Ah, the joyful chaos that is South By South West. It’s good to be back in Austin, Texas, for the vast party that is the international music festival, where the air is a swirling vortex of a thousand clanging instruments and the heady aroma of sizzling meat.
It can be a dizzying experience - with so many bands, parties and events all vying for your attention, not to mention the myriad rumours of surprise guests and special appearances supposed to be happening, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by a city overthrown by people just looking for A Good Time.
And so it was, on the Friday night of SXSW Music 2016, just off the beating heart of the madness that is Dirty 6th, Clash assembled a stellar line-up of UK talents to offer a quality evening of guaranteed enjoyment and shelter.
For, despite the belief that Austin is perpetually blessed by a raging desert sun, that night the city issued a severe weather warning, advising people to stay indoors ahead of a major storm overhead.
We revellers have little fear of rain dampening our spirits, and so the streets were no less busy, as the human traffic ebbed its way to a drier retreat. A steady stream aimed directly for the British Music Embassy (AKA Latitude 30), where for the duration of the week it stood as an assured hub for those interested in finding the freshest sounds from our shores, and tonight was host to a stellar line-up that was hand-picked by Clash to bring a taste of our pages to the party.
As the mighty flashes of incredible lightning forked the sky, providing an impressive pyro introduction to our gathering, the rumbling thunder eventually gave way to more satisfying sounds. First up was producer, ethnomusicologist, DJ and radio host Nabihah Iqbal, who takes to the stage as Throwing Shade, standing sweetly defiant between a keyboard and a table of FX.
Her songs are crystalline layers of looped vocals, chiming keyboards, clipped rhythms and delicate guitar melodies, all electronically fused together with found sounds and samples that uphold her cultivated musical studies. Those present, a mix of those here specifically to see Throwing Shade and those curious few who were delighted to stumble across Iqbal’s dreamy experiments, were nodding for the duration of ‘Hashtag IRL’, her playful satire on social media, which erratically chops online buzz words (“hashtag”, “like”, “LOL”, “OMG”) into their own dense rhythm. “That was my song about the Internet,” she giggled into the microphone as the echoes subside.
Bounding full-force onto the stage next was Glasgow’s pop powerhouse, KLOE. Minutes before, she was quietly preparing herself by the stage door, but here, in her natural habitat, she’s an explosion of charisma, punching the air, throwing her peroxide locks around, and striding the platform like a proud lioness in her lair. Her songs, bolstered by teenage intrepidity and provocative cool, find a perfect audience in the carousing crowd assembled before here, not least in the young, adoring females who’ve pushed to the front for an inspired view.
The London-based trio HÆLOS followed, expanding their ranks for a full-band live set-up that deftly brought to life their atmospheric trip-hop ambitions. Dom Goldsmith conducts the group with knowing nods and timely points of the finger, building dark synth soundscapes that complement the evening’s portentous climate, while singers Arthur Delaney and Lotti Benardout are a forceful duality at the front - he is the chilled menace to her seductive fury. Their propulsive charm fills the Embassy with impassioned grooves and haunting melodies, ensuring the capacity crowd stuck around for the duration.
With minutes to spare, London noiseniks Yak finally stumbled into the back alley of the venue, having forgotten the time while at a house party across town. Quickly ascending to the stage, the trio firmly made their presence known, launching immediately into a blistering set of bone-crunching noise. Led by the instinctive manic energy of singer and guitarist Oli Burslam, who’d drop to his knees one minute and throw his guitar to the ground another, their aggressive assault couldn’t even be diminished by a faulty bass rig that reduced proceedings to just guitar and drums for a spell. They were brilliantly fierce. The Embassy was exploding, and the headbanging guy down the front with his shirt wide open was taking the full impact.
Come midnight, and the skies had cleared. The streets were full of passing trade, and it was that time of night where people just wanted to dance. Suddenly, the triumphant beats of The Revenge proved the ideal lure to the Embassy’s dancefloor. Glasgow DJ and producer Graeme Clark is a man renowned for his disco house prowess - joined by cohort Paul McGlashan, the pair team up for an exemplary masterclass that explores more techno leanings, much to the appreciation of those who’ve come warm themselves in the glow of the duo’s heat. For 40 minutes, deep pulses and fluid basslines propelled dancing feet, almost unbeknownst to the sonic manipulators so consumed in their mixing, and shaped a champion set that left the visiting natives in no doubt where the world’s best dance music comes from.
And all too soon, we near the end. Last up are Honne, whose futuristic soul is the perfect opportunity for the night’s final memories to be made. Their nocturnal funk is a tantalising tickle, which, spurred on by copious cans of Lone Star, sees the audience become one in their lithe, liquid movements, suddenly becoming aware of each other in the swaying sexuality of Honne’s supple groove. James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck watch from their prime positions as their slick soul wins over the minds and bodies of all present, knowing full well it’s a job well done.
Safe and dry, perhaps, but Clash’s own little storm left us electrified, retreating into the night victorious and buzzing. Thanks Austin, it was a blast. Nice try, Mother Nature.
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Words: Simon Harper