SXSE 2014 – A Judges View

A musical recipe.

Take one stage, seven bands, five and a half hours of music, four judges, two sound engineers, several photographers, and countless enthusiastic observers.

Add one pre event band break up, and one last minute replacement act.

Mix all those ingredients together in The Union Bar, and you get SXSE (South by South East), supported by The Stinger magazine. Just one of the many events that took place over the weekend of Hastings Fat Tuesday 2014.

All seven bands were competing to fill the prestigious final slot on the Fat Tuesday Tour, which would see the ‘winners’ play three gigs, in three different venues, over the course of one evening.

First up were The Piercings, who various judges said reminded them of both The Housemartins, and The Lightning Seeds. Not a bad thing.

They were closely followed by Great Snakes, another of the recent surge in guitar and drums duo’s. Passion, energy and solid drumming.

To showcase the variety of the acts, next was Tom Cole, who was described as a ‘1960’s style protest singer’ by one judge. Good guitar work and a nice rapport with the audience too.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that the acts were judged on three main criteria. Musicianship and Tightness, Lyrics and Melody, Stage Presence and Charisma. All acts were given a maximum of ten marks for each category. They also had a twenty minute time slot.

Next, and upping the ante, were Wax. A tight quartet with an 80’s feel, sound effects, and even electric drum pads. Stage presence, and a sound described by one judge, and not in a bad way either, as ‘The Pet Shop Boys with guitars’.

Keeping up the quality were Irie Method, another quartet playing what they call ‘Skindie’ (Ska and Indie). Lively, fun, catchy and with audience participation, these guys got the toes tapping.

Last minute replacements Xup Sup got the house rocking. Tight, energetic pop-punk, a phenomenal drummer, and a great cover of ’99 Red Balloons’. One judge said ‘Xup Sup would not be out of place on a bill with the likes of Green Day, or Blink 182’. Praise indeed.

And so to the final act, Riddles. An air of expectation was apparent and they certainly didn’t disappoint. A trio creating a tight, intense, relentless (in a good way) sound, not unlike Hawkwind, this was a perfect way to end a musically rich afternoon. Half the judging panel said Riddles were the band they would personally choose to go and see again tomorrow.

But, there could only be one ‘winner’. There were several contenders, and no clear front runner. Advice was sought on exactly what was being voting for. Was it the best band on the day, the act with the most potential, or (as it turned out to be) the most suitable band for the Fat Tuesday Tour.

Any one of those options would probably have produced a different result. But, after much debate, Irie Method were invited to play the Fat Tuesday Tour, and by all accounts did SXSE proud.

It’s a bit of a cliche I know, but on the day local music was the winner.

The judges were very impressed with the quality of both the bands and the musicianship.

Unique among the judges, I’d seen most of the acts before, and thought I knew what to expect. But even I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the music, and the performances on the day.

That can only be a good thing.

(All photo’s by John Powell: http://www.johnnypowell.net/)

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