SXSW Reviews: Tengger, v10101a

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Thursday saw the start of the Jaded | FRIENDS:FOREVER showcase at Empire Garage and Control Room, a two day Asian-centric showcase featuring over 40 acts. Let’s take a look at two of those acts.

Tengger, March 14, Empire Control Room

Pegged as a traveling music family, Tengger consists of Itta (from South Korea), Marquido (from Japan) and their son Raai, who may be about10 years old. The trio played what I guess can be called as new age-y minimalistic synth-based tunes. I don’t really know how to describe it except that it was very calming, playful, and peaceful. There was a lot of performative art in their set too, as during one track, the band members went into the crowd, shaking rattlers over each audience member, as if to relieve them of their trouble.

It was overall a very calming set but I can’t get over the fact that during the pandemic, the couple were separated by countries and their son, who must have only been 7 or 8 at the time, was so upset he wrote a song and then a few years later he’s performing it at SXSW. Talk about being a go getter.

v10101a, March 15, Empire Control Room

Whereas Tengger embraced harmonious nature-based concepts, v10101a comes from the future. Shanghai born, NYC based, v10101a took to the stage on Friday night and took the crowd on a whirlwind dizzying electro journey that seemed very much in line with the themes of SXSW. Sharing her laptop monitor on the stage backdrop, v10101a proceeded to seemingly live-code her show. Each song was an open code file, with different components of the song tied to functions within that file that she could execute in whatever order she wants, with real time modifications to pitch, sound, etc. all available at her disposal.

The music itself was a mix of synths, samples, drum loops, chippy sounds and just about whatever else you can download. It was all geared to make you dance and the crowd definitely got into it at the Empire Control Room, although all eyes were on the backdrop to see what she was doing.

It was a fascinating glimpse into the tools now available to creators, who realistically don’t even need to learn guitar or piano anymore, just how to call the chords/keys, etc on a time loop.

Whereas a traditionalist might stick up their nose at this concept, it really does open the world of music creator to a new group of people, especially the ones that didn’t have the benefit of music lessons growing up. Is it a short cut? Yes, but look at your phone – everything technology does is a shortcut. I left her energetic set wondering how these worlds will inevitably collide.

I wasn’t able to take a video because it was way too dark but here’s an example of livecoding, which I guess is what you call v10101a does.

SXSW Review: Mong Tong, March 13, Mohawk

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SXSW is a place where you can see music at its most interesting. Aside from up and comer indie bands, you get a host of creative individuals who have all kinds of thoughts and ideas about what music is and how it should be presented. This year, the band Mong Tong greatly exemplified this.

A Taiwanese duo formed by two brothers, the duo played a psychedelic dreamy multi-layered set to the backdrop of calming animal videos – while blindfolded. What? Yes, the group blindfolded themselves about halfway through their second song and proceeded to play the set under the cover, navigating perfectly between their effects pedals and the electronic drum pad. I was fascinated. Under the layer of ambient sound that they produced, I really wondered how they pulled it off. Is their sense of movement that great? How many times do they practice? Are they really blindfolded? Do they feel their way around the music like Luke Skywalker when he was training to be a Jedi?

It kept me engaged in the set while the music worked to smooth my mind, which was an interesting contrast. A very interesting show.

SXSW Review: Earth Tongue, Vera Ellen, March 13, The 13th Floor

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

One great way to take in new music during SXSW is to check out one of the day parties, where one can often find a wide variety of acts across all genres in one convenient location. Oh, and there’s often also free food and/or booze – gotta get people in the door somehow.

On Wednesday afternoon, we took in the New Zealand day party, where two acts in particular stood out – Earth Tongue and Vera Ellen, both of whom dropped out of their official SXSW sets in protest of the event’s ties to the U.S. Army and military contractors. So technically speaking, this is not a SXSW review, just a review of a random concert, the month and day of which coincides numerically with a big festival which was also happening at that time in Austin.

Recognizing the importance of name brand recognition, indie/alternative singer-songwriter Vera Ellen took a moment to introduce herself and her band. “We’re Vera Ellen,” she said, pausing before adding, “I’m Vera Ellen. Vera Ellen, Vera Ellen, Vera Ellen.”

“Say her name three times and she appears,” added her bandmate.

Extra points for the Beetlejuice reference. I will also note that Ellen was wearing striped pants during this show so extra extra points for the bonus visual reference to Beetlejuice that was almost certainly unintentional. Extra extra extra points on the off chance that it was intentional. 

Playing mostly songs off her upcoming release, Ellen and her band put on an impressive show, making the most of their brief time onstage while also taking the time to voice their opposition to the festival’s military connections, a trend which has been common amongst many of this year’s performers.

Ellen noted at the beginning of the band’s set that they had dropped put of all of their official SXSW shows in protest of the presence of war profiteers at the festival, but that they were playing this set because they did support the New Zealand Music Commission, the presenters of this showcase.

A little later that afternoon, Earth Tongue would take to the stage and play an absolutely brilliant set. The duo plays a brand of heavy psych that I can only imagine would make the optimal soundtrack for when you want to drop acid and chill out with your local witches coven. So good.

SXSW Review: Bubble Tea and Cigarettes, Lo Moon, March 13, St. David’s Sanctuary

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Playing at a church is an unique experience, and one which bands would be smart to take advantage of. St. David Sanctuary in Austin is one of the most unique spaces for a show during SXSW – it’s got great acoustics and a real feeling of intimacy. Two bands that played there on Wednesday night both used that space to their advantage.

Bubble Tea and Cigarettes

A duo originally from New York and currently residing in Seattle, Bubble Tea and Cigarettes‘ mellow, dreamy lush pop worked almost perfectly within the church setting.

Their music (think similar to Slowdive’s self titled 2017 album) is made for intimate settings with the group’s subtle vocals dancing through all the crevices of the inner Sanctuary. The group brought their own floodlights resulting in the crowd just barely seeing the silhouette throughout the show. Their new record is due sometime this year and I’m excited for it.

Lo Moon

A group from Los Angeles about to release their third record in April, Lo Moon took advantage of the space to a much different effect.

About halfway through their second song, the band lost all power to their equipment. Some people can get flustered in this situation and the show could have gone downhill. Instead, lead singer Matt Lowell quickly adapted and the group transitioned to an acoustic set, playing a song from their new record.

Given the great acoustics that come with playing a church sanctuary, the transition played out really nicely and the crowd rallied around the band, making the inevitable transition back to digital sound that much more satisfying.