Festival Review: SXSW 2018

SXSW 2018

Words & Photos: Elena Katrina

It’s a strange feeling this post-SXSW sensation. I feel both broken and exhilarated at the same time. There’s no amount of preparation you can take for either the festival nor the post-festival emotions. This festival is a beast. There is no other way to say it and I was thrilled beyond words to be attending for the first time as press so I could report back on some of the British contingent out there showing the world what they’ve got. And they showed it and then some. One thing I heard a lot was “throw the schedule out the window and just go with the flow”. Even that was difficult. I missed things I wanted to see but ended up having experiences and seeing things I never knew existed.. so I feel inclined to agree, to some extent anyway.

I didn’t waste any time in throwing myself into the SXSW experience and not long after having thrown my case into my hotel room I was straight out the door and headed to the British Music Embassy where I found Wyldest were treating the crowd to their special blend of shoegaze pop. I like that my first night I got to watch two bands I’d never seen live before – even if I had travelled 11 hours to do it. Life was the last of the night and I wasn’t prepared for them. Loud, brash and in your face. Dark but with some humour and an attitude I feel they could only get away with because they were from Hull. They did Hull proud that’s for sure.

It’s going to be nigh on impossible for me to tell you a review for each and every band at this festival. I was there to check out a load of the British bands, some I’d seen many a time, some never and some  that were altogether new to me, as well as check out the overall SXSW experience. And an experience indeed it is.

Navigation is not my strong point, even with a map, when it comes to walking … I seem to go in circles, or squares as it was in Austin. It didn’t deter me though. I figured out my way to a few key venues for the official evening shows and then just wondered to my heart’s content during the day. I  tried to go to a few of the talks, they seemed really interesting, but every time I got there, I was too late to get into a room. While they did stream the audio to a TV in the corridor, I don’t so much engage that well, especially not when there are people to see elsewhere. To the boss women of Instagram though I say …. definitely selfie!

The daytime also hosted unofficial parties, events and talks. Many of where you could grab yourself a free breakfast, and or lunch, while you learned all kinds of things and got to mingle with like-minded people. In particular, I enjoyed Brunch with the Brits – an event aimed, I presume, at visiting musicians. But here I got to talking about a lot of different things with a really great variety of people from PRS Foundation to the BBC. I was also fascinated by the sales pitch of Soundcloud at AWAL House. Their model has changed and it’s, in my opinion, still got a way to go to bridge the gap. Ultimately though it’s still a very popular site and the turn out proved so.

Back to bands? Francobollo blew my tiny little socks off and made for excellent festival companions too. I wholeheartedly hope to catch up with these guys again back on British soil and will follow their journey with a keen interest. Pale Waves, I was, of course, already hot on the tail of, having watched them play over the last 18-24 months, it was great to see them play to a tiny outside stage at an unofficial party thanks to Secret Sounds (who also, secretly, let me in). Get the general crowd’s feel for them over a room of industry all pining to see the next big thing (which, they are). As I suspected much of the crowd here seemed immune to the hype but most people were left smiling and enthused by the end, one or two seemed genuinely bemused, and I liked that too.

This year is the year of the girl… when it comes to band names anyway. We had Goat Girl, Only Girl, Girl Ray AND Our Girl all hitting up stages across SXSW. Admittedly I have a bit of a problem when it comes to seeing bands more than once, and not content with having seen Our Girl the week before I came away, I also managed to see them play 3 times at SXSW – the inability to leave their set not a problem I really want to seek help for. I am mesmerised every time I see them play. Only Girl played a showcase that wasn’t as well attended as I’d have liked, though her competition down the road was Gaz Coombes, and let’s not think about the rest. The crowd were fully onboard though, and like me, knew that they’d made the right decision in witnessing something special from this young lady. Eyes open for her, she’s incredible.

The indie bands were also in town; The RPMs bringing up some of the best jangly guitar sounds Brighton has to offer. A more artsy vibe could be found from Catholic Action, who come with a huge side of a dry sense of humour. I’m not ashamed to say I stood and danced and sung out in the street to them when I couldn’t get in for the whole set. Duo Ider also set the bar high during their free show for Secret Sounds, even at midday the show was full and it took me a while but a few songs in I realised I had seen them before and felt that same wave of excitement flow over me, only this time I had a band name, and they were there, right in front of me.

Back to the girls… Women anyway. This was a strong theme, for obvious reasons and there was plenty of chance to meet up officially and unofficially with the women of music. Vevo house was a great place to go for this and I met some fantastic women making, producing, managing, booking, you name it they were doing it. I also got to see the wonderful Jade Bird play at this venue – her personality shining as clearly as her talent. What a woman! She wasn’t alone in making waves during her time at SXSW, a young Suzi Wu was up and my god does she have something to say. She struts the stage, she owns her lyrics and she’s not intimidated in any way shape or form. An alt-grime-punk Debbie Harry. Perfect and I was so excited to finally get to witness her thrill a room.

Communion Music Presents. Three of my favourite words. I was shocked to find out that I didn’t know they had a showcase until the day before and from that moment on all other gigs were off. I was going to church and worship at the musical alter. How could I not? For me, this evening was the most emotional, nothing to do with the church, but the bands that Communion pull are often exceptional emotive songwriters and performers. New to me was Amy Shark, an Australian singer-songwriter, who hit some notes so nicely I thought she had potential to break the stained glass windows. Lucy Rose almost brought me to full on sobs, especially with her storytelling and her humility at playing the show. I initially thought that Dermot Kennedy was a stagehand, strolling across the stage wearing a tracksuit (even though it was about 30 degrees outside) and then when he started to sing – holy moly. I felt like it took him a while to warm up, not vocally, but to own the stage, to perform rather than just sing – though his” just sing” isn’t your everyday person’s “just sing”. Nope. This guy tore the roof off and it was left to Newcastle’s Sam Fender to keep it right off and he did just that. I enjoyed his impromptu singing at the piano – though, the tech guys didn’t seem to agree. It raised a smile after what had been a fairly intense evening.

In between watching bands there was time to explore some of the city, ok not really, that’s a bit of a lie! There’s no exploring unless it happens to be on the way to the next; venue, exhibition, talk, interview, network meeting. What I did see of Austin was that it totally came alive while SXSW was in full throws. You’d think there would be lots of grumpy residents wishing the weeks away, not able to sleep for the thud of bass going long and deep into the night, not being able to travel to work the usual route as roads were closed left right and centre and having to wait in line to eat in their favourite restaurant. Well, I’m happy to report I didn’t witness any grump. So either everyone moved out for a while or everyone was just happy to be a part of the amazing experience that is SXSW. I imagine though it’ possibly a good mix of the two.

On my last day at SXSW I got to meet the daughter of the man who helped to set up the original Fader Fort. THE place to be, if that is, you get a sacred invite. Turns out that family and friends have, well, more family and friends all over the place. So not only did I get to hear about Fader Fort I also got to spend much of my last time at SXSW doing it in true Austin Resident stylee! I got to visit an awesome dive bar called The Yellow Jacket Social Club, a club that I’m lead to believe won’t still be around next year as gentrification moves ever further past the freeway. I got to learn about new buildings just open and those coming and how the city’s landscape is ever evolving as the city grows in so many ways. I also got to check out some bands I would otherwise have missed. The glorious electronic art folk that is The Octopus Project played to a full crowd at Mowhawk was the first treat. A local Austin based band who delighted me with their use of a theremin. One guy asked me what it was called, he could obviously sense exactly how delighted I was! The main musical feast was that of musical art collective CAPYAC, they describe themselves as a surreal dance band… and I’d go with that too! I feel like I don’t want to expand too much on this because I want the intrigue to send you off to go and find them, book them, see them, keep them in a small box by your bedside table…. Just so much fun.

Later on a Saturday evening I met up with a new friend and got put into a taxi and taken off to the middle of nowhere (ok, not quite) but it was all hush hush. A private party we’d been invited to by a band she’d met. It was an utterly surreal way to end my SXSW experience and at the same time was the perfect ending at that.

It seems like there’s so much more to talk about, like the fact you get to meet musicians who aren’t even playing, make friends that you somehow feel you’ll never quite forget even if you don’t stay in touch – but you should – because, SXSW. The cool Glasgow music event that I missed but need to go to next time around, the opportunities to meet people and talk about the passion you hold, and it’s ok to just burst into laughter, or song, at any given time. Free snickers, free hugs, free drinks, free m&ms, free swag full stop. So many tote bags. But bets of all… the. live.music. Please have us back SXSW, life is forever changed now. You ruined me and I love you for it.

Check out the Popped Music SXSW photo diary:

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  • About Popped Music

    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

    I'm very happy if you love what I've done enough or love the bands I've written about and want to share - go for it, but please be blog friendly and share the link or hit the reblog button. Thank you.

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