SXSW 2015 - Thursday - Austin, Texas
South By South West is an industry-based music conference/festival located in Austin, Texas. An average of 2500 bands play over a period of five days so it's a great opportunity to watch the latest 'up and coming' acts from around the world alongside more established bands playing slightly more intimate venues than they are used to.
Hype Hotel has been a pop up venue for in Austin for the last few SX's. It's varied in size over the years, with 2014's building a fairly small affair. This year they'd gone back to bigger is better, as it looked a fairly cavernous venue when empty, which was the state it was in when I arrived for my final set of the week from singer-songwriter Natalie Prass at midday.
There were a few early risers waiting behind a makeshift barrier for the venue to properly open and in the interim we got a little treat, in the form of Natalie sound checking with a cover of Whitney's 'Greatest Love Of All.' I'd originally seen the singer play an exquisite intimate set on the Tuesday night but she'd had keyboard problems, so had to deliver a slightly re-jigged guitar based show. I then tried to see her the following day, only to wait in line for an eternity, finally getting to observe a couple of songs from a slightly cramped position, which wasn't perfect. This time round everything went fine. I had a great spot on the barrier, Miss Prass was lit up like a Christmas tree and the tracks on display sounded like they were meant to be heard! It was certainly one of the high spots of my 2015 SXSW, as Natalie's self titled debut is one of my favourite albums of the year and a collection that grows on me more with every listen. Songs like 'Why Don't You Believe In Me', the Disney-tinged 'It Is You' and 'Your Fool' all sounded stunning in the live arena, so I'll hopefully get the opportunity to see her again live when she tours the UK later in the year.
Fader Fort (or to give it its proper name, The Fader Fort Presented By Converse) was directly opposite Hype Hotel, so it was a perfect opportunity to pick up my press credentials, popping in to take advantage of the two free drinks tokens I'd been given, viewing a couple of acts in the process. Fader is another huge venue and it's always a good spot to hang out and shoot bands, as it's blessed with great lighting and a large photo pit. I hung around to shoot US singer-songwriter Shamir and the always awesome Wolf Alice. I had to leave a couple of songs into WA's set and was kicking myself as I walked down the street, as I could hear a rowdy track that I knew would have delivered some great shots.
I can't say I've ever been a huge fan of chart topping dance act Clean Bandit but I've had fun when I've shot them at festivals, so couldn't pass up the opportunity to cover a tiny early evening outdoor show they were playing for the Make Some Noise showcase. The band's vocalists Grace Chatto and Elisabeth Troy were on fine form, with their infectious dancing spreading through the audience, with the house coming down when Jess Glynne appeared for the final few tracks in the set. It was a fantastic little showcase and a real joy to see the band in such an intimate setting.
Sadly after Clean Bandit's set it was downhill all the way for my Thursday evening. I'd hoped to see Marina And The Diamonds but the badge line was way too huge, so I gave up after 30 minutes hanging around. The next band on my schedule were UK post-punk legends The Pop Group, but they weren't on for a couple of hours. I decided to head to the venue anyway, with thoughts in my head of happening over a great new band!
The showcase was taking place at the Hotel Vegas Patio. I'd been to the venue before but only the inside section, where it's a bit of a dive. The outside wasn't that bad but the stage was lit constantly with a blue wash, which I knew would be hopeless for pictures. My first "new discovery" appeared onstage and I quickly realised they were just a flipping racket. They were also not so swiftly followed by another band that didn't seem to own any verses or choruses! Now, The Pop Group can be noisy buggers at times, so I can't say the evening wasn't curated well, but it wasn't what I really needed that Thursday evening. I was happy to see the stage finally getting set for the band I came for, only to realise things were running late and I had one more act to suffer. At that point I called it a day, jumping on a pedicab to find something a bit more tuneful!
I remembered Emmy The Great was playing on 6th Street at Buffalo Billiards so headed in to see what she up to, finding the lady in question hiding behind a laptop in a dimly lit room, not the perfect scenario for picture taking. I stayed for a couple songs presumably from her current EP S, heading round the corner, finding Latitude 30 surprisingly quiet.
Emmy The Great
I say 'surprisingly' as Carl Barat And The Jackals were due onstage fairly soon. I expected the venue to be rammed. It's smaller than your typical Barfly, so I did wonder where all the Libertines fans were? It did get a bit busier as the set went on, including a one woman mosh pit, but I decided to call it a day after three or four songs. I can't say the Libs have ever done it for me musically, but The Jackals seemed a real step down and I didn't really get the point of their existence, unless it's just so Carl can keep playing intimate venues without much hassle.
Carl Barat And The Jackals