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SXSW 2018: catching Brits and Europeans Wednesday night – 14th March 2018 (Part 3)

 
By on Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

After getting our drink on at the Focus Wales drink reception, I left Carrie to catch two Welsh acts before running down nearly to the other end of the busy part of East 6th Street, ending up at the very colourful Esther’s Follies for my first visit in 7 years. In its normal, non-SXSW form, the place puts on comedy and vaudeville shows. As you should expect, there’s theatre-type seating in this venue, which offers the unique opportunity for a photographer to get real close to the artists while the rest of the audience, well, is comfortably seated and a good distance away from the stage.

The 8 PM slot isn’t always a great one at SXSW 2018, but it worked out wonderfully for Austrian duo Leyya and their live band. I featured them in one of four preview write-ups I did for the Music Bloggers Guide to SXSW 2018. Even though they were classed in the avant / experimental genre in this year’s SXSW schedule, in reality what Sophie Lindinger and Marco Kleebauer are doing is putting together the best bits of pop, soul, electronic and percussive music. This is music designed to get your body moving and grooving but without the pretension of intellectual electronic but with more bite and presence than the average pop band. They’re exactly the kind of act who make me excited about the future of music: artists who are willing to take chances, stepping out of the mainstream box and trying something different, with amazing results. My only wish for their performance was to have more people swinging their partners to and fro to their music!

Leyya Wednesday at SXSW 2018 2

I got hung up at Esther’s Follies for longer than I expected – I indulged a Leyya superfan and took a photo of her and Sophie after their set – so I decided a nice saunter over to the Waller Ballroom was better than trying to rush off somewhere else. The Waller Ballroom was Dutch New Wave’s venue for the week, having an indoor space plus a nice biergarden outside. I’m sure it was something else previously, but the door staff couldn’t tell me what it used to be. Once inside, I was surprised by the weird, rectangular shape of the room, the stage more than twice as long as the room’s depth. It made for strange options for photography, that’s for sure.

A parade of white and black Dutch people came through the doors after I arrived, talking up a storm, slapping each other on the back. While I couldn’t understand what they were saying, it was clear they showed up to provide support to their friends The Homesick from Dokkum. Living in a country so divided by race like ours, such a simple thing between friends was heartwarming to me. Then it was time for the band to take the stage. While going through all the bands scheduled to appear in Austin from the Continent, The Homesick were in my top five bands I definitely wanted to see. They’re a young band, but they’ve already figured out how to write a compelling song, compelling in the sense that their songwriting captures your imagination and keeps you wanting more. The driving guitars and drumbeats in their rock songs are simultaneously weird and wonderful. Watching Elias Elgersma wail on his guitar with awe-inspiring dexterity, I realised I was experiencing something special indeed. Read my preview of their appearance in Austin through here.

The Homesick Wednesday at SXSW 2018 3

Having gotten an appropriate Homesick fix, I intended to catch American duo Bat Fangs at Barracuda’s indoor stage as part of the Ground Control Touring showcase there. Oddly, my press pass didn’t let me in. Rebuffed, instead of waiting, I thought I’d just go around the corner to the 720 Club and wait for The RPMs to start their set. Brighton’s newest hope for the next big British guitar band were setting up in the hole in the wall club.

Which I mean quite literally. The band are a five-piece and only the keyboardist and drummer could fit on the stage. This was definitely an opportunity to get up close and personal with your musical idols! Although the rough and tumble nature of the venue seemed more appropriate for a punk band, the RPMs filled the room with their brand of glittery synthpop and rock and this show, along with their appearance at the British Music Embassy Friday afternoon, showed they have loads of potential to be as big as their own influences. Read my SXSW 2018 preview piece on The RPMs through here.

The RPMs Wednesday at SXSW 2018
As you can see, the stage was brightly lit at the 720 Club, but the floor wasn’t.

Then it was time to pop back to the British Music Embassy. I didn’t need to see Frank Turner there, as I knew uber fan Carrie would catch him during the week some point. However, I did want to get into Latitude 30 early enough for Sam Fender and not have to jockey for a good position to see him and his band playing. As you might imagine, Frank Turner was a huge draw for Brits and Americans alike, so the place was one in, one out when I arrived. I’m not sure why this hadn’t occurred to Latitude 30 staff until that moment – maybe it was because it had been unseasonably cold in Austin since we arrived? – but they decided that night to open up the windows so those in the queues could hear Turner play. He ended his set with a rousing version of ‘Polaroid Picture’ that had nearly everyone inside and outside singing along. I recognised the song but not knowing the words, I just bobbed my head to the beat. Good enough, right? For more photos from my Wednesday at SXSW 2018, visit my Flickr.

 

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.

Lost Brothers internal 2

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.

Joshua Burnside internal

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 2018: Wednesday afternoon at German Haus and a conference session on Music and the Brain – 14th March 2018 (Part 2)

 
By on Monday, 26th March 2018 at 1:00 pm
 

There are two nice things about afternoon showcases. You get to see acts in less claustrophobic confines, and you can see them without really worrying about running off to your next showcase. Two excellent reasons, if you ask me! Following my time at the JW Marriott for The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants session, I returned to German Haus at Barracuda for two German acts I was excited to see and hear live. When I arrived, a bald Brit with a guitar was on the Barracuda indoor stage, playing to a small, but entirely appreciative crowd. I was confused. Hrm. He definitely didn’t have a German accent. What was he doing there? I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognise Midge Ure of Ultravox and Visage fame. Don’t hit me. I feel embarrassed enough!

Midge Ure at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

You have understand that during SXSW, most of us aren’t checking our emails, and I certainly did not see the German Haus missive that he would be part of the screening of Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise and its related panel that afternoon on which Ure would appear. I can see this was one of those times that it probably would have helped to have the event to all, or at least wristband holders in addition to badgeholders. But maybe Ure appreciated playing to a small crowd for once?

Blackberries at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

I ran out of time to write up my best bets of groups from the Continent showcasing at SXSW, but I have an Excel spreadsheet with many tabs to prove I did all the research if you want to see it. Blackberries were on my list because they’re exactly what you don’t expect from Germany. I think these days, German artists from outside Berlin are overshadowed by the electronic scene in the capital. Blackberries hail from Solingen, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, and have their unique perspective on what krautrock means in 2018. How often do you see psych rock being performed with maracas? I had an idea in my head even before I got to Austin that British artists would be less important to my experience at SXSW than in past years, and that prediction turned out to be right.

Munich experimental electronic duo Joasihno were set up back inside Barracuda. Synth heads, this was a wet your pants moment. If Cico Beck and Nico Sierig’s extended tabletop setup was filled with the usual keyboards, synths and sequencers, I might not have been as impressed. I might have even yawned. Instead, their unusual collection of equipment, which included a mechanically activated xylophone, rods that spun around and what looked like rocks connected to wires (???), plus loads of other things that looked like something out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. This kind of music couldn’t be further from Taylor Swift and other pop stars who top the charts.

Joasihno at German Haus Wednesday at SXSW 2018

And you know what? That’s okay. Some of us want to be entertained with new sounds and in new ways. Ryan Walsh said in his talk Wednesday afternoon that 1/3 of the world’s population makes music sometime in their lives. There’s plenty of artists out there now and will be in the future to satisfy all of our music listening needs. And that’s good news for everyone.

I returned to the convention center for one of the last conference sessions of the day, Music and the Brain: How Sounds Become Pleasurable. The first two talks were given by Dr. Alain Dagher, a neurologist and professor at McGill University, and Pablo Samuel Castro from Google. Dr. Dagher began with an explanation on how dopamine release mediating the desire for pleasure, whether it be in anticipation of listening to music or eating food we like. I guess this was a good starting point, as I would guess most attendees didn’t know how dopamine and reward-seeking behavior worked. (I took pharmacology in university and the classic example of dopamine activity is the abuse of cocaine and the feedback mechanism in the human body, so this was simply a refresher for me.) I guess, too, that it isn’t surprising that the reason why as children or young adults we remember music from those periods of our formative years. However, it appears that the reason for these memories is not because our brains were still developing at the time, but because the pleasure we associate with listening to those pieces of music when we were younger essentially burns into our memories. One step further, moderator and third speaker Indre Viskontas of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music showed evidence later in the session that our brains can anticipate specific moments in song that are associated with stronger feelings, such as that feeling of a pleasurable chill down one’s back.

Castro’s talk was about machine learning and artificial intelligence. He specifically had studied building requirements for a computer to learn how to write counterpoints, which J.S. Bach essentially cornered the market on. Read more about his mastery of counterpoint through here. I had a lot of trouble in my early piano-learning years trying to get through Bach, so I was amused to see someone had gone through the trouble to ape his music. Castro played a Bach original against what his computer had come up with and he insisted that the computer had done a pretty good job in approximating the intended counterpoint. My ears weren’t having it, though. As Gunter Loibl of REBEAT Digital said the day before at German Haus indicated, I have every confidence that human being-created and produced music will never be surpassed by AI-made music, at least not in my lifetime.

Music and the Brain Wednesday at SXSW 2018

Before the evening showcases, Carrie and I both checked in at the Townsend for the Focus Wales drink reception. The Townsend is a fancy-schmancy cocktail bar on Congress Avenue. I wondered if the reception would be well attended, as it was a bit off the beaten path when it came to the usual 6th Street-type haunts during SXSW. I don’t know why I was worried. We ran into plenty of friends there, friends who were no doubt tempted by the lure of free drinks and good company. Along with the actual musical performances themselves in Austin, having a drink with your friends is up there with the top experiences you’ll have during SXSW.

 

SXSW 2018: Wednesday afternoon at the convention center – 14th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 26th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Carrie left for the Austin Convention Center early to catch Lyor Cohen’s keynote, so stay tuned for her report from that session. Shortly after that wrapped up, I was headed to the Beyond Music: The Secret Economy of Music session led by Ryan Walsh, current partner at Floodgate Fund, a venture capital firm. Walsh has a particularly interesting background, in that he was formerly VP of Product at Beats Music and also worked in product management for media at Apple. I think a lot of us have the impression that people who work in higher-up positions at companies like Apple aren’t as savvy about what’s going on in their business as they should be, or at least they don’t want to talk to people like us. I decided before the sessions that I would bolt if I was bored or felt talked down to. Spoiler: I was overwhelmingly pleasantly surprised.

I found Walsh an incredibly compelling speaker, with a down to earth manner as he spoke on the gaps he saw open in the music industry. This is a man whose passion about our industry is evident from everything he knows and all he is willing to communicate. Loads of people say they want to help artists get paid properly, but very few have communicated this in such a way that I felt they were genuine. It is hard to find people in this business who don’t ultimately turn out to be self-servers. I don’t know Walsh personally, but he doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a venture capitalist as I have imagined them, existing for the sole purpose to chasing after the next big thing that will make them loads of money and that’s it.

Ryan Walsh of Floodgate
Photo of Ryan Walsh from his Twitter

As he talked about the exponentially growing Soundcloud user base and where the holes were in the major label ecosystem, it was like listening to any number of hyper-engaging professors whose biology lectures I sat in on in university, wide-eyed with wonderment. It was the most positive, data-supported, forward-thinking industry talk that I’ve been to IN YEARS. (The music journalism talk I’d attend the next day, which you’ll read about soon here in on TGTF, made me want to punch my fist through a wall after it.) Instead of being yet another talk of doom and gloom, of how our industry is dying and will never recover to its former heights, Walsh painted an optimistic picture of its future. A future that sees artists collaborating, getting along with each other and sharing the spoils of success. A future that sees artists getting smart about how they work on record deals, like SZA and Top Dawg did on ‘Ctrl’, or partnering up with Kobalt’s AWAL, who have reinvented how to interface with and better work with artists so the artists get a bigger piece of the pie. A future that sees people who want to think out of the box not only survive but thrive.

As his talk progressed, I realised that despite how many years I have written about music and thought I was reasonable savvy about how things are done, I actually knew little about the mechanical (if you will) goings-on behind the creation and distribution of music. I clearly have a lot more to learn about all this stuff works. Like all industries, really, success in the music business will become even more being intelligent and agile enough to roll with the punches. Ryan, if I can think up something new and great to contribute to this business, I’ll run it by you!

On an entirely different subject and even outside of Music Wednesday afternoon was The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants, starring moderator, journalist from the Daily Beast and cocktail enthusiast Noah Rothbaum, celebrity chefs and Food Network stars Tyler Florence and Amanda Freitag, and Ti Martin, co-owner of the famed New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace and several other eateries in Houston including Brennan’s. As a major foodie, I was very interested to hear each of them speak at the JW Marriott about their own experiences and what they have drawn from the greats in their profession who came before them and how they have made them who they are today. You can read more about Florence, Freitag and Martin on the internet, so I’m only including here the bits that impressed me the most.

Freitag is one of the several big names on The Food Network, most notably lately as a judge on Chopped. She appeared in Austin to sign copies of her book The Chef Next Door, along with appearing in this session. She spoke about the influence of seeing Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr. Both she and Florence noted that seeing chefs in French toques – those tall, brimless hats favoured by the French – impressed them so much that they knew they wanted to be part of that. Freitag also noted that even though she noticed she was the only woman in the kitchen at her first professional job, she never thought of ever being famous for being a female chef: it was more important to her that she was the best she could be in the kitchen. As one of very few female editors and owners of music Web sites, I relate to this entirely. While I personally understand the problem of missing out opportunities entirely because of being a woman and being a person of color, I think what Freitag said needs to be considered and repeatedly. Prejudice will always exist at some level to all of us. I can be difficult, I know. But work hard and rise above. It will pay off. (I want to be clear that my thought here does not extend to harassment, which should never be tolerated.)

Celebrity Chefs panel Wednesday at SXSW 2018 2
Freitag and Florence at The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants session

Florence’s advice for the audience was “fake it until you make it”, citing his experiences as a young chef in New York, grabbing opportunities as soon as he could and then learning as he went along. It’s clearly paid off, with an empire of stores and restaurants in the San Francisco area and countless tv show concepts at the Food Network under his belt. An audience member asked the panel about the #metoo movement and how it has affected the culinary industry. Without naming or shaming, it was obvious who the audience member was talking about: Italian-American chef Mario Batali, whose career appears to be irreparably damaged by multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Florence volunteered that his staff at the Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco are not allowed to drink while they’re working, circumventing any alcohol-fuelled issues between employees and between employees and customers. Perhaps this seems like a little step, but given the restaurant world being male-dominated, why not take out of a variable that could cause some staff members to be inappropriate?

Martin told stories about how her mother started recruiting little-known chefs for their restaurant, including one Emeril Lagasse. Her mother invited the American culinary world to Commander’s Palace and gave them the kind of hospitality that has since made their restaurant a globally known, world-class destination. Remember that trying to invite a large number of people before the internet was a major undertaking. The whole session was a reminder, too, that before the Food Network and the fame of Lagasse, ‘the celebrity chef’ didn’t exist. Restaurants weren’t the destinations they are today. The hard work of people like Florence, Freitag and Martin and their moving the culinary world forward will make it easy when they are ready to pass the baton to the younger generations. The youngsters are excited to learn and work and innovate in this industry these greats helped to build.

 

SXSW 2018: Monday night with American bands at the Mohawk – 12th March 2018

 
By on Friday, 23rd March 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

My time in Austin for SXSW 2018 was a little bit condensed in comparison to past years. Mary and I have typically both arrived early to catch the beginning of the music festival action (which Mary was able to do this year as well; you can read her Monday reports here and here). But this year, I didn’t arrive in Austin until Monday evening, so as soon as my flight landed at Bergstrom International Airport, I made a mad dash for downtown to catch as much music as I possibly could. After a quick stop at the Convention Center to grab my credentials, I headed to the Mohawk on Red River, which was already almost full in anticipation of the three American bands on the evening’s lineup.

Bully

The first band on the Mohawk’s outdoor stage was Nashville grunge rock band Bully. We previewed them in our (SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2785, and their performance at the Mohawk was true to that preview. They sounded very much like a female-fronted version of Nirvana, but it must be said that frontwoman Alica Bognanno’s distinctive vocals add an interesting flavour to that swampy, heavily distorted sound. It’s a little hard to believe that music like this is coming out of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, but not at all hard to see why Bully are signed to Sub Pop, Nirvana’s former label.

Wye Oak internal

Both the mood and the lighting at the Mohawk changed for Baltimore’s Wye Oak, who took the stage next. Frontwoman Jenn Wassner immediately announced that things were about to get “vibe-y”, and she delivered on that promise with a set full of new songs from the band’s forthcoming LP ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’. Wassner confessed that this was the first time the band had played them live, as well as the first time they’d performed as a trio (the typical duo is comprised of Wassner and drummer Andy Stack). Dreamy and atmospheric, but with a distinct rhythmic quality, the new tracks made a positive impression on the fans in Austin. ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’ is due for release on the 6th of April via Merge Records; listen to the title track just below.

It’s no coincidence that Wye Oak played just ahead of the final act of the night, veteran North Carolina rock band Superchunk (pictured at top), whose members Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan founded Merge Records back in 1989. Superchunk, touring here with bassist Jason Narducy in Ballance’s place, released their 11th studio album ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ earlier this year.

Having never before listened to Superchunk, I wasn’t sure what to expect from them, but they clearly had a good number of enthusiastic fans in the Mohawk crowd. The unapologetically political themes in Superchunk’s new songs were no affront to those long-time listeners, but the energy in the venue ramped up exponentially when the band played their older favourites, especially set closer ‘Slack Motherfucker.’ Despite their longevity in the music business, Superchunk’s career has been anything but slack in recent years, as evidenced by the driving energy of eponymous album track ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ and the delight of their fans in Austin late on the SXSW Monday night.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2809: Frank Turner

 
By on Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 6:00 pm
 

English troubadour Frank Turner has become something of a fixture in Austin during SXSW. He came to Texas for SXSW 2018 with a fistful of new songs in his back pocket, all of which will presumably feature on his forthcoming album ‘Be More Kind’. I heard him play several of the new tracks at the Palm Door on Sixth in downtown Austin on the Thursday night of SXSW; stay tuned for a review of that show in the coming days. But one of the songs he notably didn’t play at that gig was ‘Blackout’, which was officially released the following day.

Having now had a listen to ‘Blackout’, I can see why Turner might have chosen not to play it in the acoustic set at the Palm Door. Laced with synth vibes and dance beats, ‘Blackout’ is a sharp left turn from his typical folk rock sound. Turner himself has described it as “new territory for me – a song you could even play in a club”. I’m not sure it goes quite that far, but it’s a definite change of pace: long time Frank Turner fans, be warned. Watch Frank take a stab at dancing in the promo video for ‘Blackout’ just below, and decide for yourself how you feel about the its pop-tinged sound. Frank Turner’s ‘Be More Kind’ LP is due out on the 4th of May via Xtra Mile/Polydor. TGTF’s extensive past coverage of Frank Turner is collected back through here.

 
 
 

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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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