SXSW Reviews: BALTHVS, Population II, O.

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20240317 BALTHVS

BALTHVS, March 11, The 13th Floor

Colombian trio BALTHVS spoke a few times during their Monday night set at The 13th Floor about how much they loved Austin and it became clear at this show that Austin (along with the many non-Austinites like myself who invade the city every March) also loves BALTHVS.

Throughout their set, the Bogota-based band (pictured above at their Saturday night show at Mohawk) put on one of the most impressive displays of musicianship we saw all week with their psychedelic funk meets surf rock sound.

Population II, March 12, Swan Dive

Random discoveries are always a treat at SXSW and Population II were certainly one of those discoveries. Walking into Swan Dive on Tuesday night for the Mothland/Fair Enough/M For Montreal showcase, I had a vague idea of what to expect from the Montreal psych rock trio, but hadn’t given them a listen ahead of time. With the band already playing as I walked in, I was suitably impressed by their blend of psych sounds with a bit of jazz and funk.

For Toronto folks, Population II play The Garrison on April 23 alongside Meatbodies.

O., March 14, The 13th Floor

London sax and drums duo O. put on a fun, high energy show during their Thursday afternoon set as part of the Creem Magazine/Third Man Records party. Also, there were free copies of Creem and free pickles being given away at this party and in my book, any show where you can snack on a delicious pickle while enjoying an effects-laden saxophone freakout is a pretty good one.

SXSW Review: Wishy, Noah and the Loners, March 16, Lazarus Brewing Co.

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The Music For Listeners day shows are a longstanding tradition at SXSW. The unofficial day parties have been running for fourteen years now as an offshoot of the San Antonio radio program of the same name and they were back again this year for a week-long series of shows at Lazarus Brewing Company.

Music for Listeners programs a wide range of music for their SXSW shows with a big focus on American indie rock and Britpop-ish stuff. And on Saturday afternoon, we made our way further west on 6th Street to check out what they had to offer, taking in sets from Wishy and Noah and the Loners

Admittedly, we only caught the tail end of Wishy’s set so they didn’t have time to make much of an impression on me either way, but I did detect a fair bit of ’90s influences in their sound so I made a note to follow up and give them another listen. And the songs on their Paradise EP, which Pitchfork described as “nostalgic misrememberings of the dreamier side of ’90s indie rock” do indeed have a strong ’90s flavour. Check out the video for “Spinning” below.

Up next were Noah and the Loners, a young punk band who I first caught during SXSW 2023, where they impressed with “God Save The King,” a revamped version of the Sex Pistols classic with the lyrics updated to “God save the king/Same fascist thing.” The Brighton-based band were playing a whole bunch of shows throughout the week and brought a fair bit of energy to their afternoon set … though they were likely conserving some of that energy for the two shows they’d be playing later that night.

Singer Noah Lonergan introduced one song by saying it was about wanting to be young forever, adding, “I don’t know why I wrote that, I’m only 19.” This, of course, had us immediately doing the math in our heads to figure out exactly how young Lonergan was when we started going to SXSW. The answer? Quite young.

Yes, we are old, but not too old to appreciate a good punk show – provided that there’s good craft beer and some nice picnic tables for us to sit on.

SXSW Film Review: Natatorium [Helena Stefansdottir, 2024]

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The spoiler free version – Natatorium is an engaging psychological thriller about a family’s troubled past resurfacing upon the injection of fresh blood (pictured below).

And now that we have gotten that fast-forward urge out of the way, it’s time to properly look this film as the well-paced art-house character study it is. Natatorium oozes style from the opening scene and promises to unravel layers of meanings and secrets.

The whole story takes place in the confines of a mid-century concrete house. Had it not been for the oppressive atmosphere, one might well have felt quite comfortable browsing for the sleek high-end wares as if shopping for Icelandic souvenirs in Rammagerdin on Rainbow Street. Because of the modern set design, the significance of out-of-place things – an altar here, an old photo there – stood-out immediately. The pool in the basement, for which the film is named, is the wonky central. And every element of the film implies that the water in the house is sinister.

Despite the many unfinished hints, any trace of actual horror is left mostly to the imagination. This film is dedicated to the inter-personal struggle beneath the surface, and stays literal to this onto the last scene. The cast can be split into two camp, one includes an overly eager grandpa, an emaciated homosexual uncle, and a successful but cowardly father. And on the other team is the blossoming teenage starlet, the independent aunt and apothecary, and the matriarch. This seemed to have been set up to fulfill a stereotypical role reversal. Had the biological sex of the whole cast been inverted, wizards may still ignite the topics explored on tradition vs. freedom… albeit not as effectively as witches. Much of the dialogue reveals information while also inviting deeper intrigue. But at times I felt too many potential conversations were crammed into one scene.

Director Helena Stefánsdóttir, lead actress Elin Petersdóttir and author Celeste Ramos, parts of whose short story “Swim” were adapted for the film, were in attendence for the post-film Q&A. It’s a shame that the showing was tiny (<15 people) as there was clearly abundant opportunity for discussion. SxSW’s program manager did his best to lead and mediate, but when the first member of the audience to speak spewed out, “I have always found Icelandic stuff to be weird and confusing and this film confirmed what I’ve come to know,” it was a little dispiriting.

Helena lamented that, as a process of making the film, much was changed beyond recognition that she has had to reach back into her notes/script to find the original framework. Celeste noted that the original story was much heavier on death but the film is lighter and does not bludgeon the audience with it as a burden. And Elin, whose expressions were central to the film’s uncanny atmosphere, shared tricks she had for portraying the unyielding grandma. Overall, the film is beautifully made with clearly deliberate decisions in each and every corner. And while it might not resonate with a large crowd, it is a strong work with a long after-taste that keeps the brain churning.

SXSW Film Review: Turtles [David Lambert, 2024]

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The volunteer reading his introduction script prior to the screening of Turtles spelled it out succinctly and correctly: “You will feel many a thing watching this film,” he said, which is a fair preview.

Turtles rests its foundation on a fairytale scenario, some would (and did) say a contrived one. In the midst of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, an English drag-queen named Thom quit his job and emigrated to France to marry his true love. This was made affordable only because a (dying) angel of a friend gave them the deeds to an inherited townhouse smack in the middle of Paris on a single condition – that they raise/keep two box turtles named Topsy and Turvy so long as they live in the house together.

Let it be said that the Gendarmerie has no time to check-in on the health of aging turtles, reptilian or otherwise, to enforce such a contract. The taboos around homosexuality were purposefully countered by these equally absurd setpieces. And this allowed the film to focus squarely on the evolving love between these two people, 35 years on. I became an instant fan of this film the moment Siri was asked to play Ottawan’s “Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart)” as an ode to love while the drag-queen in his sixties danced to entice his husband, who is recently retired from both job and love.

Suffice it to say that Turtles narrates a divorce, but one wherein the French judiciary system is made a mockery of. The ensemble of lawyers, judges, and bystanders displayed a LOT of patience as the courtroom became no more solemn than a 100 square-foot kitchen replete with domestic highs and lows. Thom desperately tried every trick in the book to reboot his Henri back into their lives including giving up for good and going back to his glory-days as a drag-queen, complete with wrinkles under his belt. It is funny, tear-jerking, momentarily grotesque, but always warm. I don’t know if the bilingual angle has any metaphorical meaning other than a Canadian nod, but it does not hinder the film. If you are not a homophobe, I highly recommend the film. And if you are, watch and learn some top-notch empathy from Madam Justice.