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Live Review: Mansionair with Beacon at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 20th March 2019

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo and photos of Mansionair and Beacon throughout article by guest photographer Patrick Ryan

On the first day of spring 2019, we had a visit from one of the brightest rising bands from Down Under. Jack Froggatt, Lachlan Bostock and Alex Nicholls, collectively known as the evocatively named Mansionair, were in the latter days of a North American headline tour, their first major one, which included a series of appearances at SXSW 2019. (Read my review of their appearance at Clive Bar Thursday afternoon at Next Level Apparel’s day showcase through this link.) The Sydney band’s previous visit to Washington was as part of the 2018 Sirius XM Advanced Placement Tour with NoMBE and Mikky Ekko last April. A few weeks later, they also appeared at the ATC Live showcase at Brighton Komedia Thursday night at The Great Escape 2018.

Joining Mansionair on their cross-country jaunt were Ghostly International’s Beacon, a electronic duo originally from and based in Brooklyn. They’ve been around for a while – their third album, ‘Gravity Pairs’, was released last November – but this is the first I’ve heard of them. What a coup to be touring with another band with a similar sonic palette. Don’t let looks fool you: Thomas Mullarney may have long hair that goes way past his shoulders and would be more appropriate for a hard rock or grunge band, his soulful vocals are intended to be gentle and completely complementary to the soundscapes he and Jacob Gossett have crafted.

Beacon, by Patrick M. Ryan

Live, they rely on programmed beats instead of a drummer but wonderfully, their live presence isn’t at all static or boring. What you witness is an energetic performance that hits the spot for electronic and pop fans alike. True, their chosen lighting scheme leaves a lot to be desired if you’re trying to photograph them. However, you could also argue that the dark, rave-like stage environment is intended to focus the punter’s attention squarely on the music. Check out their rhythmically beguiling Spotify hit ‘Bring You Back’ and the darker ‘IM U’.

Beacon, by Patrick M. Ryan

Mansionair signed to star maker American record label Glassnote Records in 2015, so to say that I have been impatiently waiting for a debut album would be an understatement. From this article from Australian outlet The Music, one can gather that the delays have been attributed the group’s tiring touring schedule but also not feeling confident in their songwriting ability. I’m glad they finally came up with a way forward that worked: holing themselves up in a secluded cabin in California, away from everyone else and their opinions, to hunker down and write the album that they were proud of. Their debut LP ‘Shadowboxer’, which dropped on Glassnote in February, is a 16-track collection of songs celebrating their past single successes, interspersed with fresh tunes that fit perfectly into their electropop aesthetic.

Jack Froggatt of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

In case you have somehow missed the genesis of Mansionair, let me bring you up to date. Bostock, the electronica pedant of the group, hooked up with Nicholls, a jazz drummer. Bostock met the then-folk singer/songwriter Froggatt at a music festival and invited him to contribute vocals to an electronic track that would become their 2016 single hit ‘Hold Me Down’. Froggatt’s vocals are incredibly effective in conveying emotion, whether it be through his sultry falsetto, bombastic power and everything in between. Combined with Bostock’s electronic, guitar and bass and Nicholls’ drumming contributions, what you end up with are dynamic, emotional, engaging songs never to be forgotten.

Lachlan Bostock of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

The greatest failing of most pop bands these days is the homogeneity of their songs. Enter ‘Falling’, a great example of what exactly you wouldn’t expect from 21st century electropop: a sweet, floating, major key ballad that thoughtfully considers the people who support us through our ups and downs and coming to terms with the trials we go through in life. On this night, Mansionair followed it with ‘Easier’, an older single that wowed me live at BIGSOUND 2017 in Brisbane. Booming with a syncopated melody, spurts of percussion and compressed synths, it’s a song that successfully translates the feeling of paralysis you feel when battling with what’s going on inside your head. Indeed, what ‘Shadowboxer’ does incredibly well is communicate the mental struggles with anxiety and insecurity we all go through and offer that sense of understanding to the listener that we aren’t suffering alone.

Lachlan Bostock and Alex Nicholls of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

On the new song side of things, ‘Harlem’ shows off the band’s penchant for film soundtracks. It’s a driving, beautiful soundscape that lets each band member shine, while the sum of its parts draw you into this world. ‘Best Behaviour’, which appeared as the penultimate track of their set, puts the electronic chords and vibrations front and centre and ahead of Froggatt’s sultry vocals. The result? You feel like you’re being enveloped, cocooned by the synths, while the song works towards its ending crescendo, any insecurities falling away. Through words, synths and rhythms, Mansionair create a world where your dreams and fears can be addressed and you know you’re not alone. When you come out of it, you come out stronger and know you’re gonna be okay. All my past coverage on Mansionair on TGTF is through here.

After the cut: Mansionair’s set list for the night.
Continue reading Live Review: Mansionair with Beacon at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 20th March 2019

 

SXSW 2019: the second half of Music From Ireland’s Full Irish Breakfast and two acts at the British Music Embassy – 15th March 2019 (Friday, part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

Changes are to coming to the the British Music Embassy in 2020 but as no news about them has been made public, you’ll have to wait until next year (hopefully not that long?) to hear about them. What has been great in the 8 years in a row I’ve attended SXSW is the close proximity of Latitude 30 to B.D. Riley’s Irish pub, which has played host to Music From Ireland’s annual full Irish breakfast day showcase. As long as there’s no queue to get into either place, you theoretically could see 8 or more bands in a span of less than 3 hours. I tested out this theory again Friday afternoon in Austin.

Following on from their energetic performance the night previous at Music From Ireland’s official evening showcase at the Velveeta Room, I was curious to see how whenyoung would fare when subjected to the sun streaming in from the open windows at B.D. Riley’s. Neither I nor the rest of the patrons at the Irish pub would be disappointed. And what better to enjoy emerging new Irish music than with a pint of Guinness?

whenyoung Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 1

‘Pretty Pure’ was emblazoned in red lipstick on the back of guitarist Niall Burns’ white jumpsuit at the Velveeta. The song itself begins with a bright guitar note sequence reminiscent of the Vaselines’ ‘Molly’s Lips’ before continuing on in fine pop fashion. Their debut 7” with Felix White of the Maccabees’ YALA! Records is an energetic wonderful first taster to anyone new to the Limerick band. Bassist Aoife Power’s lead vocals have the duality of sweetness and dynamism, an interesting juxtaposition against an instrumental backdrop of fun and strength. Another fast-paced track, ‘Given Up’, is a workout for the senses, drummer Andrew Flood in his eyeliner hitting his skins like this life depended on it.

I popped out after their set to check out Westerman at British Music Embassy. Sadly, the thoughtful, soft-singing London singer/songwriter whose first name is Will but goes by his surname was nowhere to be seen. His bandmate apologised that Westerman would be unable to perform. Based on this Facebook post, his SXSW appearances earlier in the week in Austin took it all out of him. Admirably, his bandmates soldiered on without him, one of them assuming lead vocal duties in his absence. Full marks there. I have to admit that I’m a purist and decided to duck back out, deciding I wanted to see him perform as nature intended in the future instead.

Returning to B.D. Riley’s, I finally corrected a mistake made at Canadian Music Week 2016. Because of the large distances between venues in Toronto and suffering from a bad cold while in Canada, I missed Dublin’s Fangclub when they performed at the Music From Ireland show at the Rivoli. In hindsight, I think this was destiny. Phwoar. It wasn’t until after I became a music blogger that I truly realised the blessing in disguise I received as a child. Growing up in the presence of a much older brother who schooled me in the music of Led Zeppelin, the Who, Pink Floyd and Megadeth gave me an education that went beyond the British Invasion basics I’d researched on my age on my own before the age of 10. Later on in life, he gifted me with his 5-string ESP bass. In the context of my hard rock upbringing, Fangclub were a 21st century revelation.

Fangclub Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 2

My favourite hard rock bands have always been those who can harness the sheer power of guitars and drums but direct them into a toe-tapping, headbangingly good time. Bonus points if the singer also sounds like he (or she) is shredding vocal chords. The blistering instrumental delivery of ‘Knife’, with Stephen King screaming “twist the knife” in the context of a romantic obsession…you had to have been there. As non sequitur this music was performed on a sunny, warm day in Austin, there is no denying the sheer testosterone-filled brawn of this band. Wipe your brow, son.

I hung around at the pub for a bit longer to catch part of Kojaque’s set. After only a few bars of verse, I knew I was out of my depth when it came to the Dublin rapper whose name is pronounced but not spelled like the famous detective played by Telly Savalas. I have trouble providing a useful review of the Irish hip-hop artist, joined onstage by a smiley musical friend and some lounge-y backing tracks. Having made a new friend with a music lover from Newcastle, we agreed that this kind of music wasn’t made for people our age. Kevin Smith, I know you’ve got loads of adoring fans your age or younger and you must be extremely talented in both music and the visual arts. Sorry, this just isn’t for me.

https://flic.kr/p/2fhZz2C]Kojaque Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 1

I must have been in the 0.1% of the music-loving world who had never seen Fontaines D.C. live up to this point. I’d been poked and prodded by friends for weeks leading up to SXSW, well-meaning friends who implored me to see them live. I’m no dummy. Music editors hear all the hype and unfortunately for hyped bands, unless I’ve heard about you independently of said hype, I am probably going to come to your show with a jaundiced editor’s ear. If you know me at all, you know I prefer to fight for the underdogs, the little guy.

Fontaines DC Full Irish Breakfast SXSW 2019 2

Fontaines D.C, who had been announced as IDLES’ North American support long before receiving their shout for SXSW 2019, fell into this category. Arriving with so much fanfare even before they stepped foot in Austin, I knew they didn’t need my help. Maybe it was where I was sat? They sounded loud, muddled and without anything that set them apart from the crowded current UK punk market. I sat through two songs before I’d had enough. Hey, I am nothing but accommodating! We could see Sam Fender and his band peeking his head through an open window. I’m not going to stay in a venue when people are just chomping at the bit to get inside.

Elder Island British Music Embassy Friday SXSW 2019

It was time to return to the British Music Embassy to rinse out the ol’ music editor ears. I’d seen SXSW 2019 TGTF Band to Watch Elder Island in the decidedly more clinical confines of the International Day stage on Wednesday, were set to close Latitude 30 for the afternoon. The Bristol trio who thrive on turning their music and everyone in the room on their head turned out another excellent performance. The sultry ‘Black Fur’, which is actually about singer Katy Sargent’s dearly departed late cat (tuck that piece of pub trivia away), was a bluesy tour de force. ‘I Fold You’, featuring their super cool electric cello, wowed their new fans, bopped heads and moved bodies. While I regret not having seen them at Bungalow that night at Majestic Casual’s showcase, I feel incredibly lucky to have seen them on Wednesday and at this show. Elder Island do Bristol and his rave-loving history proud.

 

SXSW 2019: #youtoo? with DJ Target, Shirley Manson and Richard James Burgess and Song Math with Ross Golan – 15th March 2019 (Friday, part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 11:00 am
 

This year at SXSW 2019, I struggled to find convention sessions and talks whose summaries I would write that I felt would speak not just to our regular readers of TGTF but to a wider audience. Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond had a scheduled keynote Friday morning, but in my head I wondered, what exactly could they tell me, a person who appreciated their band but was not an uber fan, that I hadn’t heard before? I had the same feeling about Shirley Manson of Garbage and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES’ keynote on Thursday, thinking that what the two of them would discuss would be a retread of past conversations about the difficulty of being a woman in the music business. Instead of attending either, I decided instead to attend the #youtoo? Creating a More Inclusive Music Industry session, which included Manson as well as BBC Radio 1Extra presenter and artist DJ Target and Richard James Burgess, CEO of the American Association of Independent Music. The session was moderated by Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS for Music Foundation and who spearheaded the ground-breaking EU initiative Keychange, self-described as “a collaborative European programme led by PRS Foundation which empowers women to transform the music industry.”

The session offered three different perspectives on how to achieve better equality in the music business, from the unique viewpoints of an artist (Manson) and a radio promoter and independent music champion, both with a background of being an artist (Target and Burgess, respectively). As a woman of colour who runs a music Web site, a rarity, I myself have wrestled with how women go forward from where we are today to reach equality in the business. I have been uncomfortable with the push for equality by physical number of female acts on festival bills, a push that seems to be getting louder every minute. To be clear, I am not against the ultimate goal of equality. The problem, as I see it, is how to implement it.

Vanessa Reed and DJ Target Friday SXSW 2019

One moment in time that sticks in my head is this article by The Guardian’s Michael Hann applauding the bill for 2015’s End of the Road. Part of the argument that rang hollow to me was in regards to Laura Marling’s position as headliner and how the festival should be applauded for choosing her. Marling is an established artist with a very large fanbase and therefore her presence would sell tickets but not on the basis of her gender. While she is a fine example of a woman who broke the mould, succeeded against insurmountable odds and deserves full credit for all she’s done, I would argue that artists regardless of who or what they are have all faced their own difficulties. Who gets to judge who has suffered more and deserves the bigger breaks?

This may sound funny coming from a woman who is also a person of colour, but the way I see it, hard work is hard work, just like some in this business will argue talent is talent, no matter the source. I fully admit that my experience is coloured by the fact that as part of what is called the model minority in America, I’ve received the short end of multiple sticks. I recall with much clarity that even though I asked specifically for help, I received much less assistance from my high school counselor because as an Asian-American, I was perceived as not needing it as much as my peers. I was also excluded from my university’s minority student support office because I was of Asian descent.

Shirley Manson and Richard James Burgess Friday SXSW 2019

One of the things that I have appreciated more than anything else as a Chinese-American music editor is being judged and respected by industry folk for what I bring to the table and not because I’m a woman or the color of my skin. I also don’t even get the sense that my being American is considered a benefit or a hindrance. Maybe it’s masochism, but I would rather be remembered for how I was able to promote acts I loved, not because I was a nonwhite woman doing it. Burgess’ comments describing how his office is staffed echoed my thinking: he explained that while he has more women working for him than most have in the industry, his hiring decisions were based on merit and experience, not gender. While this model obviously can’t be applied to every situation, I think this is what we should aspire towards.

I appreciated each speaker’s views on the topic and what they suggested for going forward. In particular, Manson’s outspoken opinions on how the white women of America failed all women in voting for Donald Trump for President is something I have thought a lot about since that dreadful day in November 2016. While all of us women have shared experiences in feeling marginalised by elders due to existing patriarchal social structures, by voting in that manner, white women, whether knowingly or not, discounted the additional hurdles faced by women of colour in our country.

Manson’s searing commentary on how the pink hat was seized as a symbol of white women feminism felt spot on to me and brought me to tears. It has become very much the “protect your own patch” mentality, which has a mirror in the racism I discovered a few years ago within the white LGBT community, which was a surprise to me after having grown up with the inherent racism among Asians. My intention in including Manson’s comment here is less about taking sides but to take the first step, in raising awareness of the existence of a problem. After awareness, we can move towards better understanding and empathy. Without these three pieces, we cannot truly address or tackle the issues. Inclusivity in conversations seems to me as key for us to come to permanent, lasting, agreeable solutions.

with Shirley Manson crop
photo by Maryum Rasool of SBEV (thank you kindly!),
I’m pretty sure I was reliving ‘Special’ and disbelieving I was talking to Shirley Manson

Manson brought the conversation back to the music industry when she described the difficulty in finding a female band to support Garbage on a recent tour. I thought it was interesting that Manson felt it was a thinking process that caused industry people to freeze, rendering them unable to call to mind any act that would fit Garbage’s request. I think this is an important distinction: minds can be changed. The more we can keep the dialogue open, the more we challenge the status quo, the more we turn the conversations into the norm and less the exception, the more consistent changes we’ll see.

Both DJ Target and Manson emphasised the role (no pun intended) of strong female role models in the artist realm. Manson, along with the aforementioned Mayberry and others like Grimes, Jane Weaver and Gwenno, have taken their positions with candour and energy. More of this, ladies. But we need to step up and raise up those and offer our help to anyone who needs a hand.

Instead of rehashing the part of Ross Golan’s Song Math that I was present for, I will simply summarise for you the most thought-provoking bits. Ross, I hope one day you offer your review of popular music as a recording. I’d buy it! I’m sure plenty of music teachers would use it for their classes, too.
1. A lot of classical composers died of syphilis: that’s a fact, which Golan utilised repeatedly as a comic device. Thankfully, we here in modern day have penicillin available to us. No more mercury poisoning! But if you’ve been watching Victoria, you already know this.
2. Gregorian chants should be considered the earliest pop recordings.
3. Phoenix were right: Franz Liszt was the first true rock star.
4. Today’s musicians are indebted to the songwriters of years gone by, and much beyond sampling. For one, the structure of songs as simple as ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Frere Jacques’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ have been repeated over and over, inspiring artists far and wide, and subliminally or not.

 

SXSW 2019: Wafia and Mansionair at Next Level Apparel, Seazoo, The Snuts and Sports Team at Good Karma Club, Talos and whenyoung at Music From Ireland, and PAWS – 14th March 2019 (Thursday, part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th March 2019 at 1:00 pm
 

After APRE’s performance, I really wanted to see The Joy Formidable at the Dr. Martens showcase at Container Bar. However, many, many other people had the same idea, and you could tell the staff were stressed. My merely asking if there were different priority badge lines led one bouncer to think I was trying to cut the line. Seriously, come on. I’ve been to SX seven times before, and I’m not going to start being a jerk and cutting in front of people now. From what I understand from friends who had actually made it in, it was just as well, as the band were only allowed to play four songs, frustrating them and their fans.

Directly across the street at Clive Bar was the Next Level Apparel showcase, Australian electronic artist Wafia was performing to a jammed-in crowd on its patio. She occupies a similar place in the industry to Grace Carter, providing a young female viewpoint through honest lyrics. However, Wafia is also a political lightning rod, being a Muslim and of Iraqi and Syrian ancestry and daring to make politically-charged music. Read some of her thoughts here.


I say all the more power to her to do exactly what others would call her out on and crucify her for. I remember reading a quote once where someone said that it’s when we’re made uncomfortable that we learn the most. A outspoken twenty-something woman with ties to the Middle East who has written ‘Bodies’, a song about the Syrian refugee crisis? The topic isn’t new or unusual, but the woman who is singing it is speaking her truth. Young people like her, not the establishment, will be the key to changing minds and lives. And you know what? The Austin crowd absolutely loved her.

Following Wafia was another Aussie act, one that was celebrating the recent release of their debut album. Mansionair, who have been a SXSW mainstay over the last few years, came to Austin with the long-awaited ‘Shadowboxer’ available now from Glassnote Records under their belt. I have always respected the Sydney band’s confidence whenever I’ve seen them play, and that didn’t stop with their closing set at the Next Level Apparel showcase. If anything, they had added swagger this time now that their biggest group of released songs to date have been released to the wild.


The menacing electronic machinations of ‘Alibi’, paired with Jack Froggatt’s swirling vocals, was a sultry earworm of the highest calibre. Moving things uptempo, ‘We Could Leave’ led to loads of heads bopping in appreciation, while the rhythmically interesting ‘Technicolour’ provided another opportunity to dance. SXSW could have just been another tickbox for the group in the middle of a long North American tour, but they turned in a memorable performance.


During SXSW, you’ll find bands playing in the oddest, most unusual places, some considered Second Play stages. Seazoo’s second performance in Austin turned out to be in the restaurant in my hotel! While it seemed that the primary listeners were all Welsh friends of theirs, their ‘nook’ to play was only a little strip of real estate near the bar and they played sans two band members and in stripped back fashion, the band was in fine spirits.

Another one of my SXSW 2019 Bands to Watch, Scottish band The Snuts, were due to play Abbie McCarthy’s Good Karma Club showcase at Swan Dive. Singer Jack Cochrane very seemed to be extremely nervous, as every other word out of his mouth, except when he was singing, was the f word. There shouldn’t have been so much anxiety: word must have spread about the band, as I was surrounded by very excited new American fans of theirs. Even better for the band, there was a loud, drunk group of non-industry-affiliated Scots down the front who appeared to know all of their songs, shouting for ‘Seasons’ as their favourite of all. That’s a long way to travel for your favourite band, especially if they’re only playing for 30 minutes, isn’t it?


With last year’s Thursday night drenching still a vivid memory, it became a bit of an unfortunate game of mine to avoid them and their spilled drinks. They ended with ‘Sing For Your Supper’, which was explained as their rallying cry of the importance of friends on this journey called life. I stand by my Bands to Watch feature on the Snuts but I felt disappointed in their sound live against some of the other bands I’d already seen in Austin.


The next band on the Good Karma line-up was another band I previewed, the supremely unGoogleable Sports Team. While Swan Dive’s indoor stage isn’t the smallest stage you’ll encounter during SXSW, trying to fit six people and all their equipment on it is no mean feat. The comparison I made between singer Alex Rice and a spastic-dancing David Byrne seems even more apt in person. Like a ball of energy never to lose steam, Rice proved his place within the band isn’t so much staying in one place to deliver the lyrics but while posturing and jumping all over the place.


When I felt like I had enough of Sports Team to have gotten a good idea of their music, I headed to the Velveeta Room and the Music From Ireland showcase. This time last year, there was no issue getting in this venue for Talos. What a difference a year – and the release of a deluxe version of ‘Wild Alee’ and a second album, ‘Far Out Dust’ – makes. Word clearly has gotten around about Eoin French’s electronic-filled, Bon Iver-esque post-rock soundscapes and him and his touring band’s emotional live show. From my vantage point, it looked like most who showed up for him were amorous couples. Groan. Right in front of French was a pair making out and being borderline inappropriate. I think next time I listen to Talos’ music, it’ll be in comfort through a pair of ear buds!

I may have been denied in my attempt to see Limerick, Ireland’s whenyoung at The Great Escape 2018. However, I refused to leave anything to chance at this SXSW, anchoring myself down the front for their Music From Ireland evening showcase slot. Following Talos, their straightforward pop/rock style brought the energy back way up in the venue, even as we edged closer to midnight. whenyoung’s sound is anchored in a powerful and unrelenting style with a pop brightness and catchiness. You can’t help but want to pogo to this kind of music.


This is best exemplified by the beat-heavy, fast tempoed ‘The Others’, which was inspired by the Grenfell Tower fire and highlights the divide between the haves and the have nots. Wearing outfits prominently displaying the EU circle of stars was another sign of their solidarity with being part of a bigger whole, even though they’ve chosen to live in London. Their most recent single, ‘Never Let Go’, is their contribution to the mental health discussion, frontwoman Aoife Power’s soaring vocals providing a measure of hope and understanding.

The Ernest Jenning Record Company showcase at the Mohawk was my next port of call. Running behind schedule, I arrived at the end of a set by New York City punks Flower. Next up was Glasgow’s long-soldiering PAWS, who have become a bit of a name on this side of the Atlantic thanks to past tours with fellow jokey rockers We Are Scientists. I figured PAWS’ appearances at SXSW would be to road test material from upcoming album ‘Your Church on My Bonfire’ and of course, to crack a few jokes, with frontman Phillip Taylor as ringmaster. New songs sat well with old favourites; the only thing perturbing was the presence of a fourth live band member, which confused some of us, as well as those keeping tabs of activities at SXSW at home.


A surreal moment in the set occurred when drummer Josh Swinney appeared to be doing a magic trick with his snare drum. One moment you’d see his drumstick, the next, you wouldn’t. It could have been because it was well past my bedtime but I was not comprehending what had happened: Swinney was demonstrating that the top of the drum had been completely broken through. Mohawk stage crew were able to rectify this quickly, locating a replacement and receiving Taylor’s appreciation for “Mystery Snare Drum Man”. Upon leaving the Mohawk, I noticed the stuffed bear in the bar had been dressed in denim. Laughing at this, I decided it was definitely time for bed.

 

SXSW 2019: Matt Maltese at the Back to Amy photo exhibition, ROE and Joshua Burnside at Output Belfast and APRE – 14th March 2019 (Thursday, part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

After a luxurious sleep (read: more than 6 hours) and the breakfast buffet in my hotel, it was time for a trip to the often neglected west side of Austin, which has some of the most chill and interesting watering holes in town. Holy Roller played host all week to the Back to Amy photo exhibition, displaying never before seen images of the late and great Amy Winehouse at age 19, before she became a household name and before the release of her seminal debut album ‘Frank’. The photos were taken by Charles Moriarty and introduced by producer Gabriel Gornell, who also served as emcee for a specially curated group of promising young artists playing in a cute performance nook of the restaurant.

I was curious about both the photos and Matt Maltese’s performance there at 11 AM. Not the best time to perform during a full-on festival at SXSW, but let me say as a music editor, any opportunity at any time of day to sit down on a chair and enjoy a lovely hand-crafted pink beverage called the She Bad is more than welcome. Following his set the previous night at Central Presbyterian Church, I preferred this performance in more relaxed surroundings for its intimacy. We probably could have sat at his feet if we wanted to. A large cartoon drawing of Amy hung as the backdrop, a poster that all artists playing at this exhibition would sign after their performances. During a week of watching all sorts of artists with seemingly increasingly complexity in instrumentation, watching a master at work with the simplest of setups served as a good reminder that at its very basic, sometimes stripped back is best.


During this set, he had been introduced as creating Brexit pop; Maltese was quick to be humourously contrary in correcting this as he started, saying he was now in post-Brexit pop. Maltese wrote ‘As the World Caves In’ with two world leaders in mind, imagining them getting intimate as their decisions have led to the end of the world and humanity. Given the problems in his country and ours, it has become strangely more appropriate than he could have ever realised when he was writing it. ‘Strange Time’, another one of his songs that is no hurry to get to the finish, muses on an unconventional relationship that somehow works: “They say I’m too old for my age / And you’re just the same / Yet we make love like kids, again and again.” Like Maltese himself, it doesn’t sound like it should work on paper but is such a pleasant surprise when you’re finally get an opportunity to be properly introduced to it.


After some time mooching around at the posters on offer at Flatstock, I returned to the British Music Embassy for the first two acts of the Output Belfast afternooon showcase there. Young Derry singer/songwriter ROE impresssed straight out of the gate with her aplomb. Being stood on a stage entirely alone except for her guitar and electronics in front of Texan fans and industry types might have shaken the nerves of lesser mortals, but not her. The precocious, smiley artist explained the origins of her songs as she went along, lending sincerity to her stories of adolescent angst. The last festival we covered her at was Hard Working Class Heroes 2017, where she performed at Dublin Grand Social.


The poppy ‘Thomas’ specifically calls out a situation where she was teased for her short hair and compared to a male classmate, but the treatment is incredibly catchy. Songwriting was her method of catharsis from depression when coming up wth ‘Down Days’, broaching a difficult, ongoing subject that needs to keep being discussed and continually. ‘Wasted.Patient.Thinking’ is a surprisingly adult admission that we all should taking care of ourselves first, especially when a relationship no longer serves its purpose to us. It is a sobering thought that ROE has able to come to these conclusions and write them into infectiously amazing pop and at an age when the rest of us were all twiddling our thumbs. If she can keep this up – and I do think she can – she’ll have a long career ahead of her.

Joshua Burnside and his live band returned to Austin after a series of rousing performances at SXSW 2018 last March. This time, he arrived in Texas with a prominent moustache that made him look like a cross between a cowboy from days gone by and Matthew McConaughey. Throwing a beloved flat cap into the audience might not have been the best idea – I’m still not sure if he ever got it back? – but it sure led to a whoop of cheers around Latitude 30. ‘Holllllogram’, from his 2017 Northern Irish Music Prize-winning album ‘Ephrata’, still wows in its exposition of how a broken heart can remain haunted.


I unfortunately had to leave Burnside’s set early to catch what I thought would be an enlightening talk given by Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA and his work colleagues at Auddly at the Hilton. Auddly has been now rebranded as Session, though I had to find that out on social media, as there were technical difficulties preventing their Thursday afternoon session at SXSW from starting on time. I sat there for a good 20 minutes before calling it quits in favour of the International Day stage.

APRE’s most prominent appearance during SXSW 2019 would no doubt be their slot opening the BBC Radio 1 showcase Saturday night at the British Mustic Embassy. Given my past experience having difficulty getting into Latitude 30 for that showcase in multiple years, I didn’t want to miss out on seeing the London-based duo up close and personal. If you’ve followed APRE for any length of time or indeed, you read Bands to Watch preview of them from last month, you are well aware that they don’t take themselves seriously. They also enjoy wearing bright red jackets, which they brought to Austin!


okay, so there’s no red jacket here, but…

This electronic-driven duo occupy a nice niche between tropical pop and r&b, which gives them the opportunity to cover more music territory when songwriting. The delivery of the anthemic ‘Without Your Love’ and ‘Don’t You Feel Like Heaven’ suggest they could their music to stadiums. Conversely, in a different way, a r&b-inflected song like ‘Blackstreet’ pits them favourably against acts like Jungle who have proven they can reach those stages. Although like when I saw Elder Island the day before I got the distinct feeling I was probably the only person in the room who’d heard of them before this, APRE impressed a different set of punters than the ones who saw them the night before at the Communion showcase at Augustine.

 

SXSW 2019: Focus Wales and Seazoo, Matt Maltese, Jealous of the Birds, and Grace Carter and Sam Fender at BBC Introducing – 13th March 2019 (Wednesday, part 3)

 
By on Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 3:00 pm
 

No SXSW would be complete without visits to your favourite country showcases and houses and seeing friends. For a second year running, Focus Wales put on a networking mixer on Wednesday night, this time at one of my favourite venues in Austin, Swan Dive, its stage bordered by white fencing like a perfect slice of Americana. There must be a good joke that all good mixers bring in the Irish and the Scots, but it’s also very true. I also wanted to hang around for as long as I could to see Wrexham, North Wales band Seazoo play as the showcase’s opener. In my Bands to Watch on them at the end of last month, I wrote about discovering their self-described “psych indie pop”. But there’s much more to this band than any boxes they or anyone else could put them in.


While many bands exist and continue on today on a foundation of long-held friendships, you get the sense from watching the band members of Seazoo that long after their instruments are packed away, they will actually go and get drinks at the pub together. (Indeed, I appear to have been invited to visit them in Wrexham the next time I’m relatively close, in Liverpool for Sound City.) The gangly, bespectacled Ben Trow, who fronts the band, is a more obviously humourous frontman than Jarvis Cocker. I was first confused by what he meant by introducing “the best baby head player”. That is, until I got a closer look at what Llinos Griffiths was playing: a head of a doll with metal switches on its surface that evidently are part of Seazoo’s musical success. The super poppy ‘Shoreline’ started the Focus Wales night with flair, as it was impossible not to get drawn in by the infectious earworm. Check out their debut album ‘Trunks’, you won’t be disappointed.

From the slap-happy sunny tunes of Seazoo, I departed for the uphill battle (literally) to Central Presbyterian Church and decidedly more subdued music. Matt Maltese was a last-minute addition to the SXSW 2019 bill; his announcing of his appearances leading to my many squeals. He is the 21st century heir apparent to the late Leonard Cohen and the ever declining in favour Morrissey. Accompanying his voice with only a piano or guitar, consummate crooner Maltese wowed an appreciative seated audience at the church with tunes from his debut album from last year, ‘Bad Contestant’ (review here), out now on Atlantic Records. Like Morrissey and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, he has a rapier-like wit. He quipped that two of the songs in his set were based on unfortunate love triangles he found himself a party in and that he would recommend others to participate in love triangles of their own. (Guffaw.) Despite forgetting his guitar tuner, he was able to crowdsource a mobile phone with the infinitely well-named GuitarTuna app while also continuing his droll stage banter.


I hope he doesn’t mind me comparing his delivery style to Barry Manilow: only so many piano-playing singers have the gift of warmth in their voices, a lustrous quality that makes the pain of heartbreak that much easier to swallow. The languid nature of ‘Less and Less’ is the perfect foil for the chronicling of falling out of love with someone, while the more jaunty, happy chord-filled ‘Guilty’ is the full-scale admittance of his repeated returning to a selfish lover because he just can’t extricate himself from her. While his was not one of the most energetic sets I saw at SXSW this year, it was a great reminder that there is something for everyone at this festival, including the brooding introvert within me that just wants to revisit the strong feelings of love and heartbreak through osmosis.

The next act seemed to have made it their mission to bring brightness back into the church. Before coming out to Austin, I saw that Naomi Hamilton, aka Jealous of the Birds, had chosen to wear a fun purple tartan suit for their set on the Output Belfast boat party on Tuesday. She graced the church in the same outfit, while her bandmates were dressed less ostentatiously but still on theme in black watch tartan trousers. Gotta love a coordinated band! ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, which I previously saw Hamilton perform solo supporting The Divine Comedy in Birmingham in November 2017, had many more wonderful layers presented by her and her band.


Cracking jokes about having not yet burst into flames while in a house of worship is just one indicator that this is not the same Hamilton TGTF has covered in previous years. Her sound has evolved from ‘breaking’ into the indie world with ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ on BBC 6 Music 3 years ago that I saw performed live at Dublin Tengu at Hard Working Class Heroes in 2016. On most recent EP ‘Wisdom Teeth’, the dissonant guitar licks of ‘Blue Eyes’ throw you off for a moment before you surrender to its wild nature. Even better, Hamilton has described as a celebration of “femininity and strong women feeling empowered”. If you haven’t seen the music video for it, you simply must.

Following my time at Central Presbyterian, just like in the afternoon, I faced another daunting queue at the British Music Embassy for the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation showcase. Onstage at the time was Grace Carter, a pop singer/songwriter from Brighton whose had a recent meteoric rise thanks to the attention of artists like Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey. One of her most arresting singles, ‘Why Her Not Me’, documents the heart-wrenching realisation Carter came to when she learned from her single mother than her biological father wasn’t in her life because he chose to stay with the other family he had. While this isn’t the kind of music I’d normally choose to listen to, I can respect her ability to open up her personal life in her music.

Sam Fender returned to Austin and oddly enough, the same exact showcase at the British Music Embassy as SXSW 2018 and at the same time slot. The Geordie had a spectacular year in the meantime, his lyrics espousing social consciousness and the plight of young people today hitting a nerve and making him a critical darling and a must-see at festivals, including the inaugural edition of This is Tomorrow. There was a bittersweet poignancy as he and his band performed ‘Dead Boys’ on the brightly lit Latitude 30 stage, as if the song being performed was to honour those young men we’ve lost through suicide but also shame the society who failed them. 2019 single ‘Hypersonic Missiles’, in contrast, shows his knack for writing a melodious rock song, as well as his impressive vocal range. Having woken up at 4 AM, I called it an early night (and before midnight, shocker!) to be ready for what Thursday would bring.


 
 
 

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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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