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Photo: Michael Coleman

Australian Pop Artist Holiday Sidewinder on Owning Her Sound, Sexuality

Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name.

Proclaiming “no gimmicks,” the Australian-born singer confirmed the authenticity of her moniker toward the end of her enthralling set at SXSW’s Australia House on Friday afternoon, surely answering at least one question on everyone’s mind.

Cloaked in an orange leotard, stilettos and a cheetah print overcoat, the platinum blonde does seem a bit gimmicky at first glance. But absorbing Sidewinder’s commanding stage presence and watching her deliver breezy but knowing alt-pop songs that reference artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, it becomes clear this is a woman of substance – fully in control of her artistic vision.

After several tours as the keyboardist in Alex Cameron’s faux-sleazy and fabulous lounge act – including stints opening shows for The Killers – Sidewinder has come into her own as a solo artist. From the 80s synth-pop vibe of “Casino” to the propulsive, dance-y “Trash Can Love,” to the sexual empowerment anthem “Leo,” Sidewinder ably borrows from her influences to make a sound all her own. As she sipped straight tequila on ice after her well-received set, Sidewinder sat down with On Tap to talk about her music, her upbringing and taking charge of her sex appeal.

On Tap: You come from a musical family. Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Holiday Sidewinder: Yeah, I did. My mom’s a singer, my uncle’s a songwriter and my grandfather’s a songwriter. My mom recently showed me a drawing I did when I was five where I’d drawn myself and it says, “Holiday Spice,” and it has an airport banner and I’ve got a suitcase. I guess I’ve manifested that because I haven’t had a home in years. [Sidewinder calls Los Angeles home, but says she is “literally homeless.”]

OT: How’s Austin treating you? What do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?
HS: I’ve been here four times now. It’s such a cool town. I’m just having a great time. Everyone told me it was Hell on Earth (because of the SXSW crowds), but I have had an amazing time. I saw [funk rock legend and mega-producer] Nile Rodgers yesterday. I spoke to his manager, which was really cool. I have a lot of friends who are playing here and it’s a community thing. I think it’s for us all to get together with the film industry and come together and support each other in a digital age. We’re all here, we all love this and we’re looking for solutions to make it work for us financially.

OTLet’s talk about your music. You have a new album, Forever or Whatever, dropping this spring. I hear a lot of different influences in your sound. Where does all that come from?
HS: I referenced a lot of different things when we were writing this record. It’s Beastie Boys, New Order, early Madonna and Tom Tom Club. I have eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Exxótica and weird sh-t like the Talking Heads. I just like keeping the energy high. I usually start with a rhythm or a beat or a groove. I feel if you have a good groove, the rest of the song will carry itself.

OT: Sexuality looms large in much of your music – and certainly your persona. Is that intentional?
HS: I figure if I’m going to be sold on my sexuality anyway as a woman, I may as well take control of it. I was kind of liberated a year and a half ago with a few books I read. My perspective really changed. I found it empowering. With gaining sexual agency, a lot of other good things come – especially for women. We live in a rape culture and women have been second-class citizens in the patriarchy, and I think gaining that power back is the first step in a way.

Learn more about Sidewinder here.

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

It’s Broken Social Scene Versus All The Scooters at SXSW

I had a lofty idea in my head that I’d go on a mission to see Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene as many times as humanly possible at SXSW. The first and only set I caught, however, was so weirdly wonderful that I’m afraid a second stop would ruin the charm of the first. I found myself already in Container Bar, where the band was set to play, about three hours early to catch the tail-end of Japan’s magnificent CHAI (side note: they’ll be in DC with my faves Den-Mate on Monday. You should go. I’ll probably still be napping off a music hangover, but have fun in my stead).

A SXSW rookie mistake then occurred. I assumed I had time and hopped onto Rainey Street, in search of tacos and donuts (both of which I found, shoutout to La Sirena and the lavender pistachio almond donuts from Little Lucy’s). I wandered the street and did some people watching. Eventually I snapped out of my reverie and made it back to Container Bar, where a line snaking down the block had formed. As the line progressed and I was two people behind getting in, the fire marshals came to halt entries.

I get it, safety first, but everyone behind me erupted into a chorus of boos. A man parked himself in front of the bouncer, announcing to everyone he wouldn’t be moving until he was let in since “he was in here this morning.” While I’m new to all of this, even I know that’s not how any of this works. Fast forward an hour – including watching The Joy Formidable from outside the bar – and I’m in! I find a sea of tall people. Luckily the guy who was smack in front of me asked if I’d like to sneak in front of them so I could see better – the kindest thing any person under 5’6” can hear.

Broken Social Scene wins the award for longest soundcheck, clocking in at about 30 minutes. I guess when you’ve got about ten people in the band including a brass section, that kind of thing is understandable. As the band takes the stage to raucous applause, their founder, guitarist and vocalist, Kevin Drew declares, “this is a clusterfuck, but so is SXSW,  so let’s get started!”

So I’m learning, Kevin.

The group launches into their set, playing old favorites like “Cause = Time” and “Texico Bitches.” I was hoping for some “Lover’s Spit” (I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between Lorde name dropping that track and a whole generation of new Broken Social Scene fans forming) or “Sweetest Kill,” although I cry on cue as soon as I hear the opening bassline to that song, so its omission was probably for the best.

As their band operates as a rotating cast, save a few permanent members, there’s no Feist, Amy Millan of Stars or Emily Haines of Metric present today. However, there is Ariel Engle, who joined the band for their last album Hug of Thunder. She also records as La Force, and her voice is just as powerful blending into the background as it is leading the band in a breakout hit. A welcome addition, she fits in beautifully with the band and is a reminder of why these rotating cast setups like Broken Social Scene is so great. There’s always room for more, for new, and a freedom in fluidity.

Even with the lengthy soundcheck, the band encountered a few technical difficulties, to which Drew announced, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked up here, ladies and gentlemen.”Despite this, the crowd was unflappable and thoroughly enjoying the music and banter. In fact, I think the highlight of my SXSW experience so far was Drew leaving the crowd with a speech on the evils of the scooters that have taken over the streets of Austin. No really, he’s right, they’re everywhere.

“We’re in our 40s and 50s and this broke us,” he joked. “Between this and all the scooters in the city, this is it.”

Photo: Mike Coleman

Award-Winning Austin Native Jackie Venson Takes SXSW By Storm

To say Jackie Venson is having a moment is a bit of an understatement.

The Austin native and Berklee College of Music graduate, who opened for blues-rock superstar Gary Clark Jr. last year, won the highly-competitive Best Guitar Player award at the Austin Music Awards earlier this month, making her the third woman and the first black woman to take the coveted prize. Venson also has a new album, Joy, dropping April 5. She’ll be playing DC. July 18 at a Sofar party.

On Tap sat down with Venson ahead of her highly-accomplished and entertaining SXSW showcase at Cooper’s BBQ Thursday afternoon, where the 27-year-old rocker incorporated blues, soul, R&B, and reggae into a sound distinctly her own.

OT: Congratulations on your big award as Best Guitar Player at the Austin Music Awards. Being from a town that produced monster guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II, Charlie Sexton and Gary Clark Jr., what does it mean to you to be recognized for this prestigious award?
Venson: It’s pretty crazy – it means literally the world. Austin’s a guitar town and it has a reputation for being a guitar town. It means the world and now I’m going to use it to try and springboard out of Austin, but obviously not forget about Austin. I’m always going to live here. I don’t want to move to L.A. and get lazy (laughs).

OT: How would you describe your sound? You’re hard to pigeonhole.
Venson: Blues, soul, R&B and reggae – that’s pretty much it. Oh, and a shit-ton of rock. Let’s be be real. It’s rock. Actually, if you force me to put one genre on it, I’d say rock. But it is kind of drifting into more pop stylings on the new record. It’s really poppy because I want to get out of Texas.

OT: Austin’s long been known as a blues town. Is it still a blues town, or is it beyond that?
Venson: It’s reputation is for blues and folk and Americana – that whole realm. But there is everything here. There’s an incredible hip-hop scene. It’s not like Houston’s (hip-hop scene). It’s small but mighty. There’s also an unbelievable world music scene here. There’s punk rock, heavy rock, and jazz. Lots of different music here.

OT: What’s next for you in the months ahead?
Venson: I’m dropping the new record, “Joy,” on April 5. And then I’m going to be doing the release party at the Paramount Theater on April 12. Biggest show of my career. Then, in April I’ll start my next record. I’m playing a big corporate gig in May then I’m going off to Europe on tour for a month. I’m doing 19 dates in 25 days.

OT: Tell me about touring and opening for Gary Clark Jr., a guy who is selling out Madison Square Garden and trading licks with Eric Clapton and other blues greats?
Venson: It was an incredible learning experience. It was really nice to see how touring works on that level. To see them deal with problems – things would happen and they’d have to fix it. It was great to see how the sausage is made when it comes to next-level touring. I learned so much – more than I can really track. It was absolutely priceless. He helped me open like 10 new markets and I’m going back to those markets – mostly in the Midwest – this summer. Gary’s a cool dude and his crew is really cool, so we all had a good time together. And the shows were LIT!

OT: Have you played DC. yet? We’d love to see a Jackie Venson show.
Venson: I have not. But I’m playing DC on July 18, it’s a house concert for Stone Room concerts. You should get on my mailing list!

For more information about Jackie Venson click here.