Festival Review: SXSW 2019

SXSW 2019

8 – 17 March 2019

Words and Photos: Elena Katrina

sxsw 19I didn’t think that I would ever go to SXSW. It seemed far away and I’m not just talking about geography. I have the bug though – in both ways – the way in which I don’t want to ever miss it ever again and also the actual SXSW Flu. I’m so sick I’m not allowed to fly and I’m on some crazy American drugs from the doctors. So, I’m reflective and impassioned and delirious. It all seems a good combination to get going on the review for 2019… at least a start…

I’m not really sure where to start with this one, to be honest. I had some idea of the crazy time that was going to hit me when I arrived in Austin but not the exact pull I was going to feel toward some bands over others.

There was one clear winner who was going to dominate my efforts and I’m going to be open about this from the get-go. When you do something like this…. the blog thing…. you do it because you are passionate, passionate and have taken leave of your senses. When you take unpaid leave and spend every penny of your very small savings to go to a festival an 11-hour flight away, you can be damn sure you are entitled to spend some of your time doing what the hell you want. As long as it’s legal anyway! And for me that would be going to see the same act play more than once.

sam fender sxswStep forward Sam Fender. Knowing that he was back, I was back and that it had to be done. I couldn’t choose between one showcase and another. I did set off with a list of 3 and decided on one. I did go to another showcase so that I wouldn’t see him twice in one day but as I sat on the floor between bands editing photos I had this overwhelming urge to leave. I’d made sure the showcase I was at was a good distance away but it didn’t matter… turns out I might not even run for a bus but run for an artist… yup, you guessed it. I didn’t go to see him alone… oh no, everywhere I went I encouraged other people to pick that show over another. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before either. Vevo House. My main base for the first 3 days was host to Sam’s first live show and one I allowed Island to see me in “fan mode”  – I couldn’t hold back the squeal of delight at the opening chords of Hypersonic Missiles. The British Music Embassy the next on the list several hours later – where Sam himself declared he was beyond exhausted “we’ve been up since 6am. Thanks for coming to watch us die” he said, arms stretched as if expecting a hug to be forthcoming. He may have looked tired but that man keeps surplus energy in his little fingers because he sounded on fire. I just feel utterly exhilarated whenever I see him. I almost had to get someone to carry me out of there…. turns out running really isn’t for me. Anyway, to not spend the whole review on him, I saw Sam four times, including at Fender House “I’ve come to get my share of the family business”… the guy just cracks me up. But anyway, OK. Judge if you will but my time, my money, my blog….my faves.

orchards sxsw 19 elena katrinaNow that that is out the way time to give love to everyone else. And there really is loads of that left to go around. I had a list of 26 bands I wanted to see – more than double from last year. I managed to see 13 of them plus another 8 acts I hadn’t planned on, which is always a good thing! From the non-listed, I have to admit that I don’t know how Orchards have not been higher on my radar. They’re exactly the kind of thing I love – and my god their energy live is something else. I forgot that it was the middle of the day, the venue was hot and sticky with sweat and excitement and the band were nothing short of hypnotic.

54432581_10161447037065612_553115848408039424_n.jpgIt wasn’t just unexpected Brits that I saw, oh no. What would an international festival be without seeing some … well… at least one international act. Signed to Heavenly Records, Netherlands’ band Pip Blom were a band I didn’t think I liked. That was until I rocked up at Abbie McCarthy’s Good Karma Club showcase (sponsored by the good people of Firestone no less- good work!) to see them and happily delved right in. Their set was tight but not overly polished. It felt organic and the connection between band members was shown in open smiles and those looks across the stage, where only those two people understand. Shimmering shoegaze grunge that caught the affections of the crowd. I even overheard Annabel Allum exclaim they were the best thing she’d seen all SXSW. Now that’s something. It was also on this same line up where I got to catch up with Popped faves Bad Sounds. If you’ve not seen these guys yet, you really want to get a wriggle on. They’re great no matter where you see them but the closer you get the more involved in the craziness you can be. And that really is something you want to be up in the face of as the pair bounce around the stage- loving and living life to the fullest. Me? Oh I danced like I’d been drinking all day (I’m a sober person).

It became evident when I picked up my pass that the best way forward with getting to see bands was going to be to pick some showcases and stay there ….. that and to let other people take me off and away. It’s almost impossible to make a schedule. Especially when there are unofficial showcases as well as the packed official schedule. I love to see the unofficial shows – ones where the general public come out to play and spend hours in line to catch bands.

54462567_10161447092780612_1082613847749033984_n.jpgGlasgow’s Fatherson, were one of the bands I managed to see play a few times. Firstly their official showcase for our pals at Killing Moon and then secondly a free show at a rooftop bar in glorious sunshine to a roar of applause. It was something else to see them play outside in the middle of the afternoon. Their chilled out alternative sounds brought both the calm and chaos. An absolute treat. Boy Azooga and Thyla also played open shows. Both of whom I saw play out at Lazarus Brewing for our new US friends Music For Listeners. Bringing his own personal ray of sunshine Boy Azooga was an act I’ve listened to at home but never seen live. I wasn’t prepared for the joy that was going to hit me. He delighted everyone around him with the upbeat tunes and quirky lyrics. In contrast, Thyla were cool calm and collected with a subtle rock goddess as their front person, it was hard not to feel somewhat intimidated as I watched on in awe. Now I’ve seen Thyla play before and I am always blown away by them. They manage to do this in a way that always leaves me feeling a little confused. They’re not in my face yet they capture my attention and every single time leave me wanting more.

54070298_10161447036935612_8280610098154307584_n.jpgAnother band who leave me feeling exactly the same are Lucia. I saw them last year for the first time and thought Lucia herself was going to jump off the stage and rip my head off. That right there is one intense performer. I was so scared of her that when I was told she was just across the crowd from me I said “ok!” And tentatively waved across the room. The next thing I knew this Glaswegian Glamazon was stood next to me wanting to say hi. “Uh…ok”. Turns out, it’s all an act. PHEW! She means what she says though, don’t be getting me wrong, but I enjoyed every moment in Lucia’s company over the festival, it just so happens I turn into jelly when they’re on stage. Not to be messed with this lot. So enthralled by their performance I made a point to see them twice.

There was a great box of Brits out en mass for this year’s SXSW. Some bands such as Island, Fatherson and The Amazons who have all got albums under their belts and a solid touring schedule, and then there are the super newbies; the likes of Cassia, Larkins, Lucia and The Ninth Wave. All still relatively new to the UK crowds and without a debut album under their belt, but bringing their A-Game to SXSW. I’ll tell you something for nothing too, it didn’t matter newer to the game or not, not a single band gave a bad performance. Not a single band played like they’d never played here before. The Amazons delivered their first ever SXSW show as if it was just something they’d thought they’d do that day when they woke up, as did The Ninth Wave – who, incidentally terrified me so much with their performance that I ran straight to their booking agent (figuratively anyway). Their single Sometimes The Silence Is Sweeter definitely isn’t a sentiment I’ll agree with when it comes to seeing them, but live it’s a punchy

53155832_10161447035905612_1091081354298261504_n.jpgThe Distiller and Scruff Of The Neck teams were out to play every day too, with shows all over the place as well as their own showcase – smartly advertised by way of the bags (I’m still repping mine today, eager to continue to spread the good word despite the party being very much over). Lit up like the batman sign in the night sky, on a rooftop somewhere in downtown Austin, I watched Larkins. A band I’d never seen before and a band I’m entirely convinced I’ll see again. Nothing to do with how they threw down the challenge to Cassia in our bean bag tournament – nope, just on the standard of show. Energetic and assured, these guys enjoyed the show as much as the crowd that gathered to witness. I count myself as one of the new fans they made. I’m hoping they’ll think that’s a good thing.

53781537_10161425982830612_7582988709272748032_n.jpgAnteros were rightfully excited to be at this year’s SXSW – with just shy of two weeks to go until their debut album dropped, it was the perfect opportunity to show the world just what they were made of and why the likes of us have been shouting about them for years. Their live set is polished to perfection, it shines just as much as any glittery outfit Laura can find. And she can find them. Their set at The British Music Embassy was packed with music fans and industry (sometimes we are even the same thing) and you could see there were nerves but by the time Laura was grabbing at the hands of the female audience members to get them up on stage, you just knew there was more to this than just doing a good show.

53970434_10161447035825612_1876575648047169536_n.jpgAn unexpected highlight of my week was an incredibly emotional set from Grace Carter. Not only does she command the stage like she was born to be on it but she has a tone of vocal that really hits me. She has some range on her too, I tell you that for nothing. While she might be more on the urban side of new music for us I will wholeheartedly tell you to check her out. Her single Why Her Not Me came with an explanation that you could see was hard and I caught her eye during a moment and all of a sudden tears just streamed down her face but she carried on, pausing for a big breath to control and control she did – delivering what was one of the single most emotional performances I’ve seen, ever.. not just at SXSW, but in over twenty years of going to shows.

Now I want to talk to you about a serious hidden gem that really is worth uncovering and in my opinion one of the UK’s most underrated talents; Eliza Shaddad. Watching her live is always a pleasurable experience. It had been a long time since I saw her play solo but bringing a band along to international showcases is an expensive business so for some shows she played solo and others she borrowed label brother’s Island. This tiny and unassuming person steps onto the stage and somehow just grows. Like a small bud, she nurtures the song and before your eyes and ears, everything just blooms. I can’t for the life of me understand why more people aren’t shouting about Eliza.

54268088_10161447033000612_6179358272697401344_n.jpgIsland are a band I’ve been somewhat passionate about for a good few years; their music makes me sooo incredibly happy so you can imagine the grin on my face when they boarded my flight to Austin. It was a pretty stupid grin again as I watched their gear go round and round at the airport. I did let them travel in peace though – I waited until they were drunk on free margaritas before deciding I should interview them. With a host of shows to chose from it was a midnight show for Killing Moon that I plumped for, knowing the venue was reasonably intimate and moody. I get the distinct feeling that seeing this band in smaller venues is very soon to be a thing of the past. They certainly have the talent and the set to bring in much larger crowds. For a band who make pretty melodic laid-back vibes, to watch them is something else. The energy is that of a much heavier band – they bounce around the stage feeling every beat. Newer songs like She sit happily alongside older tracks and although before they went on I felt like I needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open (jet lag), I felt entirely (if only momentarily) rejuvenated.

The craziest night I had was all thanks to End Of The Trail who amongst their lineup had managed to bag both Avalanche Party and The Blinders. Nestled in the back of a dark and dank dive bar was where I found myself surrounded by people hidden in the shadows, it really was a throng of people but it was so dark you could struggle to see the whites of peoples eyes unless they were stood right by you. I was kindly taken side of the stage so I could try and shoot but as any gig photog knows; red light and nothing but red light is never going to turn out well. It can be forgiven though because really the show was so electric it was hard to want to take photos. For those of you who like Your music to have a garage-punk rock out then, you need to get onto Avalanche Party. They do not stop, it’s fast, furious and sweaty as hell. Their lead singer has a presence that belies any kind of self-confidence issues and he roams the stage, he’s up, he’s down, he’s on the stage, off the stage. My camera could hardly get a focus on him. It was a sweaty ride and seemed to be over in a flash. The crowd wanted to get closer and I was glad I was safe at the side not being battered like everyone else.


54423248_10161447092465612_6859053790935384064_n.jpgAfter just enough time for me to catch my breath, The Blinders took to the stage. There was a whole other feel to this show than the last time I saw them (Kendal Calling’s NYE party – Victoria Warehouse) – there’s always going to be a slightly different presentation of music in a smaller venue and for me The Blinders are lucky in that they work both ways. Here there was a real tension in the air, it was thick and heavy and as their set went on the crowd and band felt as though they were one. I can’t say I know what happened toward the end of the set but as Tom climbed a speaker stack all of a sudden things started to go a little bit wrong – the lights went, the mic went… all hell let loose. The thing is, for some bands this would be a problem (don’t get me wrong there was some slight panic going on) but here it felt like it made the show – the darkness, the chaos all fed into the rawness of their set. The music never stopped by the way – the drums kept a pounding, the bass kept a thudding. It wasn’t until I stepped out into the street that I realised that The Blinders‘ weren’t even the headline act. They were mine that’s for sure – they delivered as though they were.

All in all it was an incredible year for the Brits at this year’s SXSW and one I’ll never forget – as I’m sure neither will everyone else who went. I went feeling sure I wasn’t going to go again next year and so make the most of it…. and now I’m already thinking… hmmm SXSW 2020 has a certain ring to it… so watch this space!

Catch up with our SXSW insta stories here.
Check out our photo diary here:

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This review is dedicated to HER’S. RIP.




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  • About Popped Music

    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

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