As we look forward to the beginning of the summer festival season here at State and all of the opportunities for Irish bands and artists that it will undoubtedly include, how could we forget the amazing job that Meltybrains? (and more) did for showcasing Irish music at last months SxSW festival? Thankfully, our roving photographer Mark McGuinness was there with the band on their wider tour and was able to capture some of the magic as well as give us this fond report of the experience.
Last month I was lucky enough to experience one of the biggest music events in the world, SxSW in Austin, Texas. As fortune would have it some very good friends of mine, Meltybrains?, were just about to start their Spring tour so I jumped on board and spent the next two months travelling with them; documenting their entire journey. The last two months have been fast, dirty and profoundly sleep deprived, but probably the most fun times I’ve ever experienced.
We arrived in Austin a day early meaning that we had some time to adjust before all of the other bands and shows began. It also meant that we got to catch some of the interactive happenings that were still going on when we arrived. The troupe consisted of Meltybrains?, their sound engineer James, stage tech Jack, moral supporter Kyle and myself. We found ourselves staying with a local couple who were great – Heather and Dave love music so much that they let bands stay with them for the duration of the festival, which makes it so much easier for bands to travel over and not have to worry about the added cost of a hotel. Thanks to our hosts’ generosity we found ourselves staying alongside a Japanese punk duo, as well as a cast of members from other bands from all over the world.
Day one was spent walking around handing out some of the 500 Meltybrains? masks that came over with us, as well as getting to know how everything worked, getting passes and just generally exploring the city. Musicians were pouring into Austin from all over the world but it was still pretty tame as no official shows were happening until the next day. Meltybrains? had been playing shows in Austin on a previous American tour so they knew some places to check out that night and we kind of just floated around listening to street bands and checking out venues.
Our second day started off with Buraka Som Sistema from Portugal. Having already met them on the flight we got to know them a bit better. We stumbled across one of their shows down near the convention centre and it was the perfect introduction to the music of SxSW – they have so much energy it just cleared away any jet lag we may have been suffering from and put the lads in good stead for what was to come over the next few days. A lot more bands started to arrive at this point and everyone seemed to just be killing time until 8pm – official showtime. This, it must be said, is the most surprising thing about touring, there is a lot of waiting around. Waiting to meet people, waiting for soundcheck to start, waiting to arrive in a city…. just waiting. Naturally, we ended up discussing anything and everything over the course of the tour.
That night we went to Japan night with the idea of seeing Perfume. Although we didn’t get to see them in the end we did learn a lesson that I wish we knew before we arrived. All the venues run a really strict capacity limit, which I guess makes sense, but it makes seeing bands in different venues really difficult – you need to pick one spot and after a certain time, just don’t leave or else you will spend your night in lines rather then listening to bands. We did get to catch some pop bands at the Japan night before we left though, which was cool. Later, we were at a loose end and running out of time to get into another venue but Buraka Som Sistema were playing close by and we knew it was going to be a good show. We went to that and saw them for the second time in one day, which became a habit of sorts on this trip. Their Elesyium show was nuts and everyone in the city was pretty hyped up for the start of the festival anyway, so when you mix that with a band like this you get a pretty special show.
Day three was Micheàl’s birthday and also the first Meltybrians? show at the Irish Showcase in Maggie Mae’s. We decamped to the convention centre during the day to catch some showcases – which is a completely weird experience. Bands are put up on stage and it’s kind of like a cattle market with industry people just sitting there quietly. I didn’t wait around too long as it’s back on the streets and bars that you see the bands, so I just went around until it was time to soundcheck. The Irish Showcase was a great night; Fight Like Apes, All Tvvins, Meltybrains?, Orla Gartland and James Vincent McMorrow were all on the line up. I’m a big JVM fan so it was pretty cool to see him play in such a small and intimate venue. Towards the end he even left the mic and just filled the room by himself. We went out to celebrate Michàels birthday which led to a… slow morning the next day.
Day four was definitely a slow starter but we made the right choice by going to see Girl Band play the Brooklyn Vegan showcase. This started a Girl Band binge which turned into four shows in two days. People have asked me if I regret not just seeing them once and then going to see other acts and I don’t at all. We went to go see Girl Band play at Mohawk House of Vans again that night and then stopped off to see Le Galaxie at Maggie Mae’s before calling it quits.
Day five was one that had been hyped for a while… It was the Full Irish Breakfast morning which has been a SxSW tradition for over 10 years now. All of the Irish bands get together in BD Riley’s and just go all day long. I got to see Girl Band, Meltybrains?, Buffalo Sun, Dott and Fight Like Apes. The standout act being Meltybrains?. When you go to a Meltybrains? show, everyone who is there usually understands what they are in for so it’s not too often you get to see them play to a room of people who have no idea what they are about to experience. The guys played a great show and even though some people in the crowd looked a bit confused, everyone was into it. Brian jumped out of the window during one of the songs and almost wasn’t allowed back in to finish the set so had to convince the doorman he was actually due on stage before being allowed back in. After we left the Full Irish Breakfast it was on to the Stones Throw party later that evening.
After a few acts we went on to see the Hot Chip show. When more established bands release and tour new music it makes sense for them to play the new music which isn’t always something that causal fans appreciate. Luckily, Hot Chip played pretty much their entire back catalogue mixed in with some new stuff. It was a cool show and was sponsored by a vodka company… so things started getting kind of messy towards the end.
The next day, we got everyone in the house together and did some group shots before shooting off to see Zarigani$ play in an Indian restaurant on the side of a highway. This was probably the most SxSW experience of the lot. As the first chords were played and I shot the first few frames it just dawned on me where I was and what was happening. I was watching two timid Japanese girls lose it on stage in a sort of speed, new-wave sound in a shed on the highway which also acted as an Indian restaurant. It was beyond surreal but this is what the festival can do. It was also the point where I stopped worrying about trying to get to certain shows and being in certain venues – the best thing about this festival is stumbling across new music that you would never have listened to in the first place and enjoying it. Out of all the bands I saw over this trip, Zarigani$ are probably the band I’ll go out of my way to see again.
From here we just found ourselves wandering around again, down to the famous Rainey Street in Austin, before heading back to BD Riley’s to see Zarigani$ again, as well as their friends Bo-peep, who were one of the loudest, most chaotic bands I’ve ever seen. Their show can only be described as wild, with people jumping through the open windows onto the stage from the street and the lead singer almost getting her head knocked off by a ceiling fan while jumping up and down on a table. Now it was time for the last shows of SxSW, so we ended up going to the NME showcase which Girl Band were headlining. The first act we saw was Glaswegian hip-hop group Hector Bizerk who were really cool. I can’t say that I’m big into the Glaswegian hip-hop scene but this would make me want to give it a shot. Their sound is unlike anything I have heard before and that could be down to the accents but it was great, so check them out if you can.
It came to Girl Band show number four for us and it was the best one yet; everything came together and the guys were just great. I don’t really have a lot else to say except go and see them live, there is just such a rawness to their live show that needs to be seen in person.
And, of course, our final day in Austin was spent shopping, eating, dressing up as cowboys and travelling back home. Phew.