One of the best highlights of Barcelona is the Mercé festival, a massive street party that marks the end of the summer and welcomes the autumn chill. Most people go for the fire running (the correfocs), fireworks, and light shows, but the best part of the whole event is the cornucopia of completely free concerts around the city. Bands such as Love of Lesbian and Man Man have graced the stage in years previous, but this year a very unique band appeared from the depths of Catalan rock culture.
A little background. I was out on the Sunday of the festival with two friends, and we had chosen to see a band called Lanterns on the Lake, an ambient, folky post rock group from Newcastle. Their show was a thing of subtle beauty, as was the show that followed it on another stage close by, where French band Moodoïd performed. After cinematic rock and whatever sci-fi genre mashing Moodoïd pulled off, we thought we’d seen everything. But the most surprising, incredible, and fully crazy was yet to come.
Seward’s stage set-up was a perplexing array of folk instruments, little percussion doodads, and weird electronic devices. As the lights dimmed, their name appeared on a screen, and rhumba music blasted from the speakers. But what followed was anything but. The four-piece group, comprised of a guitarist/sample master, drummer, bass player (normally a guitarist, but the fifth member, the real bassist, was absent), and lead singer/guitarist/banjo player, took the stage and rocketed into the most gorgeous cacophony I’ve ever heard. If ‘thrash folk’ were a genre, they were playing it, and defying it at that.
For an hour, I stood mesmerized as this goliath of folk/math/prog rock/something trounced every assumption about music I’d ever believed. The drummer played at least four different time signatures per song, the singer wailed like a bearded hipster banshee, the bassist brought in a helping of polyrhythmic heart, and that other guitarist added in so many surreal, powerful details, including a few perfectly timed theremin melodies. Also, four brass/woodwind players appeared on two tunes. Overall, a death-defying performance. By the end of it, I wasn’t sure of what had just occurred, the only sure thing being the beautiful ringing in my ears.
Unfortunately, seeing this band is really the only way to experience them. I’m not saying this as a live music purist; as it happens, the group has the most minimal online presence of any group I’ve ever seen. They haven’t got a Facebook, Bandcamp, or Myspace, instead relying on word of mouth and third parties to promote their concerts. Without this digital outreach, though, they’ve landed gigs at festivals like La Mercé, Primavera Sound, and SxSW, which is a big deal for a band from across the ocean without social media tentacles everywhere. It’s as if they appear from the woodwork to tear apart a stage, then disappear as if they were never there.
Googling Seward won’t even yield more than a couple results about the band. In fact, you type in Seward and you get the town in Alaska (trying “Seward band” will get you high school bands from that area). After trying “Seward Barcelona band,” I uncovered videos they did with the Furious Sessions, a collaboration in Barcelona between Sol de Sants Studios and RiD produccions, a live music video project. However, their videos for this collaboration are much more relaxed than their live show–it’s still very worth a viewing/listening, but doesn’t have the same umph of their on stage insanity. Also, they have two records, but they are 12” and not easy to locate and purchase.
Does the fact that I may never see this band again or listen to a full recording make me respect the band or enjoy their music more? Possibly, but I’ll say this: more bands should take a cue from Seward. Everyone is completely turned off by being forced into ownership of albums (read: Songs of Innocence), so staying secretive creates a demand, and fulfills expectations more when the performance is stellar. Not having any social media attached to them means they aren’t compromising at all, and are not trying to define what it is they do to a sound-bite consuming audience. They appear to thrash through impossibly complex tunes, and disappear, knowing their fans will care enough about them to actually pay attention rather than let a swath of finite media morsels water down their incredibly passionate material.
They’ve gotten their acclaim solely based on their music and shows, winning awards and playing big stages, never uttering a single seemingly clever tweet anywhere. That’s the type of band to watch for.