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Album Review: Viola Beach – Viola Beach

 
By on Tuesday, 26th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Viola Beach album coverEarly evening the day before Valentine’s Day 2016, I started receiving frantic Facebook messages from people asking me if it was true about Viola Beach. What was true? I was confused. I hadn’t heard anything. I soon confirmed from multiple sources on social media that the unthinkable had happened. The band had left Norrköping, Sweden, following a well-received set at Where’s the Music Festival, their first appearance outside of Britain, and their car inexplicably went off a bridge, plunging into the water below. As a music editor planning just a month off from SXSW, I’d already pencilled in the band on my schedule in Austin, as had many of my professional contacts. It was unfathomable that young lives such as theirs were gone.

It was especially a terrible loss to the North West town of Warrington that Viola Beach called home, as early indicators suggested success would soon be in their future. Already having their brand of peppy pop receiving the support of BBC Introducing in England, they’d also been anointed with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase as part of the BBC Introducing bill at SXSW 2016, which they sadly never made it to. In their memory, the families of the band have decided to release their debut album this Friday on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records:

We are tremendously proud of everything the boys achieved in such a short space of time. Craig, Jack, Kris, River and Tom shared a huge passion, talent and dedication to music. We believe the best way to celebrate our sons’ lives is to release an album of their songs. This is their legacy and we know deep in our hearts that the boys would want the world to listen to the music they poured everything into. This was only the beginning for them and these nine songs were written with every intention to be shared, heard and, most of all, enjoyed. We hope that it brings you as much happiness listening to it as we know it did to them making it.

The music made by four wide-eyed lads is, as one might expect, innocent and sweet, or at least honest about that period of life (see ‘Drunk’). Self-released in autumn 2015, debut single ‘Slides and Waterslides’ is the perfect example of this. The song quickly made the rounds in the blogosphere not only in Britain, but also in America. American music blog Pigeons and Planes commented that the single had “a swagger that is not often found on indie pop records”. Let’s just say that this kind of swagger is more TGTF’s speed than Cher Lloyd’s. Despite its title, ‘Swings and Waterslides’ is actually a snapshot of puppy love. Lead singer Kris Leonard croons, “you’re not with me tonight / and only you could make it right”, before the chorus kicks in, with youthful shouts from his bandmates. Overall, the effect is, while greatly helped with a bright guitar melody (think early Two Door Cinema Club) and accompanying bouncy percussion, one of pure pop. The more I listen to this song, the more I hear the promise in Leonard’s voice. You can picture its potential of having as much mainstream influence as Liam Gallagher’s, as a new representation of young (and Northern) England. Now we’ll never know.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3Iy3LE61_g [/youtube]

Many of the songs on ‘Viola Beach’ read as tropical pop numbers, with dashes of pop, hip hop and rock. While there’s an obvious reliance on upbeat guitar notes and drum beats, a nod to what’s popular with the kids these day, there’s also a smartness at play. They liked playing with the tempos, changing them from tune to tune to allow for different feels. The jittery ‘Like a Fool’ and ‘Get to Dancing’ (watch it live from their BBC Introducing session from Maida Vale recorded in late 2015 below) have moments when Leonard and his bandmates are shouting at the top of their lungs. They must have had a whale of a time recording those. In contrast, the echoey, chill vibe of ‘Really Wanna Call’ makes it sounds like it was recorded in the Caribbean.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyP0DvEwrh8[/youtube]

Another previously released track ‘Cherry Vimto’ is relatively simple, but it showcases Viola Beach’s ability to slow things down and write a ballad. ‘Call You Up’ is another slower one, puts Leonard’s voice through its paces. It’s particularly interesting, as drummer Jack Dakin’s cymbal and other effects inexplicably crash in the background, as if to mimic the emotional tension within the song. One could reasonably hypothesise that this was their one experimental number on the album, and perhaps an indicator that they didn’t plan to stay in the tropical pop genre forever.

‘Boys That Sing’ closes the album and following Coldplay’s tribute to them during their headline set at Glastonbury this year. As Leonard sings it, it’s clear it’s about a girl he’s fallen for and yet, everyone thinks their union is crazy. The chorus goes, “and she said that together we could do anything / and she told me that she loves a boy who knows how to sing / so I learnt how to sing”, what comes across as the sweetest reason a young boy would ever use to decide to become musical. For one night, this song had its time on the world’s biggest stage, and it was beautiful.

I know that not everyone believes in heaven or the existence of an afterlife. I do. And I choose to believe that those who leave us, especially those who leave us before their time, they are with us in spirit and can see what we’re up to every day of our lives. Even though we didn’t have Viola Beach with us for very long, they reminded us that there is inherent joy in the making of music and it is a gift that is best shared and has no boundaries. Their families have had a terrible loss, but I hope that through sharing this album, this gift that they have kindly bestowed on us, they can see that even beyond their physical time on this earth, their boys will continue to bring joy to many.

The eponymous debut album from Viola Beach will be released posthumously this Friday, the 29th of July, on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records. Our thoughts on and coverage of the tribute to them at SXSW 2016 can be found through here.

 

SXSW 2016: thoughts on Viola Beach and part of Music from Ireland (Wednesday night, part 1) – 16th March 2016

 
By on Monday, 4th April 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

I’ve always loved Wednesday night at SXSW. The initial worries of Tuesday – getting your credentials and seeing your first batch of shows – are over, and the true heart of Austin’s massive music festival is revealed. You’re spolit for choice on what genres and bands to see, and as Carrie described in the start of her post last week on her Wednesday night, it is often a difficult decision of who you should and could be seeing.

In mid-February when we learned of the tragic passing of Warrington indie band Viola Beach in Sweden, I settled on rather quickly that the best ways I knew how to honour their lives were to facilitate our and all our friends to have a good time while in Austin, as well as continue on in the tradition of TGTF in supporting up-and-coming bands much like Viola Beach had been themselves. I asked Carrie to situate herself at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 for Steve Lamacq’s opening presentation to pay tribute to the late Viola Beach, so that one of us would be physically on hand to provide support to our fallen comrades and our friends at the BBC and beyond who championed them. It may make me sound like a total wimp but in all honesty, despite all the tragedy I have seen in my life, I feared being in the room during Lammo’s eulogy. In that very room that had hosted so many great bands, I have witnessed so much magic and so many great moments over the last 5 years, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle myself without blubbering.

Instead, I decided in my quiet and steely determination that Wednesday night would be devoted to seeing indie acts hungry for success like Viola Beach. My first stop was the wonderful Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room, which has seen the Music from Ireland showcase Wednesday night for many, many years. As regular readers of our Web site already know, while I enjoy a great many Irish bands, Carrie is truly the de facto Irish expert of TGTF currently, having churned out the Irish and Northern Irish SXSW showcasing artist list the last 2 years, as well as covering the full Irish breakfast. Knowing that I had other things to attend to Friday afternoon and would not be present for the plethora of Irish acts on show at B.D. Riley’s then, it was just my good luck that they were at the start of the bill at the Gibson Room this night.

Somadrone at the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Producer Neil O’Connor is a man who never stays put too long in one place, and with a hand in many different projects. While he’s part of The Redneck Manifesto, having nothing to do with the negative American stereotype and everything to do with the making of instrumental music as a collection of musicians assembled far back in 1998, the project I came to see this night was his solo project Somadrone, joined live by drummer Gareth Averill and not to be confused by a “modern hard rock” band of the same name from Massachusetts.

I was very excited to see what this one-man band had to offer, given that my introduction to him was via the haunting ‘Invitation’ from his latest album ‘Oracle’ (watch it below). This is the kind of music I love: so many layers and textures, yet holding it all together is an underlying dance beat. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe more beats, more atmosphere? As I stood in front of him, I wondered if Carrie would have been more appropriate to cover his set here, as I was surprised at the more singer/songwriter-y vibe I was getting as he stood onstage playing his guitar, only occasionally messing with his pre-programmed setup. Or maybe it was just too early in the evening and I hadn’t gotten into my groove yet. As O’Connor’s set went on, the energy level increased, but I felt an opportunity to truly inspire the audience had been lost.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/136193953[/vimeo]

Young Hampshire lass Rosie Carney, now calling County Donegal home, shimmered in an unearthly way under the Gibson Room stage lights, looking like a rosy (no pun intended) apparition. Onstage with nothing else but her acoustic guitar, she looked vulnerable, all alone. She has a pretty enough voice and her songs are good, having a gentle fragility, but something I thought that was validated and echoed by other friends who had seen her that week was that she had a pretty dour attitude through her appearances during the week. I don’t know if she herself felt sullen or just shy, but it gave her performance an unsettling, stifling air that may have been appropriate to match the sombre mood of honouring Viola Beach’s memory, but it left me cold.

Rosie Carney at the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, Wednesday at SXSW 2016

 

SXSW 2016: Wednesday night at the first half of BBC Introducing and second half of Ground Control Touring showcases – 16th March 2016

 
By on Thursday, 31st March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Wednesday night of SXSW 2016 turned out to be quite a busy one, with no shortage of interesting showcases to choose from, including stages hosted by Music from Ireland, Austin record label Modern Outsider, Paradigm Talent Agency, Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union Records, Dine Alone Records, and Communion Music, just to name a few. Mary and I had conferred at length about how to use our time most wisely, and it transpired that I spent my Wednesday evening at two venues, our beloved British Music Embassy for the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music Foundation showcase, and the Sidewinder (formerly Red Eyed Fly), a new-to-me location playing host to the Ground Control Touring stage.

BBC 6 Music presenter and indie artist champion Steve Lamacq was left with the rather daunting task of leading into the BBC Introducing showcase with a tribute to Warrington indie pop band Viola Beach, who were tragically killed in an automobile accident while touring in Sweden in February. Viola Beach had been scheduled to play the BBC Introducing stage on this Wednesday night; instead, Lamacq opened with a very brief eulogy emphasising the band’s promise and potential.

Lamacq closed his remarks with possibly the most appropriate commentary he could have made, reminding us that it’s not too late to listen to the brilliant music Viola Beach made before their untimely passing, and that our finest tribute to the band would be in doing so. Following Lamacq’s short speech, we were treated to a skillfully crafted video montage featuring live clips of Viola Beach, including their November 2015 studio session at Maida Vale, which you can view in part just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/LrhRlCf_NJM[/youtube]

The night’s first live set was then left to up-and-coming singer/songwriter Isaac Gracie, who was introduced to the British Music Embassy stage by BBC Radio 1 presenter Huw Stephens. Gracie took advantage of his audience’s somewhat sombre mood, opening his set with an as-yet-unreleased song called ‘Down and Out’ before proceeding into the heartfelt ‘Terrified’. He saved his more upbeat tracks for the end of his brief set list, in particular ’Running on Empty’ and ‘Last Words’, which I had the chance to discuss with him in this brief interview before he hurried off to his next engagement.

Isaac Gracie at British Music Embassy Latitude 30 SXSW 2016

Next on the docket, BBC Radio 2 host Jo Whiley shepherded the youthful and somewhat shy singer/songwriter Billie Marten, who played a lovely handful of songs and impressed me with the sweetness of her singing voice and her delicate touch on the guitar, despite having to work through a bit of a battle with her own nerves. Marten played tracks from her 2014 EP ‘Ribbon’ before switching to last November’s EP release ‘As Long As’, which includes the female-centric track ‘Bird’ and the eponymous title track. Steeling her nerve, she also played a remarkably effective cover of Royal Blood‘s ‘Out of the Black’ before diving into two new tracks, ‘Milk & Honey’ and ‘La Lune’.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/iJx8dGYbGBc[/youtube]

After Billie Marten’s set, Mary and I swapped places, as she came over to the British Music Embassy for the end of the BBC Introducing show, which would feature Sheffield indie pop quartet The Sherlocks, Oxford songstress Frances and Welsh punks ESTRONS. Meanwhile, I headed down East 7th Street to the Sidewinder to catch three American bands on the Ground Control Touring showcase.

Your Friend at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

I arrived just in time to catch the end of avant-experimental act Your Friend, who I wrote about in my preview of the Savannah Stopover Festival back in December of last year. Your Friend, aka Taryn Miller, hails from Lawrence, Kansas and released her debut LP ‘Gumption’ in January on Domino Records. Miller was accompanied on the small and dimly lit Sidewinder stage by a full band, notably including a flautist, who helped her to realise the drones, loops and thick textures of the songs on the album.

Big Thief at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

Following Your Friend was a band I’d seen before in Phoenix, Brooklyn-based quartet Big Thief. Led by frontwoman Adrianne Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek, the band played almost exactly the same set I’d heard from them on that previous occasion, when they had opened for fellow Brooklynites Here We Go Magic. Lenker hadn’t been particularly chatty with her audience on that evening at Phoenix’s Valley Bar, concentrating her energy instead on the songs, but on this night at the Sidewinder, she was even more subdued, playing through the set in a pair of large headphones. As I found out later, Lenker had burst an eardrum just before playing the aforementioned Savannah Stopover festival prior to SXSW. Despite the obvious difficulty, Lenker and company made it through their set without any major problems, and their latest singles ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Real Love’ were among the highlights of the night.

The final act of the evening on the Sidewinder stage was the much-hyped, Chicago-based indie pop band Whitney, who had come up in conversation earlier in the day during my interview with singer/songwriter Roo Panes. Despite their billing as a duo comprising Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek (both formerly of the Smith Westerns), Whitney somehow managed to cram no less than six band members onto the Sidewinder stage, with Ehrlich’s drum kit shoved to the front so he could double as drummer and lead singer.

Whitney at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

This might normally have been an engaging setup, but on this particular occasion it opened Ehrlich up to a bevy of proffered beverages from the female audience members at the front of the stage, and he appeared to have had plenty to drink already. Not that the band weren’t tight on stage – guitarist Kakacek seemed especially sharp – but they trudged through their 1 AM set in a rather uninspired manner, and I have to admit that to my own ear the songs were largely indistinguishable from one another. Nevertheless, the crowd inside the Sidewinder were eager to hear them, grooving along from the first notes of the set through to the final strains of Wednesday night.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2016: BBC Introducing and PRS for Music Foundation’s SXSW 2016 showcase, 16th March 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 9th February 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: The band Viola Beach and their manager Craig Tarry were killed in a fatal car crash is Sweden on the evening of Saturday, the 13th of February. Our deepest condolences are with their families. Read Communion Records’ statement on their passing here. They will also be eulogised at a special tribute on the night of this showcase in Austin.

What has now become an annual highlight of the week at SXSW is the BBC Introducing and PRS for Music Foundation’s evening showcase at Latitude 30, the home of the British Music Embassy in Austin during the event. Last week, Steve Lamacq announced the six artists that will be gracing the BME’s stage the night of Wednesday the 16th of March, and we can’t wait to introduce them to you. Impressively, nearly every region of the UK is well represented on this list, except for Northern Ireland (which will be putting on their own afternoon showcase on St. Patrick’s Day, when else?) and Scotland (who we hope will have their own showcase as well).

Hailing from the North East of England, Billie Marten is a young female singer/songwriter from Ripon, North Yorkshire. Even 2 years ago when she still sported braces on her teeth, her musical talent was picked up by Burberry Acoustic. Fast forward 2 years, and the young Marten’s delicate, yet smoky vocals have further matured; check out her evocative single ‘Bird’ below. With over 13,000 Facebook likes even before setting foot in America, something tells us mainstream success is just around the corner for this lass.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smX6xCPDbrE[/youtube]

With a name sounding like they should be a variant of Transformers than a band, Cardiff-based quartet ESTRONS will be representing Wales at the BBC Introducing night. It’s no surprise their fresh and frenetic music has already received backing from BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens and Annie Mac. Fronted by Canadian-Swede Taliesyn Kallström who appear to be channelling the spirit of riot grrls like Siouxsie, Courtney Love and MayKay of Fight Like Apes for her vocal delivery, they’ll definitely be bringing unbridled energy to the evening.

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

If it hasn’t happened already, Newbury, Berkshire born singer/songwriter Frances will be on the lips of the world’s music pundits before the month is out. Despite having only one EP to her name – ‘Grow’, released last summer via Communion Records – she’s already nominated for a BRIT, the 2016 Critic’s Choice Award. She’s been compared to Florence Welch and Ellie Goulding, but except for the ginger colour of her hair and the length of it, I don’t see much of a comparison. Frances is her own woman.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5X5ZUvq5XY[/youtube]

Isaac Gracie first gained prominence on BBC Introducing Norfolk, but it appears he’s decamped now to the West London area of Ealing. He’s already sold out a who in London, garnered attention from NME, and been anointed with a Zane Lowe World Record on Beats 1. For brokenhearted fans of the late Jeff Buckley, to devotees of Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, you’ll definitely take to Gracie’s style of rough, dusty, contemplative songwriting, as exemplified in his track ‘Last Words’.

Lammo loves the Crookes. A lot. So I was gobsmacked he’d found another Sheffield band to put his weight behind. The lucky recipients? The Sherlocks, who our own Rebecca has been aware of since her schooldays some years ago in South Yorkshire when they first started knocking around the Steel City. More like the Arctic Monkeys when they began than the Monkeys sound these days, their sound is one of brash guitars and cool rock ‘n’ roll. Have a listen to their debut single ‘Live for the Moment’.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4GW14_Sodk[/youtube]

Staying in the North but heading due west, we reach Warrington, whose most famous musical son up to this point has been Ian Brown of the Stone Roses. This is all about to change when Viola Beach will bring their sunny and terribly infectious indie pop / rock to the BBC Introducing night in Austin. Will they follow in the footsteps of BBC Introducing 2015 night alums Blossoms to bring acclaim to another town outside of Manchester? Definitely. ‘Get to Dancing’ below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyP0DvEwrh8[/youtube]

 
 
 

About Us

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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