“It’s not easy, just being human, and the lights and the smoke and screens,” sings Sam Herring on Future Islands’ latest record, The Far Field. It isn’t. Our lives are a sloppy amalgamation of highs and lows, love and hate, obsession and apathy. In essence, this record faces this reality head on: it’s a devastatingly beautiful case study on love and infatuation, the thin line that separates them, and the sting that comes close behind.
Musically speaking, this is the Baltimore band’s final descent into straight indie-pop. With five albums under their belt already, it’s difficult to find anything else to reinvent, audibly speaking. And so they dig deeper, doing what they do best even better – pairing impossibly catchy tracks with deeply moving, emotionally insightful lyrics. Yet the catchiest songs on the record – “North Star” and “Shadows” (featuring Debbie Harry!) – are not the most compelling. It’s because they lack the sheer emotional depth and the stark truth of the other tracks that hammer home the difficulty of our humanity. We fall too easily; we fail to stay neutral by our very nature, and oftentimes that hurts us.
This becomes apparent right off the bat with opening track “Aladdin,” on which Herring sings “I built a ship for two / It waits for me and you” before he asks “Is it real?” He wants, he builds the ship, he projects the relationship he wants onto whomever “you” is before he can even really know what “you” thinks or feels. And don’t we all do that? It’s the way we idealize situations and people; we imagine the reality we’d like to live in, all the while forgetting that’s not how life works. And when actual reality crashes down upon us, it hurts.
This obsessive imagination touches on nearly every track of the record, opening scab after scab while you realize you’ve felt every feeling he describes. “Beauty of the Road” captures the way it’s sometimes hard to remember the last time you saw someone because you never imagined it could possibly be the last time, boiled down to one wistful line: “I never thought you’d really go.” On “Cave” he sings “All I hold is all I own,” one of those rare moments on the record where he removes his rose-tinted glasses to face the stark reality of our solitude. We can’t make anyone do or feel anything, and our suffering is often a direct result of refusing to accept that. It’s those light and smoke and screens he mentioned earlier – life is by nature uncertain, and this uncertainty is uncomfortable to live with. But he acknowledges our ability to let go of this, to accept the fact that we can’t control anything but ourselves. On “Ancient Water” he sings “Too many wasted days and nights, obsessed with the flickering moments of my life, forgetting what giving and living can be–what it can mean, first forgiving myself…” It’s the moment we realize rumination doesn’t serve us, that we aren’t chained to the memory of what was and that we’re “strong enough to be free.”
After all of this – the idealization, the denial, and ultimately the self-realization and forgiveness – the greatest irony of all is that the last word on The Far Field is “stay,” leaving us to wonder what it would be like if life actually worked that way. It’s a moment of terrifying realization: that no matter how much we say we’ve gotten over it, our past is still a vital aspect of who we are and it’s nearly impossible to truly let anyone go. It may seem as easy as asking them to stay, but Herring’s lyrics remind us that life’s beauty resides in the complications.
The Far Field is out now via 4AD. Check tour dates here.
Shea Stadium, after closing to avoid fines and fees “related to the legal use, zoning and licensing of [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the] building,” is on its way to reopening in a more legal, permanent manner. As of today, the DIY venue has raised tens of thousands more than the original goal of $50,000. The money will go towards things such as: renovations to pass inspections, building fees, fire safety training, bar permits and legal fees. Just because they’ve reached the goal doesn’t mean you can’t still donate! Support New York’s DIY scene and check out their Kickstarter page here.
Northside Festival Lineup Announced
This year, the festival will take over Brooklyn from June 7-11 and so far, performers include Dirty Projectors, Miguel, Kamasi Washington, Julia Holter, Girlpool, the Hotelier, Downtown Boys, Lower Dens, Ricky Eat Acid and Vagabon. More details here.
Watch A Music Video That’s Different Every Time
Via Engadget: The UK band Shaking Chains has created an algorithm that makes their music video different every time you watch it. The band members chose predetermined keywords that the algorithm uses to select clips of footage from, and then assembles them randomly every time someone watches the video. Why make a video this way? Band member Jack Hardwick stated,”I sought to obliquely reframe the stuff we subject ourselves to (whether beautiful, distressing, mundane, frivolous or eroticized) and algorithmically cut them into a new context.” Check out the video and see what it plays you here.
The problem with Ed Sheeran, RIP Chuck Berry, Thurston Moore releases “Smoke Of Dreams,” Marissa Nadler’s contribution to the 100 Days Project, Future Islands share sign language lyric video for “Cave,” and new music from Perfume Genius and Gorillaz.
Two years ago, Baltimore trio Future Islands had a huge breakthrough with poignant single “Seasons (Waiting on You),” finding the success they’d been seeking since 2006. Hoping to continue that momentum, they released a teaser single from their forthcoming record The Far Field just last week. Titled “Ran,” their latest track does not reinvent the wheel; rather, it redirects the aforementioned wheel toward, well, the future. A subtle evolution of contemporary catharsis, “Ran” falls into line with Future Islands’ racing movie-trailer-esque encapsulation, magnifying the many warped intricacies of a single feeling with bellowing tenacity.
“What’s a song without you/when every song I write is about you?” concedes singer Samuel T. Herring, returning with his signature tenderized, chest-pounding vocal exorcism. He’s theatrical, vulnerable and filled to the brim with guttural fight or flight, and his notoriously unique inflection resonates with a sense of well-rounded heartache on “Ran”, each breath an emotionally acrobatic moment. Islands’ ability to unite emotional strain with synth-drenched melody and steadfast percussion reveals a masterful conviction and commitment to navigating the contemporary. For a song that seems determined to revive a love affair that is D.O.A/D.N.R, Future Islands do what they do best: illuminating various, winding paths from the darkness. (Oh, and growling. Lots of growling.)
While many artists are already pledging that the profits from their album purchase will be donated to a charity, Bandcamp has one-upped them all (not that philanthropy is a contest, because as long as people are contributing, everybody wins). Today, any proceeds the website makes will go to the ACLU. So get online, buy some great music, and support one of the most important organizations ever!
Musical Responses To The #MuslimBan
Last Friday Trump signed an executive order forcing airports to detain and deport immigrants and refugees entering from seven Muslim-majority countries, regardless of their immigration status. Protestors, lawyers and the taxi drivers weren’t having it. Neither were many musicians, who responded in various ways. Grimes and Sia announced they would match donations made to the Council on American-Islam Relations and the ACLU. Ethically questionable ride-share app Uber turned off surge pricing during a JFK taxi strike protesting the ban, which many interpreted as a way to profit from the taxi drivers’ act of solidarity. In response, “Uber Everywhere” artist Madeintyo said he would be switching to Lyft.
As for actual music, Spotify compiled a playlist of 20 songs from artists who were once refugees, including Queen, Regina Spektor, M.I.A and the Fugees. We also recommend NPR’s Music In Exile series, which tells the stories of musicians who are refugees.
With several events abruptly canceled thanks to police and fire departments raids, the DIY venue in industrial Bushwick is closing, hopefully temporarily. The venue’s Facebook page states: “In the face of recent challenges we’ll be dark for the next two weeks as we restructure and plan for the future.” Scheduled shows are being postponed and/or relocated to nearby venues, such as The Gateway, Silent Barn and Trans-Pecos. 2016 took a lot of important venues away; hopefully Shea Stadium won’t be 2017’s first casualty.
Long regarded as one of Baltimore’s hardest working under-the-radar bands, Future Islands have hit their stride in 2014. They’ll be heading out on another tour in support of their breakout album on 4AD, Singles, and though they’re playing some of the biggest venues they’ve ever headlined, shows in L.A., Portland, Boston, NYC, and London sold out in record time. There’s good news though – Future Islands have scheduled additional dates in many of these cities, but act quick; tickets are likely to go fast.
Future Islands US Tour Dates:
Nov 20 – Los Angeles, CA at The Wiltern – SOLD OUT
Dec 1 – Columbus, OH at LC Pavilion – SOLD OUT
Dec 10 – Portland, OR at Crystal Ballroom – SOLD OUT
Jan 6 – Boston, MA at Royale*
Jan 7 – Boston, MA at Royale* – SOLD OUT
Jan 8 – New York, NY at Terminal 5*
Jan 9 – New York, NY at Terminal 5* – SOLD OUT
Jan 10 – Philadelphia, PA at Union Transfer* – SOLD OUT
Jan 11 – Philadelphia, PA at Union Transfer*
Feb 10 – Honolulu, Hawaii at The Republik
Feb 26 – Atlanta, GA at Variety Playhouse
March 30 – London, UK at Roundhouse
March 31 – London, UK at Roundhouse – SOLD OUT
The weekend of August 23 and 24th was a big weekend for music in California. LA’s FYF fest garnered most of the attention with its headliners The Strokes and Phoenix, along with other acts like HAIM and Built to Spill. In the eleventh year since its conception, the festival has grown to be one of the go-to fests of the summer and is obviously the most talked about. But Goldenvoice has another fest cooking up interest on the same weekend. First City Festival is the Northern California counterpart to FYF, featuring Beck and The National as its headliners in only its second year running. While First City doesn’t quite have the recognition of FYF just yet, it very much has some momentum after this year’s events.
First City Festival is held in the city of Monterey, for which it earns its namesake. Monterey, CA is unofficially the state’s first capital, boasting a lot of California’s “firsts,” such as the establishment of California’s first library, public school and printing press. From a musical standpoint, Monterey is somewhat of a musical mecca, having hosted the iconic Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, the first most widely attended rock festival of its kind and, arguably, the festival that ushered in the beginning of “the summer of love.” With 55,000 people in attendance, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin gave some of the most iconic performances of all time on the stage at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Considering that it is being hosted at the very same fairgrounds as its memorable predecessor, First City Festival has a lot to prove.
First City planners face the task of defining First City’s sound, and many festivals, such as Coachella, are being criticized for lacking luster in the overall defining sound and feel of the festival. FYF very much has its feel for L.A. bands and markets itself on that very characteristic. So how did First City fare in that department? Most of the artists featured at First City were of the acoustic and indie rock vein, each with a unique sound. There were no hip hop or rap acts, and EDM was noticeably, and thankfully, absent. This eliminated a lot of that teenage partier crowd, therefore a lot of rowdiness. Between the vast marketplace of artisan goods, and the artists booked at First city, there definitely was a Monterey vibe floating around. It’s hard to describe what that means; as a California native I have vacationed in Monterey countless times and can tell you it’s not your average beach town. Its appeal comes, obviously, from its history (think John Steinbeck and Cannery Row) but also its eclecticism. It’s an artist town, with its fair share of hippies and hipsters. So yes, there was some patchouli lingering, but more importantly the vibe was definitely that of music connoisseurship. It wasn’t a party festival remotely; it was a festival for people that really enjoy experiencing live music and who appreciate true artistry.
The fairgrounds were quaint but beautiful, with three stages and, oddly, a carnival. At first I thought that this was an attempt on Goldenvoice’s behalf to ride the coattails of Coachella’s popularity (Coachella’s most prominent image is its ferris wheel). But then I realized it was more about practicality – the Monterey County Fair is right after First City (how convenient!). The atmosphere of First City was vastly different from my experiences at Coachella, and this has a lot to do with the lineup. I was open to seeing just about anyone. First on my list was Speedy Ortiz, a Massachusetts four-piece that sounds like it time warped directly from the underground indie music scene circa 1995. Their gritty guitar licks range from clear and concise picking, to fuzzed-out strumming. Paired with Sadie Dupuis’ sing-talky vocals, you’ve got a band with a refined, unrefined sound. Very grungy at times, the band experiments with moments of mellow, hypnotic, verses relying heavily on subtle background guitar feedback and lulling bass lines.
Survival Guide was next on my list. This was one of the few artists that I had listened to quite a bit beforehand, so I knew I was sure to enjoy. To my surprise, it’s actually a one-woman band. The lady behind the music, Emily Whitehurst, manned, or should I say woman-ed, a complex musical setup of a laptop, keyboards, looping machines, and strangely, a telephone. Her sound features a lot of instrumentation that I would never have guessed was created as a solo endeavor. That the music came mostly from machines rather than a full band didn’t detract from the performance in the slightest. Though she was confined to a small spot on the stage, she commanded the attention from the growing crowds of the day as she breezed through an upbeat set of electronic indie pop tunes.
By the time Miniature Tigers hit Cypress stage, the day was picking up and so were the crowds. Though their earlier releases had more acoustic guitar, the set was heavier on the dreamy synth pop of the material from their latest release, Cruel Runnings. The band’s energy was incredible and they garnered a rather large crowd, no doubt lured by their 80’s new wave appeal with a modern dance edge.
One of my favorite parts about First City is the minimal amount of overlap between bands early in the day. It makes for an easy way to discover all of the smaller artists that the event was featuring. By the time Miniature Tigers ended, we were able to head to the Manzanita stage to catch most of Doe Eye’s set. Doe Eye is a San Francisco based artist featuring sultry singer Maryam Qudus. This moody orchestral rock garnered a lot of attention considering CocoRosie was playing the main stage at the same time. The songs never really achieve a high energetic tempo, but tracks like “I Hate You” carry enough lyrical weight to make for an interesting performance underpinned with irony at times, due to Qudus’ saccharine-sweet singing.
Following up Doe Eye on the same stage was one of my favorite acts of the entire weekend, The Lonely Wild. They consider themselves “spaghetti western influenced americana,” and it must be said that there are elements of that description that are absolutely true of this LA group. Their sound explodes the idea of classical folk into climatic and often times cinematic sounds, which makes sense considering Andrew Carroll, the band’s brainchild, studied film before forming The Lonely Wild. “Everything You Need” was the song that hooked me immediately; it embodies the band’s overall sound, with dual male-female vocals, a constant foot pounding rhythm and a horn section that conjures up that desolate old west image. Not only were they a personal favorite of mine for the entire weekend, they’re the type of band that I feel exemplifies First City’s sound best.
After checking out the end of Tokyo Police Club’s set (never a disappointment there), I stuck around at the main Redwood Stage for Best Coast. Like a more well-kempt and much more jovial Courtney Love, Bethany Cosentino proved to be a strong female front with an air of nonchalance and bad-assery. Though Best Coast’s lo-fi sound from the “Boyfriend” era doesn’t do a thing for me, in a live setting I found myself enjoying all of it, and the newer material was great. It was the perfect afternoon set to kickstart the evening hours of the festival.
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Phantogram yet again, although it was at the expense of seeing Unknown Mortal Orchestra (the festival struggle is real). But, Phantogram never disappoints and I can’t urge people enough to see them live! Between Sarah Barthel’s general air of natural coolness and Josh “Motherfucking” Carter’s reverb-laden guitar licks, they blew the crowd away with their “fuckin’ beats” (Barthel’s words). With a performance only to be followed up by Beck, day one at First City was fulfilled.
Sunday was a bit more of a wild card for me, with little else besides Naked and The Famous really on my radar. The festival opened with a band called Midi Matilda and was such a good move on the part of the curators; their electro pop sound was not too sugary sweet and their instrumentation was impressive. Singer Skyler Kilborn is a solid front man, with his Misa Kitara style guitar (with a MIDI screen that echoes their name). But drummer Logan Grime is the powerhouse behind this duo. He reminded me of Dave Grohl on drums: precise, intense, and hard to take your eyes off of. “Day Dreams,” from their album Red Light District, was the powerful sing-along of the set, and concluded their performance on a strong note.
The Family Crest was another band to make my top shows of the weekend. With a core of seven band members – a cellist, a violinist, a tenor trombone player, a flutist, and a solid drummer – creating epic orchestral pop, I still find it hard to believe they all fit on the smallest stage at the fairgrounds. Frontman Liam McCormick has the vocal chops to carry them far in the industry, rivaling the ranges of Matthew Bellamy. They began their set with a song called “Beneath the Brine,” a ballsy opener that left jaws dropped and set the tone for the rest of the performance. Their musical grandeur is a sight to see, and their sound is really unlike anything that’s going on right now in music.
Next up was Future Islands, a band I’d regrettably turned down the opportunity to see at Coachella. Admittedly, that oversight was due to the fact that I’ve always been slightly confused by their sound. Their synth-heavy pop paired with Samuel Herring’s, erm, unclassifiable vocals were off-putting for me initially. But the beauty of live music, however, is that a performance can really change one’s perspective on a given band. What were unusual, inconsistent vocals on record, became booming and immense right before my eyes. He is a powerhouse of a vocalist, ranging from a deep rumbling voice, to flat out death metal growls. What I thought was the most strange music and vocal pairing became oh-so-right in every single possible way. He’s also an incredible and unexpected dancer. I never would have pegged this guy for theatrical but man, he was all over the place, kicking his feet into the air, Tarzan pounding his chest, and, gettin’ low. They made my top performance of the weekend hands-down to my complete surprise, mostly because I went from being uncertain about their sound to being smitten by it. Future Islands is a must see in any situation, ya hear?
Though Beck and The National obviously had the biggest sets, Naked and The Famous utilized theirs the best with what I think was the most exuberant stage production of the weekend. At the very same time slot as Phantogram the night before, Naked and The Famous ushered in the night with smoke machines and epilepsy-inducing light shows. Their unique electronic sound is only enhanced in the live performance of their songs, adding a profundity to tracks like “Rolling Waves” and “I Kill Giants.” In their last performance of the year, The New Zealand group put on an endearing show. Singer Alisa Xayalist was humbled by the dozens of birthday roses unexpectedly thrown on stage early in the set, and was almost brought to tears when the crowd later sang “Happy Birthday.”
The festival was quickly coming to a close, but there was one more act I really wanted to squeeze in before The National’s finale. Cults surprisingly drew in the largest crowd I had yet to see at the Cypress Stage, and deservedly so. Clad in a baby doll dress Madeline Follin was just adorable in her stage presence, but the band has just enough edge to make them an enjoyable listen.
So how did First City fest fare in the scope of California music festivals? Overall, I’d say it’s unique; it not only hearkens back to vaudeville days with its carnival appeal and old time-y ethos, but its purpose is to bring new music to the forefront. Sure, using Beck and The National was a way to draw in the crowds, but for the most part, there was never an empty pit at any performance, and the crowd was pretty solid throughout, which can only mean that people really were there to see all of the acts, not just the big ones. Critics complain that there wasn’t much to take in beyond the headliners and sub headliners, but I found myself enjoying every single act that I saw, even ones that I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward and ones that I hadn’t even listened to prior to First City. In its second year, I think First City has accomplished something special; it has established a niche of artists and festival-goers that will more than likely frequent the fest for years to come, a true feat given the proliferation of music festivals in general. It certainly has the momentum after this year to carry on and can hopefully serve as an alternative festival to the grit and grime of LA’s FYF.
Another year of South by Southwest has come and gone. It was a landmark year for us at AudioFemme, as we hosted our first ever SXSW showcases. It was certainly a learning experience, to say the least. Just as we have in years past, we met a wide array of musicians, promoters, industry folks, and music fans from around the world, an experience as enriching as ever. But networking and seeing as many bands as one can in five days aren’t the only things that go into the SXSW experience. At its heart is one weird little city redefining the festival experience. Here’s a rundown of our best moments from Austin, TX.
Most Memorable Performances:
The sun doesn’t shine in the UK the way it does in Austin, and the visible sunburn on these three lads made me feel an empathetic sting. I caught the post-punk trio at El Sapo, a newly-opened hamburguesa joint on Manor Road, hosting showcases curated by Austin local radio station Music For Listeners. The showcase included performances from Dublin-based noise pop quartet September Girls, Manchester rockers Pins, and Mississippi psych-pop outfit Dead Gaze, all of whom were arresting. But there was something especially captivating about the sparks flying during Traams’ frenzied performance, with frontman Stu channeling Alec Ounsworth’s frantic wail. The boys worked up a real sweat blasting everyone with pummeling pop.
The Baltimore synth punk outfit has long had a reputation as a hardworking and talented live band who’ve released some great albums over the last seven years. Singles is out March 25th on 4AD and the band took to SXSW for their first time ever to showcase the material, resulting in heaps of long-deserved attention. I caught their triumphant final performance of eight at Impose’s free Longbranch Inn party, and the vibes were stellar. Lead singer Samuel T. Herring was absolutely brimming with joy, repeatedly stating how good the energy in the room felt, promising to belt it out until his vocal chords gave up. The crowd loved him back, bouncing up and down to some stellar new songs, pumping fists, crowd surfing, and begging for another jam before the bar closed for the night. Future Islands obliged with a hushed version of “Little Dreamer” from 2008’s Wave Like Home.
When we previewed “Wire Frame Mattress” we knew that the UK band were not be missed, and the boys did not disappoint. Blending surf, sludge, and rockabilly elements with a healthy dose of reverb, The Wytches embodied worst-case-scenario teenage angst like we haven’t seen since watching The Craft at sleepovers.
Jon Dwyer reunited his early aughts garage rock group and it felt so good. Eschewing stages as often as possible, Dwyer & Co. preferred to set up shop in the Austin dust and totally wreck it. I saw them once at the Castle Face Records showcase (that’s Dwyer’s label, which is set to re-release Coachwhips debut Hands on the Controls this month) and again on Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, after which Dwyer set off fireworks during Tony Molina’s set. Dwyer sings into a mic that looks more like a wad of tape, resulting in a scratchy, unintelligible, yet somehow glorious garble, the short songs every bit as good as those from Thee Oh Sees catalogue but faster, looser, and somehow more primal.
Another Baltimore act that’s been around for years, steadily releasing unnoticed but beautiful records, Wye Oak’s folk-inflected synth pop impressed many a South by audience. Andy Stack did double duty on drums and keys, using one hand to play each simultaneously. Just think about that for a minute. Try to mime those motions. It’s a good deal harder than rubbing your belly while patting your head, but Stack never missed a beat. Add to that Jenn Wasner’s honeyed voice, and space rock guitar riffs, and you’ve got a template for the galactic anthems of Shriek, the duo’s fourth studio album. It comes out April 29th on Merge.
Our inaugural SXSW showcase was a success! There’s no way we could thank everyone involved, but extra special thanks go out to eight bands who came from all over the world to play breathtaking sets for us and for our fans:
Worst Venue to Throw a Showcase: Upstairs on Trinity
It’s not actual a venue, it’s a wine bar. After reading the fine print on a very misleading contract, we learned that we’d have to rent an entire soundsystem to even have a show. We had to hire our own sound guy too. Even after pulling off both these feats (no easy task considering our out-of-town status), we weren’t allowed to set up until after 7pm, pushing our showcase back an hour. There weren’t even extension cords at the “venue” so I had to haul ass down 6th to a CVS to purchase whatever they had in stock. When psych rockers Electric Eye finally took the stage, their unravelling guitars definitely eased my frayed nerves.
Followed by Cheerleader’s uplifting pop punk, I was starting to feel a little better – until technical difficulties resurfaced. Live, learn and shrug it all off with some whiskey, that’s what I always say.
By the time we worked out our sound issues and Samsaya hit the area where a stage might have been in an actual club, I was admittedly wasted, but not enough that I failed to notice how inventive her acoustic set was, featuring musicians from all over the world, and how everyone in attendance – including the bartenders – responded to it. Leverage Models followed her lead, encouraging some seriously rowdy dancing with their artful antics, only helped by the (still) flowing libations. I didn’t get any decent pictures of the dance party because of the shitty lighting but also because, you know… libations. It all ended with me crying alongside I35, unable to get a cab, unidentified cables draped around my neck like someone’s pet python, ’til a random Austinite took pity on us and gave us a lift back to The Enterprise where I passed out in bed still wearing a leather jacket. We go to pick up our equipment the next day and the venue attempted to overcharge us for an event they had no business booking in the first place and hijacked our rented equipment as collateral while we disputed the bill. The process of getting it back took up a significant chunk of the rest of the week. All in all, it presents a gross example of the worst of SXSW profiteering. But wonderful performances from the bands who played the showcase are what saved the day, so big thanks to them!
Best Random Austin Moment: Salute!
Embattled with the venue from Hell, I was feeling a bit depressed – in part because the show hadn’t gone as planned, we’d inconvenienced Austin friends kind enough to give us rides while juggling insane work schedules, but also because I was missing out on a lot of bands I wanted to check out while going through the whole retracted process. I smoked some weed a bartender had given me the night before, ate a veggie burrito from Chillitos, and stumbled into The Vortex, a theater/bar in a barn hosting a party that featured Italian bands and a Patrizi’s food truck. I sat in the sun and took in the sounds of Omosumo, an electronic outfit that could be the lovechild of Led Zeppelin & Daft Punk sent away to boarding school in Palermo.
Runner Up: When Red 7 played The Hold Steady on the soundsystem right before The Hold Steady played
Queerest Showcase: Y’all or Nothing, Presented by Mouthfeel & Young Creature
Listed as a showcase for “not-so-straight shooters” the bill at Cheer-Up Charlies on Saturday night was stacked beginning-to-end with impressive performers, thoughtfully culled from queer scenes in Austin and beyond. There was a palpable feeling of community and camaraderie in the air and the evening was all about fun. Gretchen Phillips’ Disco Plague opened the night on the outdoor stage, situated in a white-stone grotto that forms the venue’s patio. Her improv dance-punk got the entire crowd going. Meanwhile, performance art duo Hyenaz brought glammed up electro to the inside stage, and it only got crazier from there. Austinites Mom Jeans‘ quirky pop punk had me beaming; they dedicated songs to John Waters, weed, and Satan. Leda introduced her band Crooked Bangs with the declaration “I’m a woman, and I don’t know what that means” before proceeding to mesmerize everyone watching with bass playing so nimble I still can’t get over it. BLXPLTN’s industrial punk-meets-hip-hop vibe is every bit as brutal as Death Grips, their lead single “Stop & Frisk” lambasting the racist practice. Big Dipper rapped. Ex Hex rocked. We deeply regret missing performances by TacocaT and Christeene and Sharon Needles due to some ongoing drama that needed taking care of. But we wish we could’ve stayed forever.
Not because I’m a stalker, just because they got to play early slots on some really rad bills. They were on point every time. Hopefully this means a lot more attention for the Philly-based trio in the upcoming year.
Best SXSW Tradition: Bridge Parties!
Night one I saw Perfect Pussy throw a bass into the Colorado while Meredith Graves wore a sparkly ball gown, followed by bang-up performances by Nothing and Ex-Cult.
Night two was the aforementioned fireworks display courtesy of John Dwyer while Tony Molina played. The cops don’t seem to care and I want to be friends with everyone on that bridge forever.
Best Venue for Charging Phones: Cheer Up Charlie’s
Newly inhabiting the former Club DeVille compound as Wonderland has taken over its old East Side location, this is a haven for anyone with a near-dead battery, though Hotel Vegas was a close second. Both had multiple outlets that were conveniently accessible (rather than behind a bar that forced you to bug your bartender every time you wanted to Instagram something), often times in full view of a stage where bands were playing so you didn’t have to miss the fun.
Worst Venue for Charging Phones: Red 7
Home of Brooklyn Vegan’s day parties, not only was capacity over-policed after Tyler, the Creator incited a riot at Scoot Inn, but Red 7 has a peculiar sparseness that makes finding outlets nearly impossible. And you couldn’t just hand your phone over to the bartender without paying a $5 charging fee. A particularly hostile sign on the sound booth discouraged the uncharged masses from inquiring therein. Now, I know you don’t have to be able to snap a selfie at a show to have a good time. I was content to simply watch these lovely performances with documenting them. But ranting and raving about newly discovered bands enriches that fun and hopefully generates some buzz for the artist, which is kind of the whole point of SXSW. And communicating with friends still waiting in lines outside is pretty paramount, so cell phones at shows count as a necessary evil and everyone kind of has to get used to it.
Best-Kept Secret: Chain-Drive
This little-gay-bar-that-could is hunkered on a quiet street off the main drag of Rainey District. Met Christeene and Gretchen Phillips and Big Dipper on Tuesday, but the venue hosted out-of-control, unique line-ups every night.
Most Inflated Price: $6.99 Non-Bank ATM fee at 7th & Red River.
As in, $2 more than non-badgeholder admission to a show steps away at Beerland, where I caught Connections before heading to Hotel Vegas for Forest Swords.
Number of Chase ATMS in the immediate downtown area: 2
That were able to dispense cash: 0
Best Food: Gonzo
Every year I have to stop by Gonzo’s food truck at the East Side Fillin’ Station for a “Pig Roast” – sweet pulled pork topped with provolone, tangy carrot slaw, and spicy brown mustard on Texas toast. As I ate my annual sammie I literally found myself thinking about how ingenious Texans were for inventing really thick white bread grilled with butter on it. Austin’s first-ever In-N-Out location was a close second, because a Double Double Animal Style really is a life-changer.
Best Metal Band We Stayed With But Didn’t See Live: Christian Mistress of Portland
They were all very nice but their hair made us jealous.
Best Movie We Saw While Charging Phones/Re-Charging Selves At Jackalope: Daughters of Darkness
Best Austinites: It’s a tie!
Jenn from Guitar Center rented us four monitors, two speakers with stands, six fifty foot cables, a sixteen channel mixer, two DI boxes, and two mics with stands within a days notice, and didn’t change us extra when a snafu with the shittiest venue in Austin forced us to keep it longer than we’d planned. In general she was super understanding, knowledgable, professional, and friendly.
Chris English of Haunted ATX gave us a lift whenever we needed it in a hearse tricked out into a six-seat limo. We flagged him down out of a cab line a mile long trying to get from the downtown Hilton to the South Lama for Ground Control’s famed Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge punk party. The TV in the back was playing Dune. The next night, after another bridge party was announced, we texted him for another ride and he showed within fifteen minutes, giving us the same deal. Then he came in with an assist in The Great Equipment Rescue of SX2014 when none of our friends were able to help us schlep our equipment from venue to where we were staying, and he gave us a mini-tour of an Austin cemetery because that’s what he normally uses the limo for – haunted tours of Austin.
Best Non-Austinite: Giselle from Vancouver
…who came to our Tuesday showcase. Bowled over by our line-up, she proclaimed it was one of the best at SXSW and couldn’t understand why anyone would “wait so long to see Jay-Z ” when they could have been partying with us. Giselle is a little older, probably in her 40’s or maybe early 50’s. Having recently entered my thirties, I’ve often wondered if I was too old to be so invested in such a youth-centric industry. Giselle gives zero fucks about that. She isn’t even in the industry; she told me she “just likes to go to shows”. She makes trips to Austin each year (as well as to New York for CMJ), travels for other events and festivals and attends shows at home, where she uses her iPhone to snap pics of up-and-coming bands she started finding “when the internet came around and made it easier to discover bands”. It might be that Giselle is actually myself from the future, sent to the showcase to give me the hope and reassurance I need to keep going. If that’s so, I’m here to tell you that based on her outfit, normcore will be bigger than ever in fifteen years.
Best Almost-Brushes With Celebrity:
I was invited to go to Willie Nelson’s ranch and was hoping to hang with the country legend, but thanks to the showcase debacle didn’t make the limo. Annie almost interviewed Debbie Harry of Blondie but the Queen of New Wave rescheduled and switched to over-the phone.
Number of Wrist-bands Accrued: Only one.
A friend said to me, “That’s kinda sad and kinda really amazing.” But between putting on our own showcases and going to everyone else’s, I didn’t have time to wait around in lines for wristbands, then wait for lines to get into a venue, then wait for lines to get to the patio of the venue where bands were actually performing. And in what little time I did have, I chose to attend smaller events that lacked the corporate sponsorship necessitating said lines and said wristbands. So someone else was the one to Instagram Lady Gaga getting puked on; meanwhile I got to see shows unobstructed by big-box advertising that felt way, way more personal and memorable. For instance: I closed out SXSW at The Owl, a DIY space on the East Side with Eagulls, Tyvek, and Parquet Courts headlining.
Number of Messages on Thursday morning asking if I was safe:
Lots & lots; truly felt loved. Our hearts go out to those that didn’t get a message back.
An Alphabetical List of Bands I Saw:
Amanda X, BLXPLTN, Big Dipper, Big Ups, Bo Ningen, The Casket Girls, Cheerleader, Coachwhips, Connections, Crooked Bangs, Dead Gaze, Eagulls, Electric Eye, Empires, Ex-Cult, Ex Hex, Far-Out Fangtooth, Fenster, Forest Swords, Future Islands, Gretchen’s Disco Plague, Guerilla Toss, Habibi, HighasaKite, The Hold Steady, Hundred Waters, Hyenaz, Jess Williamson, Juan Wauters, Kishi Bashi, Leverage Models, Mom Jeans, Nothing, Parquet Courts, Perfect Pussy, Pins, Potty Mouth, Residuels, Samsaya, September Girls, SOLDOUT, STRNGR, Tony Molina, Traams, Tyvek, Vadaat Charigim, Warm Soda, Weeknight, Wild Moccasins, Wildcat Apollo, Wye Oak, The Wytches, Young Magic[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
The word of the night? Engaging. The instrument behind this captivation? Voice.
The Ballroom crowds always linger in the downstairs bar area throughout the opening acts. Such was the case for Guardian Angel, who filled in for Lonnie Walker in a last minute switch. But when Ed Schrader’s Music Beat took the stage people must have been intrigued by the rolling drums that shook the Sierra Nevada in their plastic cups. They flocked to the front of the floor with palpable excitement.
Ed Schrader was just a guy with a drum, until he joined forces with Devin Rice in 2009 and created the occasionally minimalist, almost animalistic, mostly energizing “Music Beat”. Their stage presence was forceful, but accessible. Ed Schrader stood in front of a floor tom with a t-shirt draped over the top, and Rice still with a bass in his hands. Schrader called for the lights to be turned off after making a few jokes. He stepped on a pedal that lit his drum from within, casting his upper body in a spooky yellow light, and making Rice just barely visible.
They started with a heavier punk sound – harsh drum beats, quick, steady plucks on the bass, and repetitive nasal vocals – before smoothly transitioning into softer, more focused melodies. Ed Schrader has a unique, lulling voice. Up on the stage with his shirt torn off and the light of his drumbeats bouncing off his face he appeared like a mystical Ian Curtis. One who makes a lot of jokes.
Future Islands, originally part of the Wham City scene (a group of artists who collaborate, or not, to make performance pieces, music, festivals, books, etc), became one of the most popular, influential synth bands around with their 2011 album On the Water. They’re currently on tour to promote their newest album (coming out March 2014), Singles. As fun as their recorded music is, seeing them live is the real pleasure.
Before Future Islands, when much of the band was part of Art Lord, they were all about theatricality. That charisma has carried over, infused with what can only be described as raw emotion, into a whirlwind of truly danceable tunes.
Samuel Herring has an incredible voice. It’s belting, cathartic, and registers as almost inhuman. The combination of this powerful tone and lyrics that center around anger and heartbreak can be a bit overwhelming. It rides the line between confessional and personal. I wonder how much confession is too much? Though the band is mesmerizing, the crowd may not always be able to enter this inviolate space.
The energy level of the band is out of this world. Herring is constantly dancing, twisting, and contorting himself around the microphone, making it nearly impossible to look away from him. Other band members are so still and expressionless that there’s somehow a balanced atmosphere. The keyboard builds a great sense of atmosphere and the beat is subtler than most dance music, but still manages to work its way into the body. Usually crowds are split between dancers and the too serious or too shy. But everyone seemed to brought together in the spirit of letting loose at the sound of Herring’s voice.
Check out Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s album Jazz Mind and look out for Future Island’s Singles this March.
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.