Europe’s Leading Festival for New Music – works best if you can do lots of homework before on bands never heard of before, which if we are honest is most of them. Held in the perfect city for an urban festival. Stayed with my lovely cousins and without trying too hard I went to 16 venues and saw 39 bands (that I can recall…). Having a bike helped… So, here’s my diary of TGE Highlights:
Sounds Australia showcase in the Haunt, good unpretentious rock from the Upskirts, and more trendy 80s-style girl with synth (and Toto sample used well) Dune. Hjaltalin, cool slow powerful music from Iceland, featuring violin, keyboards, and the singing duo of Hogni and Sigridur, long haired male and great Adele-like female. And its sunny!
Girls Names, of Belfast, great hooks but a bit too laid back on record for me, Really smashed it live! Cure/New Order style, plus feedback. Wolf Alice very good too, arresting vocalist. Huge Qs for Tom Odell, and indeed any well known/hyped bands, one of the drawbacks of this otherwise great friendly festival (the other is virtually no info on the many cancelations and their replacements). However did make it into the Warren, one of the best venues with beer garden and lots of space once in.
A great line-up – Jeremy Loops, a SA singer/guitarist who uses…guess what…loops, to great effect with some really catchy sing-along tunes, all done with bags of charisma; Deap Valley, a real highlight, a female White Stripes from California, initially put off a bit by the cheap leather undies and hairspray, but they really rock! Came on to the sound of Led Zep; looks like Barbarella on guitar and the young Liz Taylor on drums, great blues voices and crunching riffs. Guitarist turned up in the moshpit for Parquet Courts too, much respect!
Despite an early night..this day was still based around the theory that we both needed some rest. Breakfast and lounging started the day off and then the leisurely walk over to La Zona Rosa for the Rolling Stone party. La Zona Rosa also will be the site for the Prince show tonight and security is already there and they are setting up some new barricades for what would turn out to be the huge lineup to come tonight.
Thankfully...Badges allow us to wander in and get a strategic seat/picnic table outside to grab some free food/craft beer/and...makers mark bourbon based mixed drinks! Sandra is going all out as she knows her day is going to be an easy one so she dives into the bourbon based mixed drinks and all I can think about is how I have a huge show tonight..so I stick to beer!
The showcase today is not going to hurt us..push us in anyway. Really wanted Sandra to get to see Jake Bugg and Lord Huron is also playing and this is going to give us a chance to really hear them play and lounge about!
Surfer Blood come on, and yes..this could be the 6th or 7th time I have seen them but its good to see them up close and they again provide a solid set.
Next up...Gus & Scout. Had never heard of them before and while they perform really well..smooth alt-country songs I cant help but think there is more to this as the lineup today features a few popular artists and these guys (while still putting on a solid set) are really new to me. A little google search answers that question, as Gus..is Gus Wenner (son of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner) and Scout Willis is daughter of Bruce and Demi. These two hung out together as kids and grew to love the same music and thus...Gus & Scout.
One thing to note before day 4 begins..the lottery. There were a number of lotteries this year at SXSW. Started last year to award lucky winners a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen, this year, the showcase list that required a lottery winning was longer. There was Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Green Day, Sound City, Depeche Mode, Prince, and Justin Timberlake. Sandra and I entered all the lotteries and we did not have a lot of luck. One thing to note, it was clear after the Nick Cave and Sound city night at Stubbs..if you hung around outside in a badge line long enough..you could eventually get in, which is what some friends did. You really have to want to go though as you miss a lot of music standing outside and it was for that reason that we chose not to..
Friday has another leisurely start..after breakfast we roam the city getting some sun and waiting for the Vegan party to start. Had to catch Half Moon Run there as this would be our last chance. Got inside for some free vegan food and a quick drink and on came Half Moon Run. The band is comprised of British Columbia kids that moved to Montreal when they got signed to a label there and ..this band sounds airy and dreamy like you would expect from a west coast band. Though the lead singer has been sick for over a week now, you cant tell from his voice. According to label friends at this show..the band just keeps getting better and tours in Canada with bands like Muse and Mumford & Sons is hurting nothing..their reputation is growing. They are quite polished and the set is tight and sounds great..if you get a chance, go see them.
Next up is another must see here in Ausin. Toy hit a lot of my friends Top 10 cd's of the year. What I had seen online and what I heard was certainly nothing new and I liked it so if they put on a good rock show, fine with me. The band comes on and they played some loud rock n roll! The band is tight and its spot the influence time but the band is really good.. turns out lead singer is Rose Elinor Dougalls brother and the band..they are the "Jin Jang Jong" from Joe Lean and the "Jin Jang Jong"..they make no apologies for sounding like a lot of different bands and its a quality show.
Now a quick lunch and its back to Paste party on 6th street. Starts with an old favourite..The View. Little Scottish kids have gotten older but they play a set that is strong in new and old songs and looks like they have plenty of fans still.
At one point, our plans for every morning in Austin included a run and the early morning radio station sponsored shows..well, that didn't happen. Turns out wandering around the city and standing at gigs all day and night tires out this old guy so...our first band of the day on Thursday..is
Billy Bragg at 11:30 am at Mellow Johnnys. Again, this has quickly become one of my favorite places to see shows and if bands are playing there that I have any interest in, I am there. Bragg, like Robyn Hitchock, is a story teller. He is a funny guy, even when he is trying to be politically serious, and his songs are well written and he can still put on a solid, amusing show. He played a number of songs off the new album and some classics, including Great Leap Forward that has been completely re written to include modern politics and it was quite clever.
Thursday was always going to be the day Sandra and I spent primarily at the Paste party, at Stages on 6th. It is a fantastic venue with an inside and outside stage with shows back to back. When the band inside is off, head on out into the sun, grab a beer and watch another band that is just about to start
Get up for free breakfast and realise..I am getting old. The early morning flight..then a night full of rock n roll have combined to make my poor old legs feel like Crap!!!
But..show must go on and we have a plan
First show of the day is at Mellow Johnny's bike shop and some great story telling from Robyn Hitchcock. In between the wild and wacky stories he told, some of whom went on some weirdly wonderful tangents, there were great songs. He is an entertainer, sometimes a very odd one, but an entertainer nonetheless and when you can watch him in the comfort of the bike shop setting, it makes it even better.
Now, off to Waterloo records and their lineup this year was immense! Today, it was a quick trip over to check out Thurston Moore's new band Chelsea Light Moving. Band comes on to a full house...place is packed, and the band is loud!! Just like Sonic Youth, they play hard and they play well and it is all about rock n roll. Every song seems to be a protest song....and announced as such. Looks like Thurston is on a mission. People are enjoying the show and new album is really strong and it comes across in the live show.
After much planning and stress over planning, we hit Austin on March 12th to 80 degree temperatures and a city full of music. After the usual trip to Opal Divine's for a beautiful micro brewery beer..then Whole foods to pretend to buy groceries that were good for us, quick pit stop at our hotel and then Moonshine Restaurant for a Day 1 feast of tasty steak and more beer Then...Latitude 30 for the start..the British Music Embassy;.
The Huw Stephens hosted....Tuesday at British Music Embassy is always fun. Everyone wants to start off well, up first.. Y Niwl Welsh Surf Instrumental band. Wicked little band, no vocals, in fact no words at all (Huw pointed out before they played that there will be no banter...just 30 minutes of surf punk instrumental music...tasty way to start
Lucy Rose ..have been following her since her time with Bombay Bicycle Club..her performance started off with sound issues as they often do in Austin but the set built up nicely and the last two songs were perfection...she does have a lovely voice!
Tall Ships were up next..solid psychedelic rock with plenty of tempo changes. Good change from Lucy Rose..needed a bit of a boost
A late afternoon drive down to Camber Sands and an arrival in the dark, but having missed the rush, we had a speedy check-in.
By 7.30pm we were ready for Stage 2 and the impressive Buke & Gase. A duo playing gritty guitar cords with vocals to match. LULUC followed in a more gentle style after which we sped upstairs for the end of the Kronos Quartet set, which really whetted our appetite for a full set on Saturday.
Bear in Heaven played a funky set. Their bassist (and his headgear – a raised black beanie) was a regular figure at shows for the rest of the weekend. Indeed, most bands seemed encamped for the weekend which was great.
Tim Hecker played in complete darkness at sufficient volume to make the whole experience uncomfortable, so after some Air hockey there was a much brighter Boris who ‘Rocked the Joint’ as they say.
Final band of the day was Kurt Vile & the Violators.It’s always interesting to see which Kurt turns up. Tonight he was in electric guitar mode and hit the stage pretty much on time. A rocking set for sixty minutes or so, although there was 90 minutes on the schedule.
Birmingham’s amazingly diverse festival of ‘adventurous’ music, is 10 this year and had a great party! There was custard – it’s in the old Birds factory – and lots of cake, and more…Hard to pick highlights when the genres veer from metal via electronic and folk to totally unclassifiable, but here are some of mine:
Jarboe – in the wonderful high-ceiling whiteness of the Old Library (shhh!) the ex Swans and Skin singer performed stripped down songs with only backing singer Renee Valentine Nelson on piano. Jarboe’s voice…at 60? is still amazing, capable of so much pathos, plus vocal tricks that make you think ‘how did she just do that’? She looked stunning too, in black cocktail dress, long wild blonde hair storm tossed as she sang. She spoke infrequently, to joke about a Southern Baptist feel on one track, and to apologise for words wrong on a Swans number after a long tour. An artist to savour on cold dark evenings by the fire…
Pathos of another kind from Oxbow, this time in a cavernous warehouse with, stunning blue lighting. The Californian duo were backed for this special performance by an 10 piece orchestra, which included the doom tuba and horns of Ore duo Sam Underwood and Stuart Estell. They reworked their back catalogue, songs of passion and sadness complemented by the classical backing, alternately powerful and ethereal. Singer Eugene looked like a Stax soul singer, and delivered painful and ecstatic verses as if in the throes of an exorcism, gradually removing more and more of his Saville Row smart suit and tossing it aside.
Perhaps the most well-known performer was Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. She performed as experimental guitar duo Body/Head, with free noise artist Bill Nace. Very low-fi, her vocals strong and mostly indiscernible, but she has such a stage presence. Lots of teasing and powerful guitar, against a ultra-cool black and white video backdrop of a couple in a trendy apartment. Kim also contributed Reverse Karaoke, a yurt full of recording gear where you could make your own CD; art with a good use at least.
Friday night is ‘dance’ night, with the PCM reunion, featuring ex Pop Will Eat Itself guitarist Richard an undoubted highlight; their wild dark drum n bass live in full effect. New Berlin label Small But Hard took over another warehouse. Based around the amazing DJ Scotch Egg, (now known for some reason as Scotch Bonnet) and his talented friends, it comes across as a real family concern, from the lovingly crafted cassettes to the many onstage collaborations.
Devilman were a bass heavy delight, featuring Mr Scotch and Taigen from the excellent Japanese psych/metal band Bo Ningen. One of the few negatives of the whole weekend was the cult rapper Sensational, once associated with the Jungle Brothers – capable of original work on record, but not a great idea to try to bum drinks of your fans then get so out of it that you cannot perform. Still, at least he turned up; Daddy Freddy, the worlds fastest rapper, preserved his title intact by missing his slot with the Bug completely. Still, they did have Flow Dan from Roll Deep and the lovely Israeli reggae rapper Miss Red, so they coped.
On a personal note, I was delighted to be the impromptu guest of Jo, from Cambridge’s imaginative Bad Timing nights, at an Alice in Wonderland tea party to celebrate the 10th anniversary. Suitably Supersonic, it took place on the top floor of the old factory, super sunny Brum cityscapes below, with tea cups full of champagne and tea pots of new Purity Brewery beer.
Several guests wore Hieronymus Bosch masks and did not move for an hour. These were the Out crowd, who went on to ritually distribute festival-goers good wishes on rice paper into the River Rea as it flows through the site. Just your average tea party then; DJ X of PCM won pass the parcel, and Stuart from Mogwai joined in on kazoo to sing Happy Birthday. So, raise a teacup to many more years of bizarre eclectic art and music lovingly curated by Lisa and her gang of Supersonic volunteers.
Fifth visit to this lovely festival is greeted by early Friday morning sunshine. A few changes to the site but nothing negative, indeed the path from the field where cars are parked has now been nicely laid with tarmac to ease our entry. Much appreciated!
The vibe this year seems even better than normal. Many smiling faces, everyone seemingly happy to chat, and musically there was plenty to chat about over the weekend.
Friday 31 Aug
First stop on a sunny Friday afternoon is the dark dry-iced stage of the Big Top tent for Lawrence Arabia, who gave us a very pleasant start with some sweet songs. Back out into the daylight for Fleet Foxes offshoot Poor Moon. Definitely some Fleet Foxes harmonies there from a really decent band who also mixed it up with some sweet rock n’ roll from time to time.
The replacement for an unwell Peter Broderick was the rather excellent PaleSeas. Nice indie tunes and harmonies. One to watch! In the California (Dorset) sunshine, next up was Jonathan Wilson with his 70’s style West Coast sounds, just perfect.
Finishing off the afternoon session was Van Dyke Parks, playing a rare show as part of the Bella Union 15th anniversary celebrations, and he was a true delight. Relaxed and humble, full of humour and musically entertaining.
A break to the rather fabulous Black Crow pub which had a tremendous selection of very drinkable micro brewery ales all weekend, before the evening session kicked of with John Grant who was on fine form, delivering some new material as well.
An impressive VeronicaFalls headlined the Big Top and blasted through a forty five minute set of sixties-influenced indie pop. Headliners on the other stages were Beach House and a returning Midlake. Both excellent and well received. Midlake took the opportunity to stretch the legs of some new songs as well.
The beauty of festivals lies in the unexpected – whether acts, emotions, or indeed, weather.
After 3 days of sun and good music, Sunday looked like a quiet relaxing day…but it held the best parts of the weekend…
The Staves were lovely; 3 sisters from Watford sounds like the start of a folk limerick, but their harmonies and understated simple playing made them probably the best discovery of the festival (maybe with the Moulettes – similar but with more strings!). And although they looked like butter wouldn’t melt, they had a nice line in raunchy inter-song banter – apologising to the families in the audience for the use of a word in a song about relationships, suggesting they swap it for ‘dang’ or ‘duck’! Then again, they have done backing vocals for Tom Jones.
They just avoided using another expletive when the heavens opened, thunder and lightning crashed overhead. Still, we were in a dry tent, so no problem…until we left. Where once there had been picnics and folding chairs, now all was mud and rather deep pools…and some very soggy chairs, and people.
At long last it’s starting. The build-up is over. Over a billion people are expected to watch tonight’s opening ceremony (a day after it started) at the duck pond. Soon now the Olympic ale flagon will be carried across Cambridge, via the Bacchanalia off licence staging point, to the grand ceremonial drinking of ‘the first pint of the day’.. .Yes, its Folk Festival mania!
In last nights ‘session before the opening session’ we started with lovely Megson, doing lots of children’s songs and one in the Olympic spirit about supporting rubbish football teams.
Then there was James Vincent McMorrow, sorry, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who brought a delightful fan base of screaming young girls, which prompted my neighbour to put her ear plugs in. Many shouts of ‘We love you’ which he replied to with a downbeat ‘thanks’. Don’t think was that interested in teenage girls. At first his songs were good but all sounded the same, heartfelt and wordy, but he gradually won me over as his band started to kick in, and sealed the deal with a powerful solo song about his Aussie Gran dying. Hard not to like him after that.
Dry the River were one of those bands the purists here hate – ‘what’s that got to do with folk?’. Head banging, volume and searing guitars - Where are those ear plugs Mabel? – interspersed with sudden bursts of Fleet Foxes angelic singing. A bit schizophrenic but definitely strong and good songs.
No doubt about the nights highlight though, it’s Billy Bragg doing Woody Guthrie. In between many of the best songs off the Mermaid Avenue sessions, he detailed Woody’s life and work in that funny/serious way he speaks. I learnt a lot about 40s New York scene, and his raunchy sense of humour and double entendres –‘Ingrid Bergman’ is pretty smutty! Billy ended with a song of his own, a whole new version ‘Great Leap Forward’ with updated lyrics about the political scandals of today…lots on the Olympics!
Ended the night with the old busking stalwart Peter Buckley Hill, who also had lots of new songs. A great night now, looking forward to Friday!
The thought on everyone’s mind pre-festivals in the UK is ‘what will the weather be like?’ and in 2012 you can pretty much predict rain and mud. How much mud, and how much stamina is required to navigate it depends on the size and layout of the festival.
It seems the days of lying on the grass in the sun listening to a band are long gone. Standing in wellies in the mud seems the norm, and this has had a knock-on effect on ticket sales in the U.K festival market, with many not selling out.
Having said that, Saturday at Latitude with the ever popular Elbow must have been close to full. Friday and Sunday were less busy. By Sunday, the weekend campers seemed to be weary from the effort of the previous two days.
So on to the music. Not much happened on Thursday other then the entertaining Cafe & Theatre tent so it’s Friday when the music action kicks off. I should just say at this point that Latitude has a whole myriad of entertainment going on: arts, literature, poetry, cabaret, dance, opera etc but for this review, it’s music that we concentrate on.