SXSW 2013 coverage
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! ~TGTF HQ x
Bands of the day: Goonam, Ilona, Night Engine
Venue of the day: Mello Mello
The previous two days of Liverpool Sound City 2013 had seen the music kick off around 6 PM, but as a special Saturday treat, the Korean delegation arranged a showcase at the Kazimier Gardens from the unearthly hour of 2 PM. As well as showcasing four of the country’s finest bands, there was a delicious and in-no-way-an-incentive-to-turn-up spread of native Korean food and drink. Marinated and barbecued pork, chicken and beef vyed for attention with the superb kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic. To wash it down was a unique cinnamon beverage with pine nuts floating in it, and for those that drink in the afternoon (me!), Korea’s version of dry sherry. All utterly delicious and free of charge. As if that wasn’t enough, there were goody bags packed with promotional materials and traditional Korean wave-in-one’s-face fans – not that they were much needed in breezy Liverpool. I’d like to think I would’ve turned up anyway, but who doesn’t find free food always seals the deal?
The music was just as memorable. First up were Galaxy Express, a hard rock power trio whose song titles come translated into English but they actually sing in Korean. No matter, it’s all about the energy with these guys; they know a thing or two about throwing shapes, slinging their vintage guitars all over the place, thrashing their way through their set at top speed. There’s a great deal of skill on offer – anyone remotely interested in rock music should give these guys a listen. Even though I haven’t a clue what they’re on about (a point which holds true for all four Korean bands, for obvious reasons), theirs is a fine, attention-grabbing set.
Goonam are brilliant. First of all, the music is just perfect for the laid-back vibe of the afternoon – the lazy rhythms and mock-Hammond organ recall early ’90s Acid Jazz output, the ideal accompaniment for swaying around in the weak early afternoon sunshine, knocking back Korean fortified wine. But the star of the show is the eccentric, perma-grinning bassist ByungHak Eem. Attired in a woman’s yellow-with-black-polka-dots blouse, heavy black shoes that are literally falling apart at the seams, and sporting a fine example of the classic Chinese emperor beard style, Eem’s presence lends the whole set a quite rare frisson of surreal excitement. His stilted explanation of how he came to play with lead singer Ung Joh is described in a charmingly naive accidental haiku:
We meet in karaoke
He sing well, I love him
We make band
There’s a deep vein of subtle, deadpan humour running through everything Goonam do, making it easy to get right behind them. Eem really is the star of the show, his beams lighting up the stage, his theatrical bass-as-machine-gun genuinely amusing. Memorable stuff.
Apollo 18 (pictured at top) are a bit more conventional – another hard rock trio, mostly instrumental this time, they don’t quite have the same amount of accessible personality as the previous two acts. What they do have is high levels of extremely intense noise, which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the chilled out Goonam. Not quite my cup of SuJeongGwa, but if shredding is your thing, Apollo 18 are worth checking out.
To wrap up the Korean invasion are Gate Flowers: possibly the most intriguing of all the acts today. They’re another guitar-rock band, but far more mainstream this time: a bit like a heavier Counting Crows, and at times the guitarist’s wah-wah technique adds a touch of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The songs are very competent, and the singer’s bizarre hand movements and “anti-singing” technique are captivating in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if they were British or American they wouldn’t particularly stand out as ones to watch.
After Gate Flowers finish their main set, the crowd are hungry for more, so they kick into a cover of ‘Paint It Black’, at which point the stage is invaded by members of the three previous bands, who proceed to plug in and jam along. As the stage becomes more crowded, things get messier, with singers sharing every available microphone, guitar solos played whilst hoisted on someone else’s shoulders, and our friend Hak standing on a speaker waving an empty sherry bottle and mugging for the multitude of video cameras surrounding him. A drunken outdoor Korean rock supergroup party jam – not something that you see every day.
In between sets of Korean music, I headed for a swift break to Mello Mello, the location of Thursday’s triumph from The Oreoh!s, and dispenser of the finest beer of the festival, a heavily-hopped American-style IPA. At 6% ABV this beer is a special treat, and no sooner had I tucked into my half, the realisation dawned that there was another special treat in the room. Ilona is a Bulgarian-born, London-based singer-songwriter, who stands out from the enormous crowd of similar hopefuls by being tremendous fun to watch and listen to. Being sparsely accompanied by mentor and co-writer Tony Moore is an advantage here, as it lets the natural character in Ilona’s voice shine through. And what a voice – sumptuous and sultry at low volume, powerful and beautifully-toned at normal range, with a buzz-saw intensity rasping through when the song demands it. As for the songs… recent release ‘Love is Stupid’ is clearly gunning for the Radio 2 crowd, but it may be a little too hackneyed even for that ultra-mainstream demographic – by the time the third chorus comes around, I’m switching off. And don’t get me started on the cheap video. Elsewhere, the set is jolly enough to hold the interest, but her Alannah Myles-style voice is crying out for something of the quality of Black Velvet (if she wants to stick with the pop-rock genre), or maybe, since she comes across as Marina Diamandis’ feisty younger sister, something quirky and electro. Either way, it has to be acknowledged that this is very early days for Ilona, and her collaborators are doing their best with limited means to promote her talents. A performer dripping with potential.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Willy Moon since reviewing his debut single “I Wanna Be Your Man” in our 10 for 2012 feature, and declaring, “If those dance moves translate well to a stage, he’ll be an unmissable prospect live.” However, the sad truth is that he turns out to be the greatest disappointment of the weekend. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 minutes late, in a roasting hot venue, making the crowd restless and perturbed before a note is played. And when Moon arrives, it becomes clear that his set consists of a handful of stunted backing tracks, overlaid with live drums and guitar, and his gyrating karaoke. More worryingly, he appears to have no personality whatsoever, struggling to string enough words together to thank the audience for sticking around in the equatorial heat, let alone provide a compelling reason why we all should have gathered here in the first place. The final straw is the deep streak of misogyny running through the performance – the two other musicians are women, with the drummer particularly scantily clad in a fishnet top, and he regularly gurns leeringly at them, sometimes mopping his sweat-caked brow on the guitarist’s shoulder. They must have the patience of saints. When the best thing about a music performance is the drummer’s jiggling breasts, you know something has gone seriously wrong, as evidenced by the room steadily emptying as the show progresses. Moon needs to completely rethink his stage show, get some proper songs, proper manners, and a proper personality, otherwise people will increasingly come to view him as a hollow charlatan.
Night Engine, despite only having released their début single (‘Seventeen’, on lovely limited edition red vinyl) just a couple of months ago, have already managed to conjure a reputation for being the next big thing. The Shipping Forecast is hot and humid, and technical problems delay the start of the gig; thus the atmosphere builds feverishly before even a note is played. But when the band finally kick off, it becomes apparent that Night Engine are good. Actually, make that very good indeed. This is sharp, elegant, guitar music with an irresistible, pristine groove from the exquisitely tight rhythm section, overlaid with splurges of fuzzy synth. Phil McDonnell is a disturbingly intense presence on vocals and lead guitar – his selection of glares and stares as the music ratchets up the drama simply add to the intensity of the performance. But it’s not all serious – there’s a gleeful joy in the grooves that prevents everything collapsing under the weight of its own portent. The obvious stylistic reference point is Bowie’s early-80s funk-influenced output; there’s elements of Chic in the clean stabs of electric guitar, and perhaps even Kraftwerk in the metronomic accuracy of the rhythms. But most of all, they simply sound like Night Engine, which for such a young act is an astonishing achievement.
And that, give or take a humdrum Delphic performance here, or the ubiquitous ukulele covers band there, is that. Liverpool Sound City is a world-class place to discover new music, new friends, and new beer. There’s talk of it becoming as important as SXSW on the international music scene, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. That said, SXSW is, by virtue of being on another continent, an event with a completely different promotional demographic, meaning Sound City is an event with few real competitors, despite several other regional music festivals happening around the same time. Add to the mix the superb venues and the warm welcome experienced by every visitor to Liverpool, and you have quite a fine event indeed, and one which deserves to go from strength to strength. See you there in 2014.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 16th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
Third day at Sound City 2013, and I was flagging. Martin made the perfect suggestion that we should check out the Korean bands day showcase, where there would also be free food and booze on offer. Besides, I’d not been to the Kazimier Gardens yet, which both him and John had waxed philosophical on their home brew and laid-back atmosphere. Afternoon sorted then. I didn’t photograph any of the bands, as we had Martin with us there, so check out his review of day 3 for those. What I mostly recall was that the atmosphere was loud, fun and just what you needed on a sunny Saturday afternoon. (This is where I should probably point out that while some of the evenings were chilly, not a drop of rain fell the entire weekend. So take that, Brighton!) After being plied with sufficient food and drink – and running into Delphic of all people in the barbecue line! – it was then off to see the next band.
Common Tongues are a folk pop band from Brighton. Folk pop may seem such a cliche these days but I can assure you that they are worth seeing for the beautiful harmonies alone. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to see a band who describes themselves on Facebook with the following: “Common Tongues are a Brighton based 5 piece that combine the belly fruit of Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys to tell compelling stories of their lives and loves. The band bring real gravitas to the folk scene with expansive instrumentation, cinematic arrangement and luscious 5-part harmony.” I’m always up for a bit of musical belly fruit. They just released an EP, ‘Tether and Twine’, which I’ve purchased to bring home with me to America, but if you fancy watching the band perform all the songs from the release, you can do so here. They will also be appearing at the Alternative Escape in Brighton on Thursday afternoon, so they are a band not to be missed.
There’s just not enough bands named with adjectives, I say. This is where the next band comes in. I returned to the Brink Saturday afternoon, as it was May the 4th Be With You Day and they were offering up a C3 PO Boy sandwich (a joke probably lost on most Brits but I totally got it, having had many a po’ boy in my time and having once visited New Orleans). Redolent, a very young band from Edinburgh, is one I came across in my Sound City preview research, on the strength of their guitar playing in the many acoustic videos they’ve put on their YouTube account. I don’t think their songwriting craft is fully formed yet, but on the basis of how good they are on their instruments, I can see them being the Two Door Cinema Club of Edinburgh soon enough. Just you watch.
Now is the time that I can reveal my shining stardom moment of the weekend. Shining stardom moment not in a “oh my god, I’ve met *insert band name here* and I can die happy now” way. No, as in “wow, I’ve made it!” While I speaking to the band members of Redolent after their set, I was approached soon after by Sid and Esme of the Oreohs, the young Halifax band who Martin had nothing but compliments for from the Thursday. “Are you Mary Chang? Do you run There Goes the Fear?” I was incredulous. And to be honest, pretty nervous and taken aback at having been identified. I am sure I was blushing. Sid explained that they had toured as support for the Crookes previously and she’d read my review of the Crookes’ ‘Bear’s Blood’ single and thought it was “absolutely amazing”. When you put your heart and soul into something, it is always heartwarming to hear that what you do is appreciated by someone else. It is also lovely to be reminded of good friends; even if you are hundreds of miles away from them, they will always be in your heart. I was absolutely beaming from this interaction.
I whinged initially at the lack of true dance bands at this year’s Sound City, so the salve of Dublin’s Last Days of 1984 at the Garage was more than welcome. Ever since Daft Punk made that pronouncement that they thought dance music was going in the wrong direction while they’d been away, I’ve been analysing and overanalysing what they perceive as going wrong in this genre. Charismatic frontman? Check. Mad beats? Check. Beautiful sonicscapes? Check. It’s a shame that more punters were out here earlier to catch them, but I thought they sounded fantastic, their music easily filling the cavernous Garage.
I won’t speak about Willy Moon in my review, as Martin photographed him. I tried to be a trooper and squeeze my way into the crowded floor where he was playing at the East Village Arts Club but it was just too hot and claustrophobic, so I had to leave to catch my breath. And sit down with a cider. Smile.
It just wouldn’t be Sound City for me if I didn’t see the Hummingbirds. The six man band are known for their incredibly melodic, skiffle-esque, early Beatles sound and it’s easy to see why they are fast favourites with locals young and old. I met them last year, after a considerable amount of time had passed since I had done a Bands to Watch on them. I’m a Liverpool FC supporter, and though my support for the club has been wavering with all this recent Suarez nonsense, it was with much appreciation that lead singer Jay Davies came out with a bright red club scarf around his neck with the word “Justice” emblazoned on it, laying it across an amp on the front of the stage, right in front of the band so everyone could see. Any true footy fan will never forget Hillsborough and especially for Liverpool fans, while that dreadful day will always stir up bad memories, it is also a reminder of the strength and solidarity of the city and its people coming together to demand justice for those whose lives were lost.
Maybe that is why ‘Back in Liverpool’ brings tears to my eyes when I hear it, and why I had that reaction Saturday night watching them play it. The song itself is about a man who’s wanting to have a serious conversation with a woman he was involved with, but he can’t do it until she returns to town because she’s left and gone away (to Cambridge, if you were wondering…I guess she went to uni?). In this overly social media-ed world, the fact that he’s not texting or WhatsApp-ing her is refreshing. “It’s not about me or you, or the things we used to do, like watching movies in the dark. All the places that we’d meet, all the scuffles under sheets that makes it hard to be apart. There’s things I’d like to say to you, when you’re back in Liverpool.” That is just about the most perfect chorus you could ever write, and I never could have predicted I would hear the song again later on that night.
The band will be releasing a new single ‘Emma’ in July, but that didn’t stop them from doing a raucous cover of ‘Day Tripper’ to pay homage to the Fabs. Check ‘em out if you haven’t already, you won’t be disappointed.
If you have been keeping up with the TGTF story since 2010, you will recall that Delphic‘s debut ‘Acolyte’ was my favourite album of 2010. Fast forward 3 years and they’ve released the follow-up, a r&b infused one called ‘Collections’, that neither John or I particularly liked. While I entirely understand the need to broaden your horizons and the desire not to stay in the same place musically, it was clearly evident at the Manchester quartet’s appearance Saturday night at the Arts Academy – now augmented live by a touring bass player, with singer James Cook now playing guitar instead – that the set suffered from the lack of cohesion between the two albums, and this was apparent to the punters as well. I’d seen Delphic several times in 2010 and every time I saw them I’d be surrounded by people who were singing along to the songs, and this just didn’t happen in Liverpool. I found myself not enjoying being pressed up against seriously pissed people down the front ended up extricating myself from the barrier to join John further back.
Starting with newer single ‘Baiya’ was a wise choice, as it is the song of theirs that’s gotten most airplay recently, but other tracks like ‘Freedom Found’ and ‘Atlas’ lumbered uncomfortably alongside the sheer pop goodness of ‘Doubt’ and the admirable ravey qualities of ‘Red Lights’. The pacing just wasn’t right; as soon as you thought the momentum was building in the set, a newer song would come into the mix and throw things off again. I don’t know if it was because they honestly had other bands to see or other places to go, but people would come into the venue for a couple songs, and then make a beeline to the door to leave. We stayed through the whole set, hoping for a build-up at the end, which didn’t come. Seeing them live confirmed to me my biggest worry for them, that in reinventing their sound, they managed to lose a good chunk of their fanbase who was into their electropop / rock sound they began with. Unfortunately, their new material is just not for me at all.
When we stumbled into the delegates bar at the Epstein Theatre at the end of the night to have a few celebratory brews that TGTF had come through the other side of Sound City, a local orchestra was playing in the main area and they ended their set with a splendid rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. John and Martin, knowing my team affiliation, both smiled and said, “it’s your song!” Grin. The orchestra was followed by Splintered Ukes, a 12-piece ukulele band. You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard a ukulele version of Radiohead‘s ‘Creep’. Haha. And they paid respect to fellow Liverpudlians the Hummingbirds by covering ‘Back in Liverpool’. What a fitting ending to our Liverpool Sound City. God and funds willing, we’ll see you all next year.
Header photo by TGTF Head Photographer Martin Sharman
Saturday’s frivolities at Sound City 2013 began at the naturally striking Kazimier Gardens, where the Korean day showcase was taking place. You can hear about and see great photos of the bands from Martin, but for one, the food and atmosphere was exactly what you wanted at around three in the afternoon, when your football team has just been mercilessly relegated from the Championship (yes, I’m bitter). That being that the booze was gently flowing, the sun was beating down on the exposed venue and everyone was in good cheer. Imagine the start of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Bilbo’s party, then make everyone grow by a foot and a half, and presto, you’ve got how the Kazimier Gardens looked. And no, Gandalf wasn’t there.
Fantasy whimsy aside, the first band of the day for me were Marmozets, a post-hardcore act who’ve been hotly tipped by Kerrang!, Front and everyone in between, so it was to no surprise that they’d proved a big draw at Liverpool’s O2 Academy. Their youthful vitality was a stark contrast to some of the dusty indie on show this weekend, and as frontwoman Becca Macintyre bounded and roared her way across the stage the wholesome, yet raw riffage on show from her conspiring band members brought a new level of chaos to proceedings. Their youthful charm came across articulately and the largely partisan crowd who were their primarily for headliners Enter Shikari had definitely found a new favourite band. Expect more than noise from this fivesome in the future. (9/10)
How else do you follow up a youthful post-hardcore act in a sweaty O2 Academy? With a Taiwanese rap-reggae outfit of course, called Matzka. Matzka drive a bulldozer of funky fresh sound through the language barrier, immediately encapsulating the aboriginal charm that their music draws from. The largely oriental audience sing along to every verse and chorus whilst those who unfortunately aren’t able to understand cheerily bop along to the more user-friendly call and repeat choruses.
The band strums on through a short set in The Attic, which has me (probably on my own on this one) thinking about tropical holidays and that film with Adam Sandler in where the girl keeps forgetting who he is. Its good honest. I think it’s called 50 First Dates! That’s the one and it’s set on a beautiful island which is where Matzka take you.
You’ve got a cocktail in one hand, and Matzka are playing in front of you as you leisurely recline on a deck chair with the midday sun beating down on you. Even in the middle of Liverpool that feeling was what I was awash with, and it most definitely was not the cider noodling with my brain… I think. (8/10)
From an almost samba weirdness to just plain weirdness was the move to see Delphic at the Arts Academy. The UK three-piece (pictured at top) opened with single ‘Baiya’ from their latest album ‘Collections’ and proceeded to dart from between their debut effort and their 2013 release in a set which felt a bit scatty if not laboured.
Even the seemingly safe bet of ‘Doubt’ falls flat in the Arts Academy; however, merit could be found as the set drew to a conclusion with a suitable buzz created by frontman James Cook as the set ended. (6/10)
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 30th January 2013 at 4:00 pm
Delphic released their second album, ‘Collections’, on Monday on Polydor. (John discusses the good and the bad of the album in his review here.) Late last week, the band released the video for another song from ‘Collections’. The visual for ‘Memeo’ is highly stylised with some fancy effects that make this different from the usual performance video. If it looks familiar, no, nothing’s wrong with your eyes or your memory; the video is awfully similar to the video they released last year on Halloween to drum up interest in the new release.
Delphic’s debut outing ‘Acolyte’ brought with it a wave of freshness that indie music was drastically in need of. Where pretenders like Hadouken! had attempted to go boldly, and failed with a screeching squelch, of pre-pubescent, dance-infused rock, Delphic had managed to fuse the two with an elegance that was unheard of. The record wasn’t perfect, but it had all the makings of a group of stars to be born.
Cliché alert: then comes the difficult second album, and what a difficult second album it has proved to be for the Manchester trio who stormed the scene with ‘Acolyte’. ‘Doubt’ was a standout track of 2010. You will find no such gems on ‘Collections’. Instead, you’ll find a well-produced, professional and entirely forgettable record. Merit can be gathered from the solid production at least, as the album comes together well. But as a ‘collection’ of songs, it ranges from the bizarrely clichéd and camp in the form of ‘Freedom Found’, to the unashamedly awful.
OK, this is turning nasty, let’s get some positives. I, unlike many, am a big fan of ‘Baiya’. It may just be my attraction to the kind of faux-confrontational tune that it is. I mean, the whispered “feel your fingers down my back” is just a bit creepy and a tad cringey, but the simplicity of the call and return of “all hell is breaking loose” has me a bit excited. Plus the video is genuinely a testament to the band’s creativity and is an example of the level of thought that has obviously gone into the production.
But back to the negative, and by that I mean third song ‘Changes’, which has me harping back to the sonic abomination that was Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne’s effort. It’s drenched with the kind of lyrical soppiness you’d expect from a certain Mr Murs, or even dare I say it, Senor Mars, while the jinking, squelching synths and piano reek of pretentiousness. It’s just upsetting to see a band, tipped in 2010 as on the BBC’s Sound of… stars, to be creating the kind of mainstream crawling drivel that this song is.
So far in 2013, bands like the innovative yet simple Bastille are leading the way with their dance-indie infusions, and Everything Everything are showing just how catchy and incisive the genre can be. This album sadly falls down as a failed attempt at some kind of commerciality, which is a real shame, as there is promise within the tragic bars of tunes like ‘Baiya’. It’s just a shame it’s surrounded by the drivel as in ‘Exotic’, a song which delves into the deep dark world of hip hop, stumbles, falls flat on its face and does a number on its nose. Yeah, it really does.
To conclude, there’s still promise there. Anyone who listened to the New Order-inspired debut can realise that there is talent there and the ideas are sound. It just seems that over the past 3 years, instead of hammering down their own specific sound, they hashed together whatever they could to make a commercially viable album. Which, sadly, has backfired to produce a mismatch of screeching, indie pop, which will be easily forgotten by casual listeners and lambasted by diehards.
Better luck next time, eh lads?
Delphic’s ‘Collections’ is out today on Polydor.
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