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SXSW 2016: TuneIn Sessions, plus highlights and lowlights from Thursday evening – 17th March 2016

 
By on Wednesday, 6th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

Thursday evening began promising enough, with a fantastic set by The Big Pink at Easy Tiger Patio, which had been transformed into the TuneIn Sessions venue during SXSW 2016. I hadn’t been back to Easy Tiger since my first year of SX in 2012, and I definitely didn’t recall the kind of extensive queues I witnessed this year.

With the Big Pink, however, I would stay for the entirety of the set I actually could see in front of my face, as was very eager to see what was up Robbie Furze’s sleeve. Or rather his always heavily tattooed arm, and now that founding member Milo Cordell has left. Cordell has been replaced admirably and ably, it turns out, by Mary Charteris on keys and backing vocals. I was impressed with the way recent single ‘Hightimes’ sounded live: it’s a nice and welcome evolution from the Big Pink’s first album, 2009’s ‘A Brief History of Love’. It’s also, in a way, a return to their former glory after the less successful ‘Future This’ in 2012, in which the duo had worked with producer Paul Epworth and their attempt at shinier electropop never really got off the ground.

The Big Pink at TuneIn Sessions at Easy Tiger Patio, Thursday at SXSW 2016

I loved The Big Pink’s first album and while single ‘Dominos’ was a given for the set list, I couldn’t believe my luck when ‘Too Young to Love’ was included in the mix. More synth-heavy goodness with a good dose was delivered via songs off the newly released ‘Empire Underground’ EP, out now on B3SCI Records. Of these, ‘Beautiful Criminal’ came out swinging, sounding fresh.

Despite them being American and myself being such a massive fan of electropop, I’ve never managed to see YACHT live. I’ve always been thwarted somehow in seeing them live in DC, so I made a point to stick around at Easy Tiger to finally witness them live to rectify the situation. Whoa. Frontwoman Claire L. Evans, who like me is a science boffin writer type in her ‘normal’ life, is the kind of person one would say was made for the stage.

YACHT at TuneIn Sessions Thursday at Easy Tiger Patio, SXSW 2016

Her camp demeanour, funny faces and gesturing make it clear she was born to be an entertainer, and she serves as a perfect foil to YACHT founder Jona Bechtolt, who is otherwise confined to his table of synths and keys when he’s not jumping up and down and generally being a badass in a Bernie Sanders baseball cap. While I enjoyed the music, I decided halfway through their set that the dramatic and highly sexualised flair employed by Evans, particularly on ‘Ringtone’ and ‘I Wanna F*ck You ‘Til I’m Dead’ (ya, really) would be better enjoyed by someone outside waiting in the queue. Maybe I’ll see you round at a science expo, Claire?

I had a couple of options on tap for the rest of the evening and oddly only really wanted to see one band on the British Music Embassy lineup for PIAS / AIM, FEWS from Sweden (yes, not a UK band, I don’t get that either). Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy them anywhere as much as I had hoped, after listening to ‘The Zoo’ and thinking I was hooked.

Maybe I was stood in the wrong place, or maybe the mix wasn’t quite right, but that would have been surprising at the British Music Embassy, where the sound is usually peerless. However, everything was simply loud and I couldn’t distinguish a melody. I used to think Temples were bad for this kind of music, but at least there was a guitar hook I could latch on to and appreciate.

Disappointed, I left early to find something else. I realised soon enough that I couldn’t walk across from one side of 6th Street to the other like we always had in the past, getting stuck in a crush of bodies going west. As a pretty small woman with claustrophobia, it’s not the greatest of places to find oneself in. I finally decided to stop inside Friends. Inside, a loud and raucous crowd of Canadians (I’m guessing?) were cheering to The Mariachi Ghost: yes, an actual mariachi-themed band living in the Great White North. I feel bad that after all these years, I’ve never had much time to give to the Canadians, whether it be M for Montreal or BreakOut West, the host for this evening’s lineup of talent from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. When I’m able to clone myself, I’ll let you know.

The Mariachi Ghost describe themselves as “a unique musical fusion of Mexican folk music, progressive rock, spaghetti-western soundtracks, and jazz”. Which is a lot. The band came out of frontman Jorge Requena’s attempt at writing a graphic novel, with the songs based on stories and ideas that first took flight as part of this writing effort. Beyond the many Latino members you’re expecting as part of a mariachi band, this mariachi band also perform with Day of the Dead-esque skull makeup on their faces and with an interpretative dancer bandmate. This evening, she was festooned with flowers in her hair and used a red scarf to great effect, as a visual representation of the music being played, as well as engaging directly with the audience, including one particularly memorable trance-like moment with tango moves with a punter.

The Mariachi Ghost at BreakOut West showcase, Friends, Thursday at SXSW 2016

The audience rightly ate up this hybrid of gig and ballet theatre, and I bet you there was nothing else quite like it all week in Austin. Requena, clearly buoyed by how positively the audience members were responding, was in near tears at the end of their set, saying how wonderful everyone had been to them all week in Austin and how welcome they’d felt as a band so far from home. His final words before their last song was his pronouncement that he’d been getting a tattoo the next morning to commemorate their great time at SXSW. The whole experience was an excellent reminder of how much SX means to musicians, and we ALL should be reminded that while money may be the means of getting to Austin, it’s the actual experience of playing to an international crowd, among so many other bands getting the opportunity to do the same exact thing, that makes SXSW the experience unequaled anywhere else or by any other event in the world.

It was too bad that I only caught part of their set, as it was over too quick and I then I needed to find someone else to see. After being less than wowed by Polica on Monday afternoon at the Onion / AV Club party at Barracuda, I didn’t fancy queueing to get into the Parish to see them, although I was curious to ex-Smith Westerns member Cullen Omori’s new project directly after. He would be followed by Sydney’s DMA’s, who I’d seen on the Radio Day stage at the convention centre earlier, and I figured I’d see the same set, so I chose by venue instead.

Working my way further west, I ‘treated’ myself to a visit to the all-too-posh Driskill Hotel, with the intention of seeing Dion, of ‘Runaround Sue’ and ‘The Wanderer’ fame. Having grown up with parents who listened to either classical or ‘50s and ‘60s oldies music, Dion was a huge fixture in my childhood, and I remember all the words. Dion (surname DiMucci) was in town to do a q&a earlier in the day and this showcase, both to promote ‘New York is My Home’, a new blues studio album.

Dion at the Victoria Room at the Driskill Hotel, Thursday at SXSW 2016

As you might expect, the average age of the audience members in the Victoria Room for his appearance exceeded my own by a hefty bit. There was even an older gentleman who jostled me out of place so he could place a recorder on the surface of a speaker near the stage. Cheeky bugger! Dion is the kind of celebrated musician who would be able to keep telling stories all day and to be honest, I found the anecdotes he shared with us more genuine and heartfelt that his actual songs. More power to him that he’s still rocking it in his 70s. Let’s hope we’re all as creative and engaging as him when we reach those golden years.

And now we reach the part of my evening that didn’t go so well. Smartly (or so I thought), I asked a staff member at the hotel on another exit to the hotel, so I didn’t have to go back into the melee on 6th Street. I had every intention of seeing Brighton synthpop group Fickle Friends at the Sidewinder, then returning to the British Music Embassy to give Liverpool slackers Hooton Tennis Club, who I’d seen at the Great Escape 2015, another go. This never happened, because a man walked into me and on purpose on the corner of E. 7th Street and Trinity. I feel sure it happened on purpose, as there was no crowd on the corner (so there was no reason for him to walk into me) and I purposefully walked in the opposite direction of him coming towards me, but he changed course and charged. The next thing I knew, I was on the sidewalk, I was in pain, and my elbow was bleeding. The man ran across the street and was gone.

Some 20-something were kind enough to help me up and ask me if I needed to go to hospital, but I have been to too many in my life and I was not going to get stuck in A&E on a Thursday night in Austin. I said no and went off to find first aid, still shaking. This was when I learned that neither the police or EMS on the beat for SXSW have first aid kits (meaning they don’t carry antiseptic, sterile gauze or plasters), which you’d think would be a simple thing for all these protective personnel to have. I was and am still beyond shocked that these things that every parent would carry in his/her car for basic first aid for their children were nowhere to be found when I was sat on a curb with blood coming out of my arm. I’ve seen EMS cart off revelers with broken limbs, so maybe if I had broken my leg and couldn’t walk, maybe they’d done something. I got an ice pack, which is I guess is better than nothing.

I note my experience as a safety message that you really need to look out for your friends during SXSW, because I’m not sure what I would have done if Carrie could not come to collect me. I certainly shouldn’t have been driving with a bleeding elbow. It’s an unfortunate, scary and not entirely random event that sadly clouded the rest of my SXSW experience and makes me fear for my safety in future years.

For more of my photos from my Thursday at SXSW 2016 when I wasn’t dealing with a stupid emergency, visit my Flickr.

 

SXSW 2015: Blackjack London and Association of Independent Music showcase at Latitude 30 (Friday night part 2) – 20th March 2015

 
By on Wednesday, 1st April 2015 at 4:00 pm
 

The first half of my Friday evening at SXSW 2015 is here.

That somewhere else was back at Latitude 30 for the British Music Embassy’s Friday night sponsored by Blackjack London and the Association of Independent Music (AIM). I arrived just in time to see the second half of Only Real‘s set, which was clearly already causing havoc. Good havoc, I’m quick to point out. It was still raining outside, but as soon as I’d put down my brolly to take my camera out, an Only Real reveler grabbed it and was sashaying down the front like out of a scene from Singing in the Rain, before he grabbed my hand, twirling me around a couple times. I burst out laughing. This turned out to be one of the most surprisingly fun sets I watched all week. Listen to ‘Yesterdays’ off his new debut album ‘Jerk at the End of the Line’ released this week, and just go with it. You’ll thank me later.

Only Real at Blackjack London AIM showcase at SXSW 2015

After the set, I asked one of the photographers, “is everyone in here drunk or stoned?” She said quite possibly both. Either way, it doesn’t matter: what came across was how well Niall Galvin’s unique hybrid of hip hop style lyrics about more carefree days and the washy, psychedelic guitars and accompanying instrumentation was going over with the Embassy crowd. I had been extremely sceptical when Martin first wrote about him in 2013, figuring this guy from South London couldn’t be really this weird and this happy-go-lucky. It must be an act…

Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. After he kindly paused for photos and chats with a whole slew of new fans he gained this night, I chatted with him briefly to set up a full interview on Saturday afternoon, and he is just about one of the loveliest musicians I’ve ever met: genuine, kind-hearted, positive and yes, real. We need more positive people like him not just in this business, but the whole world. Keep doing what you do, man.

East London grime artist Ghetts had to sadly cancel his appearance on this night, replaced by Stockport’s Blossoms, who played here Wednesday night as part of the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation showcase. They explained to me after that they’d be asked to stand in for Ghetts and were more than happy to get another SXSW gig under their belts. Watching the young band from greater Manchester a second time was nice, as I got to introduce their music as brand new to a girl who became a new fan. Always happy to facilitate!

Blossoms at Blackjack London AIM showcase at SXSW 2015

As the notes of the scorching ‘Blow’, the band’s first-ever single that was released in 2014, fed into my mind a second time, I sensed something very special. Whiffs of brilliance reminiscent of great ’60s psychedelic bands, along with the pop sensibility of their local legends Oasis in the choruses, are what make this band great. If they can keep this level of melody and songwriting up, their debut album is sure to be a hit.

Following Blossoms were Boxed In, an electro rock/pop band led by keyboardist / synth-playing Oli Bayston. I missed seeing him open for fellow Moshi Moshi labelmates Teleman on their UK tour in October. As his set unfolded, I was getting a distinct, eerie feeling of deja vu, like I’d known this music in another life. But I’d never seen them play before. How could this be possible? Hmm…

Boxed In at Blackjack London AIM showcase at SXSW 2015

When they trotted out ‘Mystery’, everything clicked and I had a eureka moment: the single has been played on 6music a lot as of late, so I knew all the words. Since I was a singer in my former life, I have the tendency to sing along – loudly – when I know the lyrics to a song, and when Bayston noticed this, he broke out a wide grin. I imagine he was thinking, “wow, an American knows my music!” The dancey vibe afforded by Only Real continued on into the Boxed In set, with Bayston’s band soundtracking an all out dance party to usher in the small hours of Saturday morning in Austin in British disco style with the driving rhythms of tracks like ‘Foot of the Hill’.

The electronic aspect of Boxed In served as a nice segue into the more intellectual style of electronic musician/producer Rival Consoles, who I’d seen play in the much smaller Plush Thursday night. The most intriguing difference in Ryan L. West’s show Friday night at Latitude 30 compared to the one at Plush: the backdrop was a dynamically generated visual show determined entirely by the user he set the task to, West explained to me in our chat Saturday. That means every single night, you’re going to get a completely different visual experience. How’s that for unexpected art?

Rival Consoles at Blackjack London AIM showcase at SXSW 2015

There is probably no greatest place for a British musical artist to play at during SXSW than Latitude 30, and West was completely caught up in the moment as he crafted his music for the evening. That’s one thing about electronic music I love: it can, conceivably, go on forever, morphing and evolving, with different pieces of equipment being called in play or put aside, depending the maker’s mood. With a stagehand telling West he only had a minute left to play, he ended his set on a buzzy high note.

 
 
 

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