Missing instruments, an anti-bald bias, soundcheck debacles and jumping out of windows: these were just some of the events that took place before, and during, a remarkable Irish SXSW 2016 showcase...
One of the major Irish music showcases, at this year's South By Southwest music festival, took place at BD Riley's in Austin, Texas. The line-up was an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters, indie/garage rock bands, electronic and hip-hop music. The nine-strong lineup featured Saint Sister, Rusangano Family (pictured above), September Girls, Rosie Carney, Enemies, Somadrone, Raglans, Silences and David C Clements.
Nineteen year-old Rosie Carney, based in Co. Donegal, kicked-off proceedings. The enchanting singer-songwriter set the tone for the Irish showcase, which was bursting with vibrant talent. Her soft, yet powerfully haunting, voice and lyrics instantly captured the room's attention. "I've played four times this week at SXSW," Rosie told Hot Press. "It was incredible, I loved it. It was such a great atmosphere. I got a lot of feedback after the show. I made a lot of contacts. It's exactly what I wanted to get out of it."
As first-timers often find, there was an unexpected level of pressure too.
"I've found it pretty hectic," Rosie admitted about the SXSW experience. "I am not too keen on the big crowds. For me, it can be a little overwhelming at times. I'm not really interested in record deals just yet. I am trying to put my name out there and build up my audience."
For Dublin band September Girls, this was their second time at SXSW. So what was their objective, returning two years after their original jaunt?
"To be honest, the first time around we were so rushed, I felt I'd never come back," confides guitarist/vocalist Caoimhe. "I found the whole thing too stressful. This time, however, we said we'd take it a lot easier. We wanted to come back and do it better, do it in a more relaxed way, where we get to enjoy it – and we're not running around like lunatics the whole time."
Instantly, when the five-piece took to the stage, the atmosphere in the room changed. People packed around the front of the bar to listen to the infectious psych-rock group. For September Girls the trip to America wasn't just about SXSW.
"We made it into a road trip as well," Caoimhe explained. "We drove through Arizona, and we stopped at Roswell – we thought we'd find some alien-themed cafes, but we ended up going to some place like Eddie Rockets that had some aliens stuck up around. We went through The Mojave Desert and it was just beautiful. We stopped at where Grand Parsons died, at the Joshua Tree Inn."
Like September Girls, the experimental indie band Enemies weren't here just to visit Austin. "We'll also be playing the West Coast, Mid-West and ending the tour in New York, at a place called the Aviv in Brooklyn," Lewis Jackson enthusiastically told Hot Press. The latest news on their US tour is that they went from 33° Celsius gigs in Texas, to being caught in a snow storm in Boulder, Colorado. By the time they get back to Ireland, they may well justifiably end up talking about what a long strange trip it's been.
David C Clements, Somadrone and Raglans all followed. Neil O'Connor of Somadrone, who played three shows in Austin, had mixed feelings about trying to get more gigs at SXSW. "If you're young and beautiful, the venues get in touch with you, but I'm nearly hitting forty, and going bald, so they don't tend to text or email the bald guys too much." That said, Somadrone put on an excellent, extended performance after Rejjie Snow was unable to make the showcase.
The captivating duo of Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty, better known as Saint Sister, were next to wow the BD Riley's crowd. As with virtually every act who played SXSW, there were technical difficulties with the sound.
"There was just no sound coming out of the Harp for some reason," recalls harpist/singer Gemma in horror. "Our sets are so quiet, it's hard to navigate that with a room full of people. The first song was a bit rocky, but it evened out after that. We rely a lot on the harp, in terms of pitching and getting loops back. It's a really difficult instrument in terms of feedback. I felt like I was just pointing up, and pointing down, at the sound-man, for the whole gig."
The Irish pair remarked on how many nightmare stories they'd heard before travelling to Austin. "People freaked us out so much before we left for SXSW," they testified. "Before we came we practiced what we'd play if everything broke. We did have our own nightmare story to tell. When we arrived in Austin, we went to collect the harp from the oversized baggage area and they were like: 'Oh, it just didn't make it, it's still in London'. We were like: 'You can't just say that'. It arrived on the next flight after that thankfully."
Temporary missing harps and sound issues aside, Saint Sister's alluring voices, over their mix of traditional harp and electronic folk-pop, stopped everyone in the venue in their tracks. It was a challenging venue to play for such a quiet act, but they overcame adversities and shone throughout what was a winning performance.
Rusangano Family were the final act on the Irish showcase, and boy were the crowd in for a treat! The Limerick-based electronic/hip hop group put on the type of performance you'd be lucky to witness once in a decade. Emcee God Knows, tore around the intimate venue, until realising that the space he was being confined to needed to be expanded. He quickly leapt out the window of BD Riley's into the bustling 6th Street of downtown Austin and continued rapping on the path. "That was a special one," coyly admits producer/DJ mynameisjOhn. "Just seeing a load of people stopping on the street and watching two Irish guys rapping, which doesn't happen in America very often. That for us is encouragement that we can come over here and do shows. It was a validation for us."
Watching the show from inside and outside the venue, it definitely resonated as a do-or-die performance from the band which ended in triumph. Rusangano Family's reasons for coming to SXSW were simple. "We came to smash it and murder it. We want to show everyone in the world that, even though we are from a small town, we do massive things. Everything's bigger in Texas, so we brought it big."
In the end, sound snafus and an unfavourable venue aside, the Full Irish Breakfast showcase was summed up best by Rusangano Family. "Everyone on the Irish bill has been phenomenal." And so say all of us...
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