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SXSW Part 2

05 April 2019,   By ,   0 Comments

March 14-16, 2019

By Finn Hewes

Photos by Finn Hewes

This is the second part of a two-part article. You can find the first part here.

Additonally, all of the videos we produced to go along with this piece can be found on our YouTube page, as well as the individual links found below, as we come across these artists in the wild.

Day 4

The Golden Fleece

I began my day at Shiner’s Saloon in downtown Austin. The cozy “family” bar was dark, lit mostly by a row of windows behind the stage and a neon Shiner beer sign.

The first band to play was The Golden Fleece: a psychedelic rock band from Peoria, IL. Their set began with a plague of sound issues that were quickly corrected. By the third song, the band was at full swing.

The drummer beat the absolute shit out of his kit, displaying a level of confidence easily matched by his bandmates. Characteristic of 70’s era psych rock swagger, the Fleece were masters of changing the pace. Meandering psychedelic melodies gave way to frenzied guitar solos, expertly sprinkled with moments of pregnant silence.

Being Peoria natives, the Fleece will likely present plenty of opportunities to experience them live. If you just can’t wait, they do have a new record, Mind Mirror, set to be released this April. The band is selling presale-edition vinyls at their merch tables on tour, as well as online.

Fans of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and anything in-between will appreciate tracks, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” and “Crowd,” the former of which being from their debut EP Kill the Time, the latter a single from the forthcoming LP.

Deeper

Next to take the stage was a band that hails from even closer to home. Deeper is a Chicago-based quartet that toes the line between post-punk, emo, and something else altogether. Pitchfork compared them to Deerhunter last summer, and while I never made that connection myself, similarities are there.

The band was pretty subdued in terms of their performance, shoegazing the day away. Shiraz, the drummer, was celebrating his birthday, and played exceptionally well. His frenzied pace-making shook the floor of the small venue and set a rigid backbone for his three bandmates to lean on. Guitar/vocalist Nic Gohl’s voice was tinged with urgency, lending an almost emo-band quality to the music.

The guys were very matter-of-fact about the show, played their forty minutes and made way for the next group to set up. I expected more ego from a band with opening credits for bands like Whitney, Ne-Hi, and more. I’d point you to their self-titled album, but their 2018 Audiotree Live session is too good to pass up and is readily available on Spotify.

The Curls

I fought my way through the sea of people on Sixth Street to BD Riley’s Irish Pub in time to catch yet another local group, The Curls. Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will appreciate that these guys looked like the McPoyle clan with instruments. Their concept was reminiscent of Dead & Co., but their sound carried more of a funk influence. They’re hard to pin down. Maybe that’s why nobody quite knows how to describe them online. They describe themselves on Facebook as “art funk/piss jazz.” So there you have it.

The set was goofy from start to finish. After the first song, vocalist Mick asked the stage manager how much time they had left. He responded to her look of confusion by saying, “Alright cool, we’ll just play the rest of the songs we had planned to play then.” The second half of the set saw Mick not-so-politely ask the crowd for sponsorship/endorsement deals.

Despite the fun and games, the band was musically solid. They would change time signatures and chord sequences seemingly without warning or hesitation, making for a unique-to-them sound. You can catch The Curls at Sleeping Village on April 23rd and check out their music online anytime! I recommend singles “Bad Boi,” “Tidal Wave,” and “Prickly Feelings.”

Sad Cops

From Denton, Texas, the self-labeled “suburban rock” group Sad Cops took to the stage behind the Mariott hotel. These guys were definitely the youngest group I met at South By, but it didn’t show. More on that later. The project is a 5 piece that I would label Midwestern emo/math rock, reminiscent of bands like American Football, Mineral, The Hotelier or Tiny Moving Parts. They’re a prolific young band, producing two EP’s, a single, and an album since 2015—all while still in high school.

“You can tell we’re a DIY band because none of our pedal boards ever work,” said lead singer Grayson Harris, troubleshooting his gear between the first and second songs of the set. The performance was full of banter, back and forth between the group. Paired with a technically solid musical performance, this easy confidence sold the band as seasoned industry veterans rather than punk kids from the Texas suburbs. Harris followed this comment by saying, “We didn’t know these sets were forty minutes… we usually play house parties and most people can only stand us for twenty at most.” As cliché as it may sound, I was reminded of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special… “What are they, tuning a harp back there?”

Speaking of DIY, Harris also pointed out a friend in the crowd who had shot the music video for the band’s most-popular-by-far single, “Honey.” Check that out on YouTube, or head over to Spotify and listen to singles “Numb Hand” and “Best Friends.” Sad Cops was impressive on a number of fronts; rest assured, we’ll be hearing the name again.

Tribes

Replacing Sad Cops on the Mariott’s backyard stage was Spanish-language band Tribes from El Paso, Texas. I met Mike, who I would later learn is the band’s founder and guitarrón player, before Tribes went on. We talked about math rock and jazz and funk metal and everything under the musical sun, highlighting cross-genres and creative sources of influence, as well as lamenting the struggles of academic performing arts. I stuck around to see what Mike had promised to be an electrifying Mariachi-rock set. He wasn’t wrong.

I’ve seen plenty of mariachi music and had more or less written it off as another culture’s homogeneous-sounding folk music (like polka, or hick hop…) and never paid it the individual attention it deserves. Tribes was a pleasant surprise. The band played beautifully. They managed to make three strings players (vihuela, guitarrón, and guitar), two trumpeters, a drummer, a violinist, and a singer sound uncomplicated, synergetic, and uncluttered. Gisselle Lopez supplied powerhouse vocals to contend with any singer out there.

Music video and vinyl accompaniments for their single “Night Future” are available now, the former on YouTube and Facebook: @tribestx

The Blinders

If you’ve read any of these articles, you know about my British Music Embassy fetish. I went almost every day, I just couldn’t stay away. This time, I showed up at Latitude 30 early, eager to get a good photo spot for The Blinders: an alt-rock band from Doncaster. The band has been together since 2015—since their founding they’ve released seven singles, an EP, and a full-length album. Their Facebook page proclaims that their influences range from Dylan and Lennon, to Mark E Smith, to Kerouac and Rimbaud, predictably Orwell and S.Borroughs, and even Manson and The Devil. In a 2016 interview with Clash Music, the band referred to their sound as “A spellbinding punkadelic-esque Roman orgy.”

Their music stands for itself; nothing I can say here will do it any justice. You need to listen for yourself. I can, however, describe their performance as best I can in so many words. They started strong, killing all of the lights and blasting “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) over the venue’s loudspeakers. The three-piece leapt on-stage, and they did so in style. Bass player Charlie McGough sported a sparkly pinstripe shirt and suit. He likes to out-dress his audience. Matty Neale, drummer-extraordinaire, kept it casual while Thomas Haywood, the group’s lead singer/guitarist and frontman, emerged with his shirt unbuttoned and his face painted up Skyrim style. Non-gamers, think Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, but more culturally sensitive.

They gave an all-over-the-place show, clearly influenced by the hayday of 80’s British rock groups. McGough would plant a foot on a stage monitor and headbang while Haywood would give the back of the house a thousand-yard stare, just over the heads of the audience, while sort of squat-crawling with his guitar slung back and microphone in hand. It was loud and big and sweaty rock n’ roll.

The Blinders were one of the bands I was most excited to see, and for good reason. The band is presently touring, but unfortunately doesn’t have any US dates planned. Check out their debut album, Colombia, specifically singles “L’etat C’est Moi,” “I Can’t Breathe Blues,” and “Free the Slave.”

Day 5

Black Pistol Fire

Friday night was the night of Arlyn Studios’ Homecoming Party. Since opening in 1984, Arlyn Studios has worked with some of the best musical acts in the world: Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Frank Ocean, Hillary Duff, Phish, Sublime, and even Willie Nelson and Waka Flocka Flame. They’ve amassed a mindboggling portfolio and have had a hand in some of the most successful recording projects of all time. Almost the entire building was open for the public to meander through, though it was too crowded to do so easily.

After peeking my head into one of three state-of-the-art booths and nerding out for a second, I began the upstream battle to get as near as possible to the recording-studio-turned-stage. Canada-born and now Austin-based sleaze rockers Kevin McKeown (guitar and vocals) and Eric Owen (drums) swaggered out of the back room and were met with the correct (read: absurd) amount of whooping and screaming from the crowd.

The duo lit straight into it, Owen beating his drums within an inch of life, McKeown planting off of the kit and showing off his high kicks. Music journalists have described these guys as high octane before, but that word fails to encapsulate the glory… It’s like these guys had killed a six-pack of Redbull each and had Guitar Hero’s star-power mode activated for the entirety of their set.

The hip 35-year-olds were packed in like sardines. I saw a shorter woman whose feet couldn’t reach the ground, pinned between the shoulders of her bearded friends in suspended animation, unable to find any purchase amidst the stream of writhing people. I found some random amp to stand on (reminder, this is happening in a functioning commercial recording studio) and was able to get a few shots of the band, but my plane of vision was mostly obscured.

Black Pistol Fire came to melt faces that night, like they do every night. The band is in the midst of a US tour, with a mid-May stop at Metro in Chicago. You’ll wanna be there; I know I will be. The band hasn’t released an album since 2017, but with a recent single, “Black Halo,”, we might soon be in for a treat.

Magic Potion

After hauling ass across downtown Austin on a Bird (super cheap rental electric scooter things—a Capitalist Plague, but admittedly sort of fun) and narrowly escaping certain death, I entered The Velveeta Room. The venue was predictably a weird spot. One wall was lined with mirrors and neon, the other with a strange assortment of murals, including but not limited to: a can of EZ-cheese, a lava lamp, a can of spam, and a scene from an unidentifiable 50’s era comic book with a cigarette smoking alligator man.

Magic Potion, a fuzz-pop/psychedelic slacker-rock four-piece hailing from Stockholm, took the stage under a dreamlike canopy of pastel-colored china balls. The surreal venue and stage were a nice pairing for the laid back, psychedelia-tinged sound for which the band is beginning to garner a reputation. Rounding the corner of the stage to shoot from some different angles, I noticed the drummer was pounding away in his socks. The rest of the band gave a fairly subdued performance but managed to avoid looking like mannequins—tough to do when shoegazing.

Magic Potion’s “Rest Yr Skull,” a single from their 2018 sophomore album Endless Graffiti contains a 10-15 second segment that is my favorite 10-15 segment of any song out right now. Call it an earworm, I don’t know. I just know I can’t get “Maharishi my maaaaan…” out of my head, no matter what I try. It’s got to be something about the wafting, idyllic vocals that seem to come from decades-old recordings (similar to the feeling I get from Ohtis). Or maybe it’s attributable to the guitar tracking that delicately toes the line between laziness and scalping angularity. Either way, these Swedes are doing something special. Settle for checking out Endless Graffiti on Spotify or Bandcamp, as the band has no public US travel plans anytime soon.

Private Island

Southern California’s indie quintet Private Island took over BD Riley’s Irish Pub that night: the night before St. Patty’s, no less. They’ve been promoting their own brand of retro-funk infused rock for the better part of a decade, releasing A Good Look in 2014. The five-song project, technically labeled a single, contained their two most popular singles to date, in “Dissolve” and “Bear Hands.” Their sound draws many comparisons, from slenderbodies to Del Water Gap to Young the Giant, and even Kings of Leon (for the top-40 normies out there).

The band gave a great performance, leaning more heavily on their funk influences than is evident in their recorded works. In fact, the first song of their set was a jam-style funk cover that they explored for over five mins. They were well received by the crowd, who seemed at least somewhat familiar with their more popular songs. This was their last of three shows this South By, and they voiced their love for the festival and the city of Austin in general.

The cascading, feel good power behind songs like “Drugs,” “Bear Hands,” and “Tito’s Grand Adventure” garnered favorable reactions from the mostly innocuous crowd. The announcement of the title of “Tito’s…” was met with a, “Hey I love Titos!” from the back of the bar. I don’t know if that’s funny.

The band closed the set with “Pillow Case,” a single from their forthcoming album, 5xx set to be released April 23rd of this year. “Pillow Case” is unavailable online, and the band didn’t state any intention to release it ahead of the full album, nor do they have any tour dates posted online at the time of this article’s writing, but I expect a promoting tour announcement soon, what with the late-April album release.

The Gooch Palms

Aussie duet The Gooch Palms followed Private Island for a goofy set at BD Riley’s. The “Antipodean party machine” consisting of Leroy and Kat tore Austin a new one, flying through a DIY garage-punk discography oft-compared to Pist Idiots, The Pinheads, Mini Skirt, and Lunatics on Pogosticks. The band has been active since 2011 and are getting back in the swing of touring after a new deal with Ratbag Records attached to a third studio album.

Combining catchy shout vocals, grumbling, throaty guitar licks, and simple time-keeping drum beats with an absurdist stage presence, “The Goochies” are a fun live act to witness. The night I saw them, Kat sported the same sweater she wore in the “Are We Wasted?” music video. Leroy dazzled us with a leopard print blouse and a too-big fake chain and keep-you-honest compression shorts. The minimally-geared twosome looked and felt more at home on the small stage than some of the larger bands who had occupied it beforehand (cough cough, The Curls).

They’re currently touring the US with almost twenty dates between now and the end of April, though this article won’t be published in time to alert people of their Chicago stop at the Empty Bottle. Recent singles to check out: “Marfa Lights,” “Summertime,” and “Busy Bleeding.”

Day 6

Her’s

After an interview with the British dream-pop duet that you can catch here, Ellise and I caught a Her’s set underneath the pink parachute at Cheer Up Charlie’s. The two arrived from Liverpool to play their second South By, kicking off their first “full” US tour, with nineteen dates. They bathed a large afternoon crowd in a haze of spectral dream-wave bliss and paired it with a relaxed and friendly stage presence.

Vocalist Stephen Fitzpatrick was fighting a “Texas flu” that other bands had mentioned as well, but the rasp was a welcome addition to the warm, psychedelic fuzz waves emanating from the stage. Between the two real humans and the life-size cutout of James Bond tasked with manning the drum machine, the crowd was treated to a show. They made it sexy.

Any listener could easily tell that the two share a genuine love of the craft. “All we wanna see is that little crease in the side of the mouth, that’s enough for us. Don’t even pay us… ever!” Norwegian bassist Audun Laading exclaimed.

Her’s was a band on the rise, making waves within an already-hot genre. “Cool With You” from their 2017 debut album and “Under Wraps” from their more recent 2018 release are personal recommendations. 2016’s “What Once Was” was also a Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd favorite.

Just a week and a half after our interview with the band, they were involved in a fatal head-on collision while traveling from Phoenix to California. This tragedy was caused by a wrong-way driver on the interstate. The crash left no survivors. Stephen and Audun were warm, inviting, and charismatic individuals, aside from being amazing musicians. They made the world a better place in their short-lived lives, and we love and appreciate their memory.

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

Aussie psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets—or is it the Psychedelic Prawn Trumpets? —took the stage in Radio Milk’s Austin backyard Saturday night for what would prove to be a gut-churning monster of a set. “We didn’t know if you’d approve of this type fing,” frontman Jack McEwan said jokingly after wrapping up the first song. The crowd loved them.

I’ve followed the Porn Crumpets closely since 2016’s release of High Visceral, Pt. 1. After the mid-January release of the single “Keen for Kick On’s,” I expected the band to be blazing a fire-spitting, face-melting psychedelic trail across the radio charts, but they have yet to surpass a quarter of a million monthly listeners on Spotify.

I exited the backyard venue and went around behind the stage to get a fresh angle, reached high overhead with my camera, and was spotted by McEwan who laughed and gave me a thumbs up. My heart set aflutter! They forged through the rest of their set in characteristic blinding-hot, psychedelia-tinged hard rock.

Now is your chance to “get it while it’s hot,” because these guys won’t wait around. They orchestrated and headlined “Dr. Noggin Floggin & the Liquid Friends Festival” this past December and were met with great success. With tour plans to the UK and EU in a few months and aforementioned recent single release, you have to wonder if there’s more in the works from the active Aussies. Check them out on Spotify.

Del Water Gap

Another of our interviewee’s, Del Water Gap, played his and my last official set of South By at Seven Grand on Saturday night. He took the stage to beautiful purple and teal split lighting, with mounted deer heads standing guard behind him. Guess that’s Texas for you.

Holden played a solid set, traipsing gracefully through 5+ years of releases, culminating in his announcement of an upcoming April record. His songwriting was highlighted in singles “High Tops,” and, his latest release, “Chastain.” I won’t ramble on here, as you can watch our full conversation with Holden here.

I will say, however, that my overpriced Lyft ride home that night was bittersweet. With Holden’s silken voice and thoughtful prose ringing in my mind, it was all over. South By Southwest was a blur, and more fun than I ever could have imagined. If you’ve read this far, that much should be obvious (and thanks for scrolling!). But there’s always another festival around the corner—more people to meet and more fun to be had. Back to Evanston and Spring Quarter and back to real life.