was wearing a 10-gallon hat, he’d have completed the perfect cowboy image. The Mercedes he sings of is about a vintage car he procured shortly after arriving in L.A. Without the long hair, I think it’s much easier to take Tim Wheatley seriously as a musician. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine him setting up shop one day soon in Nashville.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v468UUVFQSE[/youtube]

Juanita Stein, Sound Gallery I, Sounds Australia, B.D. Riley's, Tuesday 14 March 2017

Next up was Juanita Stein, probably more famous to the SXSW hordes as the sexy lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Sydney’s Howling Bells. She’s decamped to Brighton to work on her solo album, which is expected later this year. Now as a solo artist, or at least while she was in Austin, she’s chosen the sole focus to be on her music, as she was dressed understatedly in black. I wondered if she felt weird performing at the small stage at B.D. Riley’s, as she’s used to much larger (and louder) crowds and venues. Her track ‘Stargazer’ showcases her talent at balladry, though I questioned her inclusion of a cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Blue Bayou’, which has been covered by so many people in the past and suggested Stein wasn’t entirely comfortable performing her own material yet.

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

The Elliotts,
Sound Gallery I, Sounds Australia, B.D. Riley's, Tuesday 14 March 2017

After two folky acts, pop/rock act The Elliotts from Melbourne were a nice breath of fresh air. If you have a song called ‘Instagram’ that was previously titled ‘Pink Toilet Seat’, the chances are pretty high you don’t take yourself too seriously. Whether this will positively or negatively affect their career remains to be seen. (After their set, two of their three band members were out of there, choosing to run, skip and jump down to the convention center instead of staying at B.D. Riley’s for an interview with me; you can listen to my chat with James “Wally” Howlett through here, which includes a discussion on their social media-themed tune.) Their actual performance was upbeat and fun, bringing injecting life into the previously mellow vibe in the pub. They’ve got an EP out now, ‘Aeroplane’, which includes ‘Instagram’ and set standout ‘Seeing Stars’.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0KggVAM89w[/youtube]

As you might imagine, I get a lot of emails from PRs and management before SXSW begging me to come see their bands in Austin. I’d have to clone myself tens of times over in order to see everyone, and I do my own research ahead of time to figure who to see and when. Joel Sarakula was a weird case in that we previewed him in the London portion of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2017 because artists appear in the SXSW schedule based on the location they use on their applications. Sarakula has lived in London for over 10 years, admitting to the punters at B.D. Riley’s that his accent is a weird mélange of Aussie and Londoner sounds.

Joel Sarakula,
Sound Gallery I, Sounds Australia, B.D. Riley's, Tuesday 14 March 2017

If anything, Sarakula’s mutt accent added to the spectacle of his performance, which felt like it was taken out of a ‘70s lounge of leisure and possibly out an adult film of that era. Seriously, I wondered why he wasn’t swearing a crushed velvet suit and sporting a giant medallion around his neck. Behind rose-tinted sunglasses and a keyboard that he insisted was TSA-approved, he struck a good balance between odd yet appealing. Taking elements of psych, soul and putting them through a throwback filter might not sound like it works on paper, but toes were tapping at B.D. Riley’s to tunes like the driving ‘They Can’t Catch Me’.

 

SXSW 2017 Interview: James ‘Wally’ Howlett of The Elliotts

 
By on Tuesday, 21st March 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo by Ebony Madden

Like the Brits and the Irish, the Aussies know how to throw a good party at SXSW. This was true this year at SXSW 2017, where they put on two acoustic-focussed lineups – Sound Gallery I and II – at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s on the Tuesday and Saturday afternoons of the festival. These showcases are brilliant, because those of us who can’t catch Aussie bands during their evening showcases have a second (sometimes third) opportunity to see them, exponentially increasing their acts’ opportunities in front of punters and industry folk. Sessions of Sound Gallery I and II were in addition to not one, but two afternoons they had booked in the East Test of Brush Square Park on Thursday and Friday, the Friday used specifically to accommodate the many electronic acts coming out of Oz.

The Elliotts are from Melbourne, argued by many to be the cultural capital of Australia, and they have a fresh pop sound sure to keep your toes tapping. Call him James, Jimmy or Wally (far right on the photo at the top of this page), one of two lead singers in the band and their bass player (or at least in Austin); I chatted with him outside B.D. Riley’s after their rousing set on Tuesday afternoon. Have a listen to our conversation on the ground on 6th Street below. They will be touring here in America for the next 2 weeks; show them some love by checking out their gig list here.

The Elliotts at Sound Gallery I, B.D. Riley's, SXSW 2017

 

SXSW 2015: Saturday’s slew of final activities and a last stop at the British Music Embassy – 21st March 2015

 
By on Friday, 10th April 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

My final day at SXSW 2015 was truly a mixed bag of shows as I tried to squeeze in every last opportunity before my long drive back home the next day. In the course of the day, I stumbled upon a few exciting new artists before rounding off the festival back at the British Music Embassy.

I started with a planned visit to the free showcase at Waterloo Records, which featured English electro-dance group Clean Bandit. In spite of the uncooperative weather, punters donned ponchos and popped up umbrellas in the courtyard to catch the danceable grooves of recent single ‘Stronger’ before lining up inside for the band’s CD signing session. Fellow English vocalist Jess Glynne made her anticipated cameo appearance near the end of the set for Clean Bandit’s previous single ‘Real Love’ and breakout hit ‘Rather Be’.

Clean Bandit at Waterloo Records 21 March 2015

After a stop inside the record store for some souvenir shopping, I headed downtown to meet up with Mary, who was in the middle of a busy Saturday schedule of her own. She suggested that I stop in at B.D. Riley’s to catch Aussie blues singer/songwriter Hamish Anderson.

Hamish Anderson at BD Riley's 21 March 2015

I was warmly greeted by the staff at the door of B.D. Riley’s, where I had spent most of the previous day at the full Irish breakfast. On Saturday I was surrounded by Australian accents rather than lilting Irish ones, as the Sound Gallery showcase hosted by Sounds Australia took over the venue. Anderson clearly had more than a few fans in attendance, and I had to squeeze around fellow punters to get a good view of his guitar chops on the small stage at B.D. Riley’s. Anderson’s opened with a cover of Them Two’s ‘Am I a Good Man’ before he turned the focus to his new ‘Restless’ EP, starting with the aptly titled ‘Burn’ and ending with another scorcher, ‘Howl’. Anderson’s heavily blues influenced guitar style was matched only by his heavily blues influenced keyboard player.

Hamish Anderson's keyboard player

Finding myself at a bit of a loose end after Anderson’s set, I checked my Twitter feed to find an online acquaintance urging me to catch local Austin band O Conqueror’s final SXSW 2015 set, at a venue called The Tiniest Bar in Texas. It was a bit of a walk, especially given the continuing rain, but I decided to take a chance. As it turned out, the bar itself might actually be the tiniest one in the state, and I almost walked past it before I realized that the showcase was just outside in the awning-covered courtyard area.

I arrived early enough to grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks in the courtyard, and while I was noshing, I used Twitter to arrange a quick meet up with O Conqueror’s keyboard player Alex Hartley before the start of their set. Alex and I shared a laugh when he mentioned that O Conqueror had been confused several times with Northern Irish band More Than Conquerors, whom I had covered earlier in the week. O Conqueror’s set included edgy recent single ‘Lost Your Mind’ whose video was filmed, appropriately enough, in downtown Austin. Their engaging stage presence, led by frontman Dustin Doering, and melodious guitar-driven rock have clearly already won the hearts of Austin locals, and they gained at least one new fan at SXSW 2015 as well.

O Conqueror 21 March 2015

Feeling quite satisfied with my new musical discovery, I headed back to Latitude 30 to hear the final evening showcase of the year at the British Music Embassy. The first featured band was Scottish duo Honeyblood, who have had a change in lineup since I saw them last at SXSW 2014. New drummer Cat Myers appeared not only at ease with the situation, but well and truly in control of it, showing off her chops at the drum kit on more than one occasion. Singer Stina Tweeddale appeared equally confident, singing with greater intensity and conviction on last year’s hit ‘Bud’, which features on Honeyblood’s self-titled debut album from last summer.

Honeyblood at Latitude 30 21 March 2015

As the side project of Mazes’ Jack Cooper and Veronica Falls’ James Hoare, London guitar duo Ultimate Painting are another in a long string of artists playing the rock ‘n’ roll version of musical chairs. Their hazy psych rock left a vague impression on me, but the impression was deliberately indistinct and broadly atmospheric rather than sharply focused on specific guitar melodies or vocal lines. Their songs might not have been not my cup of tea, but they surely a represent a notable stylistic expansion for both band members.

Ultimate Painting at Latitude 30 21 March 2015

Spanish sensations Hinds, formerly known as Deers, were next on the lineup, but they were plagued by sound issues and ultimately had to cut their set short, much to the disappointment of the fans who had crowded in to see them. (Our own editor Mary was unfortunately among those stuck in the lengthy queue outside Latitude 30, but she had managed to see this band Wednesday at the daytime Sounds From Spain showcase.) Despite the difficulties, Hinds were engaging and energetic on stage, smiling bravely as they played through a handful of songs. Their uneven rhythms and stark tempo changes would likely have worked better had it not been for the sound problems, but in context it was difficult to tell when their stops and starts were deliberate. Nevertheless, there was a group of determined Hinds fans at the front of the stage who danced, cheered and sang along as best they could.

Hinds at Latitude 30 21 March 2015

Among Hinds’ fans in the audience was Carl Barat, who had appeared in Austin with his new band the Jackals. From my vantage point at the front of the stage, I turned around to see if Mary had gotten inside and instead found Barat standing just over my right shoulder. In the intermission after Hinds’ set, I introduced myself to the former Libertine, saying that I’d gotten some photos of him earlier in the week. He pulled a genuinely shocked expression and asked, “on stage, though, right?” I laughed and assured him that they were stage photos from Wednesday’s FLOODfest and not paparazzi-style snaps. Hearing this news, he gave me a hug and a kiss and thanked me for being there to promote the band. I slipped a TGTF card and badge into his black leather jacket pocket and set my sights back on the stage.

Another psych-rock band, Happyness, was up after Hinds, and they appeared to have a much easier time of it on stage at Latitude 30. Admittedly, their music is so aloof and deliberately low-key that it might be difficult to know if they were having a problem. But their extended guitar jams built in intensity throughout the set, leading to a massive coda at the end which found guitarist Benji Compston flat on the floor by the time it finished.

Happyness at Latitude 30 21 March 2015

The final act on the schedule for the night was Irish punk quartet Girl Band, who I had caught briefly the day before at the full Irish breakfast. After having to fight her way through the queue and the crowd, Mary and I decided to call it a night. Frankly, I was feeling a bit “flat on the floor” myself after the long and exciting SXSW week. I left town the next morning with a myriad of new sounds and new faces permanently etched into my memory, and naturally I made them each a part of my eclectic road trip playlist on the drive home.

 

SXSW 2015 Interview: Demi Louise

 
By on Thursday, 2nd April 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

There are some things about the music business that I still struggle with in my mind. Consider, for instance, the circumstances surrounding my last interviewee during the crazy week in Austin that was SXSW 2015. Twenty-something Demi Louise is a singer/songwriter from Melbourne, Australia who has gone and already showcased at one of the most important emerging music festivals to TGTF, Liverpool Sound City in 2014. Yet despite all the travel and performances she has already clocked up at such a tender age, this talented young lady is still not signed yet. What, why, how is that even possible?

Demi had a packed week of performances in Austin, with her last two taking place in front of a packed house at B.D. Riley’s as part of Sounds Australia’s Saturday daytime acoustic showcase called Sound Gallery. Due to a schedule conflict, I was unable to make that earlier show but thankfully, Demi was scheduled to perform one last acoustic set at the Hyatt Regency Austin just south of the river, the same hotel with a dock from where Carrie and I got on the St. Patrick’s Day Brunch on a Boat with the folks from Creative Belfast and Invest Northern Ireland on Tuesday morning. New fans of hers from several different countries came to see her play this last show, including the very young daughters of some festival-goers, who Demi talked to after her set by kneeling down next to and taking photos with them. Awww. She’s a real woman of the people.

In my interview with Demi, she tells me her hometown of Melbourne and how sad she is that it’s the end of her SXSW adventure, as it’s one of many music showcasing events she’s done in the last year and a half. We also chat about her song ‘Ruins’, which was inspired by medical diagnoses within her own family, and her winning a major pop songwriting award back in Oz. (Again, how is this woman not signed yet???) Listen to the whole interview below.

Read all our past coverage on Demi Louise on TGTF here.

 
 
 

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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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