NEWS ROUNDUP: SXSW 2019 is in Full Swing, New Music, and MORE

CHAI are the buzziest band at this year’s SXSW.

SXSW Takes Over Austin

It’s been a bit of a slow news week, with what seems like 9/10ths of the music industry in Austin for South by Southwest. If you haven’t been, it’s not structured like a traditional festival, with bands scheduled to play certain stages; rather, the entire city is engulfed by musical chaos and madness, with showcases in bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies, record stores, the middle of the street, literally anywhere you can plug in audio equipment (and a few places you cannot). While some bands only play a few of these parties, there are a good number of bands who try to play as many times in the span of five days as is humanly possible. And we haven’t even gotten to the zany marketing maneuvers pulled by start-ups and tech companies and big name brands alike who act as sponsors, adding a little extra overwhelm to an already overwhelming situation.

This year, the big buzz band appears to be CHAI, the matchy-matchy Japanese quartet that just released their genre-bending debut PUNK to Best New Music accolades. Before the festivities got underway, Father John Misty played a surprise set at Netflix’s Speakeasy. Flying Lotus has been teasing his return via what looks to be sidewalk graffiti. Surviving Beastie Boys Mike D and Ad-Rock discussed their forthcoming memoir Beastie Boys Book in an enlightening keynote where they revealed they’ll be starring in some Spike Jonze-directed shows in Philly and Brooklyn to promote it. Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) crashed a Q&A with everyone’s favorite House Rep, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to ask some questions about climate change. John Boehner came to bloviate about weed legalization now that he’s got money in the game (he was formally against it). A volunteer was caught scalping $1,650 festival badges (who pays this amount? is that even real?). Oh, and some people showed some films.

That New New

Vampire Weekend’s Jonah Hill-directed jaunt through several Manhattan delis has finally arrived; it inexplicably features Jerry Seinfeld and Fab 5 Freddy and to be honest makes me extremely dizzy.

Y’all still on board with Grimes? Frustrated that her album is taking too long, she’s decided to start dropping demos on the regular starring avatars she made up, sorta like Gorillaz, according to the text posted on YouTube below this first clip, in which she plays a character called “Dark” performing a track called “Pretty Dark.” This is what happens when you hang out with Elon Musk.

Holly Herndon is definitely on track to usurp Grimes’ weirdo pop throne with her latest single from PROTO, out May 10 on 4AD.

Frankie Cosmos announced the release of a digital only collection of piano-driven songs she recorded without her backing band, called Haunted Items, by shared its first two tracks; she plans to release the others gradually over the next few weeks.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are evidently looking to get in on that “Baby Shark” market with the video for the title track to their upcoming LP Finding Fishies.

Carly Ray Jepsen serenades a very handsome ginger boi in the video for “Now That I Found You.”

Anderson .Paak had shared the first single from his forthcoming Ventura LP (out April 12). Its title is a reference to Lebron James and ref whistles pepper the jazzy track, but the political lyrics go much deeper than sports chatter.

Gold Panda surprise-released a collection of spoofy house tracks under the moniker DJ Jenifa.

End Notes

  • If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the art of distortion for J. Mascis, now’s your chance – he and the other members of Dinosaur Jr. are hosting three days of workshops known as Camp Fuzz in upstate New York at the end of July.
  • Most of the Glastonbury lineup has been announced – the legendary British festival will feature headliners the Cure, the Killers, and Stormzy, with Janelle Monáe, Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson, Tame Impala, Lauryn Hill, Vampire Weekend, Christine and the Queens, the Streets, Rosalía, Hot Chip, Lizzo, Sharon Van Etten, Kamasi Washington, Jorja Smith, the Chemical Brothers, Cat Power, Neneh Cherry, Low, Kurt Vile, Interpol, and more playing further down the bill. More bands will be announced in the lead up to the June 26 opening day.
  • The Roots have announced the lineup for their annual Philly festival
  • Smog frontman Bill Callahan will embark on a rare US tour in June and July.
  • The Lou Reed Archive opens at the New York Public Library today, so they’re issuing 6,000 limited edition library cards featuring Mick Rock’s iconic Transformer portrait.
  • If you’ve still got a tape deck, you’re in luck – Björk is re-releasing all nine of her albums on candy-colored cassette tape.

ONLY NOISE: The Ethos of Ezra Furman


It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress. Shit, I have a hard time with it, and I lack the pesky external organ complicating the endeavor to begin with. However, Ezra Furman’s ballsiness goes far beyond his ability to look excellent in a miniskirt. And he does look excellent.

The Chicago native has been on the music circuit for over eight years now, but has just begun to make international waves since the release of his 2015 LP Perpetual Motion People last spring. PMP was Furman’s inaugural release on the acclaimed Bella Union label, and its positive reception has had him touring extensively, including a few dates we covered in New York and a set at Glastonbury earlier this summer.

Backed by his band, the Boy-Friends, Furman’s sound is unlike anything else on the current scene. It is rock n’ roll at the end of the day, but a translation incorporating a love of everything from doo-wop to Lou Reed to the Replacements. The strength of Furman’s frenetic, wavering rasp and saxophonist Tim Sandusky’s screeching melodies truly distinguish their sound from contemporaries.

Recently, Furman has released a lone single off of his upcoming EP Big Fugitive Life, which will be out August 19 on Bella Union. “Teddy I’m Ready,” the EP’s first track is an absolute anthem, pairing thundering drums with delicate guitar builds, cooing harmonies, and of course, the requisite sax licks. It is a ballad that suggests Furman has stadium potential.

The EP itself is actually a collection of “orphaned songs,” as Furman put it in a press release. He continues to explain the relevance of this particular selection of work:

“They are focused on the theme of the mind unmoored–those of us who have been left to drift unsupervised through the modern world. Four of these tracks were originally intended for inclusion on ‘Perpetual Motion People’. Two of them were for ‘The Year of No Returning’. But they weren’t ready until now.

The first three songs are our vision of rock and roll. A madness that overtakes your mind and body. It’s wanting to go somewhere you’ve never been, knowing you’re on your way. The second side is acoustic guitar as open wound, a troubled mind on display. Emotional in a different way, tender like a bruise. It includes “The Refugee,” my first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.

We dedicate this record to refugees of all kinds, all over the world. May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and and may those with power welcome them as fellow citizens of humanity.”

It may have been while reading these words, in simply reading a press release, that something finally clicked for me regarding Furman: this is an artist who actually gives a shit. Pop culturally speaking, we’ve long been on hiatus from making political statements. Irony has pervaded, the urge to be nonchalant and, god help me for saying it, chill has been rife, and it’s still pretty rare for an independent artist to speak in earnest about the sort of topics Furman tackles. A few of those being, but not limited to:

Gender Identity/Body Positive Issues

In a beautiful piece that Furman wrote for The Guardian last year, the artist explains the struggle he’s faced understanding his own sexual orientation and gender identity. He credits musicians like Bowie, Lou Reed, Antony Hegarty, and Grace Jones (to name a few) for helping him accept his own ambiguity. He elaborates on his current state of pleasant uncertainty:

“The full list of musicians who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, of course, would be nearly endless, and more and more appear every year, whether by debuting their work or coming out as trans or gender fluid.

Over the past few years, I’ve added myself to this list, performing more and more often in clothing, makeup and jewellery traditionally intended for women and girls. I’d like to set the record straight (so to speak): this behaviour is not just part of an onstage persona, nor is it a gimmick to get people’s attention. Gender fluidity is very much a part of my life offstage, though I am still exploring what it means. I’ve not quite decided on a gender identity, I may never decide, and that’s all right with me. I am proud to exist in an ambiguous, undecided state.”

Mental Health

Furman has been equally open about his struggles with mental health and depression since the inception of his career. Perpetual Motion People comes with a lengthy letter from Furman, admitting a very dire time he faced after graduating college. He goes into detail about a period of time when he wanted to kill himself, and then leads the reader out of that darkness into his recovery, sharing a long poem called “FOAM FACTORY” directly after. It seems as though whatever difficulty Furman has grappled with in the past, he wants to share it, and he wants to be a device in the healing of others afflicted with similar issues. And that’s no small thing.

Social Unrest

Before he signed with Bella Union, Furman was still churning out an admirable amount of material, some of it highlighting admirable topics. Shortly after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, Furman released the song “Ferguson’s Burning” to exhibit his solidarity with the Brown family, which goes thus:

When the fires burn out/And the tear gas disperses/When the work is all done/For the doctors and the nurses/The cops may stop shooting/And the street get less wild/But Michael Brown’s mother/Will never get back her child/And the hatred and fear/That America harbors/Will only grow bigger/Beneath big body armor/So keep a close eye on our laws and our leaders/No justice for Mike Brown/There’s none for you either

Ferguson’s burning/And the world’s turning away/Turning away

It isn’t too often that you come across an artist like Furman. He is swiftly becoming much more than a musician – he is becoming a movement – a fully rigged artistic piece complete with a mission statement. A truly unique songwriter, performer, and character, one of the best things Furman leaves one with is a sense of confusion.

When I think of Ezra Furman, my music critic reflexes always ask: “Who can I lump him in with? What trend did he sprout from?” But there is no answer. He is not the last cry of the folk-revival scene, or the latest electro-pop outfit, or another fucking “dream pop” act. He is, undeniably, Ezra Furman. And he’s not going anywhere.


ARTIST INTERVIEW: Huw Bunford of Super Furry Animals


“I keep forgetting I’m on a boat!” Huw Bunford, lead guitarist of Wales’ Super Furry Animals, is sitting in a booth on the Hornblower Infinity, 4 Knots’s designated artists lounge for the one-day festival on Pier 84. “Sorry, I just saw the horizon go up and down (laughs).” It is mildly unsettling trying to hold composure for an interview while feeling the slightest swells rock us left and right. All around are musicians snacking on buffet cheeses and crackers, chatting and ordering drinks from the bar. In all honesty, I keep forgetting we’re on a boat too.

Bunford, or as he cordially introduces himself, “Bunf,” is soft spoken, gracious, and exceedingly kind. These are not three adjectives that leap to mind when one imagines a rock star who’s been in the biz twenty-odd years. There’s a lot more ease about him – a casual uncertainty regarding the future that typically marks bands in their first year. Perhaps it’s the well-rested temperament of a man whose band has just emerged from a six-year hiatus.

Super Furry Animals are not only touring again for the first time since 2009, they’re also riding high on the deluxe edition rerelease of their 2000 album Mwng (pronounced Mung as I learned the hard way). The record, sung entirely in Welsh, was anomalous not only to the band (all prior recordings were in English) but also to the U.K. music industry of the time, which was strongly steeped in Britpop.  But as opposed to the Beatle-ific, Kink-centric nods from contemporaries such as Oasis and Blur, Super Furry Animals took on everything from funk to psychedelic, to space rock. Their diverse sonic anatomy makes it difficult to solder them to any specific time period – which may be why a reissue and a resurrection is so appropriate.

Bunf was kind enough to take the time to answer a few pressing questions, and chat about iTunes, wltimate painting, and SFA’s biggest fan.

AudioFemme: Welcome back to New York!

Huw Bunford: Thank you.

AF: So you’re back from a hiatus, you just played Glastonbury, and you’ve reissued Mwng after 15 years; what’s it like touring together as a band now? Is there a different dynamic?

HB: No. It’s strange really, it’s just like none of us have been away. It’s a very bizarre feeling. Before we did Glastonbury we did a short tour just to publicize Mwng really-the reissue-and there were about eight dates around Britain, and that was the first time we’d played for six years and we rehearsed before it and Cian [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”][Ciaran: keyboards, synths, etc] said when he walked in the first day, he looked in and our roadies had set up everything exactly as we’d remembered.

AF: It’s like when you talk to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and it’s as if no time has passed.

HB: Yeah, it’s very strange.

AF: What was it about Mwng in particular that you wanted to rerelease it instead of other records in your archive?

HB: Well, one thing about this is that there was no plan, it’s quite shambolic, a super loose idea where we had a few record companies like Sony and Domino who mentioned doing it years ago, and we sort of just never got our shit together and sorted it out. And then for some reason a year ago a guy from Domino bumped into Gruff [Rhys: lead vocals, guitar] and said “oh, we never did get that reissue….”

AF: I’ve read about it and I love that you all just say “oh we just forgot….”

HB: (laughs) Yeah, basically we were all just like (looks quizzical) “oh yeah….” But it just seemed right at the time. The idea of [reissuing] Mwng came out and Domino really jumped on it and was really amazing, and they made a really nice pressing. And Kliph Spurlock, who used to be the drummer for Flaming Lips is a massive fan-

AF: I would assume that the Flaming Lips may have been a fan of yours…

HB: Yeah, Kliph is, he’s a superfan. I first saw him in a gig in Lawrence, Kansas and I didn’t know who he was and he knew all the songs, all air drumming. So he then compiled a lot of outtakes and ATPs of Mwng so [the reissue] has about six sides. So that was worth pushing…worth doing something around it.

AF: I know one of the defining features of Mwng is that it’s sung entirely in Welsh. Looking back do you feel like that’s made a mark on contemporary Welsh music? Is it a thriving tradition or kind of an oddity?

HB: No, no, Wales has got a thriving musical scene, the Welsh language has its own radio station, and a lot of quite amazing bands really…a lot of young bands that really hold their own against anybody. And it’s healthy, you know, it’s not contrived I don’t think in any way, even though it’s a language that you might not associate with pop music, but it doesn’t matter really. In the end in a way, ironically, when we finally played America it was only when we came back and toured Mwng that’s when audiences in America thought ‘oh, these aren’t Britpop then’ because we’d been slightly lumped in by association.

AF: Which is so funny to me because I could not think of a further diversion from Britpop…

HB: It’s probably just because Creation [Records] and Oasis were out then and we came out then…I could see why people would sometimes think it…but not when they heard us (laughs). Once we started playing they were like “Oh, no, right.”

AF: What are you listening to now? Are there any new bands that you’re excited about or do you just go to the classics?

HB: Yeah, I like some new ones. Have you heard of Ultimate Painting?

AF: Yeah! They’re fantastic!

HB: Yeah, they’re amazing. I love them. And um, Van Etten.

AF: Sharon Van Etten? She’s great.

HB: I’m kind of into Soundscapes as well, though they don’t really figure much in the Billboard 100, but yeah, it’s kind of weird…and documentaries as well…that’s what I listen to and watch really.

AF: This is actually paraphrasing something Gruff said from about 2009, but it was regarding the fact that you guys have always been a very album-centric band, and that was a time period when people really constructed albums from start to finish as a whole composition. And now we really are in this era of individual downloads. How do you feel as a band kind of in those two spaces? Do you feel like there’s even a chance for bands to have longevity anymore based on that?

HB: Well, no not really. I suppose to be cynical it’s a completely different business model now. Cuz in a way that’s how everything effects everything in the end, unfortunately. You know peoples’ habits change, technology has in a way pushed that into the way people have changed. There’s a small little niche for vinyl…it’ll never die out, because I think bands love to do albums in the end. If you’re a band you might not want to just stop at one song, even though the record company does…

AF: I know bands will continue to make albums, I just wonder if there are any bands that we listen to now that we’ll still be excited about in 15 years…that I question a lot. I hope, but I don’t know.

HB: Yeah, I know what you mean, because there might not be enough…

AF: Attention span.

HB: Yeah, it’s kinda crazy. I mean there’s so much new stuff and then you get indie music, which is almost quite generic indie music, and then you get other indie music which is really out-there indie music and you can always see subtle differences and I think that’s because there’s just more of it. And I suppose peoples’ tastes become more sophisticated. We keep getting more sophisticated with our tastes.

AF: Some of us do….

HB: Well, yeah, but when you think about it it’s inevitable. Pop will eat itself.

AF: Not to age you guys with this statement, but as a pre-internet band-

HB: Oh, yes. We’re proud of that.

AF: I’m sure, I mean I would be if I had a band. Pre-internet. But, how do you feel about streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music? It’s complicated…

HB: Well, yeah, it is. It’s a minefield really isn’t it? Some bands like U2 totally missed the point spectacularly and put out everything on iTunes and get a separate contracted deal with Ttunes for a zillion pounds but make it look like “hey, we’re giving it away!” and it’s a lot of massive bands that do that, so it must be quite difficult for bands who are starting out now if the precedent is: ‘give it away and something might happen’ it’s a very upside down business plan. You can embrace it as a way of getting something out there. When we were around starting, you’d have to have a press officer, you’d have to have an agency, all these kinds of things which were all parasitic of the record company, but they needed them to be there and the whole apparatus would work and you’d get onto morning shows and TV shows. But now that’s all out the window. I think that people were just too slow to realize it…if you stand still in this game you die.

AF: Yeah and once your standing you’re not even there for that long.

HB: Yeah. That’s hard.

AF: I’ve read interviewers ask you guys about how having kids has affected your careers, but I’m curious to know how you guys have affected your kids with music. What kind of stuff are they listening to?

HB: Well now they’re just about getting to that age where they can really see what we did. Before they were a bit too young. They didn’t get it. So now they kind of, my kids are beginning to see that.

AF: Are they like ‘dad’s cool’ or are they kind of embarrassed?

HB: Yeaaaah, my kid’s eight-they’re all under 10 so still young, but you know, they don’t have any qualms saying ‘my dad’s a rock star’ to the milkman or something like that (laughs) that’s what they see, you know. But it’s funny you know, you try and downplay it but it’s sweet.

AF: I guess my last question would be, what’s next for you guys? A new album?

HB: Yeah, it’s just super loose. We don’t know. We’re taking it a week at a time. Well, not really, we’re doing almost like a festival tour up until the end of the season really. And then after that we’ll do something next year like the festivals and some of the things we didn’t get a chance to do, and that’s about as far as we’ve really stuck our necks out. But it’s good; it’s a nice feeling.

AF: But that’s nice, not being stressed out.

HB: Like I said, you know, people don’t really listen to albums anyway, so wha’ts the point of writing one? (Laughs)

AF: I do!!!