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NME Radar at SXSW 2011 - Wild Flag, Colin Stetson, Tune-Yards

By Laura Snapes

Posted on 21 Mar 11


The very fact that I just attempted to open this blog with an analogy comparing the choice on offer at SXSW to the option paralysis I get when trying to pick a sandwich in Tesco's is perhaps proof of what the four days I've spent in Texas so far have done to my brain. I've never been to SXSW before (or indeed, America), so every corner throws up a new world of WTF. You can get a fried breakfast and fruit on the same plate! You can get your food "porked", which entails having it split open and stuffed with cheese and bacon and deep fried! Hipsters don't wear suncream! Carles from Hipster Runoff is actually a real person! (I know, right?!) Apparently Don Draper is here! (My mission for the week is to meet him...) Still, none of that really compares to the difficulty of trying to figure out what to see, whether you can be arsed to leg it under the highway to get to Pitchfork and the Fader Fort, or whether to spend the day cruising the strip of Red River Street, falling in and out of shows.

These are the parts where I did manage to make up my mind about what to see though. The first morning of SXSW marked the arrival of the Third Man Rolling Record Store, the ultimate in indie Pimp My Ride. It's a big yellow beast of a truck, with record shop inside and kitted out with speakers for bands to plug in and play outside - and a pain in the ass to drive, according to Third Man's Ben Swank who had hauled the vehicle cross-country that morning. So naturally, who better to open proceedings than the head of Third Man Records himself, Jack White. Here he is playing 'Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground' from about three metres away!

After that, I legged it down 4th up to Waterloo Records, one of the loveliest record shops I've ever seen, to catch Wild Flag's first SXSW performance. They're made up of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (formerly of Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (formerly of about a billion bands, though most notably Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). They kicked ass. Much of what's been written about them has focused on the fact that they're ladies (how remarkable) and that they're not pre-pubescent (snore). Carrie said on stage, "are you expecting this to be pretty? Because it ain't gonna be," which is a pretty apt summation of Wild Flag's ethos: pure dedication to the spirit of gnarly RAWK. They were definitely the first spine-tingling moment of my SXSW, making me want to throw my pen to the ground and pick up a guitar. Carrie windmilled, Mary played her guitar on top of her head, Rebecca hammered out some seriously insistent organ, and Janet's an absolute powerhouse on drums. Man alive, I've had to stop myself going to see them twice a day, every day this week...

Tennis are quite possibly the cutest band in the world with their nautical niceness and swoony choruses, though being adorable is clearly a hazardous occupation, causing poor Alaina to lose her voice and have to croak her way through our interview after they played up at Club DeVille at the Fat Possum party...

Oh Land - aka Denmark's Nanna Oland Fabricius - has been celebrating the US release of her album this week, which she previewed in the back garden of Lipstick (whose sound system could really do with a few volts up its behind...). Still, the quiet sound didn't stop her awesomely intricate, instinctive pop from sparkling. I grabbed a quick natter with Nanna afterwards.

You might well have heard Colin Stetson without realising it - he plays sax on Arcade Fire's record and a few other notable indie luminaries. On his own though, he seems to achieve the impossible, to nab the words of Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus. As you can see from the video - taken at the venerable NPR's showcase - he's just one man, one sax, and no pedals or effects, yet it's as if he's playing at least three instruments at once. Each song thrums with a low bassy rumble, slightly bagpipe-like in tone, layered with a visceral sax squawk, and then somehow, it seems as though he's singing - though perhaps wailing might be more of an apt word - into his brassy beast. The effect is incredibly unnerving and intimidating, and beyond comparison, really - the best thing I could think of at the time was like Liars being drowned. I wanted to have a chat with him to ask him just how he manages it, but considering he finished each song looking as exhausted as if he'd just gone ten rounds with a bear, I thought it might be kinder to let him go for a sit down...

Tune-Yards' forthcoming second album, 'w h o k i l l', is quite possibly my favourite of the year so far (it's out on 4AD on April 18). Here she is playing the formidable 'Gangsta', also at the NPR showcase.

Close behind Merrill's new album in my favourites of the year to date are Canada's Suuns, who make deliciously dark krautpop. On record, they use restraint to great effect, never giving away a lot in the vocals or lavishing on overly indulgent riffs. Live, though, holy wow - they're fierce, obliterating, and in no way whatsoever holding anything back. I'm quite a fan of their facial expressions in this short clip, from 6th Street's The Spill...

Another band I've had to stop myself going to see every time they play here is Summer Camp. They're without a doubt my favourite find of the past 18 months, and it makes me so proud to see them taking names and pulling huge crowds at SXSW. They've just finished recording their debut album with Pulp's Steve Mackey and have been previewing bits of it live - here's brand spanking new song 'Brian Krakow' filmed at the Red Eyed Fly, named after a character from ace '90s TV show My So Called Life.


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