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SXSW 2018: a slower Saturday afternoon at the convention center and hotels – 17th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 5th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

I’m always amazed how I feel when I reach the Saturday of the SXSW Music Festival. Everyone who is going at it as hard as we do is exhausted. But we’re also sad. Months of preparation have culminated in our coming out to Austin for this event highlight of the festival calendar, and a part of you dies inside as you accept that it’s almost over.

The Irish rugby-crazy throngs were already up and at ‘em at B.D. Riley’s, so we slept in and decided to get brunch instead. The fancy schmancy Stella San Jac in the Westin was just down the road from the Omni where we stayed this time. At first, I was surprised to see that the place wasn’t crowded. But then I considered that maybe everyone else was still in bed at 1 PM, in the fetal position and nursing hangovers. I hadn’t eaten in nearly 24 hours, and Carrie noted I was hoovering a fried avocado and roasted corn salad in front of her. Ha. After Carrie had a few cups of needed coffee and I downed a bacon bloody Mary, we went down to the convention center for one last time.

avocado salad on Saturday
Wasn’t actually that healthy of a salad…

Carrie headed to a session, while I went into the Trade Expo for some music at the Flatstock stage. Unintentionally but altogether happily, I got a bit of a second helping (side dish?) of Montreal’s Bodywash. I said hello to the band afterwards and we had a nice chat about Pop Montreal vs. M is for Montreal. Pro tip: if you ever need information about an event, ask the people who live in the town where it’s taking place for advice. I came away wanting to visit Montreal ASAP.

The coolest thing for artists about the stages at the convention center – Flatstock, International Day and Radio Day – is that the people who attend these are probably going to be different than those who show up to your afternoon appearances and your evening showcases. It offers another opportunity to wow a different crowd. As the SXSW Gaming Expo was in full swing Saturday, some gaming-inclined kids had wandered into the Flatstock stage area and were spellbound by the next act, Ascot’s Febueder, who I previewed ahead of SXSW back in February.

Febueder Saturday at SXSW 2018

I want to describe their music is soulful, jazzy and catchy – it is all these things – but that would be simplifying it too much. If alt-J hadn’t happened, I don’t think an act like Febueder could dream big. Post ‘An Awesome Wave’, the possibilities are now much wider. I think I always worry how an act is going to be received in the bright lights of the convention center, especially on a Saturday afternoon. But in Febueder’s case, the concern wasn’t needed at all. Their trumpet and electronic drum-infused music was out there at times, yes, but it hit the spot for those keen on finding a new band to follow. Afterwards, people came up to the stage excitedly, wanting a handshake and to know how to spell the band’s name so they could find their act on Spotify. Mission accomplished, guys!

Following two drink interludes – hey, it was St. Patrick’s Day, I’m not turning down a green-coloured ginger beer – Carrie and I split up to catch two acts at Second Play Stages. In case you aren’t familiar with these, they are shows that are mostly before the 7 PM hour at hotels and other unconventional venues that are free and open to the public. Carrie used the opportunity to pick up a performance by Harry Pane at the Hilton that I happened to see on the Second Play schedule. I headed down to Davis Street to check out the Hotel Van Zandt for the first time and to see a band for a second time that week. I seriously wonder what kind of parents think it’s a good idea to bring their families with young kids out to Austin during SXSW. Well, at least if they’re hanging around a hotel lobby in the afternoon, they’ll see some good music, right?

STAL Saturday at SXSW 2018 3

Some of these kids sat in front of the stage were lucky, as STAL were ready to roll for their last performance in Austin. Weirdly, the stage was next to the front door with a steady stream of new hotel guests coming through, so for onlookers, it was distracting to say the least. Taking that into account, STAL admirably ignored the weird situation they found themselves in and performed their style of synthpop as if they were in any other venue in Austin. They sounded great, even if the people watching them weren’t dancing as I had hoped they would. Maybe the adults were as tuckered out as I was? For more of my photos from Saturday at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

man milking an armadillo
You think your week at SXSW was bad? I think this man is trying to milk his armadillo…

 

SXSW 2018: Thursday night with artists around the world and dealing with the unexpected – 15th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

This was my seventh SXSW. Having been punched and groped in 2016 and then having been turned away at a venue despite my having a SXxpress pass this year, I thought perhaps I’d experienced all the peculiarity and awfulness that was meant for me in Austin in this lifetime. You may say I’m getting old and I should just shake these things off, but my tolerance for BS is minimal these days at best. Having crossed off Munich’s Joasihno and Solingen’s Blackberries at German Haus’ Wednesday afternoon programming, Thursday night was supposed to be a pretty relaxing evening stroll from venue to venue. Pretty sure I jinxed myself…

Like Wednesday evening, Thursday evening began for me with a stop at a drinks reception, this time the Le Bureau Export New York / France Rocks’ drink and food reception at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. Call me crazy, but I assumed that after visiting the House of Scandinavia on Monday and snacking on some faux meatballs, we’d be getting some champagne and French-themed food at this reception. I think there was a major miscalculation in attendance predictions, as I got there pretty early to queue and by the time I got upstairs, nearly all the food was gone. The French contingent might consider either ordering more food next year, or do a better job limiting access. It was very strange, too, that except for one sign advertising the event that was stood next to a picnic table full of official staff, there were no other indications that this was a French event. At the Focus Wales night the evening before, there were Welsh flags down the bar and on individual tables; German Haus had awesome-looking banners and their unique blue-green design branding in front of Barracuda’s indoor stage.

The reception was useful in that I was in the right place when the first act of the Bureau Export France showcase began. They even began before 8 PM, pretty tops. I had seen electronic act STAL 3 years ago playing at the Clash Magazine showcase at Coalition at the 2015 edition of The Great Escape. At the time they were based in Paris, but they now call Los Angeles home. At STAL’s core is composer Pierre-Marie Maulini, who cut his teeth on rock bands in the early Noughties before forging a friendship with and going on tour with Anthony Gonzalez’s M83. It’s purported that the 2 years Maulini spent touring ‘Saturday = Youth’ with Gonzalez and crew inspired him to start his own project and thus STAL, the word for steel in various languages, was born.

STAL Thursday at SXSW 2018

STAL’s music has morphed in the last few years; recent single ‘The Crime’ (my review here) sees them veering towards a more overtly mainstream pop sound, probably what Maulini meant in a previous Facebook post in which he mentioned them going on “a brand new journey”. Time will tell if this will translate to bigger success for them as I had hoped for when I saw them in 2015. What will help them big-time in this regard is the energy of their live show. You can tell they’re friends and getting into it, and as fun as it is to watch them, the frenetic motions onstage encourages you to join in on the floor and dance. Maulini and live guitar and synths bandmate Jeff Di Rienzo (guitar and synths) were constantly moving their bodies to the beat. Newest single ‘Magic’ that came out last Friday is more in line of what I think of from an electropop band; check it out in its premiere on our friends Glamglare’s Web site.

On my way down the stairs, I stopped to catch a song by girl group TAWINGS who were playing on the indoor stage at the Sounds from Japan showcase. Channelling ‘60s garage rock, the Tokyo group’s sound chugs along like so many bands we’ve heard before. So much that you might think you’re listening to another band. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that’s what they say, right? Any other night, I could be quite happy listening to a band like this. At SXSW, not so much.

TAWINGS Thursday at SXSW 2018

I left STAL’s set before it ended, because I had a long walk to the Kobalt AWAL / blahblahblahscience show at the Palm Door on Sabine Street. I made it just as East Anglians turned Londoners Otzeki, who I’d written about in the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018, began to play. It was some luck that I had given them a pass Tuesday night, instead choosing to stay for The Academic’s full set at The Main II (see more here). Otzeki’s show that evening was shut down by bouncers two songs in because singer Mike Sharp had commandeered a bottle of Maker’s Mark (the Seven Grand is a whisky bar) and refused to surrender it to staff.

The well-lit venue gave folks plenty of room to drink, dance and observe the band however they wanted to. The bounce of their electronic-driven music was funky and seemed to be intriguing the audience, most of whom I guessed didn’t know who they were before wandering into the building. Then things got weird. Sharp repeatedly bounded into the audience with his microphone, leading to impromptu twirls around and serenading of punters. This in itself is not unusual. Most music fans like this kind of interaction, and the women he confronted seemed to enjoy the joke. Having had close calls with guitars and microphone leads in my face in the past, I prefer such interaction at a distance.

Otzeki Thursday SXSW 2018

He decided to take his shirt off, then gaffa tape his chest across his nipples. Er, okay, performance art. Then he decided to pick up the water dispenser that all Austin bars have. Bar owners know that revelers drink too much during SXSW, and their defense is to keep these people hydrated. What happened next seemed to move in slo mo. Sharp must have jumped in the air with the dispenser, and what seemed like all the water in it fell on me. I’ve had some stupid stuff happen to me in my life, but this took the cake.

Was he acting provocatively during SXSW to create a buzz about their act while in Austin? Good that it happened to me and not some A&R dude, I guess. Their manager was kind enough to try and source me some actual towels, but I soon decided I had to get out of the air-conditioning and out of my clothes ASAP. I walked by a hotel staff member on the way back up to 6th Street and she asked me what happened. After hearing the story, she said, “you’re taking it awfully well, considering.” What else could I do?

I refused to let this incident get the best of me. I headed for St. David’s Sanctuary next, warning the door staff that my clothes were wet, and would that be okay if I sat in a pew to enjoy the next performance? They waved me on and said that if I needed a blanket, they had some in the back that I could help myself to. That was nice of them. Being able to sit is not a perk you get in all venues, and after what happened, it was mighty welcome. When I arrived, soulful electropop singer/songwriter Benji Lewis of Melbourne, Australia, was still setting up with his live bandmate and friend Allen. I hadn’t missed a moment of what would be one of the most magical performances I witnessed in Austin all week.

Benji Lewis Thursday 2 at SXSW 2018

Like many Aussies wanting to be noticed beyond antipodean borders, he’s moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of global stardom. In this interview with our friends at The AU Review, Lewis explained that he stripped back his set at St. David’s to respect his environment, choosing to go with lighter sounds. The decision paid off in spades: the Aussie singer’s falsetto floated lighter than air, making songs like his standout single ‘Drift’ sound absolutely beautiful within the incredible acoustics of St. David’s. While I may have been down when I arrived, Lewis’ velvet tones were just what I needed to regroup and remind myself why I was in Austin. Check out his newest single ‘Deep Blue’ below. For more of my photos from Thursday night at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Single Review: STAL – The Crime

 
By on Wednesday, 24th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Part of the excitement of an emerging music festival, whether it’s in Brisbane or Brighton, is that you never know what great talent might be behind those club doors, and sometimes the club next door down the street. Three years ago, I caught Frenchmen STAL at The Arch on the first night of The Great Escape 2015. At the time, surrounded by their screaming fans, I wondered, how did we miss them completely? To be fair, electronic has a hard time getting traction in most of America, so unless the electronic music a Continental band is making is fairly poppy, or you’re someone with a massive established following like M83, the music isn’t going to make it out of Europe.

Now based in Los Angeles, STAL are an electronic-driven act stars Pierre-Marie Maulini (guitar, synths, and vocals) and Renaud Rodier (drums), augmented live with Jeff Di Rienzo (guitar and synths). Since I saw them at the Great Escape, they’ve dropped two albums, 2015’s ‘Young Hearts’ and 2016’s ‘Cinephila’. Two singles last year, ‘Get Out’ and ‘Fresh Blood’, showed their potential for poppier and rockier edges, respectively. Their latest single unveiled last week, ‘The Crime’, sees the group flirt with r&b. On the band’s Facebook, they wrote, “We hope you guys will like it as much we do cause this sound is a brand new journey for us and we’re lovin’ it !” One commenter said in French that they’re sound a bit Justin Timberlake, and that’s a decently accurate description.

Maulini’s falsetto sounds like it’s been put through autotune. Oddly, when accompanied by a squealing guitar, it doesn’t feel that out of place. A seductive melody oozes along with crunches of electronic percussion, and with Maulini’s lyrics speaking of jealousy, restlessness and the pain of being dumped. These are all common pop song themes, and there’s no shame in that. While I, as a music editor, expect bands to evolve over time, STAL have made a great leap of faith from their popular in Europe, dreamy, uplifting electro sound from 2015 to one that mirrors what’s heating up the record charts here in America and in the UK. Is it a wise gamble? Will it pay off for them? Is it time to start shouting “Viva la France” from the rooftops? With the r&b field so crowded as it is, I’m cautiously sceptical. Still, I’m eager to see what STAL decide to pull out of the bag at SXSW 2018 in March.

7/10

STAL’s newest single ‘The Crime’ is out now; you can stream it below. The Los Angeles via Paris band are scheduled to showcast at SXSW 2018. As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, their appearance in Austin is subject to change. We recommend that you consult the official SXSW Music Festival schedule for the latest information and updates.

 

Great Escape 2015: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Ah yes, Brighton. London by the sea, rainbow flags a-flyin’, the smell of skunk hanging in the air if you walk down the wrong alley (or most places if it’s sunny), a place populated by way too many aggressive seagulls. It has been 2 years since TGTF last stepped foot in the seaside town to cover the annual emerging music festival here, which of course is The Great Escape 2015. Some things have happened since John and me were last in Brighton and due to some things in 2014 transpiring to keep us away (and I think for good reason too, if you want to get all moody and astrological about it), it was time for my return.

Within 30 minutes of leaving the flat I’d booked for the duration, the Great Escape 2015 wasted no time to remind me of my first rain-drenched event here in 2012. Like a scene out of Mary Poppins, my brolly turned inside out, pieces fell off and yes, it became entirely inoperable. Somehow after getting my photo pass from the press centre in the Dome, then getting lost (a recurring theme when I’m running behind schedule) I made it to the Brighthelm Community Centre without looking like a wet cat; the place is connected to a church and it was where the Creative Scotland afternoon showcase would be kicking things off. First up were the rough and tumble Model Aeroplanes, who you readers are aware I’m a big fan of. You might think that at 12 noon on as dreary of a day as it was, they were unlikely to draw a sizable crowd.

Model Aeroplanes at Great Escape 2015

Wrong. The lively four-piece all the way from Dundee were raring to go, and a pretty packed out room awaited them. ‘Deep in the Pool’ is their latest single, and as their past releases, it’s a fun little guitar number that I expect will go down well in front of festival crowds this summer, as will recent tropical-tinged single ‘Club Low’. However, I still have a soft spot for earlier songs such as ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ and the lovely honeyed way ‘Innocent Love’ has about it, and their guitar-swinging energy was just what Brighton needed on the rainy start to the festival. The band also brought me a gift: bottle of very special Dundee marmalade down with them, which was a very sweet and nice touch – thank you lads!

From the footloose and fancy free and sunny indie pop / rock of the opening band, The Merrylees couldn’t be more different. Having already supported the likes of legends Paul Weller (in town to play a not so secret show on Saturday) and Richard Hawley, the Merrylees are clearly on to something, but what that is might be marmite for at least part of the British population, the six-member strong band finding themselves galloping away on a country/western-themed bent for most of the set.

The Merrylees at Great Escape 2015

Confusingly, lead singer Ryan Sandison of the group has a haircut and dresses all in black like Alex Turner, yet when he opens his mouth, he sounds nothing like the Sheffielder, instead alternating between a croonery vocal style (ah, so now the Hawley connection makes sense!) and the theatrical, as if he’s playing to a cabaret in the West End, not a community centre rec room this afternoon. The cautionary tale in ‘It’s Catching Up With You Now’ is dark Hawley-esque territory, as is the haunting beautiful ‘Turn for the Strange’, and their debut single produced by Bill Ryder-Jones, ‘For You’, barely skirts the psychedelic line until heralding horns kick up the dust. Definitely unique, but I wonder if they can really make a go of it. I bid my adieus to new Scottish friends made and master of ceremonies, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, and emerge to head down in the direction of the seafront to immerse myself with music from another part of the UK. (Hint, not England…)

What used to be known as Audio on Marine Parade was just recently refurbished, turning into another nightclub called Patterns. I’m actually disappointed that I can’t tell you the place has changed dramatically and for the better – all that really obvious to me was that the stage in the upstairs performance space was rotated 90 degrees and the actual stage was made lengthwise longer. I’m never in a club long enough nor do am I there to check out the cocktails or the clientele. The upstairs area Thursday afternoon was host to the Gorwelion Horizons showcase being put on by Music Wales. No stranger to the funding project after meeting funding recipients The People the Poet at SXSW 2015 in March, I was eager to see who else was on the Welsh music radar and also to meet BBC Radio Wales presenter Bethan Elfyn, who appreciated the work I’d done in reporting on their show in Austin.

Casi at Great Escape 2015

The venue was running at least an hour late, as when I arrived after getting a bite and a drink in a pub, I assumed I would enter in the midst of Cut Ribbons’ set. No, the tall, leggy blonde Casi, with her soulful vocal stylings, had yet to perform. The Bangor-born beauty and her band crafted a very pop, radio-friendly sound that I can see having massive mainstream appeal. I prefer the icy crunchiness of a track like ‘Grace’, while Radio 1’s Huw Stephens favours for his Radio 1 programme ‘Roads’, with its syncopated r&b beats.

Cut Ribbons were to close out the Gorwelion Horizons showcase, and they’re definitely more my bag. Fusing the best elements of electronic, rock and even a little pop, the London via Llanelli group also employ alternating and harmonising male/female fronting vocals, which I can always get behind. ‘Walking on Wires’ has a relentless rhythm and anthemic quality, almost as if Kodaline had gone much more electronic and added a female frontwoman to join Steve Garrigan. If you are a fan of Prides, you will want to take note of Cut Ribbons too; the Glaswegians remixed the Welsh band’s ‘Bound in Love’. I reckon they will be future touring buddies once Prides’ debut album on Island Records is out in July.

Cut Ribbons at Great Escape 2015

This is also the kind of music you want playing while you fall in love with someone under a mirrorball in a club. Well, I do anyway, in my dreams. (I assume John has a completely different kind of fantasy, probably involving Josh Homme and Dave Grohl beating some guitars in.) Pardon the cliché, but ‘Clouds’ lets you float satisfyingly, the synth notes and guitar notes springy, while the main vocal lines are gentle until the chorus pulls you in with “…and that’s what lovers should do.” Vigorous nod. Yes.

Cut Ribbons at Great Escape 2015

After a brief break for food and drink, it was down to the Arch to check out two bands at what was formerly known as Digital. Along with the new to me dance club Shooshh and our old friend Coalition where we hosted the TGTF stage in 2011 (starring a then-unknown Foster the People, I might add), The Arch is one of several true seafront clubs in Brighton. Clash Magazine’s night there began with STAL, an electronic trio from Paris. Well, at least I thought they would be straight electronic and that would be the end of it. That would have been perfectly fine with me, because I love electronic and if they kept laying down big beats and synths, I would have been a very happy panda.

STAL at Great Escape 2015

STAL, however, had other plans for us. I’m still not sure exactly how to explain what I witnessed. I’ve never heard of the band and neither had another music editor friend of mine who was also at the Arch, and I was just gobsmacked by the amount of singing along – and screaming and squealing – there was by the girls down the front, who then went over the barrier and crawled onstage to get their set lists after the band finished. How on earth did we ever miss these guys? Upon further examination of STAL’s Soundcloud, you learn that STAL is actually the stage name of Pierre-Marie Maulini, who acts as lead vocalist, guitarist and synth player live.

Because they are both French, I think STAL will be inevitably compared to M83; nevertheless, I find the celebratory, positive feel good vibes of STAL’s ‘Gone’ to be a real winner eclipsing anything I’ve heard from Anthony Gonzalez (I know, them’s fighting words), while the interesting juxtaposition of otherworldy synths and banging guitars on ‘Burning Desire’ live reminds me oddly enough of the bombast you might feel at, say, a Muse concert. I have heard the complaint on occasion that electronic music is too fey, too feminine, not manly enough. Well, listen up. If a bunch of Frenchmen like this can make electronic sound muscular, have a listen and you might change your mind.

Neon Waltz at Great Escape 2015

Neon Waltz were next up on the Clash showcase. Another six-member band, it seemed trying to fit them and all their gear onstage at the Arch would be a difficult feat, but they got it to work. The band from Caithness in Scotland just released their debut EP on Atlantic Records in April, ‘First Light’, so it’s still early days for them. I really liked what I heard on the EP, so I was disappointed when I heard them play ‘Sombre Fayre’ Thursday night, the gentle beauty of the lead vocal on the records lost against the harder instrumentation. I’m guessing the mix in the club wasn’t right, since an electronic band performed before them. Or maybe having so many instruments on stage was muddying up the overall sound? I’d be really curious if they are ever in for a Sofar Sounds session or something similarly acoustically just how different it would be.

Part 2 of Thursday’s coverage at the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.

 
 
 

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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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