Mike Hughes: Thursday was another hot one in Austin. I was playing with that ‘SXSW conundrum’ — do I go and see British bands, especially ones that are going to be playing down the road from me in a few weeks? The decision today was a resounding yes, so I said farewell for a few hours to Peter and headed off to Fader Fort — a festival site in its own right within the bigger festival, and sponsored by Fader magazine and Converse. A free tee-shirt on the way in? Don’t mind if I do, especially one with Texas cow-horns and bearing the message “Lone Star State Of Mind”.
Security was a funny thing – cops in full uniform being paid to do private work in their own time. I suppose it’s not that different from bobbies at football matches.
It was clear that CHVRCHES fame has spread — it was a decent sized (and at the front excitable) crowd for the Glaswegians. I hadn’t seen them before, although I was familiar with Lauren Mayberry’s old band Blue Sky Archives who had always impressed me. Today was different though, and made me ever so glad I’d gone with the Brit ticket. All that the note in my phone says is “OMG Lauren can sing”. I was later to have some debate about how she maybe doesn’t move about that much on stage? So far as I’m concerned, her relative stillness cast a spell over this lunchtime crowd. They’d just got in the night before and having already played one gig then, were still finding their feet. It didn’t stop a touch of sparkiness though when Martyn fronted a song and made some comment about the album being out in September and would we please buy it? The tiny girl that is Lauren was straight back with “That’s a bit desperate isn’t it?” Likewise, after thanking the sponsors, she suggested that we should nevertheless give it half an hour before we bought any Cons shoes, just to let the effects wear off a bit.
One of the great things bout SouthBy, and something I don’t do enough of, is getting out of your comfort zone, so I was more than happy to hang on the barrier to catch the next act IAMSU, west coast hip-hop with a distinctly dancey feel, synchronised moves and all. They’ve actually got a lot of indie cross-over cred, if the magazines over there are anything to go by. I really enjoyed them. It was a pity that apart from a couple of the dedicated, most of the crowd were curious rather than committed, even despite the band’s continual urgings to “turn it up Austin”
Birmingham’s own Swim Deep were out next. They have very carefully tracked down the hairdresser that did all those centre-partings for the Hanson boys back in the day. OK, I’m making that up, but the centre partings were impressive. This was apparently their first ever experience of playing live in the USA, and to be doing that at Fader Fort at SXSW must feel as impressive as it looked. They too were keen to share their experiences of the trip so far, telling us that last night, they had “played beer-pong unironically”. Obviously they were taking a vacation from their hipster lives where everything is done post-ironically or not at all. That the lead singer is called Austin was kinda fun, as were Swim Deep as they got further into their set and rocked it up a load.
I was determined to put right my very mixed experience with Austra the night before, so I legged it over to another venue, the Hype Hotel, a nice dark and cavernous concrete box-canyon in the basement of a swanky hotel. It being a busy venue, I wanted to get there early, and I was also keen to catch Australian rapper Flume who people kept recommending to me. After a bit of a queue, I got in, found that I had missed Flume and was just in time to catch…CHVRCHES again. It was good to see them twice, they translated well to this very clubby bunker venue. ‘The Mother We Share’ sends shivers every time I hear it
Austra came on, Katie Stelmanis today wearing a floaty skirt which she enjoyed twirling side stage as they waited. Like CHVRCHES a few minutes ago, they seemed to benefit hugely from this environment, very much more in you face, very much ‘hotter’ in the emotional sense. They played an unknown song, then the exquisite ‘Lose It’ with all its semi-operatic warble. There was a shout from the crowd for ‘The Beat And The Pulse’ and we were told to be patient. Katie explained that they wanted to play as much as possible of the new album, which after a second listen, even live, is starting to sound really exciting, wider in breadth, less disco, more expansive. Ooh, I’m all excited now for the new record! As the last song of their set, they did indeed give us the pounding, chiming thrill of ‘The Beat And The Pulse’. By now I was now up against the stage. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and suddenly all was right with the world, this moment alone worth the flights and long hours of travelling. “Feel it break” indeed.
Peter Dysart: I really liked the flow of Mike’s day, so without interrupting it, here’s my brief recap of Thursday. SX truly never sleeps, so if when you commit to the week it’s in full knowledge that a night sleep is but a few hours followed by a grainy breakfast over black tea or coffee. Slumped over my second cup of Assam and feeling far less than whole, I decided that I needed some rest and vitamin D, so leaving Mike at Fader I marched over to Waterloo Records for the day. Contrary to my expectations, I waltz right into the Waterloo lot and nearly up to the stage for the Chicago-based Wild Belle, a bit a throwback concoction that features a very pleasant mixture of sounds includes psychedelic pop rock, and funk with liberal doses of ska and reggae across all of it. Their debut album, ‘Isles’, had just dropped that week and the crowd was grooving to everything they played. But after about forty minutes it became apparent to me that I had missed a few spots with the sun cream, namely my scalp, so I moved into the shade for the next act.
You often get recommendations for various bands during the week, and Austrialia’s Gold Fields was one that was oft mentioned. It was my first time seeing this high energy, poly rhythmic five piece, but after the slower pace of Wild Belle, this was exactly the energy I needed to finally wake up. In addition to diving head long into uptempo songs, the band’s trademark end of song jam gave me clear notice as to why they’d been labelled dance rock. The choruses often feature dancing duel vocals of guitarist Vin Andanar (wordless harmonies) and lead vocalist Mark Robert Fuller. But the real effect kicks in when the entire band explodes into a frenzy of kinetic energy, with twin drummers trading beats between a wall of guitar chords and riffs, punchy bass lines, and dark keyboard sweeps.
Between sets the university kids bouncing next to me tell me they’re really into Gold Fields but can’t wait to hear The Joy Formidable. Their obvious good taste led us into a lengthy discussion of TJF. But I was soon distracted by a few friends from London who made their way up to the front — and from there the afternoon was on a fast slide to gig euphoria.
Maybe it’s just me, but with all the big corporate events and special secret corporate VIP lists, the best acts are those that are free like Waterloo Records day parties. TJF in particular always seems to give an even greater effort than normal for the free shows. This afternoon’s set was nothing less than exhausting for us. I managed to squeeze off a few pictures before the camera had to be stowed to safety amidst crashing waves of pogo’ers, myself included.
After the set, I was talking with Ritzy Bryan’s dad who had travelled with them to SX. No sooner had I said hello than the university kids came bounding up. Upon realising with whom I was speaking, they couldn’t thank him enough for being Ritz’s dad. He was only too pleased to talk with them, and then asked if they’d like to meet the band. Their ears had melted at this and off we went inside the record store where he marched them up to the band for meet-and-greets. Really, enough said — honest and genuine people come from North Wales.
MH: We did something uncharacteristic and actually had a break for dinner then, a proper meal, in a restaurant. It’s worth explaining that you can scarff your way around SouthBy at little or no cost once you’re there, existing on comped beers and paper plates of barbequed whatever. Tonight we made the time to meet up with a few guys over from London, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. Comfortable as I was in a booth, eventually we got our asses back in gear.
PD: I suppose dropping restaurant names won’t hurt. It was Lambert’s, which is, humbly speaking, the best barbeque in Austin.
MH: Icky Blossoms were playing over at the Clive Bar. I had actually caught their last couple of songs last year upstairs in the very restaurant where we had just eaten, but tonight’s set was in the dusty yard of a scruffy bar and all the better for that. So far the day had been astoundingly good, too much already, but the Blossoms, announcing that they were going to “play some dance tunes” just laid it all down right there for us on the rough-sawn stage. They are better known these days, in their own right, not just as a Tilly And The Wall off-shoot, so there was plenty of audience love for ‘Heat Lightning’. Their piece de resistance was the song that has recently offended stuck-up pricks back home in Omaha, and it was a joyous shout-along to join the chorus — “Sex to the Devil” indeed. So very impressive.
My night continued with yet again succumbing to Brits abroad – or Anglo-French in any case, in the form of Savages. I had seen them before, at an early gig upstairs in a tea shop in Liverpool, and feeling like an army of one in the face of all my friends, I’d pronounced myself unimpressed. I knew Peter was at their set tonight though, in a warehouse on the wrong side of the tracks in East Austin. We were planning to share a lift so I thought I might as well give it a go and see if I could get in. SXSW is astounding in how huge some queues can be, then five minutes later you can see the same band in a tiny venue with no such issues. This proved the case tonight – I set off from the Clive Bar and seven minutes later I’d walked straight to the front of the stage at 1100 Warehouse. In a day that just kept giving, I realised just how wrong I had been and how commanding a presence Savages were, Jehny Beth much better suited to a late night shed. To say I was knocked out was an understatement.
PD: Savages were an easy habit to acquire for me. Just too much talent and energy to go wrong on much of anything.
MH: Peter is, like me, the most massive Joy Formidable fan (and who is to blame either of us). They were playing at Warner’s showcase that night, and he had hopes of getting in. We gave it legs over to Sixth Street, but the queue was massive, even Platinum Badge holders were waiting in vain. We could hear our guys’ music crashing out into the night, and I left Peter kerbside, listening from a distance. I love TJF too and it was quite a moment to hear ‘Greatest Light’ crashing out into the hot Austin night.
PD: Yes, admittedly so — my joy does not stop at the corporate VIP list. I stayed on for ‘Greatest Light’, ‘Cholla’, and ‘Ladder’ before rejoining Mike for one last show. That wafting of positive energy would suffice until the next time.
MH: I had one more Brit band to see tonight though. No Ceremony/// are from an hour down the road from me in Manchester, and shamefully I’d failed to see them yet in the UK. They were playing at the British Music Embassy, which Peter has already given great praise to as a venue — it’s just damned cool. No C/// produced one of my favourite tracks of the last few months, in the form of ‘Feelsolow’. Tonight they were understated as befits purveyors of chill-wave, but had the audience well fixed and paying full attention.
PD: Never mind that we still don’t know the name of the fetching Mancunian blonde on bass and lead vocals, there was enough of a New Order dark charm coming from them that I didn’t mind their technical difficulties or the young drunk thing standing in front of us who insisted on texting for most of the set. Not a bad ending to the day.
All Mike’s SXSW photos at
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