I wish you could have been there. I really do, because words just don’t seem like enough to describe MorMor and Duendita’s performance at Sleeping Village this past Friday. As MorMor would say, Heaven is a wish, and standing in the space created by his simple falsetto and lush instrumentation I couldn’t have wished for a better paradise. It was the type of show where you leave knowing that a piece of you was left behind to stay in that moment forever. And because it left you can’t seem to remember anything tangible, only the rush of raw emotion and the sensation of dissipating into the air with the music remains, and you know that once you leave the space you can never go back. I wish I could go back.
Kicking off the show Duendita walked out onto the stage with only a drum machine and sequencer. Running her vocals through a processor, she had complete control to curate the sonic environment of her performance and I am forever grateful. Starting with the sound of a bass drum, Duendita started by singing her song “Blue Hands” to set the intention and tone of her performance. “This is a prayer for my kind/ I wish you a long long long black life/ this is for the girls who get lost in the night in blue hands”
With the knowledge of why and for who Duendita was singing I watched as the music and its intentions morphed the room. Slowly, through sound and action, she drew us into a space surrounded by bird sounds and the fluttering of her own voice. By the time her set was halfway over it was as if the hardwood of the walls had grown into trees, and the stage lights surrounding Duendita’s curls like a halo had transformed into sunlight dripping through the leaves of a forest.
Standing awestruck in the sonic world created by Duendita, I like everyone else surrounding me seemed completely vulnerable to her performance. In a time when it is so easy to flee the present moment into our own fantasies in phones or elsewhere, her voice soared through the air and held us captivated. But her voice was not effortless. Contorting her face as she sang, it was as if her voice came out of a place too deep for any body to contain.
Whether it was her words, her melody or her use of orchestration, no move in Duendita’s performance was without purpose. As time finally slipped away and her performance came to an end, people from all over the crowd rushed to the stage to express some of the love her performance had filled them with. As any true Leo would, she accepted them with grace as if she hadn’t just bared her soul for the past half an hour, but maybe this is an everyday occurrence for the powerful force known as Duendita.
Following the spiritual and ethereal performance of Duendita, heaven’s own angel MorMor followed with their version of paradise. Much like Duendita, MorMor described to me after the show that intention is everything for them, and it showed in their performance. Playing with a drummer, bassist and synth player alongside him, the band and MorMor never missed a beat as they recreated what seemed like MorMor’s entire catalog with delicate intention.
They even premiered a few songs from MorMor’s second project, just released this weekend, called Some Place Else. Surrounded by sound, it was if the band turned the air to liquid. Drowning in bubblegum-flavored nostalgia, it truly felt like I had arrived at this “elsewhere” MorMor’s music seems to exist in. MorMor’s band filled the hole I worried would never, never be filled after Duendita had ripped it open.
Filled with the joy and bittersweetness of MorMor’s performance, I tried my best to be the professional journalist WNUR had assigned me to be, but if I am being honest I completely failed. My love of the music overpowered me as I felt my body lose its composure and let go of whatever scripts or responsibilities I had assigned to it. I had come to this show with two friends that I love dearly and it was all I could do to not let the tears flow freely.
I truly love genuine music with my whole heart. The only thing I can tell you with complete certainty is that through intention and radical expression, Duendita and MorMor created a space of vulnerability, radical love, and honesty that shook me. There was no story, no drama, no extenuating circumstances, just love and powerful people coming together to express and imagine ourselves in ways that feel like dreams fading into the back of our minds. As the dream of Friday night fades into the back of mine, I wait for the chaos to come and collect me with the youth and pray that I will see MorMor and Duendita again someday soon.
I walked into Thalia Hall on a Tuesday night buzzing with nerves. I was excited out of my mind. La Dispute was one of my favorite bands in middle school, and I felt like I was living a dream being able to take photos of them that night.
La Dispute is a band from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their new album Panorama is accompanied on Spotify by crystalline figures rotating against pastel gradient backdrops. I was surprised by the new art. The visuals are a stark contrast from their previous album art on Wildlife, Rooms of the House and Vancouver. I thought that this change would represent a significant change in sound, but their new album closely resembles their old without feeling too repetitive.
If you don’t know La Dispute, you should. I would recommend listening to Wildlife if you feel sad and angry, or Rooms of the House to chill out before bed. Panorama is good for both.
I had gotten to the venue late and missed some of opener Slow Mass’ set, but I took what photos I could while listening to the very loud pop-punk band. Gouge Away came on next. The lead singer of the hardcore band came onto the stage with a bow in her hair and proceeded to scream her heart out for the rest of the set. Only one of their songs included clean vocals. The crowd had a small moshpit going and everyone thrashed their head along with the band. By this time, Thalia Hall had gotten pretty full.
After Gouge Away, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. Young and old people in the crowd waited anxiously as the crew set up La Dispute’s set, which included warm ambient lighting and salt lamps with a white backdrop.
The second they stepped on stage, the audience became entranced. The band began with the slow, airy “ROSE QUARTZ” and slowly built up. Once they began playing “FULTON STREET II,” the previous spell they cast on the audience was broken, and everyone picked up the speed to match lead singer Jordan Dreyer’s energy. He was everywhere, both on the stage and in the crowd.
The band’s fan base was made up of longtime old fans (like myself) and new fans, but everyone knew the words to most of their songs. For us oldies, they made sure to play songs from their previous albums. I may have cried when they played “a Letter.”
When they played “New Storms for Older Lovers,” I felt like I was at church and Jordan was the preacher. The band’s performance and Dreyer’s spoken word-like lyrics had a complete hold over me. Jordan also interacted with the audience frequently. He voiced his appreciation for Chicago as being the place they really got started in music.
Once they got back into their performance, I was still completely enraptured. Their new song “VIEW FROM OUR BEDROOM WINDOW” felt like a warm embrace. While they performed, soothing colors swirled from a projector onto their white backdrop. “RHODONITE AND GRIEF” sounded even sweeter in person than recorded (something I didn’t think was possible.)
Dreyer gained more and more spirit throughout the show, feeding off the audience’s energy. At one point, he jumped off the stage and let people in the crowd sing. The band announced they wouldn’t be doing a traditional leave-the-stage-then-come-back-for-an-encore, and just told us when they began their “encore” of “a Broken Jar” and “You and I in Unison.”
After the show was over, I turned to my friend and said, “I’m gonna have such bad Post-Concert Depression after this.”
It was a show I’ll never forget.
For 2019, my resolution is to only cover “deer” bands at Lincoln Hall. Following Deerhunter’s February show, I was tasked with reviewing Baltimore noise outfit Deerhoof. Though not super knowledgeable about the extent of their discography, I had loved everything I’d heard by them and was tipped off that their live show was stunning. With high expectations, I arrived at Lincoln Hall around 8pm on April 21st, just in time for openers Bleach Party.
Bleach Party was by miles the most straightforward act on the bill, which they benefited from. In contrast to the headliner and middle act, who used elaborate pedalboards to twist and screw with their guitar sounds to the point where they were barely recognizable as the product of electric guitars, Bleach Party’s guitars sounded like guitars–albeit noisy ones. The local band moved quickly through a set of brawny but fun punk songs, anchored by lead singer Meg Macduff. Though not an incredibly unique style, the outfit compensated in intensity and enthusiasm, rewarding the small crowd that collected in time for them.
Palm, hailing from Philadelphia, was more in the Deerhoof-y, strange, erratic art pop camp, a fitting opener for the headliner. Consisting of two lead vocalists and guitar players, a time-signature spanning drummer, and a bassist, the band suffered from trying to do too much. They were stuffing their songs with abrupt tempo and key signature switch-ups and leaving the audience with little to hang on to. I found their guitar tones to be the biggest problem; they sounded more like steel drums than anything else for most of the show. It would’ve been interesting for one or two songs, but if nothing else it proved that there’s a reason steel drums aren’t the dominant instrument in alternative rock. Also, note to Kasra Kurt (one of the lead singers): the campy Animal Collective self-harmonies aren’t a good look. There’s no one that listens to your band that hasn’t heard Animal Collective (I assume), and you’re getting dangerously close to rip-off territory. Still, props to their ambition, and their drummer.
From Deerhoof’s first track, “Paradise Girls”, they made it clear that it was possible to have unexpected, rhythmically and musically complex tunes that are still catchy and arresting. The front-woman, Satomi Matsuzaki, was understated but entertaining, jumping and dancing around while playing bass and occasionally making deadpan quips, such as observing that her amp’s default setting sounded like a Chinese restaurant.
The two guitarists, though they didn’t say much, also attracted attention, trading warped licks that could have been from hard rock songs on another planet. The drummer came the closest to stealing the show, walking over to the mic at various points into the set with what seemed like a sarcastic smirk, to profess his admiration for the opening acts, among other sincere declarations. While playing he held down the tight yet spontaneous band through an exciting set. The climax was probably the cut “Believe E.S.P.“ off Deerhoof’s 2007 album Friend Opportunity, which featured a lovely audience sing-along breakdown. All in all, if you’re ever conflicted about going to a Deerhoof show, go for the complex, strange noise-pop, and stay for the sincerity and general affability of the band!
Before the SWMRS show, my friend and I mused about how we weren’t big fans of the new album and preferred the old. We were nervous about how the show would go because of this, but I was confident that the band would bring the type of energy to their concert that forces you to love the music and felt excited nonetheless.
We walked into Concord Music Hall about an hour late, but the first opener was still performing. It was my first time at the venue, and I was impressed by the large sugar skull painted on the wall of the main floor.
There was already a surprisingly big crowd. The audience was super into the first opener already, jumping with a lot of energy and moshing. I thought the opener was The Regrettes, but learned later that they had to drop out last minute and Destroy Boys stepped in. Destroy Boys was decent. They are an all girl group with repetitive but fun rock songs. At one point, they called the crowd to split down the middle for a Wall of Death, in which the two halves of the crowd happily plunged into each other.
The next band on was Beach Goons, an indie/surf rock band from San Diego. Their set design was pretty minimalistic: just two wooden cutouts of a sad and happy clown face. They had incredible energy, and the crowd went wild for them, moshing and crowd surfing. Their stage presence made it seem like they could have been the main act. In fact, it seemed like a lot of people were there for them, as many left after their set. Their songs ranged from upbeat punk rock to sweet Spanish tunes like “Chunti.”
Beach Goons also incorporated the audience into one of their songs, introducing it as super easy to follow because the only lyrics are,
“Everybody is dead / All my friends are dead / And I’m tryin’ my best / My best to reach things.”
Everyone sang along and the band asked for another Wall of Death. You could tell they were feeding off of the crowd’s insane energy. Their second to last song “Miedo” had a very angsty vibe, but they finished their set with a fun cover of “La Bamba.”
SWMRS, a California-based punk group came on next. The lead singer of SWMRS Cole Becker is obviously very politically aware. Becker stopped to talk about the band’s no tolerance for sexual assault, even saying they would stop the show to handle the situation and kick the person out. They opened up with “Trashbag Baby,” promoting the crowd to go wild. Eventually, SWMRS called for a Wall of Death too.
Cole’s brother, Max Becker, sang the band’s slower, sadder songs.
Becker would occasionally stop to address how good of a time he was having with the crowd, once saying “Well yee to the motherfuckin’ ha this is crazy!” Before “Berkley’s on Fire,” he shouted “Chicago is on fire!!” At that point, I put my notes down and joined the mosh pit.
Becker was obviously a really lovely person. At one point, he made sure to thank the staff of the venue, his crew and the openers, and then told us to thank our moms (as they were the reason we were there in the first place.) He continuously interacted with the crowd, seemingly feeding off our intense energy and relentless moshing.
During one slower song, however, he prompted short people to get on shoulders and for everyone to pull their lighters out. Strangers in the crowd put their arms over each other shoulders and swayed along to the song.
SWMRS’ made the crowd feel like a real community.
The crowd’s energy lasted until the end. During “Hellboy,” two of the girls from the opener band stage dived, as well as the lead singer of Beach Goons. For “Palm Trees,” I crowd surfed.
Cole perfectly summed up the night: “There’s not that much more I can say to you guys because you’re fucking perfect.”
It’s somewhat unthinkable that a metal band could play in a church. Entry level commentary aside, this surely has been an extremely notable week for churches, with the world watching Notre Dame burn. With this in mind, I think both of these instances stand for an idea that drone metal band Sunn O))) is working around.
Their performances are famously slow, and loud. There’s no escape. The fog set up a much-anticipated feeling towards of uncertainty that was relieved by the shock of how loud the first note was. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by an ethereal wall of sound, veiled with thick clouds. If you looked to the stage, only black-hooded silhouettes stood ominously with their instruments. Your whole body shakes and trembles with every low, pulsating note as it overtakes every sensation. You don’t have time to think about being in your body let alone in a church. Eventually, you grow into the wall of noise, becoming one with the space around you.
What I got most from this was how personal it was. Though you are hidden away by this unstoppable force, so is everyone else around you. In a room of around a thousand people, I was left entirely alone. When I moved through the church to take pictures, I noticed that others were completely in their own, cut off and unconcerned with the world.
It doesn’t matter where this performance was. It could have been done in someone’s basement and the music would have gotten through all the same. Quite honestly, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t hear them down the block. The way that their sounds amplify and vibrate into, around, and out of the space that tries to restrict is why someone may enjoy an hour and a half set of five men playing a note every ten seconds. Music this loud rejects any form of personalization, appropriating the space as you bask in its all-powerful sound. The importance is lost on the idea of the building and brings focus to the idea that human experience will continue with or such spaces.
There’s no Instagram caption that will do this justice other than saying “I was here.” What could I possibly add to the discussion that wouldn’t sound like I was either missing the point or just trying to seem cool and different? Our personal experiences can only thrive internally, as there are no words that exist to accurately communicate our experiences. People will always try to mold things into their own, but when it’s something on this large of a scale, it seems like it’s best to say nothing at all.
When I found out about the Antlers’ latest tour shortly after their January announcement, it was already too late: all the tickets to the only Chicago show were sold out. It felt like a slap in the face. I’ve listened to their groundbreaking album Hospice, easily one of my all-time favorites, religiously throughout the last couple of years, and now that they come to my city to perform said album, I’m snubbed a ticket. Thankfully, life sometimes works in mysterious ways, and a press pass and an extra Chicago show later I’m in Thalia Hall with my camera.
The staging of Hospice’s 10th anniversary is quite different from its original studio version to say the least: with keyboardist and trumpeter Darby Cicci leaving the band earlier this year, the remaining line-up shrunk to Peter Silberman on guitar and vocals, and Michael Lerner drumming. Their astonishingly minimalistic acoustic set-up included a single snare and was rounded out by fellow Brooklyn-based native and occasional touring member Tim Mislock playing electric guitar.
After Mislock finished his bone-chilling reverb-heavy opening set, Silberman and Lerner joined him on stage and Silberman’s haunting voice immediately set the atmosphere for the rest of the evening:
While the lines outline the two protagonists’ first encounter, the greatest debt of the evening was of course the one that the audience owed to the Antlers themselves for creating what can be considered as one of the most heart-wrenching albums ever made.
“Because you’d been abused by the bone that refused you
And you hired me to make up for that”
Silberman goes on, introducing the album’s plot, which is centered on a hospice caretaker and his bone-cancer afflicted patient, the two of which commence a romantic relationship early on in the narrative. As their newfound love spirals into inevitable catastrophe given the circumstances, so do the audience’s emotions.
Hearing an album which in part lives off its rich instrumentals stripped down to the bare necessities turns it even more intimate than it already is. From Silberman’s emphatic enunciation that “All the while I know we’re fucked and we’re not getting un-fucked soon” in “Bear” to his dreamy recital of “Two”, only accompanied by Lerner’s brush drumming, and finally to Mislock’s almost optimistic-sounding outro on “Epilogue”, the sincerity of the artists pulsates with every beat and every note on the album.
It is difficult to put into words the unique sonorous journey on which the three take us – a story which we know will make us feel miserable for a while, but which is so beautiful and unforgettable precisely because it has no happy ending.
Instead, what we’re being served is pure catharsis. If concept albums were stage dramas, Hospice would be the Oedipus Rex among them, the hubris of its protagonist being his misguided belief that he can prevent the inevitable and impending. The punishment he is being served is cruel, but it’s an excellent reminder that things don’t always work out for the better. For Silberman, Hospice was a symbolic way to move on from his own past, and I’m sure that the album has helped many listeners to go forward in their pursuits in a similar way.
After salvaging themselves from the emotional shipwreck that they’ve just caused, the trio allowed for a short break before returning with a seven-song encore. They start with “I Don’t Want Love” from their 2011 follow-up LP Burst Apart, arguably their lightest song of the night. Shortly after, “Parade” and “Surrender”, two adjacent pieces from their most recent album Familiars (2014), follow. Incredibly poignant and wonderfully melancholic, it tells the story of a young couple that keeps on going on in spite of their shared adversities.
Clearly, dysfunctional relationships are a common thread in Silberman’s work. Rather than spanning a large range of topics, his lyrical canon is much more concentrated, but, perhaps for that exact reason, also all the more beautifully crafted.
In the same vein, the set ends on “Putting the Dog to Sleep”, a song about the pain and uncertainty of a dying relationship.
Found on their 2011 follow-up album Burst Apart, the nod to Hospice is more than just slight. It was perhaps the most poignant reminder of the night to cherish what we have while we have it. Taking the “L” back home, I couldn’t help but feel slightly shattered upon realizing the colossal emotional power that just weighed down on me. But rather than being broken, feeling that weight was also healing in many ways.
The Antlers sing about failing, time and time again, but ultimately it’s about coming out on top eventually. “To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail”, a fellow Brooklyn native famously remarked, and it is in this spirit that the Antlers’ musical catalogue should be read. Maybe it is foolish to keep telling it to ourselves, but if we won’t believe in that age-old mantra, then no one will – so why not make this year the year we will win?
Puma Blue was merely the opener for Sunday night’s show at Schuba’s, but it was clear that the majority of the crowd was there to see him and his band.
By him, I mean Jacob Allen, a British singer-songwriter who has been making music under the moniker Puma Blue since his 2014 demo “Only Trying 2 Tell U” garnered attention on SoundCloud. Since then, he has released two EPs: Swum Baby in 2017 and last year’s Blood Loss. His static-y, understated bedroom ballads have morphed accordingly to incorporate heavier jazz influences and a full band, including a saxophonist.
Puma Blue’s first show in Chicago was part of a larger U.S. tour with Westerman on his way to this year’s SXSW festival. He started off the set as he started his career – solo – playing “Untitled 2” and immediately beckoning Jeff Buckley comparisons due to his slightly-choked vibrato. As he reached for high, lilting notes, his face twisted in emotion and his eyes closed, as they would remain during each song.
Puma Blue’s band then joined him on stage, striking the first few chords of “Want Me,” and prompting a hearty “Fuck me up!” from the crowd. The song’s minimalistic approach live felt like swimming through molasses, which continued to the next song, “Soft Porn.” After a quiet start, the band really began to kick in on “She’s Just A Phase,” particularly the saxophonist. The build was insane, and suddenly it felt as though Schuba’s had turned into a jazz club. The drummer, – who at first had mainly been brushing the drums – revealed his talent in jazz percussion, and the bass wasn’t stand-up, but it could have been. This energy increased over the next two tracks, “Lust” and “Midnight Blue.” The band then launched into two entirely new songs, which held the same minimalistic-yet-chaotic musical quality as that of Puma Blue’s latest album. “Moon Undah Water” was a definite highlight, giving another shining moment to the saxophonist and the band’s ability to build.
Fittingly, Puma Blue’s set ended with “Only Trying 2 Tell U,” the song that started it all for Allen. As soon as it was announced that the end of their set had come, the energy in the audience changed. It was clear no one wanted the band to leave, and Allen knew this as well, asking the crowd to not “fuck on home” and stay for the next act.
I tried to respect his wishes, but failed, preferring to leave with Puma Blue’s stunning performance replaying in my head.
A Tuesday night at Schubas. The crowd was expectedly smaller than the usual weekend bunch but would continue to grow as the night progressed. First to take the stage was the Chicago-based four-piece Minor Moon. The music was complex, but approachable, incorporating smooth, jazzy drum patterns and non-standard tunings. They had also contracted a lap steel player for the evening. They had all the makings of a folky Americana/country group but played without the twang that usually accompanies the cross-genre. Their sound was impossible to nail down, as each aspect seemed to be in direct contradiction to another but fell somewhere along the lines of psychedelic folk rock and bluesy soul tunes, with improvised sections reminiscent of a festival jam band.
This show was a special one, as frontman Sam Cantor’s brother and sister-in-law were in attendance, fresh off a plane from Boston. The band has two albums to their credit, with a four-year gap between releases. They stayed busy between albums, however, sprinkling a combination of singles and EP’s out into the world. Back to the special nature of the show: the band played two new tunes after sampling from their earlier discography. One was a well-worn-in track that simply didn’t make the cut for the most recent release, and one was a world-debut that was well received by the small but vocal crowd. They closed with “An Opening (Parting Song)” from their most recent album An Opening, and the crowd seemed reluctant to part with the five. But fret not! This certainly won’t be the last you hear of Minor Moon.
After a brief intermission, The Dead Tongues took the stage. The two men looked isolated on the medium-sized stage—a nice compliment to the somber atmosphere of the tunes to come. Ryan Gustafson’s torture and anguish are artfully encapsulated in dark folk melodies supplied by guitar, banjo, and harmonica. These are contrasted by shining moments of optimism, and the whole thing is held together by his meandering vocals that drift from topic to topic, covering everything to hard-times-past and love lost to the smaller joys of life yet lived. His music captures the essence of “slowing things down”—taking it all in. The drum patterns and bass lines supplied by his touring partner syncopated and swirled about, expertly underlining finger-picked flusters of complications and adding a thicker, more rounded-out texture to the experience. The two men were an army of music. An orchestra. Organic but well-practiced. Chasmic and vast, but detail-rich. All this from their first ever show as a duo!
Gustafson, having toured with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook’s Guitarheels, is a seasoned road-man. His nomadic lifestyle, paired with musical excellence and a clear-minded artistic vision, inform all of his works. His most recent, and third, studio album, Unsung Passage, is a great success. The ten-track project breathes and oozes something that is his own. Its predecessor, Montana, is similarly genius, but less evolved. His most recent release, a single entitled “Road to Heaven” hints at even more to come.
The twosome’s set at Schubas was the first stop on a leisurely US tour, after a slight delay due to illness. The entire set was well received by the warm crowd. Gustafson broke out the banjo for my personal favorite song of his, “Wildflower Perfume” off of his aforementioned sophomore album Montana. Fans of Charlie Parr, Caamp, Mandolin Orange, The Ghost of Paul Revere, and of course, Hiss Golden, will eat The Dead Tongues up. They’re definitely worth a listen.
I was in a place I was not supposed to be. It can always be intimidating walking into a small art gallery filled with people that know everyone there but you. What was I doing there? Was this music meant for me to listen to? Yet I’ve said all that was needed to say just by showing up.
I’ve always had an understanding of Power Electronics and its problematic themes and abrasive methods of making music. However, I thought it died in the 80s, finishing as quickly as it started, its statements trapped in a hyper-aggressive form of artistic expression. Power Electronics feel so focused due to the general industrial-like conventions they use to make sound and its ways of making a statement through controversial lyrics and images. To emulate key artists like Whitehouse or Ramleh would feel more carbon-copy than a gentle nod, and those inspired have taken on new forms in more general terms like “Harsh Noise.” Though what was displayed was more than stale performances that relied on gimmicks of over-confrontation. It was a statement on the fluidity of the genre, showing that the freeing sentiments of a Power Electronics have stayed with us.
The performance started off with a debut of Spring Break, a solo artist based in Chicago. He asked for a moment of silence and hats off as he opened with the national anthem, finishing his 10-minute set with an intense yelling match, shrouded with invasive effects.
Next was the duo, Mkot Pt, who gave arguably the most unsettling performance, as the shrills of a woman were lost in the unnerving buzzes that worked to silence her while glitchy visuals played behind them. Towards the end of their set, the noises worked more to aid the more masculine figure as their deep voice was put through a contact mic lodged into their mouth, demanding your focus and resisting your attempts at escape.
Many of the other performances were set up in similar ways, but all felt very different and purposeful. It’s events like these that remind us of how much we can push our comforts to the point where escape feels like no option. We struggle to hear these screams and understand the words that any given performer is saying. Their anger and frustration are lost in the disposable walls of noise, meant for over-consumption. This hyper-awareness fuels each performance and solidifies the ethos of the darkness of humanity without the use of the more problematic creations it’s responsible for.
I talked with Spring Break after his set, and he surprisingly couldn’t have been any nicer and approachable. We talked about the hat he had made that said, “Make Power Electronics Great Again,” with the hopes that Trump would see it one day and Google Power Electronics. He and everyone else performing were making music for purposes like these; to be heard and express frustration in a way that commented on the isolation and the intensity of living in society. These sentiments and ideas are not unique, but that’s the point. It’s as disposable as it is integral to the art. The place exists whether we are there or not; it’s only a matter of accepting it.
The Sunday just before Reading Week, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas for the 32nd iteration of South by Southwest—a Cerberus of a festival with Film, Interactive, and Music components, spanning ten days. Music was scheduled for the last 7 days of the festival, and that’s where I come in. After months of researching and emailing, I had my schedule picked out and interviews booked. What follows is a recap, as concise as I could make it. I’m including links to our YouTube page, where we post artist interviews, and a Spotify “best of” playlist, chosen from sets I saw or interviews I conducted (some of the tunes had yet to be released). I’ll also link to individual interviews as we come across the artists in the wild, so stay tuned!
I showed up in Austin and made my way over to Hotel Vegas—what I would later learn to be one of the weirdest venues in the already weird city. After waiting in line for longer than I would have liked to, I was allowed into the crowded back yard and made my way to one of the venue’s four stages, hoping I was at the right one. A standup comic kept the crowd at bay while the band finished setting up, with insightful and witty commentary on life’s everyday ailments—like failing to impress your dad with your promiscuity and the annoyance of Buddhist, cum-eating ants.
(Thee) Oh Sees themselves put on an absolutely wild show. The parentheses denote the fact that the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees now goes by simply Oh Sees. The band was all over the place, seemingly playing at 2x speed (so maybe 8x the speed of any other band). People weren’t just crowd surfing, they were fighting their way to the front so that they could plant their feet on the rails and backflip on to the rest of the writhing crowd. It was insane. The music was predictably great, thanks to (Thee) Oh Sees eclectic blend of surfer rock and post-punk-psychedelia, led by John Dwyer’s raspy vocals, high pitched “woo’s” and cargo-shorted crazy legs.
If you don’t know (Thee) Oh Sees sound by now, you have no excuse. Crack open another ice-cold YouTube tab and revisit this article in half an hour or so. Their latest release is Smote Reverser, but I’d personally recommend 2017’s Orc, or their early 2017 performance on KEXP.
I arrived at the next venue on my list (Mohawk) a bit early and was able to catch the tail end of a Priests show. One thing I liked about SXSW was its pub crawl vibe. Most venues are a 15-minute walk apart at most.
After spending what felt like forever on sound check, Deerhunter took the stage. The synth-rock band (who describe their sound as “ambient punk”) began bathing the crowd in shoegaze’s characteristic swelly and distorted guitars, simplistic drum beats, and ethereal synths. Cover Me Slowly was a clear crowd favorite. Bradford Cox was a vocal powerhouse.
The bar/venue itself put on an amazing light show, and the band sounded great. They had a weird stadium thing going on, with a tiered upper level extending two or three staggered layers above the ground. Part of the upper deck wrapped around the stage, so if you were lucky, you could stand almost directly over the band—although when it’s as slammed as it was pretty much the entire time that South By was happening, it’s enough of a challenge even getting in the front door.
The venue Latitude 30 partnered up with the Department of International Trade (wtf, right?) to present the British Music Embassy’s showcase this year. Acts of all genres from all over England were highlighted. I went there to see King Nun (“Hung Around”, “Chinese Medicine”) and was surprised to see a different band start setting up. They were banging all around, dropping a bass guitar and knocking mic stands over.
My pessimism was up-ended, however, by the first song. Brighton’s hardest dream-pop band, Thyla, was playing like they had something to prove. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a tight band, playing like they had some experience. They were sort of poppy-sounding but would dive into heavier channels from time to time, rounding out their sound. They played as if they shared the same brain, some British musical superorganism making an effort to prove itself.
They played a few songs from their newest release and first EP, What’s On Your Mind, a five-track with only two fresh songs. You might like Thyla if you like The Ninth Wave, Speilbergs, or Sports Team.
I arrived at the Historic Scoot Inn exactly 24 hours early than I had intended to, or so I was told by the guy working the gate when I asked if Slow Pulp would be starting soon. I had nothing else planned for that time slot, so I stuck around to see what was up. And again, I was pleasantly surprised by a band I hadn’t intended to see!
Pink Sweat$ emerged in a Naruto shirt and, you guessed it, pink sweats. He was accompanied only by NYC guitarist (and apparently LGBTQ+ activist, as my inbox was keen to inform me) Daisy. They engaged the crowd in a laid back, chilled out, and stripped-down R&B set, with a hearty blues backbone. Daisy laid down tight, consistent chord patterns, that sounded fresh but familiar, occasionally barking out a bluesy solo phrase or two.
Pink Sweat$ voice is an absolute angelic powerhouse. Paired with a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to see how the young musician has so quickly amassed a sizable following, with his first release coming in 2018 and already accruing over three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. His latest release, Volume 2, is another five-tracker: three of which he performed live. Side note, whoever runs his branding is killing it, all of his cover art is both interesting and thematically consistent. At any rate, he’s taking off at a breakneck pace. Check him out.
This quick backyard set at Icenhauer’s bar still feels like it didn’t happen. I’ve been head over heels for Trudy and the Romance since their 2016 single “He Sings” was released. By some stroke of luck or divine intervention, I was able to see their first set in the US in a weird little bar backyard with plasticky fake grass and an ugly wooden fence.
“We’re called Trudy and the Romance… Trudy like the girls’ name—Trudy—and the Romance, like love—not the Romans. Romance.” And then it was happening. The “50’s Mutant-Pop” foursome was ripping through their set-list at an unsustainable pace. They looked the part, sporting oversized dress shirts, clashing patterns, and stringing their Jazzmasters well above the waist.
Oliver Taylor, frontman and vocalist for the band, was crooning from all parts of the stage, dancing in a way I can compare only to Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. It was otherworldly, or at least other-time-ly. If you’re hot dog on your internet culture, the entire set was personified in The Aristocats dancing gifs you see floating around. The set list covered their entire discography, and the crowd was there for it.
The band wrapped things up, “Thank you so much for watching, we’re Trudy like the girls’ name and the Romance like the love, thanks,” and announced their debut studio LP, Sandman, set to release on May 24th. Just less than a week ago, they released a music video accompaniment for the song “Doghouse,” from the Sandman album to come. My words do no justice to their vibe. Listen for yourself—you won’t regret it.
Next up, I popped over to Edwin’s Sports Bar, home of New Dutch Wave’s SXSW showcase, to catch Iguana Death Cult. Iguana Death Cult is a four-piece new wave/post-punk outfit from Rotterdam, but they’re hard to pin down in just one sentence. The first song they played, for example, showed very obviously punk influence. The following song included polka-inspired bass lines and moved at a more rockabilly canter. Think Violent Femmes in their versatility.
Their stage performance was electrifying, and definitely a sight to behold. It may have been too much, even, for the unsuspecting crowd, as everyone seemed to keep their distance from the stage. “Come on, I know I spit a little but I’m not contagious,” frontman Jeroen Reek pleaded, “come join us at the front for a dance!” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose, because after that gentle prodding, the crowd dove in head first and started dancing and thrashing around to the music.
This is the power chord band. They sing songs with 30 second sections of the same word yelled over and over. They come complete with a shirtless bass player with three oddly spaced black and gray arm tattoos. They run in place and shout at the mics. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re fun. If you like the Talking Heads, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Interpol, or DEVO, you may want to check these guys out.
I caught the last show of the night at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, a laid back local venue with an extremely small, raised wooden stage. The bar felt very homey but was a challenge to navigate due to high top tables and chairs strewn all around the place. What wasn’t seated space was standing room. This made it tough to get around, but looking past that, the venue was quite intimate, and allowed the band to feel like they were right in your face.
The California-based group Spooky Mansion took the stage and wouldn’t be deterred by the limited elbow room. The four-piece played a funky, synth infused surf rock set, complimented nicely by lead singer and experienced house-sitter Grayson Converse’s unique voice and flamboyant performance. Their music will sit well with fans of Paul Cherry, Ceramic Animal, Trudy and the Romance, and lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.
The band reposted ~without tagging; credit the artist please and thank you~ the video from my Instagram story of Converse’s absurd dance moves with the caption, “hips n nips, baby!” thereby confirming alleged ties between the upcoming group and Rickety Cricket’s management team. But seriously, this is a great band that I was lucky to catch before they blew up. Their latest release, a single entitled “Brink of Death” was released early last October, so keep your eyes peeled for new projects on the horizon.
This time, arriving at the Historic Scoot Inn, I was in the right place at the right time—more so than I ever would have guessed when leaving my Airbnb that morning. Not only would I meet Wisconsin-born and Chicago-based four-piece Slow Pulp, but I would do so while eating crawfish. I f *cking love crawfish and these were shining examples of the delicacy.
The laid-back, backyard honky tonk vibe of the Scoot Inn stood in stark juxtaposition to the dream-punk sound cultivated by the foursome, but made for a homey show. At first, it felt like they were playing someone’s lakehouse party, and we (the crowd and myself) were there to soak up the sun, and oh yeah, there’s music. But just one or two songs into their set, the vibe changed. People were standing, dancing, and encroaching on the lonely-looking stage.
Emily Massey’s too-sweet voice drifted in and out of the warped melodies and crisp drum beats created by the band, who played a solid set, pulling from the entirety of their young band’s discography. Their latest release, “Steel Birds,” and “Preoccupied,” from their 2017 release EP2, were clear crowd favorites.
The band kicks off a quick summer tour with esteemed colleagues Remo Drive on May 31st, with a hometown show at Bottom Lounge. It should go without saying, but that’s a show you shouldn’t miss.
After a short food truck intermission, I made my way over to Hotel Vegas’s Volstead stage, indoors. What a weird spot. It felt like a bad acid trip set to interiors from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There was ugly pattern wallpaper, mismatched chandeliers, roughly double the acceptable amount of wood paneling, and a tapir (?) head mounted to the back wall. That being said, the set started right at sunset, and the light spilling through the doorway was breathtaking.
The band was set and ready to go, utilizing a very minimal setup. The drummer’s kit was comprised of only a drum pad, a tom, and a single kick drum. There was a lap steel, glossily strung through a pedal or two. And then there was the cat-gut playing, and smooth crooning Sam Swinson. His antique voice was perfect accoutrements to the weirdo Western sailor parlor amalgamation of stuff that was the Volstead stage.
Ohtis has existed as a band for more than a decade, but has struggled with various ailments throughout its entire existence. Addiction, rehab, and relocation behind them, the group has truly found their voice, making dark-folk Americana tunes with just a hint of country twang and a healthy dose of lessons hard-learned. The band has just released a short film inspired by their single, “Runnin’,” and has announced an official end-of-March release date for their debut studio album, Curve of Earth. Ohtis is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They bare their souls and don’t hide nothing from nobody. Just don’t listen with the expectation of unsubstantiated radio fluff. Listen to singles “Runnin’” (and watch the short film!) and “Pervert Blood” in anticipation of their new LP!
Returning to the British Music Embassy showcase at Latitude 30, I was excited to see a band I’d only recently discovered on Fender’s YouTube channel, playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018. I had done some preliminary Spotify research as well, but entered the venue with a largely open mind. Their live sound, from what I thought, was quite different from their studio sound, and that notion held true.
The Howl and the Hum took the small stage to an almost uncomfortable level of haze. Whoever was working lights really wanted his fifteen minutes… The band tore into what proved to be a very active live show. They were all over the place. The music expertly toed the line between thumpy and playful, but was certainly heavier (and louder!) than their studio work. It felt like a more evolved sound for the band. Their Facebook page boldly states, “They combine dark hypnotic pop with post-punk influences, pierced with lyrics that will make you call your mum the next morning.”
At the beginning, they would talk a lot between songs, explaining the thoughts that went into the writing process, and chastising the crowd for pronouncing “vitamins” wrong on this side of the pond. As the set progressed however, they wouldn’t leave as much breathing room between ‘miserable discos,’ diving headfirst into the next song seemingly before the first was over.
The band clearly had a sense of humor and came to perform. Horn-rimmed glasses and carefully pomaded pompadours were head-banged out of place, and the proper, sweater-vested boys next door took on their final form as a hard-nosed rock band. They really put on a show. The Howl and the Hum are, obviously, a British group, and don’t have any US tour dates planned as of the writing of this piece. It has been almost a year, however, since their latest release; logic would suggest that they’re working on something new. Keep them in the back of your mind.
I made a quick pitstop at Friend’s Bar on the way to my next set. There I caught French for Rabbits tearing down their stage in preparation for Million Miles, the solo keyboardist and vocalist. Her outfit was eye-catching, with a sparkly twilight mauve shirt that perfectly matched her keyboard case, and flowy black pants with elegant looking cranes circling the pant legs.
The bar was the perfect venue for this type of set. It was a mostly older crowd, either seated or crowded around the aquarium/bar area to grab a Tom Collins or whatever 50+ year olds are getting ripped on nowadays.
Million Miles is a French/British singer songwriter who artfully infuses folk, blues, and soul, with perhaps a hint of R&B. Her voice is angelic, and the notes from her piano elegantly float just beneath it, never competing for attention. Singles “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were crowd favorites, the latter of which being a February ’19 release. Million Miles is perfect music for a de-stressing walk around the block or a lazy afternoon at home.
The last set of the evening saw Bane’s World take the stage at Palm Door on Sixth with some truly beautiful instruments: the pièce de résistance, an off-white Gretsch hollow body. Originally a solo project, Shane (Bane) tours with some musical backing. They played well together and were a well-oiled jazz machine. The set felt more like a laid-back jam session than a music festival set. The music was happy-sounding, but not so much so that it felt “peppy” or overly sappy.
Near the end of the set, Shane said his little piece, finishing with “thanks for hanging out with you… wait, I mean me.” He laughed out loud and continued, “Fuck, I’m tired,” and finished her off with some robot noises before diving into the final song of the set. The young musician’s laid-back, lighthearted energy was infectious, and the music even more so.
With only one studio album to his credit, which was released in 2016, you should expect new work from Bane’s World on the horizon. We also met up for an interview a few days after this set. To get to know the man behind the music, check out our coverage here.