Showcasing what music makes Britain great

Once again the British Music Embassy took over San Jacinto dive bar Latitude 30 for SXSW’s Music Week, and once again they proved that when it comes to depth of talent, the Brits really do do it best. Great sound, great lighting, and an ‘always up for a party’ atmosphere pretty much guarantee that acts bring their A-game, as well as ensuring a queue down the block during each showcase. Picking out highlights wasn’t easy, but I’ll give it a go.

There’s a lot… A LOT of grime on show at SXSW in 2018, but the standout act in the genre was, by far, Che Lingo. Stepping up at the last minute to replace the absent Bugzy Malone, the little known but soon to be huge Che delivered the choicest cuts from his debut album, ‘Charisma’, with a panache and presence which belies his super-sub status. By the time the bassline of closing number ‘Same Energy’ kicked in, Che had a room full of converts and a reason to leave Latitude 30 with his head held high.

Bookending the BBC 6 Music showcase was the eclectic pairing of Nilufer Yanya and Idles, in what might be the only night you would see those two particular acts on the same bill. Yanya’s Pixies-tinged quirky indie-soul stylings is custom built for breaking hearts and breaking moulds, and it’s easy to see why she made the Sound of 2018 list.

Idles, on the other hand, showed again why they are the most exciting punk act in the UK right now. And when we’ve also got Shame, Life, Queen Zee and an assortment of other superb acts vying for that title, that is in no way faint praise. They’re becoming something akin to the British Music Embassy’s house band, and it’s not hard to see why they keep getting invited back. Drinks got thrown, light fittings got smashed, Steve Lamacq almost lost a fight with the stage, and the band, well they did what they always do and kicked the living shit out of the show.

Touts might look like the worst indie band in the world, and they’ve clearly listened to The Libertines once or twice, but they’ve got the power, the attitude and most importantly the music to back it up. Touts are in no way breaking new ground, but when it’s done this well, who cares?

The first time I heard Himalayas ‘Thank God I’m Not You’ I was convinced it was a new Cage The Elephant track, and live they do little to dispel that idea. Displaying the same swagger and pomp as the Bowling Green sextet, it’s not difficult to see them following the same trajectory. It was 2007 when CTE hit SXSW like a train and left Austin with a major label deal. 2018 could easily be the year Himalayas do the same.

The final day of the BME @ SXSW started and ended with Benin City. Given the unenviable task of opening the daytime showcase at 2pm, and taking to the same stage 11 hours later to close it, and the festival, out, I was concerned that energy levels might drop somewhat. I needn’t have worried. Determined to rinse every last drop out of SXSW, Benin City came to conquer, and they came pretty damned close. Fans of Young Fathers, Ghostpoet and Faithless need to take a listen.

As ever, past glories continue to ensure that Gaz Coombes plays to sizeable crowds wherever he sets down. Few artists survive the apathy, however, that normally greets their new material. Gaz breaks that mould. Cherry picking from 2015’s surprise musical highlight, ‘Matador’, as well as selections from the upcoming ‘World’s Strongest Man’, he observes a rare quiet come over Latitude 30. People are rapt. It’s telling, then, that when he closes with ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, just for old time’s sake, it’s the weakest song in the set. Gaz Coombes has grown old gracefully, and successfully shaken off the shackles of his 19-year-old self, and that’s not to be taken lightly.

The melodic, grungy stylings of Francobollo may be somewhat in contrast to the beating sun outside, but that doesn’t stop them filling the dark bar at the ungodly-by-SXSW-standards hour of 3pm, but never doubt the Austin appetite for Weezer-tinged slacker rock. A torrent of nihilistic noise cascades across the Embassy and it’s hard to see any way that this lot won’t pick up new fans everywhere they play.

By now surely everyone has heard about Goat Girl, so I’ll keep this brief. You need this band in your life. Even if you don’t give a shit what I think, any band about whom Geoff Travis (Rough Trade) will happily go to bat for have got to be worth your time, and they proved why in Austin. Fuelled by filthy basslines and attitude in abundance, this is a band you can’t afford to ignore.

Hexham native Jade Bird had a lot to live up to coming into Austin, with those in the know shouting her name from the rooftops. Possessing a voice that can silence a room in an instant, and an onstage manner which belies the impact of her songs, Jade walked away from Austin with the prestigious Grulke Prize for Developing Non-US Acts, and proved that hype can sometimes be backed up. There aren’t enough superlatives for just how wonderful an experience a Jade Bird live show can be.

Words and Photography: Thomas Jackson


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