As usual, Latitude 30 was home to some up and coming UK acts. Here’s a look at two of them
It only took a few minutes for me to realize how much more talented William Doyle aka East India Youth (pictured above) was then I. Playing only by himself on stage, Doyle went used laptop, synthesizer, played bass AND sang during the course of his all too brief set. Doyle is an intense performer and his energy created for a tense session with the crowd as it was becoming increasingly clear that one of his many gadgets on stage was failing him and you can see that he wanted to destroy it. Alas, it was SXSW and who knows if you can rent another one if you break your music gadget on the first night. Still, his layered electronics sound was impressive. Doyle’s vocals are so good I feel like he can just be a successful singer if he wanted, but in some sort of mad genius rage, he instead uses his voice as merely one of the many tools in his arsenal, and I am more then fine with that.
Shura is another UK artist on the cusp. Lead singer Aleksandra Denton’s vocals and sound reminds me of smooth early 90’s pop music which then reminded me of Jessie Ware. Denton doesn’t have the charm that oozes off Jessie Ware (she’s one of a kind), but her music holds strong promise. There was actually a funny moment where Denton referred to SXSW as the Hunger Games and then held up her hand with three fingers which I assumed was some sort of Hunger Games thing. Actually, now that I am reading her wikipedia page, it says she produced Jessie Ware’s Say You Love Me, which makes perfect sense to what I just wrote. Either way, I can use more good pop tracks in my life given the amount of crap that’s produced for top 40 these days, so put me on the Shura bandwagon.
For all the talk about the big acts playing SXSW every year, it is actually the potential for an act to become a big act that is most exciting. Recent years have seen acts launch to mega stardom after SXSW stints (Sam Smith, Bastille, Haim all come to mind) and so it is this search that is one of the most exciting things about SXSW.
James Bay has the chance to be one of these people.
A singer-songwriter from the UK, Bay’s most recent single Hold Back the River has already made strides overseas and he is now primped and proper to take over stateside. After witnessing Bay’s set at the Austin Conference Center, it’s easy to see why he’s one of the artists pegged for the big time.
Having already opened for Hozier all across the Stateside, Bay has already developed (or maybe always had) a charismatic, low key presence on stage. It’s a very welcoming warmth and sets the right atmosphere for his heartfelt and soulful folkish songs. The music for most part, is impressive. The singles have a nice hook and Bay has the vocal chops. It is still however a guy with a guitar singing love tracks, so it’ll always have that “purchased at Starbucks” vibe, which is all fine and dandy, because that is a very successful career decision.
Part hip hop, part spoken word, all truth. Kate Tempest put on one of the best showcases I have seen in awhile at SXSW. A spoken work artist who has won poetry award and slam contests, Kate Tempest blends works and messages with the best of them. She’s also a proud performer capable of delivering her messages a capella, which is itself quite different.
Combining intricate wordplay with boundless energy and bone shaking beats, it was one of the most freshest and funnest shows I have been to in a long time.
She’s playing four more times at SXSW. Do yourself a favor and check her out.
They Will Have To Kill Us First, a documentary showing at SXSW this year, tells the story of Songhoy Blues, a band who had to flee Northern Mali after a group of armed jihadists took over and basically outlawed music. After seeing them play live and seeing how much joy they exude onstage, it’s easy to understand why they had to leave – I can’t imagine these guys not playing music. Non stop smiling, occasional dance moves busted out, and some impressive guitar playing all came together to make for a performance that you can’t help but get caught up in. Songhoy Blues exude energy and enthusiasm and that enthusiasm is infectious.
Unfortunately, that level of energy couldn’t be maintained by the next band up at Buffalo Billiards – London Folk rockers Dry The River. Of course Dry The River are capable of producing shows that are energetic and impressive in their own way – every previous time I’ve seen them I’ve walked away impressed – but after a half hour delay due to some sound issues that the band just couldn’t get sorted out, they made a last ditch effort to rescue the set by performing completely unplugged on top of some tables at the back of the bar. I’d like to say that they pulled it off, but the gambit didn’t quite work as well as it could have. Sure, they still sounded great (those harmonies!) and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves in spite of it all (bassist Scott Miller in particular made the most of it, laughing and chugging beers throughout the brief set) but the fact that you’d really have to strain to hear anything made it a less than fully satisfying experience. Though certainly a unique one.