B-reel with Jay: South by Southwest, an Uncut Experience

B-reel with Jay: South by Southwest, an Uncut Experience

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Let’s be real. There’s a ton of attention on the main acts that stop by SXSW, but part of the adventure is discovering new and up-and-coming acts, including amazing artists that fly beneath the radar. The truth is there’s plenty of alternative footage that’s intercut between the headline showcases. Queue the valuable b-roll…

SXSW 2019 has come and gone, and with that, each year brings a wave of oversaturated corporate sponsorships coupled with a media frenzy. However, that doesn’t take away from the reality of coming down to Austin during this time in March: great food and the discovery of new music. With the hundreds of artists playing for fun and recognition, South By has become a maze of perfectly timing the performances you plan to check out across the city’s venues, while serendipitously discovering random bands that draw your attention towards establishments that you wouldn’t otherwise queue in line for.

 

The famous Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, TX.

If you didn’t shell out the cash for one of the primary access badges, obtaining a music wristband is still a de facto economical way to enjoy your favorite bands, just plan on queuing a tad bit longer, but patience is certainly a virtue.

 

Maz from WAAX, about to headbang in the mosh pit.

One of my favorite performances came on a Friday night, when an Australian rock band called WAAX took the stage. Flying all the way from Brisbane, this post-punk alternative band led by singer Maz, provided a spark of energy for a late-night crowd at Lucille Patio Lounge, dubbed “Australia House” for SXSW, and a common hangout for all our friends down under. From the second WAAX started, the mini-crowd erupted in a mosh, and danced and jumped around until the set was over. So much energy, to a point where fans were screaming the lyrics back into her face, upon which Maz couldn’t help but comment on the crowd’s enthusiasm after performing “F.U.” and “Labrador”, that latter which came in at No. 88 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 2018. If you were feeling tired after a long day of walking around and jamming at South By, WAAX provided a powerful performance that shook you up and punched you in the face. They literally waxed the floor. Bravo. You can check out their two EPs, Holy Sick, and Wild & Weak, and be on the lookout for a tour announcement soon. Their next stateside performance is in July for the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle, WA. And when their full-length album drops, I fully expect them to top the post-punk alternative charts.

Another great performance caught me by surprise, while heading early to the Scoot Inn venue to see some closing bands play. While making our entrance into the outdoor venue, my friend and I could hear a very distinct female voice jamming to power pop riffs and some fun guitar licks. The band that happen to be playing was no other than Charly Bliss, a four-piece pop-punk band from Brooklyn, NY. Make no mistake, this band has an incredible stage presence. Maybe it was the fluffy, sparkly, and what-looked-to-be-homemade dress that lead singer Eva Hendricks rocked for her Saturday night show in Austin, or the catchy power riffs and eclectic dance moves she showcased on stage, but either way, it worked to the crowd’s delight. Charly Bliss delivered a unique performance on a music style that resurrected the 90s alternative rock scene. They have a new album coming in May called Young Enough, which they had played a couple songs off that record. If you are a fan of their debut record, Guppy, released in 2017, their second album on Barsuk Records will sure raise your expectations and will likely be a fun one to rock out to.

Rounding up some memorable moments was catching the tail-end of a set by an Australian band from the Gold Coast, San Mei. Luscious dreamy rock would be an accurate description of this performance led by vocalist and guitarist Emily Hamilton. A very diverse looking band put the crowd in a trance, where it felt like you were floating across the highest of clouds while bopping your head to their dueling guitars. I had wish I had shown up earlier. You can catch San Mei’s EP, Heaven, out now and enjoy a much needed dreamy state of mind.

Another band my friends and I just walked into mid-set, and were subsequently blown away by, was the Japanese band Stereogirl, who performed as part of the Hello Asia! music showcase hosted at the Australia House on Rainey Street. This Tokyo band proves music can breach any language barrier, and that talent exists in all corners of the globe. These guys and gals sure had the technical chops and classical training, but they took that to another level with their indie and emo rock vibes, and lyrics sung in both Japanese and English. The lead singer had a notable stage presence, dreamy vibes, and swaying arms, which reminded me of the singer from fellow Japanese band, Story of Hope. At one point, one of the guitar players got really into a song they were playing, hopped off stage, jammed in the crowd, and chugged a fan’s beer, who was delighted that happened to them. How cool is that? Stereogirl is really removing the stereotype of Japanese culture being quiet and reserved, with their welcoming aura and pockets of intensity that’s redefining psychedelic rock. SXSW should host some more international music showcases, as there are so many hidden gems out there, Stereogirl being one of them.

 

Ringo Deathstarr, captured from the photo pit.

And for those Austin locals out there, the Austin-based shoegaze rock band Ringo Deathstarr (yes, Beatles + Star Wars), provided fans out there a heavy and deep performance, which comes with no surprise to these SXSW veterans. They’ve played SXSW so many times it’s hard to count, but their comfortable stage presence and witty stage banter sealed the deal. With Elliott Frazier on guitars and vox, and Alex Gehring on bass and vox, this singing duo mesmerized the crowd with their shoegazing vibes and super chill attitudes. Frazier’s obsession with the whammy bar worked him wonders as he went off into his own zone while playing and seemed to have reconnected with crowd right after the song was over. Like coming out of a blackout comatose. What was surprising was how hard some of these songs went, almost with a hard rock and grunge sound, which seems like something the band is exploring more of since their earlier days touring with The Dandy Warhols and The Smashing Pumpkins. Let’s also not forget their drummer, Daniel Coborn, is a beast on the sticks, helping add to the heavy loud sound that is the current Ringo Deathstarr. Check out their latest of four studio albums and two EPs, Pure Mood, and treat yourself to some smashing tunes.

Keeping with the hard rock vibes, a Western Australian band from Perth, whose name may scratch a few heads with confusing thoughts, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, played a noteworthy performance at Austin’s Barracuda bar. If you like rocking out and beating your head in to music that is cleverly composed yet loud and in your face, this is the band for you. What was truly amazing was how much the band switched up time signatures on us throughout various songs, making you feel the complexities of their chosen set. They reminded me of some technical mathcore bands out there, such as BTBAM and Ephel Duath, but with a cleaner and psychedelic edge to it, which differs from the blazing intensity and the brutal pounding of notes observed in the metal scene. Coupled with clean vocals and some gnarly riffs, this band sounds good on the ears yet remains exciting. They are closing out their US tour, but have a UK/EU tour coming up in May, and their latest album, High Visceral, Pt. 2, is available for purchase and streaming on your favorite platforms.

 

The Potty Mouth girls at the Get Better Records x New Professor showcase.

Part of the South By experience is breaking away from your group of friends and venturing off to see other bands. This is mainly due to schedule conflicts of everyone’s favorite acts, so tough decisions had to be made. But it wasn’t a difficult choice to venture out solo to East Austin, where the Get Better Records x New Professor showcase at the Dozen Street bar was held on Friday evening. Over there I saw a band I’ve seen play many times, as well as a couple new ones that I’m sure to catch live again soon. The first band Potty Mouth, fresh off their new record SNAFU, got the crowd hopping with catchy ballads such as “22” and “Smash Hit”. This is an all-female band from Western Massachusetts, and their touring lineups have been like that since their inception. These girls are comfortable with who they are, and the fun that they have on stage and their friendly jokes with the crowd reflects that. Think about a blast from the 90s without a hint of contemporary chique, and that makes Potty Mouth the band that they are in 2019. They’ve had the privilege to play with other strong female-led bands such as Skating Polly, Colleen Green, Bully, and CHVRCHES, and have a very bright future, especially with the cultural trends of women empowerment, LGBTQIA, and the MeToo movements. Potty Mouth has plenty of tour dates in North America this summer and will be showcasing a lot of their new stuff.

Also featured in this showcase at Dozen Street was the Illuminati Hotties, from Los Angeles, California. Hearing the name you may first instinctively wonder, what am I getting into here… but lead singer Sarah Tudzin brought a wave of indie pop feelings and funny stage banter. From commenting on the crowd’s behavior of surrounding the entire stage in a circle, to her daily battle with lactose intolerance and the desire for chicken and waffles across the street, Sarah brought her chill skater girl vibes along with a band that knows how to lick its chops as they pumped out banger after banger. They were ready to rock, and they did roll. Their debut full-length album, Kiss Yr Frenemies, released on Tiny Engines label, is out now.

The last featured artist I stuck around for at the showcase at Dozen Street, which I’m glad I did, was Tortuga Shades, a local band based right out of Austin, TX. Groovy is the best word to describe this band’s sound. Imagine a garageband infused with shoegazy 90s sounds and a hint of blues and jazz elements, and you’ll find yourself jamming out to Tortuga Shades. I caught up with lead singer and guitarist Nadia Lopez after the show, and she really is a happy person making happy music. Their self-released Migrations EP is one worth listening to, and just reminds you that despite all the global talent embarking at Austin for SXSW, there is some serious homegrown talent that shouldn’t be overlooked. Tortuga Shades falls in this category and I’m excited to hear what’s in stored for their budding musical journey.

 

Low lit and the calmness of tranquility at The Chills show.

The chillest performance of SXSW? With no surprise, I’d give it to the rock band out of New Zealand, The Chills. Due to scheduling conflicts, my buddy and I weren’t going to see this beloved band from the 80s, but somehow walking up Red River Street coming from a different show, we passed by Beerland, which was at capacity as The Chills were still playing. After queuing for some time, we finally got in, and the inside vibe was rather relaxing, which contrasted to the hectic environment of 7th Street downtown Austin at prime time. Lead singer and founding member Martin Phillipps even had a few words to say about how chill the crowd was and the good vibes that everyone had towards each other inside. Their show made what one would call an elegant and pleasurable experience. It was nostalgic to hear songs from back in the day, as well as new ones from their latest record, Snow Bound, released last year. It’s hard to keep track of their releases due to the 19-year gap this band took during studio releases, but nonetheless The Chills provides some deep lyrics and a stage attitude that matched it. This experience at Beerland was also memorable as the last time I was at this specific venue, I saw a hardcore band called Stove play, and the entire crowd was moshing. It’s nice to switch it up once in a while.

 

The crowds awaits, as The Joy Formidable sets up their backline.

One of the more established names that played at SXSW popped by the British Music Embassy showcase at Austin’s Latitude 30, and they were the Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable. And boy did they rock. Having seen them multiple times on previous tours, I knew what to expect, and they never failed to amaze me. This band is unique, in the fact that even on their level of success, they drive their own van (in oppose to chartering a tour bus), they set up their own backline (in oppose to hiring a full touring crew), and they have a gong (you just don’t see that often). Fans say The Joy Formidable reminds them of The Who, and their onstage performance makes them worthy of such comparison, despite the lack of smashing expensive guitars and equipment at the end of their gigs. It was a very short set, which at the end you were sad that it was over and felt shortchanged. They were able to squeeze out some hits though, most notably, “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”. But the performance was rowdy, in a good way. Funny moments include Ritzy’s fast-paced banter, or her messing around with bassist Rhydian while mid-playing guitar, or the goofy smiles Matt makes to the crowd as he drums along. Combine all of this band’s quirkiness, lyrical genius, and powerful alternative rock presence, The Joy Formidable shows live up to the hype. Their fourth studio album, AAARTH, is one that follows their style with more electronic elements than their first three records, which still works quite well for them. Catch them on their US tour in May.

While on the topic of big bands, a large supergroup that played at Austin’s Scoot Inn, Broken Social Scene, provided an epic performance. Full of multi-instrumentalists, a powerful singer, drums, bass, and brass, this Canadian indie rock band took the crowd into a journey inside their own minds. They have a very positive message about living your best life while you have the time to do it, and their music just echoes that sentiment. They reminded me of an extended family band, you know where you discover your aunts, uncles, and grandparents actually know music and can work a guitar. Which by happenstance, Broken Social Scene were playing for Brooklyn Bowl’s Family Reunion showcase. This collective group of music veterans sure know how to put on a show, and their easy going nature on stage further embodied an essence of grace. They have a US & Canada tour in April and May, and one thing is certain, this band loves to tour, in fact they played more shows than originally planned for SXSW. Amazing.

 

No one stands still at Ratking gigs.

If you were looking for pure energy, sick riffs, and headbanging, all while others stood away and looked at you weird, that was Ratking at the Sounds Australia showcase at Lucille Patio Lounge. Hardcore and heavy metal is an acquired taste like whiskey, but once you get your feet wet, you learn to enjoy and appreciate the music. Most people may say that the hardcore and metal genre is too loud or scary for them, whereas I believe the music should be categorized as exciting. And that’s what Ratking, from Perth Western Australia, provides us. Their hardcore style preaches the message of what hardcore is all about, which is pushing through adversity and not letting someone belittle you. It’s about the equal right to express yourself and harnessing the ability to chase your dreams and not let negativity drag you down for long. There is pain but there is also joy. And that mix of feelings are expressed in the lyrics and guitar work done on Ratking’s music. “Keep It To Yourself” and “Gotta Light?” go absolutely mental. Ratking’s performance resonated with the emotions and energy felt from late-90s / early-2000s American hardcore punk group, Snapcase, or this awesome disbanded metal band, Heartscarved. Check out Ratking’s EP, SERF, to be engaged in this exciting and empowering movement. You’ll listen to a song, nod your head, start grinning, hit repeat, and then turn up the volume. \m/

Now we all can agree that enjoying great BBQ with live music is pleasing to all senses, though what’s even better is when a mesmerizing and immersive band from Minneapolis is also playing right in front of you. Good eats and good music, that slogan literally held true at Cooper’s BBQ on Saturday night, where the alt-folk band Collapsing Stars played at the upstairs dine-in venue. Have a cello talk to a guitar and bass with drums that complement the discussion, layer it over shimmering vocals, and that’s Collapsing Stars. They’re one of those bands you can close your eyes and listen to their tunes and immediately feel at peace. This very talented bunch combines orchestra feels with folky vibes and soothing vocals, which will make anyone that’s addicted to feeling good fall love this band’s sound. They are one of the hidden gems of SXSW and have the talent and band chemistry to prove it on record. Check it out, it’s called 2012, it’s celestial, and it’ll sure launch you off to another world.

Sometimes a band’s name accurately reflects the vibe they give off while performing on stage, and that’s exactly what Elise Reitze and Rosie Taylor portray, when they take their band Feels from Perth Western Australia to the Australia House showcase in Austin, TX. It doesn’t take long to recognize how skilled this duo is in electronic production and percussion instruments, as they showcased how playful they can be while keeping up rhythm after rhythm of instrumental bliss, without a hiccup. They mentioned to the audience that they were classically trained, and it comes to no surprise that their ability to combine obscure keys and perfectly timed drum pads locked the crowd’s attention to their entire set. They loosely reminded me of Alice Ivey, a fellow Australian electronic musician and producer, with the feel-good creative expressions they put on stage, the 90s tracksuit “outfit” attire, and just pure raw skill across multiple instruments. A bit of a crescendo on stage occurred late in the set, as Feels we’re banging away at the percussions, when you couldn’t help but notice a young man off to the side of the stage jamming to their beats by himself, all while an open mic stood untouched at the center of the stage. Moments later, he casually walked up onto the stage and belted out these powerful vocals to Feels’ new single “Assemble (feat. ZĀN)”. This young man on stage was indeed the featured singer, ZĀN, in the flesh, and he shook the crowd with an amazing vocal performance. The sensational surprises of the Feels set at SXSW was one to remember, which further highlights the beauty of discovery one encounters throughout this festival.

 

View from the back, at the Music Keynotes with Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry.

Part of SXSW is not just enjoying the various music showcases, but also getting to experience some music keynote speaking sessions. The one that stood out was held at the Hilton Hotel Austin and featured two powerful frontwomen in the music industry today, Shirley Manson of Garbage, and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES. The conversation between the two Scots on stage focused primarily on the inequality of treatment towards women in the music industry, something that Manson had plenty of anecdotes and observations given her successful veteran career as a female singer in a prominent rock band that has spanned for decades. She’s seen it all. Mayberry, who is often outspoken about issues of misogyny, the stereotyping of women in music, and what people perceive that contributes to their success, had some quirky tidbits to add which brought forth a sense of compassion for women and minorities trying to make it in the grueling environment of show business. The talk proceeded with a Q&A, and what struck me the most was when Manson answered one of the questions of what it takes to succeed for a woman in the music industry, which she didn’t respond with the perceived female identifying narrative, but simply said, “do the work”. This resonated with the audience, as there are many obstacles for women in the music industry, competition and politics, and creative distractions that one must always strive to be empowered, but at the end of the day, those that ride to the top have one thing in common, they do the work. This keynote was officially recorded by SXSW, and I encourage all audiences, women and men, to watch it.

Creative endeavors come in all forms and disciplines, and that is something Lola Kirke is all too familiar with. Coming from a talented family that has starred in the big screen and the small screen, as well as performed in live bands, Kirke comes to SXSW with an impressive resume as a singer-songwriter and actress. Though film, television, and recorded music go through various stages of post-production, Lola Kirke proves that her raw talent can be shown without all the bells and whistles, and that manifested with her live performance at the Australia House on Rainey Street, as part of the Laneway Festival showcase at SXSW. After being introduced by a big fan and musician herself, Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES, the crowd was enlightened with a set that was nearly flawless with contemporary rock riffs and a modern take on riveting country music vibes. It was an enjoyable set to say the least, and the crispness of her melodies and the band’s overall sound made it seem like they had a full-scale front of house and perfectly calibrated sound check, even though this is was an intimate patio lounge type of set. This musical experience embodied the boldness of perseverance, the passion in romance, and the piquant pleasure of heartier ballads. Her album, Heart Head West, came out last August and is one hell of a debut record.

 

Impromptu acoustic set by Gabriella Cohen.

Not everything goes as smooth as planned at music gigs. At least not all the time. But continuing through interruptions or difficulties comes with the territory of a touring artist. The phrase “the show must go on” took on a literal sense at the Australian House showcase at Lucille Patio Lounge, where Melbourne artist Gabriella Cohen decided to play a quick acoustic set. It wasn’t her first choice, as she had her entire touring band with her, but sometimes events happen that are just out of the artist’s control. Like for instance when your neighbors decide to pull the generator to the patio lounge and then the whole place experiences a blackout. Nothing plugged-in worked, on stage, or front-of-house. While this scenario is often a touring crew’s nightmare, Gabriella Cohen and her band weren’t going to let their scheduled playing time expire without sharing to the audience their bluesy, rocky, and poppy ballads that put them on the map. So they decided to call an audible, and with one serenading guitar, a tambourine, and a shaker, coupled with an angelic voice, Gabriella Cohen performed a very intimate set, one that the entire crowd was encouraged by the band to get into a tighter and tighter circle. Camera phones were out, people were inspired with awe, and it was probably one of the more unique experiences at SXSW. Hearing blissful harmonies in an avant-garde setting made you wonder about the recorded stuff, and you can check out her sophomore album, Pink Is the Colour of Unconditional Love, released last year.

 

The Gooch Palms shows are full of comedy.

Some honorable mentions for SXSW 2019 performances include Odette, for her classical skills on the keys accompanying her beautiful voice, Jarryd James, for his surprisingly soothing vocal melodies and rhythmic backing band, I Know Leopard, for their poppy tunes and satirical 70s-style sci-fi outfits, The Gooch Palms, for their epically hilarious and quirky stage banter, The Amazons, for their cutthroat late-night heavy rock riffs, and last but not least, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, for their performance of their entire LP, Madonna, which took us back to their youths and ended their showcase with a literal bang, that is, a fender guitar snapped in half.

 

Trail of Dead goes out with a bang, literally.

I look forward to new music discoveries at SXSW next year. A big applause goes to the Austin community that enables us all to share these wonderful experiences with fans from around the world.

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