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SXSW 2015: Sounds from Spain showcase and a quick trip to the convention center – 18th March 2015

 
By on Friday, 27th March 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

So how exactly does a Chinese-American girl find herself partaking in complimentary paella and sangria and watching a bunch of Spanish bands with a bunch of people from there or of that heritage? If it’s in March, it can only mean one thing: SXSW. The glittery, colourful music carnival that was SXSW 2015 included six vibrant acts performing as part of Sounds from Spain in a tent Wednesday afternoon; none of them were like no another, which added further interest to the proceedings at Brush Square Park. Initially, when Carrie and I began planning out our Wednesdays, we were both bracing ourselves for an afternoon of poncho wearing and outdoor drenching by the rain that had been forecast.

It did rain – we awoke to it tapping on the roof of our friends’ house and we both groaned to ourselves for the terrible weather misfortune we anticipated later – but by the time I reached Brush Square Park to begin my coverage of the Sounds from Spain showcase at the exceedingly early time of 11 AM, the rain clouds were gone and about 2 hours later, the sun came out and started beating down on us, causing both of my interviewees Xavi Marín of Oso Leone and musician/producer beGun to yelp that even for Spaniards used to oppressive summers, it was too hot! As the week went on though, we wished that the sun had held out, for hot sun is still better than rain chucking it down, agreed?

Oso Leone was first up on the afternoon’s bill. Drawing their inspiration from nature for some of their song titles (‘Ficus’, ‘Cactus’), this band mixes up experimental, psychedelic, and chill and drone-y rock ‘n’ roll to create some of the most interesting soundscapes I’ve heard in a long time. The only other band I can think of who have been this inventive in producing unearthly music is Sigur Ros, so think Sigur Ros, but more melodic.

Disco Las Palmeras at SXSW 2015

Disco Las Palmeras are essentially a Spanish-language Pixies, with frontman Diego Castro preferring a deadpan, disaffected vocal ala Black Francis. They played it loud, they played it fast, and they had a good time.

Madrid girl group Hinds (formerly known as Deers until American band The Deers sicced their lawyers on them) and their sunny, ’60s-style garage rock need no introduction. As popular as they are in the UK and Europe, they’re just starting to make inroads here in America, which might explain why someone in their camp had the crazy idea to book them for 16 shows during their week in Austin. Hey, the 1975 played some 13 shows at SXSW 2013 and look where they are now, so maybe there’s some method to the madness. (Stay tuned for Carrie’s impression of them Saturday night at the NME/PRS showcase at the British Music Embassy, where I believe I should thank my lucky stars for not being allowed into the venue, as Carrie described the situation like being stuffed like sardines in a tin.)

Hinds at SXSW 2015

Rulo Y La Contrabanda have a very classic rock ‘n’ roll sound and since I speak so very little Spanish, I lost of the emotion of the songs not comprehending what was being sung. Most of the crowd didn’t have the same problem, cheering wildly for them and I assume having arrived early for the next act.

Phew. Okay. No amount of mental preparedness could have readied me for the punters’ reception of Macaco. A blonde Spaniard isn’t very common, is it? Apparently, this band with this guy Dani Carbonell out front is huge. I mean, massive. The amount of oestrogen in the tent went sky high just before they took to the stage, so it’s a safe bet they’re a big deal in the Spanish-speaking world.

Macaco at SXSW 2015

Personally, I couldn’t see or hear it (I felt like I was witnessing a cartoon), but maybe if I was a 20-year old living in Spain interested in pop, I might think differently? I’m embedding a recent video of theirs for your benefit and you can tell me what you think. I can only guess from this Facebook post of theirs that they guessed incorrectly that I was Japanese (haha).

Last but certainly not least was my main reason for being there that afternoon at all, my pre-SXSW 2015 discovery of self-described “landscape electronica” artist and producer beGun, who I previewed in this Bands to Watch post. Most of the time, electronic artists are draped in darkness, playing at night in purposefully shadowy environments such as clubs. I think it’s a special treat to watch a master like him at work during daylight hours, so you can see how much goes into his live performance. I loved every minute of it.

beGun at SXSW 2015

As he mentioned in my interview with him before he performed at the showcase, the Barcelona producer is adamant about electronic artists including “added value” to their performances, to make it worth it to fans to see a real, live human being actually making the music live instead of just pushing a succession of buttons on a laptop or synth. On this afternoon, beGun certainly delivered, creating a swirl of music enveloping you and taking you and your mind to another place. I had a word with Huw Stephens about his music, so fingers crossed you’ll be hearing his music on Radio 1 soon enough.

Thanks very much to Rocio, Xavi of Oso Leone, the Agoraphobia girls, beGun and Agustín and everyone else at the Sounds from Spain party who made this American feel so welcome. Music, paella and sangria…let’s do it all again next year!

After my chill time in Sounds from Spain, it was a shock to the system to run – I mean, like run – to the convention center in an attempt to catch Laura Marling on the Radio Day stage. Who designs a convention center with escalators that don’t go up to every floor? Texans. I finally gave up on the escalators, deciding on a lift and nearly knocking over James Graham of the Twilight Sad, who was coming out of one, in the process. I guess he had had his fill of Laura?

The Radio Day stage, being as tall as it is and sat in a room that feels cavernous, isn’t exactly going to give you the warm and fuzzies. That said, what we do know of Marling’s new direction and album ‘Short Movie’ released this past Monday, her new material isn’t intended to give you the warm and fuzzies. Marling’s new pixie haircut, matching with long cream coloured trousers that made her legs look like they went on forever and with some fierce, military-style buttons down the left side, gave her a look that meant business at the KCRW afternoon showcase.

Because Sounds from Spain was running a little behind schedule and I refused to leave Brush Square until I said my goodbyes to all my new friends, after I arrived at the convention center, I only managed to hear half of one song and the final one, which was ‘Short Movie’ that everyone’s already heard. Despite obvious fans clamouring to be close to their goddess, the room was devoid of warmth and charm, which for me detracted from the performance and overall, I was disappointed in what seemed to be a lack of energy onstage as well. I also think they could have cranked up the volume on the amps for a more emphatic impression, but maybe the performance was meant to be muted for this all ages crowd? Well, as Meatloaf sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.” Or six out of seven…

 

SXSW 2015 Interview: beGun

 
By on Tuesday, 24th March 2015 at 5:00 pm
 

This year at SXSW 2015 I decided to spread TGTF’s figurative wings beyond the countries of bands we usually cover (the UK, America, Ireland and Australia), having made the decision to cover the Sounds from Spain afternoon showcase at Brush Square Park’s West Tent (read the review of the showcase here). This turned out to be a wise decision, as I met some really lovely people there. I felt like I was part of their extended musical family and never once was shoved around or made to feel small, which seemed to sum up a lot of my experiences at my first SXSW. So thanks very much to Sounds from Spain, especially Rocio Gutierrez and the bands themselves, for making me feel so welcome!

Another conscious decision I made was to expand our coverage on a genre I love very much but yet always feel alone in my appreciation of: electronica. Barcelona’s beGun, who I profiled in this Bands to Watch in early February, makes what I consider an especially fabulous kind of electronica in that there is a lot of thought that goes into what he does and he clearly has an established method to the madness, if you will, to making his art that you can see in the finished product that is beautiful and evocative. In my interview with him that you can stream below, he tells me that the Spanish ambassador to Ireland visited the city of Dublin and was amazed how well beGun’s own song ‘Dublin’ fit the place perfectly. No higher praise than that, eh? beGun also remains staunchly optimistic in the music he makes, and we all need more positivity in this world, don’t we? He also mentions that he would love to tour as support for current Radio 1 beat resident Jon Hopkins one day, which I hope will actually happen.

I find it extremely frustrating when I encounter closed-minded music fans who automatically chalk up any sort of electronic music that isn’t immediately poppy or has been made by a globally known household name to something that is cold, unfeeling and uninspiring. In my eyes, if it’s done right and in the right person’s hands, electronica, even when entirely instrumental, can be extremely powerful. The constant striving towards electronic music with feeling is a theme that will be explored in my interviews with East India Youth and Rival Consoles that will post in the coming days.

 

SXSW 2015 Interview: Agoraphobia

 
By on Tuesday, 24th March 2015 at 3:00 pm
 

Agoraphobia are a Spanish five-piece girl group from Santiago De Compostela, the capital city of Galicia in northwestern Spain. While they were not on the bill at the Sounds from Spain showcase that took place at Brush Square Park’s West Tent on Wednesday afternoon at SXSW 2015, as is the case for UK bands who show up at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, the girls appeared at the event to chat with Spanish industry folks and fans of Spanish music, as well as partake on drinks and paella that the Sounds from Spain contingent so kindly provided to us punters stopping by the tent.

The band’s name is the medical term for severe anxiety with panic attacks, which seems like a strange way to name your band. The girls quickly explained to me though in this interview that they chose their name after listening to and falling in love with the hard-hitting sound of the 2005 song with the name by American band Incubus, who also turned out to be in Austin for the week as well. (You never know; as people say, anything can happen at SXSW, and as you probably expected, all of the few appearances Incubus made during SXSW were rammed. A disappointed BBC staffer told me later in the week how gutted she was not being to get into a venue to see them.)

Anyway, back to Agoraphobia the band. Their sound is an upbeat, guitar-driven, garage-y, indie sound seemingly plucked from the ’60s and not wholly unlike Hinds (formerly known as Deers). Which begs the question, why have we not heard of Agoraphobia yet? Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the band when I met the girls, but their enthusiasm for their music – and their region’s food specialty, octopus – yum! – is evident in this interview.

 

SXSW 2015 Interview: Xavi Marín of Oso Leone

 
By on Tuesday, 24th March 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

One of the best experiences I had this year at SXSW 2015 was the Sounds from Spain showcase Wednesday afternoon at Brush Square Park. As you all know, TGTF has primarily focused on UK bands in the past, but this year I decided to branch out and listen to as many bands who received shouts for SXSW this year, rank them by quality and potential to you, our readers, and see what other exciting sounds I could find. Based solely on the strength of music from several bands from Spain, it became clear to me that this was one country – and its musical output – I needed to pay closer attention to.

Oso Leone are a five-piece from the gorgeous island of Majorca, part of Spain’s Balearic island chain in the Mediterranean Sea. Many of their songs are instrumentally focused, some with driving beat rhythms, leading me to connect them with sigur ros in my head. They’re an interesting proposition, with their masterful guitar work seemingly at odds with the electronic beats before they go into a wigged out, psychedelic presentation. Last year they were given a golden opportunity not given to all Spanish bands, or any indie bands for that matter: a tony slot on Pitchfork’s stage at Primavera Sound in May 2014, which was documented by the Chicago-based Web site in this gorgeous video.

Wednesday was their time to shine as the first band on at the Sounds from Spain showcase, and they didn’t disappoint. While it may have been rainy earlier in the morning and the carpet inside the performance tent was wet (I learned this the hard way by putting my bags on the ground and kneeling down on the carpet, coming away with wet kneecaps on my jeans), Oso Leone provided a refreshing start to the event with their unique balance of smooth soundscapes and jutting rhythms that complimented the roaringly hot sun that soon came out. Shortly after their set, I was able to grab frontman Xavi Marín (vocals and guitar), apologising for my nearly nonexistent command of the Spanish language, and have this chat with him.

 
 
 

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