March 11-13, 2019
By Finn Hewes
Photos by Finn Hewes
The Sunday just before Reading Week, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas for the 32nd iteration of South by Southwest—a Cerberus of a festival with Film, Interactive, and Music components, spanning ten days. Music was scheduled for the last 7 days of the festival, and that’s where I come in. After months of researching and emailing, I had my schedule picked out and interviews booked. What follows is a recap, as concise as I could make it. I’m including links to our YouTube page, where we post artist interviews, and a Spotify “best of” playlist, chosen from sets I saw or interviews I conducted (some of the tunes had yet to be released). I’ll also link to individual interviews as we come across the artists in the wild, so stay tuned!
I showed up in Austin and made my way over to Hotel Vegas—what I would later learn to be one of the weirdest venues in the already weird city. After waiting in line for longer than I would have liked to, I was allowed into the crowded back yard and made my way to one of the venue’s four stages, hoping I was at the right one. A standup comic kept the crowd at bay while the band finished setting up, with insightful and witty commentary on life’s everyday ailments—like failing to impress your dad with your promiscuity and the annoyance of Buddhist, cum-eating ants.
(Thee) Oh Sees themselves put on an absolutely wild show. The parentheses denote the fact that the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees now goes by simply Oh Sees. The band was all over the place, seemingly playing at 2x speed (so maybe 8x the speed of any other band). People weren’t just crowd surfing, they were fighting their way to the front so that they could plant their feet on the rails and backflip on to the rest of the writhing crowd. It was insane. The music was predictably great, thanks to (Thee) Oh Sees eclectic blend of surfer rock and post-punk-psychedelia, led by John Dwyer’s raspy vocals, high pitched “woo’s” and cargo-shorted crazy legs.
If you don’t know (Thee) Oh Sees sound by now, you have no excuse. Crack open another ice-cold YouTube tab and revisit this article in half an hour or so. Their latest release is Smote Reverser, but I’d personally recommend 2017’s Orc, or their early 2017 performance on KEXP.
I arrived at the next venue on my list (Mohawk) a bit early and was able to catch the tail end of a Priests show. One thing I liked about SXSW was its pub crawl vibe. Most venues are a 15-minute walk apart at most.
After spending what felt like forever on sound check, Deerhunter took the stage. The synth-rock band (who describe their sound as “ambient punk”) began bathing the crowd in shoegaze’s characteristic swelly and distorted guitars, simplistic drum beats, and ethereal synths. Cover Me Slowly was a clear crowd favorite. Bradford Cox was a vocal powerhouse.
The bar/venue itself put on an amazing light show, and the band sounded great. They had a weird stadium thing going on, with a tiered upper level extending two or three staggered layers above the ground. Part of the upper deck wrapped around the stage, so if you were lucky, you could stand almost directly over the band—although when it’s as slammed as it was pretty much the entire time that South By was happening, it’s enough of a challenge even getting in the front door.
The venue Latitude 30 partnered up with the Department of International Trade (wtf, right?) to present the British Music Embassy’s showcase this year. Acts of all genres from all over England were highlighted. I went there to see King Nun (“Hung Around”, “Chinese Medicine”) and was surprised to see a different band start setting up. They were banging all around, dropping a bass guitar and knocking mic stands over.
My pessimism was up-ended, however, by the first song. Brighton’s hardest dream-pop band, Thyla, was playing like they had something to prove. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a tight band, playing like they had some experience. They were sort of poppy-sounding but would dive into heavier channels from time to time, rounding out their sound. They played as if they shared the same brain, some British musical superorganism making an effort to prove itself.
They played a few songs from their newest release and first EP, What’s On Your Mind, a five-track with only two fresh songs. You might like Thyla if you like The Ninth Wave, Speilbergs, or Sports Team.
I arrived at the Historic Scoot Inn exactly 24 hours early than I had intended to, or so I was told by the guy working the gate when I asked if Slow Pulp would be starting soon. I had nothing else planned for that time slot, so I stuck around to see what was up. And again, I was pleasantly surprised by a band I hadn’t intended to see!
Pink Sweat$ emerged in a Naruto shirt and, you guessed it, pink sweats. He was accompanied only by NYC guitarist (and apparently LGBTQ+ activist, as my inbox was keen to inform me) Daisy. They engaged the crowd in a laid back, chilled out, and stripped-down R&B set, with a hearty blues backbone. Daisy laid down tight, consistent chord patterns, that sounded fresh but familiar, occasionally barking out a bluesy solo phrase or two.
Pink Sweat$ voice is an absolute angelic powerhouse. Paired with a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to see how the young musician has so quickly amassed a sizable following, with his first release coming in 2018 and already accruing over three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. His latest release, Volume 2, is another five-tracker: three of which he performed live. Side note, whoever runs his branding is killing it, all of his cover art is both interesting and thematically consistent. At any rate, he’s taking off at a breakneck pace. Check him out.
Trudy and the Romance
This quick backyard set at Icenhauer’s bar still feels like it didn’t happen. I’ve been head over heels for Trudy and the Romance since their 2016 single “He Sings” was released. By some stroke of luck or divine intervention, I was able to see their first set in the US in a weird little bar backyard with plasticky fake grass and an ugly wooden fence.
“We’re called Trudy and the Romance… Trudy like the girls’ name—Trudy—and the Romance, like love—not the Romans. Romance.” And then it was happening. The “50’s Mutant-Pop” foursome was ripping through their set-list at an unsustainable pace. They looked the part, sporting oversized dress shirts, clashing patterns, and stringing their Jazzmasters well above the waist.
Oliver Taylor, frontman and vocalist for the band, was crooning from all parts of the stage, dancing in a way I can compare only to Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. It was otherworldly, or at least other-time-ly. If you’re hot dog on your internet culture, the entire set was personified in The Aristocats dancing gifs you see floating around. The set list covered their entire discography, and the crowd was there for it.
The band wrapped things up, “Thank you so much for watching, we’re Trudy like the girls’ name and the Romance like the love, thanks,” and announced their debut studio LP, Sandman, set to release on May 24th. Just less than a week ago, they released a music video accompaniment for the song “Doghouse,” from the Sandman album to come. My words do no justice to their vibe. Listen for yourself—you won’t regret it.
Iguana Death Cult
Next up, I popped over to Edwin’s Sports Bar, home of New Dutch Wave’s SXSW showcase, to catch Iguana Death Cult. Iguana Death Cult is a four-piece new wave/post-punk outfit from Rotterdam, but they’re hard to pin down in just one sentence. The first song they played, for example, showed very obviously punk influence. The following song included polka-inspired bass lines and moved at a more rockabilly canter. Think Violent Femmes in their versatility.
Their stage performance was electrifying, and definitely a sight to behold. It may have been too much, even, for the unsuspecting crowd, as everyone seemed to keep their distance from the stage. “Come on, I know I spit a little but I’m not contagious,” frontman Jeroen Reek pleaded, “come join us at the front for a dance!” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose, because after that gentle prodding, the crowd dove in head first and started dancing and thrashing around to the music.
This is the power chord band. They sing songs with 30 second sections of the same word yelled over and over. They come complete with a shirtless bass player with three oddly spaced black and gray arm tattoos. They run in place and shout at the mics. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re fun. If you like the Talking Heads, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Interpol, or DEVO, you may want to check these guys out.
I caught the last show of the night at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, a laid back local venue with an extremely small, raised wooden stage. The bar felt very homey but was a challenge to navigate due to high top tables and chairs strewn all around the place. What wasn’t seated space was standing room. This made it tough to get around, but looking past that, the venue was quite intimate, and allowed the band to feel like they were right in your face.
The California-based group Spooky Mansion took the stage and wouldn’t be deterred by the limited elbow room. The four-piece played a funky, synth infused surf rock set, complimented nicely by lead singer and experienced house-sitter Grayson Converse’s unique voice and flamboyant performance. Their music will sit well with fans of Paul Cherry, Ceramic Animal, Trudy and the Romance, and lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.
The band reposted ~without tagging; credit the artist please and thank you~ the video from my Instagram story of Converse’s absurd dance moves with the caption, “hips n nips, baby!” thereby confirming alleged ties between the upcoming group and Rickety Cricket’s management team. But seriously, this is a great band that I was lucky to catch before they blew up. Their latest release, a single entitled “Brink of Death” was released early last October, so keep your eyes peeled for new projects on the horizon.
This time, arriving at the Historic Scoot Inn, I was in the right place at the right time—more so than I ever would have guessed when leaving my Airbnb that morning. Not only would I meet Wisconsin-born and Chicago-based four-piece Slow Pulp, but I would do so while eating crawfish. I f *cking love crawfish and these were shining examples of the delicacy.
The laid-back, backyard honky tonk vibe of the Scoot Inn stood in stark juxtaposition to the dream-punk sound cultivated by the foursome, but made for a homey show. At first, it felt like they were playing someone’s lakehouse party, and we (the crowd and myself) were there to soak up the sun, and oh yeah, there’s music. But just one or two songs into their set, the vibe changed. People were standing, dancing, and encroaching on the lonely-looking stage.
Emily Massey’s too-sweet voice drifted in and out of the warped melodies and crisp drum beats created by the band, who played a solid set, pulling from the entirety of their young band’s discography. Their latest release, “Steel Birds,” and “Preoccupied,” from their 2017 release EP2, were clear crowd favorites.
The band kicks off a quick summer tour with esteemed colleagues Remo Drive on May 31st, with a hometown show at Bottom Lounge. It should go without saying, but that’s a show you shouldn’t miss.
After a short food truck intermission, I made my way over to Hotel Vegas’s Volstead stage, indoors. What a weird spot. It felt like a bad acid trip set to interiors from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There was ugly pattern wallpaper, mismatched chandeliers, roughly double the acceptable amount of wood paneling, and a tapir (?) head mounted to the back wall. That being said, the set started right at sunset, and the light spilling through the doorway was breathtaking.
The band was set and ready to go, utilizing a very minimal setup. The drummer’s kit was comprised of only a drum pad, a tom, and a single kick drum. There was a lap steel, glossily strung through a pedal or two. And then there was the cat-gut playing, and smooth crooning Sam Swinson. His antique voice was perfect accoutrements to the weirdo Western sailor parlor amalgamation of stuff that was the Volstead stage.
Ohtis has existed as a band for more than a decade, but has struggled with various ailments throughout its entire existence. Addiction, rehab, and relocation behind them, the group has truly found their voice, making dark-folk Americana tunes with just a hint of country twang and a healthy dose of lessons hard-learned. The band has just released a short film inspired by their single, “Runnin’,” and has announced an official end-of-March release date for their debut studio album, Curve of Earth. Ohtis is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They bare their souls and don’t hide nothing from nobody. Just don’t listen with the expectation of unsubstantiated radio fluff. Listen to singles “Runnin’” (and watch the short film!) and “Pervert Blood” in anticipation of their new LP!
The Howl and the Hum
Returning to the British Music Embassy showcase at Latitude 30, I was excited to see a band I’d only recently discovered on Fender’s YouTube channel, playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018. I had done some preliminary Spotify research as well, but entered the venue with a largely open mind. Their live sound, from what I thought, was quite different from their studio sound, and that notion held true.
The Howl and the Hum took the small stage to an almost uncomfortable level of haze. Whoever was working lights really wanted his fifteen minutes… The band tore into what proved to be a very active live show. They were all over the place. The music expertly toed the line between thumpy and playful, but was certainly heavier (and louder!) than their studio work. It felt like a more evolved sound for the band. Their Facebook page boldly states, “They combine dark hypnotic pop with post-punk influences, pierced with lyrics that will make you call your mum the next morning.”
At the beginning, they would talk a lot between songs, explaining the thoughts that went into the writing process, and chastising the crowd for pronouncing “vitamins” wrong on this side of the pond. As the set progressed however, they wouldn’t leave as much breathing room between ‘miserable discos,’ diving headfirst into the next song seemingly before the first was over.
The band clearly had a sense of humor and came to perform. Horn-rimmed glasses and carefully pomaded pompadours were head-banged out of place, and the proper, sweater-vested boys next door took on their final form as a hard-nosed rock band. They really put on a show. The Howl and the Hum are, obviously, a British group, and don’t have any US tour dates planned as of the writing of this piece. It has been almost a year, however, since their latest release; logic would suggest that they’re working on something new. Keep them in the back of your mind.
I made a quick pitstop at Friend’s Bar on the way to my next set. There I caught French for Rabbits tearing down their stage in preparation for Million Miles, the solo keyboardist and vocalist. Her outfit was eye-catching, with a sparkly twilight mauve shirt that perfectly matched her keyboard case, and flowy black pants with elegant looking cranes circling the pant legs.
The bar was the perfect venue for this type of set. It was a mostly older crowd, either seated or crowded around the aquarium/bar area to grab a Tom Collins or whatever 50+ year olds are getting ripped on nowadays.
Million Miles is a French/British singer songwriter who artfully infuses folk, blues, and soul, with perhaps a hint of R&B. Her voice is angelic, and the notes from her piano elegantly float just beneath it, never competing for attention. Singles “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were crowd favorites, the latter of which being a February ’19 release. Million Miles is perfect music for a de-stressing walk around the block or a lazy afternoon at home.
The last set of the evening saw Bane’s World take the stage at Palm Door on Sixth with some truly beautiful instruments: the pièce de résistance, an off-white Gretsch hollow body. Originally a solo project, Shane (Bane) tours with some musical backing. They played well together and were a well-oiled jazz machine. The set felt more like a laid-back jam session than a music festival set. The music was happy-sounding, but not so much so that it felt “peppy” or overly sappy.
Near the end of the set, Shane said his little piece, finishing with “thanks for hanging out with you… wait, I mean me.” He laughed out loud and continued, “Fuck, I’m tired,” and finished her off with some robot noises before diving into the final song of the set. The young musician’s laid-back, lighthearted energy was infectious, and the music even more so.
With only one studio album to his credit, which was released in 2016, you should expect new work from Bane’s World on the horizon. We also met up for an interview a few days after this set. To get to know the man behind the music, check out our coverage here.