SXSW 2011

19/3/11 - French pop and Icelandic underpants

The final day of SXSW 2011 started with the Mog party at Mohawk. No free beer at this one but a good set from the young Smith Westerns playing brilliant indie rock with some great melodies.

Smith Westerns
In search of some more music (and to be honest some free beer) we then stopped off at our old favourite The Swan Dive for the Brooklyn Vegan & M for Montreal party, which was a great discovery. The party extended next door to the Barbarella, and to an outside stage as well, where we stumbled upon Misteur Valaire. They had the quote of the day - 'We're French, but we're still good' - and a nice line in coordinated outfits and onstage moves.

Misteur Valaire
Then it was the turn of !!!, with a manic frontman embodying the spirits of Mick Jagger & Michael Hutchence, making frequent forays into the crowd and generally causing maximum enjoyment, while complaining about a couch that had found it's way onto the dancefloor.

A pulled pork sandwich and a stroll through town took me to the Chop Shop & Atlantic Records Party, where I got my second dose of Portugal. The Man at SXSW. He was even better this time round, the sound quality was brilliant and his guitar playing was outstanding. Next it was down to the Wichita Records Showcase at Latitude 30. First on was Her Space Holiday, who were rockier than I expected.

Her Space Holiday
Then I had a quick chat with Tom Marshallsay (Dam Mantle) before watching him play for the second consecutive day - definitely one of my favourite discoveries from this year's SXSW. Fortunately this time he didn't have the same problems with the lighting affecting the displays on his equipment like it did the day before. I caught up with him again after his set and bought a copy of his cd 'First Wave', and then headed out into the extremely busy Saturday night.

A walk along 6th and down Red River Street took me to Beauty Bar for some DJ action, with LDFD followed by Shlohmo. After a last night meal at El Sol y La Luna it was time for the highlight of the evening at Emo's JR - FM Belfast. This Icelandic outfit really new how to party - their cover of 'Killing In The Name' was a dancefloor killer, while other tracks featured the percussionist rapping from 'The Power' and 'Pump Up The Jam'. Clearly enjoying themselves, the whole band ended the evening performing in their underwear, with their 'Bez' figure crowd surfing in his pants!

FM Belfast work the crowd at Emo's Jr
After such a great set The Bravery at Stubbs had a lot to live up to, and they couldn't manage it. Dull and workmanlike, their set bored me, and I headed up the hill to the hotel for the last time.

18/3/11 - The Queen of Denmark & the King of Austin

A relaxing morning and then a walk downtown past the Capitol Building to the Third Man Rolling Record Store, a customised van in their trademark black and yellow colours.

Rollin' n' Chooglin' - the Third Man Store
Having been relieved of a wedge of dollars I headed down to the Convention Centre for a quick dose of wi-fi before heading across the road to the Barbados party for free food and rum and a band called Kite, who were a crossover of indie rock and reggae. Then it was off to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 for the Scottish Showcase and two great electronic acts. The first was Dam Mantle, on the more experimental side of things, with interesting loops of his own vocals.

Dam Mantle
He was followed by Unicorn Kid, who was a bit more mainstream dance and had some big tunes. As usual at the British Music Embassy, there was great food and a free bar - I'm glad all my taxes are being put to good use!

In the evening it was time for a complete change of scene as I headed down to the Central Presbyterian Church for the Bella Union / Zeitgeist showcase. Alessis's Ark was on first doing her thing (which if you don't know is fragile acoustic songs mixed with weird inter-song banter. Tonight it covered Austin taxi drivers who liked Fawlty Towers, and how, as the first act on, she was the garlic bread of the evening). JBM was interesting - a one-man band with great guitar skills and good songs. He also played harmonica, and on a couple of songs he sat and played drums at the same time as singing and playing the guitar.

Next up was Heidi Spencer & The Rare Birds - she didn't seem to have the Birds with her, what she did have was a selection of songs that all sounded much the same. Dull. Lanterns on the Lake, on the other hand, were much better than I was first expecting when I'd seen the woman with the violin soundchecking. There were 6 of them all together and they made an enchanting sound that built up through the songs, with moments where the music really broke out into almost a frenzy. 'We're from the North East' they said, 'you can tell by our sunburn'. I'll definitely be checking out their album.

Lanterns on the Lake
Sondre Lerche was next, and was backed by three members of Midlake. Although new to me he was a big draw with the crowd. He played his new album (out June 7th) in order, although he didn't get to the end - apparently the songs were longer when played live so he only got to track 8.

Sondre Lerche
Then it was time for the high point of the evening - John Grant with Midlake. Opening with 'Sigourney Weaver' they preceeded to cast a spell over the audience, working their way through most of the Queen of Denmark album, as well as a version of 'Paint The Moon from Grant's previous band The Czars. Grant's voice soared over the beautifully played music. The best 2 songs came at the end. To a sharp intake of breath from the pew-seated audience, Grant announced 'This one's called Jesus Hates Faggots. It requires no further explanation.' The song's message of tolerance is, as Grant later describes it, 'the most Christian song he could ever sing'. He closes with a mesmerising version of 'Queen of Denmark', which is completed by a siren from a passing police car at the point he sings 'Could I please see your licence and your registration'. The newly crowned King of Austin leaves to a standing ovation and I step out into the night feeling slightly stunned by his brilliance.

John Grant and Midlake
Walking down to Stubbs I'm ready for an upbeat end to the evening watching Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Unfortunately things soon go sour - as OMD walk on, a camera boom at the side of the crowd swings round to start filming them and promptly falls into the crowd. It was horrific and franky I'm surprised that no-one was killed. As it was there were at least 2 walking wounded, with cut heads, and 2 people carried out on stretchers. OMD eventually played for about 35 minutes, ending with an excellent pairing of 'Enola Gay' and 'Electricity', before we exit Stubbs still feeling a little shaken up and head back to the hotel.

17/3/11 - Saint Bob, hipster film stars and the best gang in the world

Thursday started with Bob Geldof’s keynote speech at the Convention Centre. He talked for 45 minutes without a script and was constantly entertaining, wandering from reminiscences of Radio Luxembourg and Dr. Feelgood to berating America for 1 in 5 people being on food stamps, complaining about the death of rock’n’roll and the lack of revolutionary, protest songs, and saying the ‘f’ word a lot, as you’d expect.

A walk down Red River Street took us to Beauty Bar for the Pop Montreal / Nacho House party (free nachos of course, and very good they were too). Superhumanoids were ok, then after a couple of so-so bands Esben & The Witch really got things going. Much more engaging live than they are on record they have pounding rythms - at 1 point all 3 were banging the same drum - and great female vocals. By the end of the set the drum was in the middle of the audience having the life beaten out if it while the singer walked round thrashing the cymbal in her hand. Best British band of the day by far.

Esben and The Witch

PS I Love You have the most unsightly front man in rock, but he’s a good guitarist & their songs were ok.
In complete contrast Cadence Weapon was a rapper from Montreal, with a drummer and the uncoolest DJ I’ve ever seen (DJ Co-Op). The raps were good though and he got the crowd going.
Cadence Weapon

Before the final act the place suddenly got rammed with hipster cool kids and tons of press & photographers. This was for Mister Heavenly, who feature a certain Michael Sera (from Scott Pilgrim & Juno) on bass. Despite this, and their gimmick of throwing soft toys into the crowd, they were really good, like of mixture of Modest Mouse & Broken Bells.
Michael Sera
Mister Heavenly
A trip back to the hotel and a quick Mexican meal set us up for a trip to Stubbs. A big outdoor venue this had a festival feel to it. Foster the People were well known to most of the audience, who sang along to their indie-pop songs while the band were having the time of their life on stage. Noah and The Whale have cheered up slightly since their last album, having transformed themselves into a slightly fey English version of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The new songs definitely work better live than on record and seem made for the outdoor summer festivals I’m sure they’ll be played at.
Most interesting band of the day was Portugal. The Man - new to me but a really good mix of songs. Loud guitars, occasional reggae rhythms, interesting vocals and definitely an album to check out when I get back.

A short walk down Red River got me into Mohawk in time for Doomtree - 2 Djs & 5 rappers from Minneapolis who got everyone’s hands in the air while they bounced around on stage. The whole evening at the Mohawk was curated by Gayngs, who headlined the show. There were about 15 musicians performing at any one time as they ran through most of ‘Relayted’ and the rest of the acts were lined across the back of the stage, occasionally taking turns to perform. Har Mar Superstar joined them for a cover of George Michael’s ‘One More Chance’ which went down a storm, and the whole show was great fun, with 5 or 6 vocalists singing, sometimes all together, and general feel of everyone being best mates. Har Mar said that Gayngs was the best gang in the world. And watching them on stage you could believe it.

Gayngs onstage at The Mohawk

16/3/11 - Guitars, Americana & ROCK!

A long day started with a trip to Plush for the Top Shelf Records party. Emo / punky type bands, great little record label run by 2 guys were having a great time. Quote of the day came from one of the bands, who said ‘We’re looking to play a house party tonight, so if anyone’s got a pa we can borrow, or a house, then let us know.

Then it was next door to The Swan Dive for the K-Swiss / Billy Reid American Songwriter party. This was a great find, with free Firefly cinnamon whisky & iced tea bourbon, and some really good acts.
First up was Keegan Dewitt. One man but with a really tight backing band, the rythmns were a bit like Friendly Fires. Next was The Romany Rye - brilliant Americana, with harmonies & guitar & hammond solos, led by front man Luke. Apparently they are the 1st unsigned band to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

The Romany Rye
Then Jessica Lea Mayfield played country rock in a fabulous pair of stiletto boots.
Jessica Lea Mayfield
After a quick trip outside to grab some lunch it was back to the party for Hayes Carll, and some very accomplished country folk with a dry wit and a good voice. Caitlin Rose was next, but after a few of her songs the free whisky had run out and I’d had my fill of country, so I moved on.

A walk round the trade fair (lots of handouts and free beer) was followed by a pit stop at the Canadian Blast party for free chilli before the walk down to La Zona Rosa for the evening showcase. No problems getting in, first on were Beast Make Bomb, a 2-girl 2-boy four piece band with a great rude song about a prostitute.

Beast Make Bomb
Then J. Mascis, who mixed songs off his new album with old Dinosaur Jr. classics. He played solo with just a fuzzed up acoustic guitar, making backing lops to then shred guitar solos over. Mini Mansions were a 3-piece with keyboards, bass & drums. I never trust a band withy that set up as there’s a danger they could turn into Keane - luckily that didn’t happen but they weren’t particularly inspiring.
Mini Mansions
The Black Angels played very loud rock with some interesting developments in their songs which make them stand out a bit from the average run of the mill American rock band.
The Black Angels
Queens of The Stone Age were even louder, with Josh Homme and the band on top form as they ripped through their first album in all its glory, before coming back for an encore (taking requests from the ladies in the audience).

Queens of The Stone Age
Make It Wit Chu was a highlight, but it was all good.
Josh Homme serenading the ladies

16/3/11 - First official music day

Picked up our badges yesterday then went for a wander round town to get our bearings, visit Waterloo Records etc. Went to the SX Fusion Party - weirdly no music but free pizza so it wasn't all bad.

Word was then out that Foo Fighters were playing Stubbs so it was off to the queue - to cut a long story short we didn't have the right priority badges so we didn't get in, but we did hear the Foos play most of their new album which sounded pretty good.

Then finally some music - into Emos / Emos Jr to end the evening. Weekend were a noisy three piece from California with some average tunes & some very out of tune vocals. Next up were Beach Fossils - a definite improvement, spiky pop, lots of jerky guitars, and by the end of the set the singer was in the mosh pit getting slammed about while he was singing.

Beach Fossils
Then it was through to Emos Jr for Londoners Mount Kimbie. Despite battling sound problems they played a good set but as they said themselves, by the end of the week they'll be much better.

Mount Kimbie
Last on was Essex boy Gold Panda. He played a storming show, with some frantic footwork building up loops as he went through most of the tracks from 'Lucky Shiner' and then ended with 'Quitter's Raga'. Despite the crowd shouting for more he wasn't allowed an encore, so the night was over and it was time for the calf-aching walk up the hill to the hotel.

Gold Panda (& his trusty Mac)
And yes, that was me who shouted 'Come on Chelmsford' just before he started!

15/3/11 - SXSW is go!

Arrived here in Austin yesterday, 13 hours after leaving Heathrow. Had a quick look around downtown on the way out to dinner - a great restaurant called Moonshine, highly recommended if you're in town.

This morning we're off to the Convention Centre to pick up our passes etc. before the music begins...