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SXSW 2019: Balún, Elder Island, The Dunts, The Joy Formidable and Sway – 13th March 2019 (Wednesday, part 2)

By on Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 1:00 pm

An often criminally overlooked part of SXSW are the Radio Day and International Day stages on the 4th floor of the convention center. If you have ever attended SXSW as a badge-carrying delegate, I am sure you have walked by these rooms and never considered stopping to catch any of the bands. There was no contest which band on these stages had the most fan turnout on these two stage. That award goes to ‘90s giants Broken Social Scene, who appeared Friday afternoon and had a queue of fans going down the length of the convention center long before they even took the stage – I implore you to stop by in future iterations of SXSW to catch up-and-coming talent.

Two of the Bands to Watch I previewed before heading to Austin had prominent slots on the International Day stage, which in theory freed me up from trying to see them in the crush at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 later in the week. (You’ll see how that panned out later.) First, though, I found myself with some free time and a free Coke from the press lounge, so I ducked in to see Balún gracing the KCRW and NPR-sponsored Alt Latino showcase at the Radio Day stage. They are based in Brooklyn (insert your favourite indie band joke about Brooklyn here) but are originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. They were the perfect pick-me-up to jolt me into life after my 4 AM wake-up call.

The glasses-wearing, synth-driven indie group with unusual-to-rock instruments such as accordion and violin have managed to successfully marry the digital age with their Caribbean roots. ‘Prisma Tropical’, their second studio album released late last year, is Balún’s expression of their self-described dreambow genre. Rhythmically unmistakeably Latino and with frontwoman Angélica Negrón’s ethereal vocals, this is a group doing the Latin American diaspora in America proud and making music that keeps them connected to the country they felt they had to leave in order to access different opportunities.

Following Balún, it was a quick mosey to the International Day stage where Elder Island were just setting up. The Bristolian trio are part of the proud current wave of emerging artists keen on pushing the envelope beyond the traditional genres of independent music. Their debut album, the self-released ‘The Omnitone Sound’, came out last month, a beguiling mix of Katy Sargent’s r&b-inflected lead vocals and cello, guitars, synths and beats probably best exemplified by the driving ‘You and I’. 2 PM might not be ideal for a show more appropriate for a dark club filled with bodies bumping, but Elder Island did a great job in bringing that feeling to the room, eliciting more than a few instances of chair-dancing. You can read my past Bands to Watch feature through this link.

My next stop was to catch The Dunts at the British Music Embassy. As was true all week, the afternoon showcases proved to be a better bet in my mind than their evening ones, and the queues to get in were proof of this. For my money, Glasgow is one of the more interesting centres for new music these days. It has been able to support an incredible range of genres and artists who can all coexist and support each other with nonexistent infighting. Must be the water or the Tennent’s. The Scottish punks, along with their band best friends Rascalton, were unable to secure funding to travel to SXSW 2019 through normal channels, so in typical ingenious Scottish fashion, they came up with limited edition swag including a black Dunts football-style shirt to sell their fans to help finance their trip. (We’re all too late for that shirt, I’m afraid. Damn it.)

Their efforts appear to have paid off. On a 25 degree C spring day that might have led some Texans astray after the awful winter they had, locals and industry jam-packed Latitude 30 to welcome them. ‘Self Proclaimed Council Punk’ isn’t just an EP title, it’s a state of mind. None of their songs overstay their welcome: the intent appears to be to play loud and fast, with barely a breath in between for themsevles or whoever is watching them. This is not music for the faint-hearted. The feeling of two fingers’ immediacy is inescapable. No matter how old you are, you will leave a Dunts gig feeling more alive than you have in a long time.

I spent a brief interlude down on Rainey Street to check out some of the craziness during daylight hours. The armadillo-mobile was out again as last year but had to share the streets with a couple on stilts dressed like flamingoes. I like pink, but you’re never gonna get me to wear a pink bird on my head. Clive Bar was turned into a temporary carnival sponsored by Showtime, with a balloon artist, photo booth and popcorn and cotton candy vendor. Walking back into the centre of town with a large tuft of delicious, s’mores-flavoured cotton candy in hand felt like winning. I returned, making the mistake that I could just walk in for the Joy Formidable’s set at the British Music Embassy. Whoops.

Really, though, my job is done when a band I’ve written about a lot has filled a venue to heaving, right? As is usual with Latitude 30 during SXSW, the windows were flung open, affording us poor souls who couldn’t get in the opportunity to hear ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ even if we couldn’t be in the same room with them. Hearing the final track of ‘The Big Roar’ reminds me of a time in my life when I got my heart broken. This song was my salvation, telling me with absolute certainty that one day I’d stop wanting to kick the guy and instead wish him well with the rest of his life with the woman he eventually chose over me. As the Welsh band’s wall of sound reverberated far beyond the confines of Latitude 30, I felt happy how far I’ve come to that moment and thankful I had friends who got me out of that dark place.

To set myself up for a night of running around the city to be preceded by drinks with the Focus Wales crew, I decided to get dinner at Stella San Jac. The restaurant attached to the Westin has become a firm favourite of mine for food and drink while in Austin. At the bar, I ordered what now will probably be my usual there, the fried avocado salad. Don’t knock it until you try it. I was expecting a low-profile supper, served by some very cute bartenders. What I didn’t expect was being sat next to a man drinking a bartender-recommended tipple. He looked familiar but in an effort to play it cool in case it wasn’t who I thought it was, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked sotto voce.

What ensued was a delightfully impromptu conversation about social media with the uber cool Sway Calloway, who I first came across as a hip-hop correspondent on MTV nearly 2 decades ago. Nowadays, Sway is the coolest of the cool cats, taking his own background as a rapper and radio experience and continuing to be a force of pop culture on his Sirius XM radio show Sway in the Morning. The verdict of our conversation? Neither of us will ever be as great with social media as kids are, but that’s okay. I was reminded of Lance Bass’ talk earlier that day where he talked about the importance of being authentic. If a old fogey like me being old school is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!


Video of the Moment #2899: The Joy Formidable

By on Thursday, 20th September 2018 at 6:00 pm

Ladies and gents, your attention, please! The Joy Formidable‘s fourth album ‘AAARTH’ will be out on the 28th of September. Yes. Next Friday! As long-time supporters of the band, we’re pretty excited about this at TGTF Towers. What do the Welsh alt-rockers have in store for us this time? They let us in on the fun with early taster ‘The Wrong Side’, featured in this previous Video of the Moment. This week, they’ve got another promo video for us, this time for single ‘The Better Me’.

Filmed pretty much as far away from Wales as you can get – Las Vegas – this video stars the band and features clips of them doing what they do best, rocking out. Of the video, the band say, “We knew we wanted to do something simple & centred around Ritzy’s performance because it’s a very personal song. There’s also this natural defiance in walking forward, pushing forward through these deserted streets in a lonely corner of Las Vegas.” Check it out below, and stay tuned for ‘AAARTH’ coming at you next week on Hassle Records. Itching for more on the Joy Formidable? You can check out our pretty comprehensive archive on the group through here.


Video of the Moment #2882: The Joy Formidable

By on Thursday, 9th August 2018 at 6:00 pm

This autumn is going to be fantastic. How do I know? Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable will be releasing their fourth album ‘AAARTH’ at the end of September. The group themselves have had a good 2018 so far, having appeared in June in the Robert Smith-curated Meltdown Festival in London, where they gained lots of new fans, and they have loads of summer festivals left to appear at. While they’re out gigging at a festival near(ish) to you in the UK, they’ve left for us some aperitifs from the upcoming LP. The latest is punchy single ‘The Wrong Side’, full of grinding and squealing guitars. The song now has a colourful, psychedelic promo to go with it, which you can watch below. Stay tuned for ‘AAARTH’, which will be released on the 28th of September on Hassle Records. For all of our past coverage here on TGTF on The Joy Formidable, use this link.


Live Review: The Joy Formidable with Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 13th April 2016

By on Friday, 15th April 2016 at 2:00 pm

The Joy Formidable‘s Ritzy Bryan has a soft spot for the Nation’s Capital, as she was a resident of our fine city for several years before the band truly got going. It’s been nice validation to have the chance to see the Welsh trio in increasingly larger venues. While they played the inaugural Landmark Music Festival last September in West Potomac Park, their last proper show in the DC was a week shy of 3 years ago to their show here Wednesday night. In tandem with starting their own label C’Mon Let’s Drift, they released their third album ‘Hitch’ in mid-March.

Reviews for the new record have teetered between generally positive to mixed, with some pundits and fans saying the trio have gone too far from their tried and tested formula of assertive, in your face and at times noodley rock. As is oft repeated by the devoted fans of all artists, evolution as time goes on is not only inevitable and healthy, and I agree with this sentiment when it comes to ‘Hitch’. While it may appear that the band borrow liberally from ’90s greats on some tracks, the overall effort has, without a doubt, the stamp of The Joy Formidable.

On this 3-week tour of America to support ‘Hitch’, their support act has been Manchester’s Everything Everything, who interestingly find themselves in somewhat a similar point to their career as their current tourmates. Having released their third album ‘Get to Heaven’ in the UK in June 2015, which was followed by America finally having the record this past February and a showcasing turn at SXSW 2016 (including their FLOODfest appearance and my interview with lead guitarist Alex Robertshaw), they’ve already cemented their place in popular music history in Britain.

Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 4

Most of the Joy Formidable fans I talked to before the show weren’t familiar with their work, so the tour serves not only as Everything Everything’s first proper and extended sojourn for live dates across our country. It’s also as a proper introduction to the band beyond the basic New York City and Los Angeles live markets. I myself have seen them on a number of occasions and except for at SXSW 2016 last month, all of those appearances have not been usual club shows, so I was pleased they were finally coming to DC.

If you were listen to The Joy Formidable and Everything Everything side by side on a streaming service, it doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven. Their musical styles are quite different, but what ties them together nicely are their individualism and independence when it comes to their songcraft. The funkiness of Everything Everything’s music – from their early breakout single ‘MY KZ UR BF’ to ‘Distant Past’ off ‘Get to Heaven’ – is miles away from The Joy Formidable’s harder alt-rock style.

Jonathan Higgs of Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 2

Indeed, the fact that the band from Manchester are so, so very different from anything else you’ve ever heard, that in itself makes the band a unique proposition. ‘Regret’, with shakes of Michael Spearman’s tambourine with the militant repetition of all in the band shouting the word “regret!”, along with lead singer Jonathan Higgs’ sardonic to comforting lyrical delivery, proved irresistibly catchy to the audience. ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’ from 2013’s ‘Arc’ were additional rhythmic standouts. ‘Distant Past’, with its futuristic keyboard chords and the bounce in its pulse, ended their set on a memorable note.

Alex Robertshaw of Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 1

I had two big questions: how are The Joy Formidable going to perform songs from ‘Hitch’, and will the evolution of their sound also carry over to the live spectacle? The 9:30 Club stage is plenty big for three bandmates and not all that much gear. Flashing lighting rigs and a fog machine that seemed overzealous on the job filled the large space while bassist / keyboardist Rhydian Dafydd and lead singer and guitarist Bryan were mostly staying put at their pedalboards.

Joy Formidable at 9:30 Club, April 2016 1

A constant since past tours is the clowning around between the two of them (such as faux whinging about the problem with the other’s axe, and Bryan’s admission she’s a klutz with guitars) and with drummer Matt Thomas. Thomas normally is not given a microphone and with some exasperation, Bryan explains the one time he was given a mike recently, he asked the audience if they enjoyed Jurassic Park. Laughter. A conversation about enjoying the first Jurassic Park ensued. More laughter. It’s more like going to see your friends play, not just seeing Dave Grohl’s pick for best new band out there in 2011.

The trio came out swinging with early hit ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’, proving without a doubt that a Joy Formidable show will be loud and full of pomp. With a famous EP (‘A Balloon Called Moaning’) and three albums, tough choices had to be made with the set list, and if you were expecting more from the past, you were probably going to be disappointed. I was surprised by the length, too, as they clearly have a lot of past gems – and future ones – that could have been tacked on to their set.

Joy Formidable at 9:30 Club, April 2016 2

Predictably, it was ‘Radio of Lips’ and early single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’ that were the biggest crowd pleasers taken from ‘Hitch’, the latter sporting a sinister monster guitar riff not easily forgotten. ‘Cradle’ and ‘Little Blimp’ provided satisfyingly swirling walls of sound, while a gentler acoustic treatment – done within the crowd, no less – was given to ‘The Brook’, Dafydd and Bryan clearly enjoying being one with the fans. For anyone thinking based on the shift in direction seen on ‘Hitch’ meant that the Joy Formidable had changed forever, a show like this is all the proof you need to know that couldn’t be further from the truth.

After the cut: the set lists. Continue reading Live Review: The Joy Formidable with Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 13th April 2016


Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Hitch

By on Friday, 1st April 2016 at 12:00 pm

It seems somehow fitting that I’m taking a quick break from TGTF’s ongoing coverage of SXSW 2016 to review the new album from Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable. Our own editor Mary first introduced me to The Joy Formidable just over two years ago on the opening night of SXSW 2014, when the band played at Austin’s Clive Bar on what happened to be a rather wet and dreary evening. The rain could easily have put a damper on The Joy Formidable’s late set that night, but the venue was packed with eager fans, and Mary and I both felt fortunate to catch the band in what would be one of their last live gigs before they disappeared into the studio for a long stretch of writing and recording.

The product of that time away is The Joy Formidable’s new LP ‘Hitch’, which lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan says is “one of the most driving records we’ve made but also the saddest”. Recorded and produced by the band themselves in their North Wales studio The Red Brick, the album was truly a labour of love for the Welsh trio, both emotionally and musically. They’ve taken a more streamlined musical approach with ‘Hitch’, but the emotional quality of the songs is undeniably cathartic, and the band themselves have described the album as “a good purge”.

Opening track ‘A Second in White’ starts things off with Bryan’s low-register voice murmuring over an ominous ostinato of guitars and drums, but the pace picks up almost immediately with the following track ‘Radio of Lips’. The sharp, concise lyrical lines in the verses lead to an irresistably anthemic chorus, and the drawn out anticipation in the bridge section is likely to make this one a live favourite on The Joy Formidable’s upcoming UK tour in May.

The album’s provocative first single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’, whose video edit is featured in the tour date post referenced above, sounds both sullen and sultry, and like ‘Radio of Lips’ before it, stretches over 6 minutes long in the full album recording. Indeed many of the tracks on ‘Hitch’ are quite lengthy, as if the band’s major hang-up might have been in somehow finding closure to the whatever emotional drama surrounded the making of the album.


The first half of the album starts to drag a bit after the opening three tracks, wandering through more introspective tracks ‘Liana’ and ‘The Brook’ before regaining some momentum with the frenetic drum beat of ‘It’s Started’. Midway through the album, relatively shorter track ‘The Gift’ switches Bryan’s lead vocals for those of Dafydd, and perhaps it’s the contrast that makes Bryan’s vocals seem that much more on the album’s second half, especially as she sings the poignant line, “maybe we’re not alone after all” in ‘Fog (Black Windows)’.

‘Underneath the Petal’ is a rather gentler but still darkly dramatic affair that builds slowly in dynamic intensity and once again highlights the emotional quality of Bryan’s singing voice. ‘Blowing Fire’, by contrast, seethes intensity and spits resentment from beginning to end before the album closes with another soft, acoustic-tinged number. ‘Don’t Let Me Know’, which also happens to be the album’s longest track, spins slowly and elegantly into a climactic finale, or perhaps more accurately, into a heartfelt and bittersweet farewell.

While the songs themselves are a bit all over the shop, ‘Hitch’ makes up in variety and emotional power what it lacks in cohesion. Whatever emotional cleansing The Joy Formidable might have required was undoubtedly achieved in the album’s intense musical arrangements and lengthy instrumental interludes, but overall, the album feels dampened by the pressure of its own heavy emotional content.  Bringing the songs out of the studio and into live performance might be the impetus the band needs to complete its purge, once and for all.


The Joy Formidable’s third album ‘Hitch’ is out now on the band’s own label C’Mon Let’s Drift. TGTF’s full archive of coverage on The Joy Formidable is back this way.


The Joy Formidable / May 2016 UK Tour

By on Friday, 4th March 2016 at 8:00 am

Following on from their short tour in February, hard-rocking Welsh band and TGTF friends The Joy Formidable have announced an appropriately formidable headline tour for May 2016. The trio’s tour includes stops at Focus Wales in Wrexham on the 12th of May and at the Great Escape in Brighton on the 19th. Tickets to the gig dates on this upcoming journey around the UK go on sale today, Friday, the 4th of March, at 10 AM. The band’s new album ‘Hitch’ will be out on the 25th of March on the band’s own label C’Mon Let’s Drift. For all of TGTF’s past coverage of The Joy Formidable, head here.

Saturday 7th May 2016 – Newcastle Think Tank
Monday 9th May 2016 – Edinburgh Liquid Room
Tuesday 10th May 2016 – Sheffield Plug
Thursday 12th May 2016 – Wrexham Focus Wales (Central Station)
Friday 13th May 2016 – Colchester Arts Centre
Saturday 14th May 2016 – Manchester Academy 2
Monday 16th May 2016 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Tuesday 17th May 2016 – Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Wednesday 18th May 2016 – Norwich Open
Thursday 19th May 2016 – London Oval Space
Saturday 21st May 2016 – Brighton Great Escape (C2 Radio X Show)
Sunday 22nd May 2016 – Oxford Academy
Monday 23rd May 2016 – High Wycombe Bucks University


About Us

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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