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SXSW 2016: Friday night at Empire Control Room, Vulcan Gas Company, St. David’s Episcopal Church and Mohawk Outdoor – 18th March 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 12th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

The Friday evening of SXSW 2016 was fraught with challenges, most of which involved the weather forecast. Rain clouds threatened late in the afternoon but didn’t erupt into thunderstorms until early evening, just as the night showcases were beginning in downtown Austin. Mary had initially planned to see shows at Stubb’s and the McDonald’s Loft that evening, but both outdoor venues postponed their start times due to thunder and lightning in the area, not to mention the actual rain. Fortunately, my own plan for the evening started at an indoor venue, the Empire Control Room, with teenage alt-pop up-and-comer Declan McKenna (pictured at top).

Lightning flashed in the skies over Austin as I walked to the Empire Control Room, but luckily I got there before it began to rain in earnest. I found a spot near the stage well before the show was set to begin, but I was surprised at how quickly the room filled with punters. It took me a few minutes to realise that the swelling crowd was due to the closure of Empire’s outdoor venue, the Garage. The Control Room quickly filled to capacity, and Mary was delayed in joining me after her shuffling of plans for the evening.

Declan McKenna's pedals, Friday at SXSW 2016

The stormy weather was quite lucky for McKenna, who played that evening to possibly a larger audience than he expected. There were a few diehard fans at the front of the stage who had heard McKenna play already in the course of the week, but his songs were largely new to me. I was immediately impressed by his stage presence and pleasant singing voice, but as his set progressed, I saw that McKenna was more than just a boy with a guitar and a gift for words. He played the large stage like a seasoned pro, deftly managing his guitar, keyboard and an array of foot pedal effects in a manner that reminded me very much of the first time I saw another teenaged pop sensation, Ed Sheeran, way back in 2012. If you haven’t yet heard Declan McKenna, keep your ears on the radio for his catchy hit single, the FIFA-inspired ‘Brazil’.

AirLands, Friday at SXSW 2016

After McKenna’s set, I headed back out into the rain for a quick walk to Vulcan Gas Company, which was hosting a series of showcases sponsored by music distribution platform TuneCore. I was due to interview Scottish rock band Holy Esque before their set on the TuneCore showcase later that evening, but I turned up early to scope out the venue and caught a couple of interesting acts in the process. Brooklyn-based indie artist AirLands (aka Kevin Calaba) was on stage when I arrived, playing stripped back versions of his atmospheric, orchestrally-arranged songs. I’m not an avid television fan, but I might not have recognized recent single ‘Love and Exhale’ without the elaborate ornamentation of the recording even if I had heard it when it was featured on The Vampire Diaries last year. The song has also garnered attention from Google Play and Spotify, and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t come across it already.

Strange Fiction, Friday at SXSW 2016

Following AirLands were two Austin-based acts, retro synth-pop band Strange Fiction and solo artist The Wealthy West. Strange Fiction’s five-member arrangement created a markedly fuller sound than either of the surrounding solo acts, and their onstage energy was infectious as they centered their set around catchy single ‘Memphis’. The Wealthy West was naturally a bit more subdued, as I might have expected from the solo side project of The Rocketboys‘ frontman Brandon Kinder. The Rocketboys were selected to showcase at SXSW this year as well, but Kinder’s acoustic set featured a handful of introspective, gospel-tinged country rock ballads that seemed to come from a more personal place than what I’ve previously heard from the full band.

Wealthy West, Friday at SXSW 2016

At that point, I had to step away from the stage to meet up with the members of Holy Esque, and after trying in vain to find a quiet spot for our scheduled interview, the five of us ended up stepping outside into the alley for a very quick chat, which you can hear here. The band had gotten stuck in traffic on the way to the venue and were due onstage in short order, but despite this minor stress, Holy Esque cranked up the volume on the Vulcan Gas Company stage with their massive synth-rock sound. As promised in the interview clip, the band filled their short set list with songs from their new album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, which was released just before SXSW and which had apparently garnered them at least one new fan. (You’ll see her in the second photo below, taken just before she was escorted from the stage.)

Holy Esque, Friday at SXSW 2016

Holy Esque, Friday at SXSW 2016

After Holy Esque’s set, I decided to take my chances on some of the unknown Special Guests listed on the SXSW schedule. Surprise slots were listed at several venues, including St. David’s Episcopal Church, which was hosting the always high quality Communion Music showcase. I arrived at the church too late to see Jake Bugg (sob!), but I got there in time to see another new-to-me artist, Australian singer/songwriter Ry X, who was playing just ahead of the scheduled Special Guest. His smooth neo-folk stylings and predominantly falsetto vocals struck me immediately as appealing to fans of James Vincent McMorrow and Bon Iver. You can listen for yourself in the recent video for ‘Only’, which will feature on Ry X’s upcoming album ‘Dawn’, due out on the 6th of May.

Ry X, Friday at SXSW 2016

In the interim after Ry X’s set, I found out from fellow audience members that the Special Guest on Communion’s showcase would be Liverpool singer/songwriter Låpsley, who I’d seen just the night before at Stubb’s. I recommended her to those who hadn’t already had the pleasure of hearing her sing, but I ultimately decided to test the waters elsewhere. I sent out a last minute tweet asking about the Special Guest on the docket at the Mohawk Outdoor and was pleasantly surprised to hear that it would be electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, who had won me over at Tucson’s Club Congress back in 2014. In retrospect, Sylvan Esso’s appearance shouldn’t have been a total surprise, as Mary and I had seen a glimpse of Nick Sanborn’s Made of Oak side project set on Monday at Barracuda.

Sylvan Esso, Friday at SXSW 2016

By this time the rain had stopped, and I hastily made my way to the Mohawk in hopes that I could still get in. Once again, luck was on my side, and while I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, I was excited to find a decent spot in the courtyard amongst a throng of fans who were already buzzing with the anticipation of hearing Sylvan Esso. The wildly popular duo had been conspicuously quiet in recent months, but much to my delight, they burst their bubble of silence at the Mohawk on Friday night with a handful of brand new, never-before-heard songs. While familiar numbers ‘Coffee’ and ‘Hey Mami’ were natural crowd favourites, the new tracks were were received with rapturous cheers and ecstatic dancing, not the least from yours truly, as I ended my rather arduous Friday night on a euphoric high.

Sylvan Esso, Friday at SXSW 2016

 

SXSW 2016 Interview: Holy Esque

 
By on Tuesday, 12th April 2016 at 1:00 pm
 

Scottish hard rock quartet Holy Esque marked their fourth consecutive appearance at SXSW this year, despite the fact that Creative Scotland didn’t sponsor an official showcase at SXSW 2016. I was excited to hear them play on the Friday night TuneCore showcase at Vulcan Gas Company, though as it turned out the stormy early evening weather (which editor Mary has already noted in her Friday night review) created complications for everyone involved. Holy Esque themselves were late arriving to the venue, as rain and slow traffic in downtown Austin had delayed their arrival. I had arrived in plenty of time myself, but I quickly found that Vulcan Gas Company wasn’t going to be an easy place to conduct an interview. There was no quiet corner to duck into, and the large crowd in attendance on the night were noisy with anticipation for acts later on the docket, including the night’s headliner Wyclef Jean.

In the end, when I did manage to meet up with the band and make introductions, we were left with no option but to step outside into the alley behind the club for our interview. Once outside, we had to dodge cars and golf carts driving through the alley, and at one point the ever vigilant security staff nearly locked us out, which would have been a problem as Holy Esque were very close to going on stage. In spite of all the confusion, the four band members were gracious enough to give a very brief interview highlighting their reasons for returning to Austin year after year, as well as making a brief mention of their heavy-hitting debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, which was released at the end of February via Beyond the Frequency and Believe Recordings.

Thanks to Matt for coordinating this interview.

Keep an eye on TGTF for my review of Holy Esque’s performance at Vulcan Gas Company, along with my other Friday night activities, which will post soon. In the meantime, you can see a few sneak preview photos from their set just below.

Holy Esque internal 3

Holy Esque internal 4

Holy Esque internal 5

Holy Esque internal 6

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2016: Scottish artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Wednesday, 9th March 2016 at 1:00 pm
 

SXSW 2016 is set to feature a wide array of musicians from Scotland, ranging from reggae (yes, reggae!) to hard rock, and covering almost everything in between. We’ve already introduced indie pop group The Spook School and punk-grunge duo WOMPS as our Bands to Watch #369 and #370. Read on for what else Scotland plans to bring to Austin this year…

Synth rockers Holy Esque (pictured at top) are on the SXSW lineup again, for what will be their fourth consecutive year. They made their first appearance in 2013 on the strength of their self-titled debut EP. This year, they head across the pond with a full LP, ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. In addition to their SXSW showcases, Holy Esque are planning a full UK tour in support of ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, including a scheduled appearance at The Great Escape festival in Brighton in May. You can find our previous coverage of Holy Esque, including SXSW shows from 2014 and 2015, right here.

Pop singer/songwriter KLOE will make her first appearance at SXSW this spring after signing to Los Angeles record label IAMSOUND, who have hosted the likes of Florence + the Machine and Charli XCX. The slow, sultry dance beat and slick production of KLOE’s current single ‘Touch’ will immediately appeal to Ellie Goulding fans, who might hear a certain similarity in KLOE’s vocal delivery.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/DbUZ2hhnBkk[/youtube]

Dundee alt-rock five-piece The Mirror Trap are so excited for their trip to Austin this spring that they chose to premiere their track ‘New Trance’ in conjunction with their SXSW Showcasing Artist announcement. Describing themselves as “Unsigned. Majorly.”, the band self-released their album ‘Stay Young’ in February 2014 and an EP called ‘Silent Men’ a year later. If you’re new to The Mirror Trap, you can have a listen to the title track from that EP just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/MXmAaSBY8dM[/youtube]

Mungo’s Hi Fi are described in their SXSW artist profile as “a reggae soundsystem from Glasgow”. They have been together over 10 years, touring in the UK and throughout Europe, as well as establishing their own dedicated label, Scotch Bonnet Records. They count among their influences both traditional Jamaican music and British dance tracks.

Post-grunge trio Pinact bring their fuzzed-out guitar melodies to Austin ahead of their April headline dates in the UK. They recently premiered the following new video for ‘Up and Down’, taken from their debut LP ‘Stand Still and Rot’, which was released last spring on Kanine Records.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/aSfC_9HrhxQ[/youtube]

Electro musician and producer Graeme Clark released his own debut album in 2015, under the moniker The Revenge. ‘Love That Will Not Wait’ came out last year on Clark’s label Roar Groove, and he is expected to follow it with not one but two new EPs in 2016. You can sample his SXSW featured track ‘Just One Touch’ just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/4snQj4qKJvg[/youtube]

Punk trio Baby Strange, indie rockers Washington Irving and dance pop group WHITE appear to have cancelled their trips to Austin this year. Announced as showcasing artists early in the process, none of the three bands are listed on the official SXSW schedule as of this writing. Filling the gaps are two late additions to the SXSW docket, electronic duo The Blessings and DJ Eclair Fifi. Comprising Dominic Flannigan and Martyn Flyn, The Blessings run their own record label called Lucky Me. Eclair Fifi is the nom de plume of Clair Stirling, who is a visual artist and fashion designer as well as a regular contributor to Lucky Me projects.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2016 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook and official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2025: Holy Esque

 
By on Friday, 26th February 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Today is a special day for Scottish band Holy Esque: it’s the release day of their long-awaited debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, which is now available from Believe Recordings. (If you’d like to read my review of the LP, go here.) To add more to the excitement, in just over a fortnight, the foursome will be in Austin for SXSW. As this isn’t their first rodeo, I asked their frontman Pat Hynes to answer a special SXSW 2016-themed set of Quickfire Questions for us; his answers posted back on Wednesday here.

But you’ve come here for a video, and a video you shall get. ‘Tear’, off the new album, is given a gorgeous treatment that goes from black and white dreams to colour reality, then back to black and white again. Its almost deafening wall of sound can speak for itself, so the simplistic treatment they’ve gone for was a good choice. Watch the video for ‘Tear’ below. To gear up for their appearances in Austin, you can read all of our past coverage of Holy Esque through here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ISPFpB7KyI[/youtube]

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Quickfire Questions #97: Pat Hynes of Holy Esque

 
By on Wednesday, 24th February 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Ahead of SXSW in Austin in mid-March, just as we have in the past 2 years of our preview coverage of the big dance, we’ll be bringing you showcasing artists’ answers to a special SXSW 2016 flavoured set of Quickfire Questions. In the first of these, Pat Hynes, the frontman of Scottish band Holy Esque and the owner of a quite unique set of vocal pipes, gives us some insight on his musical upbringing, including a seminal punk band he was introduced to through his father and surprising choices for the songs he wishes he’d written. Holy Esque will be releasing their debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’ on Friday on Believe Recordings. You can read my review of the long player here.

I chose to start this year’s Quickfire Questions with a member of a band who have already been subjected to and survived the annual March music madness as SXSW, but as you will read on in the next few weeks of these, SX is not old hat to everyone. So let the games begin…

Describe your music / sound in three words. (We know, tricky…)
Melodic. Innovative. Thunderous.

What are you most looking forward to doing while you’re in Austin?
Sharing our debut album in all its glory, live to new people in new places. Aside from that, there’s so much to do in Austin. This will be our fourth year attending SXSW so we know what to expect. To be honest, more than anything we’ll be sitting back and enjoying the moment.

Of the bands who have already been announced, do you have any that are must-sees on your schedule? If yes, who are they and why?
In the past, we’ve always looked at the list and found artists we’d like to check out but once you get there you really get caught in the whirlwind of SX. I’m sure there would be countless acts I could dig into and go to see but I think one of the best parts of SXSW is being able to roam the city freely and stumble onto something new, unexpected and ultimately enjoyable!

Name something you’re packing in your suitcase that we might find unusual. (You are welcome to elaborate.)
Thai moonshine. My dad recently returned to a trip from Thailand and gave me a bottle of this pure grain Thai alcohol. Keir and myself have had one experience on it before and it’s probably the last thing one should take to SX, but there is fun to be had and this stuff sure helps.

If we happen to run into you in a bar, we’d like to buy you a drink. What is your tipple of choice?
Guinness or rum. Most of us will drink anything, mind you! [Duly noted…::grin:: -Ed.]

What advice would you give other bands who have never played at SXSW before?

There’s nothing that can really prepare you for it. It really does consume you on arrival. Be prepared for madness, but on a serious note – know exactly where you’re playing, how you’re going to get there, how you’re going to get back and watch out for 6th Street!

Now, let’s get into our usual list of Quickfire Questions…

What song is your earliest musical memory?
When I was younger we stayed with my dad at the weekend. He’d always have music blaring in his car, so that was really my first introduction into real music and being in his company created the passion I have for it today, amongst other things. He is a massive fan of The Clash and one day played me a song called ‘Complete Control’. Nothing was the same!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TcKiC2yB0s[/youtube]

What song makes you laugh?
Mac DeMarco – ‘Salad Days’.

What song makes you cry?
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – ‘Open Invitation’.

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

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
Bon Iver – ‘Beth/Rest’. He did a live solo version of this song years ago now. It was recorded as part of an interview with World Café where he used a piano unplugged and nothing else. I’d recommend checking it out.

What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
I don’t have any negative memories like this associated with music I can recall. I’m sure there have been several distressed moments sound tracked by something but they’re not coming back to me, maybe for good reason. A song that I think might calm me down would be ‘Sad Waters’ by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

Which song (any song written in the last century / 100 years or so) do you wish you’d written yourself?
This list could probably go on forever but from the top of my head. ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast has got to be one of the greatest songs ever written and to contrast that, ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ by Roxy Music.

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

Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)
I always struggle with favourite questions as there is so much to choose from but some of the best thing’s I’ve ever read have been by Yeats, Ginsberg and to throw someone from music into the mix: Nick Cave is phenomenal.

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
I’d still be lost somewhere along the way.

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
I’d ask him why he only let me bring one and continue onto Hell with as many as I wish! If that doesn’t work out then it would either be ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division or ‘Howl’ by BRMC. Sometimes in life you stumble across music that truly speaks to you, in ways that can’t be conveyed through language. When you experience moments like this you know it and feel it within you. It resonates with some distant chord that you very rarely get to play or hear. Songs that you truly connect with. These are examples of these moments in my life and for that reason I’d take them with me.

Massive thanks to Pat for answering our Quickfire Questions!

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Holy Esque – At Hope’s Ravine

 
By on Thursday, 18th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Holy Esque At Hope's Ravine album coverA recurrent theme from the history of many a British band is the use of music as a means of escaping a dead-end town. In the case of Holy Esque, the overwhelming desire of band members Pat Hynes (lead vocals) and Keir Reid (keyboards) to leave the grey industrial confines of post-war created East Kilbride caused their flight to the cultural hub of Scotland. According to Hynes, “Growing up there wasn’t hugely inspiring, other than perhaps giving us this dying need to escape from a young age. It was a major mission to get out of there as quick as we could – and Glasgow was the nearest port of call.”

As that classic saying about Northerners goes, “you can take the boy out of the North, but you can’t take the North out of the boy”, the same can be said about Holy Esque and their music: despite having escaped their desolate corner of Lanarkshire, they haven’t lost the feelings that caused their flight out in the first place, on show in their debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. The LP’s title underlines its songs’ dramatic themes of alienation, darkness and what might be beyond the grey, seen through a hazy, sorrowful lens. It begins on a bombastic note with ‘Prism’, the sheer power of the guitars and drums seemingly desiring oblivion, while Hynes’ rough and tortured vocals try to keep up.

Like fellow Scottish band The Twilight Sad, they’re not shy to take on decidedly less sunny slices of real life. While James Graham put his vocals through its paces on 2009’s ‘I Became a Prostitute’, Holy Esque take on the same topic with album track ‘Doll House’, the second entry in an ongoing trilogy of songs about a streetwalker’s sad life story. (The first was 2012’s ‘Ladybird Love’, and the trilogy ends with recently premiered non-album single ‘Oslo’, which will be released on a limited edition 7” on the same day as the new album.) The haunting guitar line and the overall shoegaze effect are left just enough in the background to let Hynes’ voice to shine through, the sweetheart dance melody belying its true nature. The appropriately titled ‘St.’, swathed with religious imagery and swirly guitars, is explained by Hynes as it “portrays a character that loses everything around him through an actual fear of loss itself, which in turn, results in bitter tragedy.”

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

On the more upbeat tempo side of things, the older song ‘Silences’ is reminiscent of classic White Lies, the repeated lyric “worst than all this precious pain” confirming their ability to hide true emotion behind an accessible pop melody. So does their debut single from 4 years ago, ‘Rose’, with Hynes wailing, “god knows I’m cold / lying here with my rose”, while synth chords bounce away cheerfully. Self-destruction is the topic of ‘Hexx’, described on the album press release as “a bid for stadium filling greatness”, a claim that can’t be disputed by its driving drumbeat and the feel good guitars. Meanwhile, a tune like ‘Strange’ have that slightly off-centre post-punk quality made famous by Echo and the Bunnymen, while the shadowy synths of ‘Covenant (Ill)’ recalls less dancier moments of new wave giants New Order.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA736MpglOQ [/youtube]

One sticking point remains: how fond are you of Pat Hynes’ gruff, guttural voice? If you can get past it or indeed, enjoy it in combination with Holy Esque’s memorably piercing guitars and agreeable synth lines or are a post-punk fanatic, there’s a lot to like here in ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. Just don’t stand too close to the edge.

6.5/10

The debut album from Holy Esque, ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, will be released next Friday, the 26th of February, on Believe Recordings. The Glasgow-based band will be appearing as one of the Scottish band offerings next month at SXSW 2016. They also have live dates across the UK in March, April and May; have a read over their entire tour here. For more on Holy Esque on TGTF, head this way.

 
 
 

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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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