SXSW 2014: Mary’s thoughts before the madness began and the Joy Formidable at Rocket Fuel Launch Pad party at Clive Bar – 10th March 2013

By on Tuesday, 18th March 2014 at 1:00 pm

This being my third SXSW, you have thought I’d have learned to appropriately pace myself. I did admirably well and it helped immensely that our Carrie was with me this time so I wasn’t being a complete mental case running from showcase to showcase. But writing this now a week after all the madness began, my body is still showing signs of wear and tear from everything that went on in Austin. I am happy to report that no major injuries were sustained, though one night Carrie’s skirted rear almost got impaled by a branch while we were walking around in the dark, and one morning walking into town, I almost lost a foot in an open manhole… Yes, we had a trying week. But we survived!

It was Carrie’s first SXSW so I helped her get her bearings around 6th Street and pointed out some major landmarks for navigation purposes. (TGTF pro tip #1: for your first SXSW, arrive at least a day early so you can get the lay of the land and can do some planning.) Then we settled in to a pint at B.D. Riley’s (mine was a Crispin’s, Carrie’s was a Smithwick’s), where we caught our first act of the festival, Josh Luckenbach, who was playing as part of an open mike night at the Irish pub I love so much. Probably most notable from his set was his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Badlands’, which at first I didn’t recognise as a Boss cover. It was an interesting choice, as it’s not really what comes to mind when you think of Bruce, but it was Luckenbach by himself, so he needed a track that worked on that level. Fancying himself like a young Bob Dylan with a free hand harmonica, he was a good act to ease into all that Austin had to offer us.

Monday has now become the traditional night that the Northern Irish get together at the British Music Embassy, and I invite you to come this way to read Carrie’s thoughts of the night. It’s always a wonderful thing for me to be able to say my hellos and how dos to my mates from the Emerald Isle and to be surrounded by so many lovely people. We watched the delightfully poppy Wonder Villains (spying a Dublin Vicar Street sticker on the front of lead singer Eimear Coyle’s bass) and the powerfully energetic Rams’ Pocket Radio tear it up on Latitude 30’s stage. Afterwards, Carrie chatted with both acts (here and here, respectively) and it was a lucky thing too that we were rained on when were outside doing the interviews, as our next stop was down on Davis Street, and it was during that walk that the water fell from the sky and we were two very soggy TGTFers by the time we reached Clive Bar. (TGTF pro tip #2: bring a rain hat, poncho or small umbrella with you. Preferably all three. I am so thankful I had a rain hat, as we had the misfortune of being stood under not one, but two awnings at Clive Bar once we arrived.)

Rocket Fuel Inc., “the only programmatic media buying platform” out of Redwood City, California, were hosting a special interactive party there dubbed the Rocket Fuel Launch Pad. (How very Jetsons.) After you’ve been a music writer for a while, you develop good connections, which came in handy so I could get on the guest list for the party. We were let into the rammed venue just in time for Carrie to have her first experience with the Joy Formidable, so I felt proud to have facilitated that. The Welsh rockers have been with me nearly as long as I’ve been writing, and I’ve been so proud of how far my friends have come since I saw them play to about 30 people at Black Cat Backstage in November 2010. Normally I’d try and make my way to the front to take photos, but this night, I decided it was better to hang back and being the shorty I am, we were stood up on a wood staircase so I could just make out Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd’s heads and the flying hair of drummer Matt Thomas.

What was more important to me was hearing them. Since releasing ‘The Big Roar’ in 2011 and ‘Wolf’s Law’ last year, the band’s star has done nothing but continue to rise, especially here in America. They came out swinging straight out the gate with ‘This Ladder is Ours’ and it’s something so amazing when you’re surrounded by fans of the same band, you’re all jumping up and down in excitement, and you’re all shouting the lyrics a song back at them. At the top of your lungs, I might add. (I was already getting the “you’re already hoarse!” comments by the time we rolled back into downtown on Tuesday morning. Oops.) That’s exactly what happened. This gig was probably the best thing that ever happened to the guy behind me. He kept going “oh my god!” and “this is my favourite song!” and that’s exactly what as a music editor you want to hear at a gig.

Being at this Joy Formidable show was also very special in that Ritzy announced it would be their last gig for quite some time, as they have plans to disappear to the studio to work out their third album. I got my riot grrl kicks from headbanging to ‘Cholla’, ‘Cradle’ and ‘Austere’, as you do. But I also wholly appreciated the beauty of ‘The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie’ (“Can you see that I’m good?”) and my all-time Joy Formidable favourite ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ “the greatest light, the greatest shade / it means that I can be happy for you, happy for you, happy for you”); I had no way of knowing that they both would be prescient to what was up ahead in the days to come.

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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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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