SXSW Day 3: Skaters, Damon Albarn, Strypes, Kieran Leonard

Written by
Damon Albarn

We started our day broadcasting from the Spotify House, with a punk band playing just feet away. It was a truly SXSW experience — where there is so much music coming from everywhere that it can almost be overwhelming. A music lover’s dream, but also a nightmare because for every band you choose to see, there are 5 you’re missing.

Filter Magazine’s Showdown at Cedar Street showcases kicked off on Thursday and I rushed over to see Skaters, a NY-based band I’ve been hearing a lot about. They did not disappoint. There were a lot of fans in the packed crowd singing along, especially “Miss Teen Massachusetts”.

Strypes (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

As I was watching them, a bunch of teenagers dressed in fancy clothes walk up the stairs and I learn that they are Strypes. As the story goes, the fathers of two of the band members were in a band together previously and instilled their love and appreciation for music in them at an early age. With their boy band looks, it would be easy to judge them, but as soon as they took the stage, their musicianship trumped their youth. Their track “Got Love if You Want It” is great. Garage rock has always been a youngsters game so I guess it makes sense.

After an afternoon break, I headed out to see UK singer Kieran Leonard, who was making his SXSW debut with a solo acoustic show. He told the story of how he was living in a church with his fiance when he started writing his forthcoming sophomore album but, after they suddenly split, he fled to Los Angeles where most of it was recorded. He namechecks Harold Pinter and James Joyce in his lyrics and jokes about Sartre between songs, which gives you an idea of what you’re dealing with. His last track, “Ever Open Road”, is a searing ballad that really shows what he can do.

I headed to a rooftop to see Damon Albarn (of Blur, Gorillaz, The Good the Bad and the Queen), who’s here in support of his solo debut. It’s a reflection on our current technology obsession and never was it clearer than when he started singing the first track “Press Play” and all the cell phones went up in the air.

I must say, after seeing so many baby bands, it’s great to see a real pro take the stage. He just owns it. Many of the new songs are slower and more contemplative so it really worked in the outside air under the stars (though he made multiple jokes about the Chase building looming over us). Even though the temperature dropped about 15 degrees during the time I was standing there, I held out until the very end in hopes that he would sing one of my all time favorites, Blur’s “Tender” — especially since he had some gospel singers on stage with him.

Sadly, it was not to be, BUT he played a Blur b-side which excited a lot of hardcore fans in the crowd.

Dedicating a full two hours (including waiting time…they went on late, of course) to seeing one artist is a daunting decision at SXSW but Damon is simply one of the best around and it was absolutely worth it.