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An Aussie Pops His Austin Cherry: A SXSW 2016 Review

Music Feeds presenter Harry Fuller got the opportunity of a lifetime this year, invited along to the annual musical shitfight that is SXSW. In amongst the networking, brand developing and ~synergy~, Harry took in the full extent of the hectic Austin, Texas vibes.


For 5 days in Austin, Texas, the cultural hub of Downtown becomes a chaotic, wonderful and very, very odd place for the world’s largest music conference, South By South West. The city’s slogan “Keep Austin Weird” rings out very true in day to day life and wandering down 6th St, in particular, which has the majority of venues, it is not uncommon to see some luchadores dropping some massive beats, rappers giving you business cards, industry people talking business or even gun shots.

Although 6th St is the central hub of venues in Austin, after around 5pm, the street becomes almost impossible to navigate due to the sheer amount of people either leaving a venue, moving instruments to another show or just standing around. If you were thinking that being able to find a gig was as easy as walking to the next bar, you’d be very surprised.

If you were looking to see the big names like Eryka Badhu and Drake, you’d have to stand in line for about 2 hours. If you’re really looking to find the up and coming bands, you’d have to go a little further out of the usual zones.

A frat party up north of Downtown was the first destination. As frat house parties go, this one was pretty spot on as to what you would imagine it to be; bro’s, beers, a pool and even red cups. The party was run by UK based label, Transgressive Records, who were showcasing their best and brightest talents.

Then it was a hight tail over to The Tap Room (about a 20 minute walk) to catch Perth boys, Methyl Ethel. This was the first impression of what the week was going to entail. A shit tonne of walking.

Trying to navigate between venue to venue became increasingly difficult if you didn’t have internet on your phone and what “seems” to be a 5 minute walk on a map can turn into a 30 minute jog. This is no fault of the festival, of course, and the wonderful thing was that most of the bands that you would love, you would come across by accident.

Some of the more amazing performances weren’t found in a dingy bar or out behind a vegan taco truck, in fact most of them were in churches. The churches of Austin allow SXSW each year to come in and set up a stage; and I mean literally in the cathedral halls. (I hear you ask, “Do they play death metal in churches?” Apparently some years, yes.)

Marlon William’s performance at Central Presbyterian Church proved truly a holy thing and UK folk artist Billie Marten really surprised all by her sheer ability to control an industry heavy crowd and have them fall head over heels with her voice.. 

Friday came around too quickly and it was time for the Australian showcase, The Aussie BBQ. The showcase had bands like DMA’s, DZ Deathrays and Andy Clockwise. As you would or wouldn’t expect, there were a lot of people at this show, hoping to get a glimpse of the band they’ve been so hyped up about. The international industry is definitely paying attention to what we are producing.

Of course there were disappointments; some bands didn’t love the idea of booking agents and labels looking at their phones and talking to their counterparts and therefore bands didn’t want to perform as energetically as they normally would, but it was definitely the lesser known and upcoming bands that were the one’s giving the best performances this year.

SXSW Acts To Watch

Blaenavon

UK trio Blaenavon, were one of the first bands I came across at SXSW. The lads came out with their explosive opener Hell Is My Head. A combination of FOALS and The Cure, lead singer Benjamin Gregory Liphook uses his awkward charm and playful lyrics that really draws in the audience to properly listen. Their indie-rock-pop relying heavily on snappy drums and glistening guitar effects while Liphook’s vocals and Franklin Wright’s bass lines keep the listener from becoming agitated.

Performance wise, the boys didn’t play into the hands of other bands who refused to “perform”; most notably Liphook’s cross leg bounce and bass player Franklin Wright bass soaring. Another highlight track, Prague, gives you all the chills in the right places with quick cut drums and complimentary bass lines with a MASSIVE finale. It wouldn’t be surprising to see those guys hit Australian shores sometime soon.     

Julia Jacklin 

Now, there was a lot of SXSW hype about Julia Jacklin. Originally from the Blue Mountains, the songstress played 8 shows in total and was definitely a name that kept coming up. With a combination of Angel Olson and Patty Smith, Jacklin holds the line of cool country and non-conventional folk rock. At a church called St David’s Sanctuary, Jacklin played her set half with her band and half by herself.

It was during one of her solo songs, LA Dream, that everyone stopped and stared in awe. Heartbreaking and connecting lyrics, such as, “Now I’m lying broken/Like a dog after a fight/I guess you were not meant/ To be mine” was too perfect for the venue. Her latest single Pool Party and Hay Plain were two other major highlights. Definitely keep an eye out this year for this lady, you won’t regret it.    

Pumarosa 

Ferocious UK psych quintet, Pumarosa, was one of those bands that every time someone brought them up, they would end up saying “You HAVE to see them!”. And I can tell you, the hype is legit and warranted. Their performance was definitely one of the most engaging and mesmerising demonstrations that you would see at SXSW and maybe even the rest of the world. Surprisingly the band is only two years old and showed off the ability, creativity and fearlessness of a band who has been kicking around for decades.

The only song they have out is Priestess which is in itself enough to crave more and more material. The sound is a combination of Jagwar Ma, David Bowie and Savages, bringing in a percussive, psychedelic and pop-rock sound.     

Special Mentions

Big White, THEE MVPS, Protomartyr, Hockey Dad and Cosmo Sheldrake.

Harry travelled to SXSW as a member of Julia Jacklin’s support band.

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