Clash @ SXSW - The Official Showcase

The report from Clash's Austin showcase...
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Tattoos at the ready… SXSW was back in its dominating 23rd year. Three years into the Clash assault on Austin and our angle went underground. Dig dig.

After having the honour of presenting Mick Jones from the Clash in his Carbon/Silicon outfit last year, our 2009 showcase focussed on slightly newer and emergent talent. For those unacquainted with SXSW imagine having ALL the bands that would play for a month in a major capital. Have a think about how many styles, singers and symphonic possibilities there are… then condense them into a handful of days and cram them onto one ragtag American street of low down seedy venues. In an explosion of the alternative and the carnivalesque, Austin keeps up its leftwing hippy status as an enclave in America’s most rightwing state.

As this traditional rock behemoth of a conference spreads its stylistic wings, we witnessed this year much more brightly colourer sounds than the expectant monotone distorted guitar dirge that has both made SXSW great, and at points sadly generic.

With Devo headlining the Austin Music Hall for arguably the festival’s headline slot, their brilliant flashes of sound and colour - both in terms of stage show and proto-electro inflected punk - was a great masthead for increased diversity to flourish.

As ever, Clash’s roster of hand-picked talents blazed a path from traditional rock and roll through to lysergically drenched folk and into bruising club cabaret. Here’s what happened at our official showcase…

Openers Innercity Pirates had their own stripped-back interpretations for the Austin masses – having haemorrhaged a keyboardist, their sound which before had meandered through too many styles was now tighter and less confounding. Singer Russell, who’s penned an anthem deemed heady enough for a Guinness campaign, certainly has it in him to sharpen a distinct edge from their boisterous and hardened indie; regards their commercial reach, time will tell we are certain. Their current set-up as a trio allows each member more space to shine, with bassist Stephy riling an early crowd into warming the floor yet, without the flashes of electronics previously heard at our In the City Showcase gaps were felt. Overall, promising noises beckon from their lean musical ship.

Second up are FOUND, an alt-folk band from Edinburgh treading a unique sonic furrow and looking to ignite this year from an entirely self-lit touch paper. Picking up at the crossroads where the Beta Band buried their electronically infused indie, FOUND add more croon, equal dashes of playful keyboards and some cortex-whipping digital shenanigans. With many a song heavily conceptualised around their slacker art projects or vagrant technologies exploited for their own amusement, there’s more to this FOUND band than you can find on their self-printed, self-designed seven-inches that are being squirreled away by sensible and passionate anoraks. Singer Ziggy’s self proclaimed “discount whisky croon” has enough space to stand aside of other vocalists, and represents a fresh voice from the Scottish scene. The boyhood feel of fun from the rest assures them a steady climb into little expectation yet assured, if cult, adoration.

The footfall fell heavy for the next band: Slow Club, the fastest seducing duo to come out of Sheffield for a while. It’s a White Stripes set-up with less flare but oodles more nuance. The pace of their set was a wonder to behold and a starched lesson to many of the bands bustling in this 6th Street dance hole. The interplay between Charles and Rebecca is intimate and the flow of their songs, their velocity and their well cared for tender lulls, captivated a full house. Relaxed and effortlessly normal, their northern breeding sits well on a street where Jonny Borrell increasingly looks ridiculous in strut; thus Slow Club’s low-key nous to take their finale into the crowd for a gentle crescendo had the impassioned huddle singing chorally and proclaiming them as champions. Slow Club’s summer album has Clash’s lips well licked in anticipation.

The equally tempered Wild Beasts were up next, the Yorkshire Domino darlings who make a mockery of both their name but crucially any notion that they are belligerent or violent with loved instruments that lie magically in their hands. This being our first live viewing of the office staple of Wild Beasts presumes they are a band best seen in a venue packed solely with their own diehard fans, who can hang silently off every tender and furtive note. Their understated folksy cacophony is complex, layered and engaging. At points they captivate with softness; at others they surprise with New York-styled punk-funk dance anthems that standout in their set and are fired into memory through such severe contrast. We urge you: whatever your tastes, catch this band as they truly are craftsmen. Rampant angels of sound are closer to their true nature.

Things got a delightful overhaul next as We Have Band appeared. Having redeemed themselves from redundancy and fired straight into a band, they are a dance act with a tad more musical coherence than their toddling name purveys. Sounding in equal quarts past as they are of the future, this trio manage to tread the fine line of making addictive dance music, steered by unrestrained unaffected and genuinely inspirational vocals, without making it sound cheesily futuristic or dated. Their anthem ‘Oh!’ saw all heads in sync as a radio gem that has clearly travelled far, whilst their live bass re-workings of other albums tracks look set to stand them in excellent stead in the guaranteed touring of the UK and the European festival circuit. With solid and intriguing live dance anthems, We All Have Band join in with their own fun.

Whether fortunes are made in the Texan sun is irrelevant for many, as SXSW remains a great event and one of the best places for a sonic trolley dash around bands who can no longer hide behind their MySpace, behind their favourite venue, their hoards of scenester pals or the alchemy of studio blags. Once off the plane, in a venue they’ve never seen with the basic equipment needed to perform, it’s easy to grind wheat and spit the chaff into the dust. It’s a glaring and terrifying prospect, and such a naked approach makes discerning the mediocre from the manna so much easier in a place that just seems to spin faster. And drunker…

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For exclusive video interviews and live sets of all these bands click HERE (content forthcoming).

For a photo gallery of this show click HERE.

Photo: Phillip Sharp

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