South By Southwest

SXSW Reviews: Daniel Casimir, Yoo Doo Right, Voka Gentle

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20220318 Daniel Casimir

At its best, SXSW is all about the joy of discovery, of finding something brand new to you that totally blows you away and makes a lasting impression once the chaos of SXSW is over and done with. This is especially true of acts that are making truly ambitious and interesting music and of the many acts who played Austin last week, here are a few who impressed with their musical prowess and sonic explorations:

Daniel Casimir, March 18, Brush Square Park

Okay, the London-based Casimir wasn’t entirely a new discovery as I’d been turned on to his music just before heading to Austin and had made it a point to fit one of his shows into my schedule based on what I’d heard. And Casimir and his band did not disappoint.

Daniel Casimir has been a fixture on the UK jazz scene for the past few years and has appeared at SXSW in the past as a sideman for others, but this year he got the chance to showcase his own work accompanied by a stellar band. The interplay between all of the players was impressive, though I have to give a special shout out to his drummer, who not only kept the groove going on Casimir’s compositions, but elevated everything to the next level.

Yoo Doo Right, March 16, Swan Dive Patio

We made the call on Wednesday night to head out to the Pop Montreal/M pour Montreal showcase at Swan Dive and happily came across a stellar set from Yoo Doo Right, whose heavy psych/krautrock hit just the right spot at just the right time. The influence of Can is evident in the band’s name, but I also detected some Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and even hints of post-punk and shoegaze in their sound.

Voka Gentle, March 19, The Green Jay

It’s rare to see a band take to the stage on the last night of SXSW, announce that they’ve been in town for close to a week, and then go on to play what was apparently their first and only set of the festival, but if I heard it right, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday night as English band Voka Gentle took to the stage for an evening of weird and wonderful music. Or maybe it wasn’t their only show as a quick look at the band’s social media suggests they played at least one other show during the daytime, but it makes for a better story to say they only played one show. Either way, it was a show I won’t soon forget.

SXSW Review: Teenage Halloween, Surfbort, March 17, Cheer Up Charlie’s

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Teenage Halloween is an evocative band name, one that brings to mind images of kids chucking eggs and toilet paper at houses, getting drunk and/or partaking in other illicit substances, or if you want to take a more wholesome perspective, going out for your last chance to trick or treat before you get too old or maybe staying in for an all night horror movie marathon.

For me personally, it evokes the memory of a kid in my neighbourhood named Larry, who came to my door trick or treating when I was in Grade 10 or so. Larry was the same age as me and probably about 6 feet tall, wearing just his street clothes and some shitty werewolf mask that he probably got at the drugstore. I was like, WTF Larry, but I gave him some candy anyways. What does this have to do with the band Teenage Halloween? Oh, nothing, really. Sorry, I got a little distracted there.

With a name like Teenage Halloween, I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I headed out to see them on the first day of Brooklyn Vegan’s day parties at Cheer Up Charlie’s, though I had a pretty good idea. I knew they were a punk band and I figured Brooklyn Vegan has a pretty good track record of booking bands for their day shows, so odds were good they’d be worth watching. I was correct.

What Teenage Halloween offered up was a fun set of gruff sounding pop punk with impressive guitar parts and clever lyrics dealing with themes of queerness and mental health. There was also a sax player, though I couldn’t really hear them in the mix. Still, kudos on having a saxophone – must be the band’s New Jersey roots coming through. I enjoyed their set so much I bought a cassette from their merch guy, which is pretty rare at SXSW – rare for me to want to buy a band’s merch on the spot, yes, but also even more rare to see a band even set up a merch table.

Following them later that afternoon on the same stage was Surfbort, whose singer Dani Miller is a delightful and engaging frontwoman, full of punk rock energy. Starting out their Thursday afternoon set with “Silly D”, a song featuring the refrain of “We should be wasted by now” (later morphing into “wasted on love”), the band came on strong and had the attention of the crowd throughout their brief set. Normally I’d question whether someone really should be “wasted by now” before 2:00pm on a weekday but hey, this is SouthBy, and St. Patrick’s Day to boot, so yeah, not really unheard of to be wasted by then. For the record, I was stone cold sober at this point, but I still raise my glass to Surfbort and Teenage Halloween. Cheers!

SXSW Review: Balming Tiger, March 17, International Day Stage

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In the years past, SXSW has always had a Korean night, with a focus on the emerging music scene from Korea. Of course these days, you could argue that The most famous act in the world is Korean (BTS) with another one (Blackpink) not far behind.

With that said, I was interested in seeing Balming Tiger, a Korean hip hop group that was one of the few that made the stateside trip.

Playing an afternoon tent is not always easy as half the people are often there just for the free drinks or snacks, yet the sparse interest was not enough to deter the group’s energy level, which was set to 11.

Starting in a group dance formation, the band quickly jumped from what we thought was a synchronized dance into a party hip hop show. Featuring contributions from each member, the group played an energetic set that took elements from hip hop, dance and even punk. Their enthusiasm kept the crowd engaged and at one point they even tried to get a line dance going.

Fun times.

SXSW Review: Astrid Sonne, March 16, Cheer Up Charlie’s

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If I was in the habit of ranking music festivals, both SXSW and Denmark’s Roskilde Festival would definitely make my top five. So when I saw that Roskilde would be presenting a showcase at this year’s SouthBy in honour of their 50th edition happening later this year (after a three year pause due to … well, you know), it was the best of both worlds. And when I saw that Astid Sonne would be playing that showcase, I made sure I was there.

I had seen Sonne perform once before, at Roskilde 2019, where she delivered a memorable performance on the festival’s tiniest, most intimate stage. At that show, she absolutely impressed with a mesmerising blend of electronic and classical elements and this show was no different in that sense. In a way though, it was a totally new experience – a different setup, a different accompanist, and different compositions, but Sonne was working within the same general ballpark. And it was brilliant.

During her time onstage at Cheer Up Charlie’s, Astrid Sonne delivered a performance that was beautiful, unique, and fully engrossing. Maybe not ideal stuff for an outdoor venue full of chatty drinkers, but an incredible performance nonetheless.