Frank YangTaking into account how incredibly efficient I was at catching my must-see bands of SXSW on the first day of the festival, I knew that it was a very real possibility that come Saturday night, I’d have nothing left that I wanted to see… and that was almost the case. Thankfully I’d kept a few things in my back pocket and either skipped earlier in the week for just such a scenario or had been putting off for Canadian Musicfest the following week. It’s called planning, folks. And if those contingencies didn’t work out, well I could just sit back and survey the chaos brought on by the final night of the festival, the return of the University of Texas students after spring break and St. Patrick’s day all converging on 6th St.
London’s Michael Kiwanuka might well have found his way into the spotlight in his own time, but getting named as BBC’s Sound Of 2012 certainly expedited the process. So rather than play one of the festival’s smaller, more intimate clubs for his SXSW debut, he was here on one of the biggest stages at Stubb’s amphitheatre and while it’s possible or probable that something cozier would have better suited him, the way he was able to fill the night sky with just his voice, acoustic guitar and accompanying bassist was remarkable. It’s a simple, time-tested recipe and perfectly suited for Kiwanuka’s romantic, folk-soul songwriting; I admit to being a bit surprised that the BBC went with something so traditional for their usually musically forward-looking honour, but kicking back and just luxuriating in Kiwanuka’s warm vocals, it’s tough to form a good argument against it.
From there it was a necessary to try and navigate the bedlam of 6th – oh, the sea of wobbling people dressed in green – and back to Latitude 30 where odds were I was just going to park myself for the next few hours. First up were Clock Opera, whom I’d seen way back on Wednesday and would be the only repeat act of the week. And it’s just as well because though this was probably the exact same set that I’d seen at The Mohawk, this performance was better in every sense. The crowd was more enthusiastic, the sound was bigger and cleaner, the setting much more atmospheric and the band much tighter. It’s probably no surprise that their last show of the fest was better than the first – there’s a sweet spot for bands at SXSW playing multiple showcases where they’ve settled into the rapid-fire showcase groove before beginning to fall apart from fatigue; Clock Opera hit it just right. Anticipation for their debut Ways To Forget, out April 23, remains high.
Sometimes the drive-by showcase dynamic of club festivals isn’t suited to appreciating certain bands, and they’re unfairly dismissed in favour of something more immediate. Fortunately for Django Django – who formed in Edinburgh but now reside in London – they manage to impress and intrigue while remaining inscrutable such that you may not fully understand why you want to hear more of them, but you do. I did, at least. The built an unfussy kind of art rock – conveniently collected on their self-titled debut – on a deep, inescapable groove full of odd turns and angles and littered with all manner of synths and percussion. As said, it’s not immediately pop but the treasures that lay just beneath the surface are evident; it’s music you may be surprised to find yourself intensely dancing to, but dance to it you will.
Next up was supposed to be someone called Maverick Sabre – a very superficial investigation didn’t make it seem the sort of thing I’d be particularly interested in, but someone had just bought be a whiskey so I opted to hang out for a bit. However, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be what I expected when, instead of a band setup, they wheeled a DJ table onto the stage and at the top of the hour, rather than some hip-hop/r&b the room filled with some heavy electronic beats. It turned out that Sabre (Maverick?) had to cancel and was replaced at the last minute by London-born/Manchester-raised Callum Wright, who operates as D/R/U/G/S. It’s a bit of a shame that I spent about half his set trying to figure out just what was going on and who this was, because he was pretty damn good.
I was actually a bit torn as to whether to stick around for Slow Club, since I’d just seen them in Toronto less than a month prior. That’s one of the peculiar things about SXSW – you’ll find yourself actively avoiding the bands you know and love because it means not discovering something new. But given that there was nothing else on offer that hour calling my name and I was already sitting right there, I let inertia win the day. The early part of their set was mildly calamitous with falling mic stands, failing guitar straps and broken microphones but they took it all in stride and it all became part of the fun; the band was simply too good to be deterred. It was something of a condensed version of the Toronto show with the older material scrapped in favour of focusing on Paradise and the new material earmarked for a forthcoming EP, but all delivered with gusto and enthusiasm by Charles and Rebecca. Such a lovely band.
Avoiding the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day seems like pretty obvious advice but for whatever reason, I did the opposite to close out the festival and hit up Friends Bar, which was hosting a lineup of all-Irish acts in order to see Belfast’s And So I Watch You From Afar. That’s right – even though I probably could have just given a hobo $5 to punch me in the face for the same net effect, I instead went to an Irish bar at 1AM on St. Patrick’s Day on the final night of SXSW to see a really loud, aggressive rock band. But at least I saved the $5. Now I’d listened to their 2009 self-titled debut and like to think I had an idea of what to expect, but rather than some variant of post-rock, it was more a kind of instrumental metal with some hardcore punk and even a touch of traditional Irish folk sprinkled on top – to wit, lots of insane riffing, pogoing around the stage, dueling guitar leads and at least one broken bass string. Then factor in the falling-down drunk crowd moshing, lurching and jigging and you’ve got something akin to mayhem. It was actually fun for a little while to be in the middle of – it certainly wakes you up – but eventually I fled to the fringes of the crowd and then out onto 6th to watch the rest from the street.
And then I left. Seeya, SXSW. Seeya, Austin. And thank goodness I’m done with festival coverage for a while. OH WAIT.
The Guardian talks to Graham Coxon about his new solo record A+E and are also streaming the whole thing ahead of its April 2 release date. And not to be outdone, The Quietus chats with Damon Albarn. No Blur insights are offered on either side.
Stream: Graham Coxon / A+E
Belle & Sebastian have released a video for their Primitives cover, taken from the Late Night Tales, Vol 2 compilation that’s just out today.
Video: Belle & Sebastian – “Crash”
DIY has a feature on and video session with Blood Red Shoes. Clash also has a feature.
Richard Hawley has offered up a stream of the first taste of his new record Standing At The Sky’s Edge, out May 7. And dare I say someone is getting their rock on? Yes, I do believe I do.
Stream: Richard Hawley – “Leave Your Body Behind You”
Keane are coming to town to promote their new album Strangeland, out May 7, and they’re bringing Mystery Jets, who’re putting out their own new album Radlands on April 30. Hm, that’s a whole lot of “-land” titles. Anyways, the Toronto date is June 19 and tickets are $45 in advance.
Stream: Keane – “Silenced By The Night”
Stream: Mystery Jets – “Someone Purer”
The big/best news of yesterday was that Sigur Ros would be releasing their sixth solo album on May 29, entitled Valtari, and if that wasn’t enough, they also released the first video from it. Now all we need is a Toronto live date to go with the Montreal Osheaga appearance in August, yeah? Word is that this is a more ambient kind of record than 2008′s Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust; the first preview certainly seems to bear that out.
Video: Sigur Ros – “Ekki Mukk”
Paste examines how Of Monsters & Men became Iceland’s biggest musical export since, well, Sigur Ros. The Georgia Straight also has an interview and Rolling Stone has a video session recorded at SXSW. Their debut My Head Is An Animal is streaming in whole at NPR ahead of its release next week and they play The Phoenix on April 12.
MP3: Of Monsters & Men – “Little Talks”
Stream: Of Monsters & Men / My Head Is An Animal
Exclaim reports that The Raveonettes will release a new, four-song EP entitled Into The Night on April 24 – they’re also hosting the widget that lets you trade your email for an MP3 of the title track. A new album should be out later this year.
The Jezabels have released a new video from Prisoner; they’re at The Mod Club on April 18.
Video: The Jezabels – “Rosebud”
The Stool Pigeon, Vogue Australia, and Stuff interview Pip Browne of Ladyhawke. The new album Anxiety is out May 28.