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  South By Southwest 2012  



Austin, TX


The Wilderness of Manitoba, Art of Fresh, Abby Mott, Hatcham Social, Birdcall, Chamberlin, Pompeii, Fort Frances, Eli Mardock, The Loom, Mariana Bell, and The Ladders

Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  
Photographs by:



I woke refreshed and, i have to be honest, kind of relieved that Tracers and i had agreed to forgo SxSW today and just go somewhere and relax. I also felt a bittersweet relief that this would be my last day at SxSW, probably ever.

SxSW has become a giant party -- it is spring break with bands instead of bikinis. The main drag of Sixth Street is practically wall-to-wall with staggering people (either drunk, texting, or both) most of the day, and certainly all evening. It is practically impossible to get anywhere, and many people who are not attending SxSW pay to get into events, then camp out there, taking up space. There were a few bands i would have liked to see, but i could not get in to see them.

It is a shame, really. At first, back in 2005 and 2006, SxSW was really fun. I felt at home here. I saw bands, surrounded mostly by a few people in lanyards or wristbands -- fellow music fans like me. It felt like i was among "my people", a feeling that i have very rarely experienced in my life.

But as the years progressed, SxSW became more and more hectic, more about the party and not about the music. Now most of the people you encounter are not part of the Festival. I would be really curious to know what the ratio of Festival-goers to partiers was, but i donít think anyone has those statistics. Those first few years, it felt like at least three out of every four people i saw was part of the festival, in their lanyard or wristband. But this year it was probably less than one in ten.

  As a corollary to PostLibyan's observations, let me also note that, with the exception of Blue Sky Black Death and Films of Colour, no shows we went to was all that crowded. It was like everyone was out on the party circuit and no-one was there to see the music (Of course, I will note that we did witness a huge line one night of folks trying to get into the Pitchfork showcase…)  

When i think about it, this really pisses me off. SxSW went from being about music to being a big frat party. No, to being ANOTHER frat party, because the type of person who wants it to be a giant party already have a ton of events like that. They didnít need another spring break place -- they can just go to New Orleans or Daytona or Branson, etc etc. They didnít need to take this event as well, filling it with constantly chatting people who think that reading the name on your badge and saying, "Oh, i like Atlanta. Fun town." establishes some kind of bond of friendship which lets them babble on and on at you while you are trying to hear the band.

  Or you have the folks who see Atlanta on the badge and say, "I like this rapper from Atlanta", as if there were only one. As if I wanted to talk about hip-hop while I'm watching my math rock. It's kind of like the girl who mentioned she knew someone from Atlanta and then said her friend's name as if Atlanta has a population of say, 500.  

There are many people who like the giant party aspect of SxSW, and to them i say fondly, die in a fire. I liked SxSW because it gave me the opportunity to experience a lot of music in one convenient location, not because it gave me the chance to talk to a lot of random people. In fact, i hate talking to random people. Sure, there were always lots of people, but it was very rare for me to be at a show that was so packed i could not move, or so talkative that i couldnít hear the band.

This year at one point it took me twenty minutes to navigate through the crowd for four blocks between venues. That should have been a five minute walk, max, but instead the entirety of Sixth Street and Red River was like the inside of one giant, blacktop-floored, packed club.

Also, once inside venues, there were several times i could see the band playing, but instead could only hear the conversations people near me were having. There were shows that i wanted to get up front and take some pictures, but there was barely room to move.

After that twenty minute walk that should have been five minutes, EvilSponge spent significant amounts of time planning to avoid the main drag. We devoted a lot of mental effort into planning how we could enjoy ourselves, see music, and not spend all of our time swimming in a sea of peop le. That really sucked. It annoys me when i think about it. We did come up with a good, workable plan for Friday, giving me a night i really enjoyed. But we shouldn't have had to do that.

SxSW is dead. Austin Music Based Spring Break Weekend will live forever. Dammit.

I sat on the bench outside the Omni sipping my morning coffee and letting all of this run through my head. It really bummed me out. But oh well. Move on.

  As PostLibyan was having this existential moment, I instead spent my morning going, "I wasted my vacation on this?" Sure there were many bands (mostly non-American, if I must be truthful) that I liked and was happy to see, especially since many of them will never ever make it over to Atlanta. But the time and effort we spent in getting to Austin and then maneuvering around the mayhem really decreased (if not nullified) the enjoyment to annoyance ratio. Blah.  

I went up to the room and spent some time pouring through the day show listings, trying to find an off-strip venue that we could camp at, just hang out and have a good time. I searched the listings for the names of bands we really liked. It didn't look like Dry the River were playing on Saturday. Nor were Library Voices, Computer Magic, Maps and Atlases, or Dead Leaf Echo.

But, it turns out, Alpine are headlining a day show at The Crow Bar, a little ways south of the river on Congress. I looked at the listing -- many bands i did not recognize. But there was Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, a Beijing-based band i was curious to see just because they are from China. And after them -- Hatcham Social, whose debut record i really enjoyed two years ago.

This looked promising, so i clicked through to the venue website. It looked like a decent enough place with a pretty good beer menu. I looked it up on the map, and scrolled to see what was nearby, perhaps another day show we could walk to if things got slow. Instead, a few blocks north, shining like a beacon on the map: Habana. I clicked the link, and yes, this was indeed the excellent Cuban place we used to eat at multiple times a trip during the first few years we came to Austin. Some of the best food i have ever had. They were not gone, they had only closed their Sixth Street location.

My mind was made up: Hatcham Social, random Chinese music, Alpine, and Cuban food. Hells yeah! Tracers was down with this plan, and we were set. Our last ever night at SxSW would be spent off site, avoiding the Festival/party. No mayhem for us, thank you.

  Hallelujah! We found a plan and we found our food and I was happy to metaphorically flip off Sixth Street and St. Patrick's Day.  

We had some time to kill, so we walked down to Canada House, where The Wilderness of Manitoba were playing. I didn't know what to expect from this band, but for some reason i thought they were a catchy Canadian pop act, like The Rural Alberta Advantage. I mean, they have a similar kind of name, right? Well, it turns out that The Wilderness of Manitoba is an Americana act. Wait, would that be Canadiana?

That dress is so Canadiana!

At any rate, this was a band that took some country elements and blended them with pop and a little rock. They were decent.

  As I mentioned before, one of our laws of SxSW (right after "stay hydrated") seems to be when in doubt, go with the Canadians. Since neither of was that hungry yet, we decided go on down to Canada House….and listen to Americana? I suppose since Manitoba in a plains-based province, Americana/Canadiana would be natural. I think. Still, the music was relatively well done and I really did like the harmonies of The Wilderness of Manitoba.  

The next act, however, was Canadian hip-hop. They were billed as Art of Fresh, but apparently that act is a duo, and only half of them could make it. However, this was not gangsta rap, nor was it crunk. Instead, Art of Fresh was one guy in a cardigan and a tie (!!!!) rapping over a recording of turntabled jazz.

It is scientifically impossible to be "gangsta" in a cardigan. Mr. Rogers proved this!

Watching him go and listening, it felt like i was seeing an early show by A Tribe Called Quest or Diggable Planets. Back when i liked hip-hop, and thought it was interesting. Living in Atlanta, where hip-hop has become about posturing, bitches, and guns, etc. i had no idea people still made this type of music. People were break-dancing, the guy in the cardigan was bouncing around, the music was interesting. What fun. I actually enjoyed a hip-hop show at SxSW! Damned non-threatening Canadian hip-hop!

  I liked a hip-hop show too! I'm surprised the world didn't end right on the spot. But this was, as PostLibyan points out, more jazzy and mellow than most hip-hop I encounter. And truly, the guy in the cardigan and tie was adorable, especially when he said that one of his songs was inspired by the nice PJs you get in Japanese hotels. This was not your mother's gangsta rap.  

We swung by the Chi'Lantro truck on the way back to The Omni for another round of Kim Chee Fries (oh my god, these are so awesome!). Then we piled into the Brendan-Mobile and headed south on Congress, past the throngs on Sixth Street, and the smaller throngs at Second Street, and over the river.

There were all sorts of things going on between Riverside and Orltorf -- a mile or so of street fairs, artists markets, and day shows. Lots of people wandering around, and tourists having a hard time figuring out the "park at an angle" street side parking that Austin uses in order to do away with parallel parking. We passed Habana, and parked at The Crow Bar. It looked like an old house, and is next to a neighborhood. There is a nice bar in a gravel "yard" out front, and a couple of dark interior rooms.

  I saw The Crow Bar and I knew I had found my people. It looked like the folks you'd see at The Star Bar or some music festival here at home. I was glad of our choice.  

As we walked up a folk act was playing on the outside stage. I think this was Abby Mott. I have no real impression of this artist, but i did not hate what she was doing.

We wandered inside to check things out, in time to see the Chinese band tearing down their gear. We grabbed a good beer (love that Envy Amber) and wandered around. We watched some of the outside performance, and stood enjoying the windy and partly cloudy day, and relaxed crowd. We wandered back inside. It looked like Hatcham Social were soundchecking. The singer sat, bored, on the edge of the stage while the rest of the band watched Leprechaun playing on the Syfy channel on a TV mounted on the wall across from the stage.

Wait, why is the leprechaun killing so many people? Is this because we keep stealing his cereal?

They played, but were not into it. Of course, at this time they were playing to: the bartender, the keyboardist for Chamberlin, and the owners of The Crow Bar. Until we walked in, there were no actual spectators. They did not seem too pleased at this.


I felt really bad for Hatcham Social. At one point, when we thought they were still sound-checking, my eyes met those of their lead singer and Iím not sure who looked more embarrassed. Then I realized they were actually playing (even though the afore-mentioned lead singer was just sitting on the front of the stage) and I blushed and made sure to clap more.

Tracers now has an indescrible yet Leprechaun based bond with this person.

As a funny side note, PostLibyan mentions that the band were distracted by the movie Leprechaun. What he didn't see is that the bar had the closed-captioning on so various band members kept giggling when the evil leprechaun would appear on the screen to the caption of "HA! HA!". Cracked me up, too.


Despite their bored and vaguely irritated attitude, i thought they played well. They played five songs of post-punkish Britpop, and it was catchy and fun. Then again, i think i enjoyed the show much much more than the band did. Oh well. I would go and see them, if they ever came through Atlanta.

We wandered back outside in time to watch Birdcall. Fronted by a quirky woman, this band played a kind of synthpop. They were a three-piece, and made catchy music with oddly expressive vocals. It was pleasant.

Birdcall in action.

Oddly enough, the grackles were not attracted to this band.

Back inside for Chamberlin, who Tracers told me were a band from Vermont famous for doing other people's tunes (Vampire Weekend, etc) in an Americana style. So, a sort of cover band?


As Chamberlin loaded in, the drummer came up behind me with his gear and said, "Excuse me, Ma'am. Don't trip." I thought that was kind of adorable, so I was already predisposed to like them, even before they played a note.

Vermonters are polite -- must be all that ice cream.


Indeed, they played Americana. Not my favorite genre, but the band was having fun playing to less than a handful of people, and i really liked the guitarwork, which was shimmering and bright, almost dreampoppish. If they lost the vague drawl (which begs the question of why do kids from Vermont drawl anyway?), this could have been light shoegaze.

  I agree: this more dream pop than Americana, which meant I liked it. I’m not sure why it would be termed as "Americana" unless it was because of the drawl and/or the plaid thrift-store shirts. I should probably check out one of their recordings.  

The Crow Bar began to fill up at this point and the reason for this was two-fold. First, the show in question had free beer for half an hour, and lots of people showed up for a free glass. Secondly, this coincided with the set by local act Pompeii, so their friends also showed up.

I was unfamiliar with Pompeii, but as they set up i saw a lot of pedals.

Indeed, they make post-rock vaguely similar to fellow Austinians Explosions in the Sky, only with vocals. The vocalist has kind of a high-pitched voice, making them seem vaguely like Sigur Ros. The crowd seemed to get into them, and they were excited to announce they will have a new record soonish. I enjoyed them.

  I got the feeling that Pompeii had friends around, which would explain some of the crowd. The free hour of beer would explain the rest. But this was nice and it was inside and dimly lit, which is how I expect to hear my shoegaze.  

Up next was Fort Frances, a three-piece Americana act from Chicago. My response: not bad, but not my thing, and not good enough at it to interest me, unlike Chamberlin.

The next act was something of a wildcard. The name was Eli Mardock, and we had no idea who this was. A quick search on the internet revealed that he was the former frontman of a Nebraska band called Eagle*Seagull. They broke up a few years back, the other two members becoming Conduits (who, coincidentally, EvilSponge have received promos for), and Mr. Mardock going off to record a "solo" record. I was dreading earnest singer-songwriter here.

However, the term "solo" doesn't just mean a guy with an acoustic guitar. Mr. Mardock played with a full band, including his new wife (the Yoko of Eagle*Seagull, apparently) on keyboards.

She is significantly taller than Yoko.

The music was interesting, dark, new wave. Mrs. Mardock sang on a few of the songs, and her voice is slightly weaker and less sure than Mr. Mardock's. When he sang, the voice and the keys and the effected guitar all blended together wonderfully. She just needs more practice, i think. Overall, i was impressed.


This was a surprise. I too was expecting earnest singer-songwriter. I liked the fact that I got new wavey pop instead, along with a humorous frontman.


At this point we needed solid food, so we left The Crow Bar and walked up the street to Habana.

We got a table outside on the nice covered patio, and ordered tostones and a round of Cuban beers made by the restaurant. We relaxed on the patio, enjoying the calm atmosphere, the breezy late afternoon, and the ambiance. Food came, and EvilSponge were in food heaven. Tracers got the Cuban pulled pork, which was moist and vinegary. I got the fricasee de pollo, which is chicken slow cooked with yuca, potato, tomato, onion, and peppers in a spicy broth with cumin and (i think) paprika. It was divine. I need to figure out how to make this... I ended the meal with a nice cup of Cuban coffee, the sweetness and bitterness balanced to round out the meal.

It was, quite honestly, a perfect meal. Oh, how i missed this place. If only we had a great Cuban restaurant in Atlanta. Why don't we?

Pleasantly happy, we walked back to The Crow Bar in time to catch The Loom. This was a fascinating band. They had a french horn (!) -- how often do you see French Horn?

SxSW needs more French Horn!

And they made complex, yet catchy pop. It was light and delicate yet had a good beat. I might have just been cruising on an excellent Cuban food high, but i really liked what they were doing, and stood entranced watching them perform.


I may have been on a Cuban food high as well, but I really liked this act. It was vaguely reminiscent of Saturday Looks Good to Me (circa Every Night) and it had French Horn. Now that's something you don't encounter every day, although maybe we should.


Outside Ms. Mariana Bell played decent folk music. I liked her voice okay, but after the greatness of The Loom, her music felt anemic. You know what would have helped? A French horn!

They began taking down the outside stage as soon as Ms. Bell was finished, so we headed inside for The Ladders. This is another Austin band, and apparently it is the local answer to Devo. They made mathematically complex synthpop, and for some reason i kept thinking they would look perfect in flowerpot hats. To be honest, they were kind of a disappointing. But oh well.

There had been some hinting (but no official announcement) that The Ladders were the last act, meaning that Alpine had cancelled. We waited around until they began disassembling the inside stage as well. Darnit. I would have liked to see Alpine again, but oh well. SxSW was over for The Crow Bar. It was over for us as well. We piled into the Brendan-mobile, and hit the road.

Navigating back to The Omni was a challenge -- there was a very drunk couple on a scooter weaving in and out of traffic in front of us. I was worried that they would spill off and i would crush someone, so i drove extra slow. That was annoying. But we made it back, and headed to sleep early.

  That drive back from the Crow Bar was hands down the most terrifying time at SxSW. Besides the drunk and swerving scooter (who also tried to drag race a guy on a real motorcycle), there were staggering drunks who randomly trotted into the street as well as cabs who just randomly stopped trying to pick up passengers. Nerve-wracking, at best.  

We got up at 4 the next morning, to head out to the airport, our homes, and our cats. I stood looking out the window seeing people still drunk and staggering through the streets. As we got in the car, there was a guy on the floor above of us who should not have been driving his truck in that state. He pulled aside to let us pass.

  As we left the hotel to head out to the airport, we could see the last of the drunken revelers staggering down the street to get food at some open food trucks. I could see piles of garbage laying everywhere -- in the streets, on the sidewalks, in the gutters. I could also see a few folks curled up and sleeping (presumably) where they had fallen the night before. It seemed somehow like a statement on this year's SxSW, which will be my last. As we got on the interstate, I said out loud, "Good riddance."  

I was kind to sad to leave Austin. There is a good chance i will never be back. Oh well. I can say that i really enjoyed SxSW for several years, but not this year. This year the partying really got to be too much for me. I can no longer recommend this event to music fans. It is not about the music anymore.

Related Links:

Read our entire SxSW12 review:
     Wednesday, 14 March, featuring River City Extension, Typhoon, Apparat, Films of Colour, Soft Swells, LightOuts, Blue Sky Black Death, Daughter, Dry the River, Mahogany, and The Spinto Band.
     Thursday 15 March, featuring Dead Leaf Echo, Alpine, Sneaky Hand, Cloudeater,
Gold Beach, Films of Colour, Vacationer, Japanese Gum, Wooden Hand, Cardinal, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Maps & Atlases.

Friday 16 March, featuring The Blind Shake, My Education, Library Voices, Hooded Fang, Computer Magic, The Mynabirds, Ganglians, Unicycle Loves You, and A Classic Education.
Saturday 17 March, featuring The Wilderness of Manitoba, Art of Fresh, Abby Mott, Hatcham Social, Birdcall, Chamberlin, Pompeii, Fort Frances, Eli Mardock, The Loom, Mariana Bell, and The Ladders.
Band links for today:
   The Wilderness of Manitoba:
   Art of Fresh:
   Abby Mott:
   Beau Jennings:!/beaujennings
   Hatcham Social:!/hatchamsocial
   Fort Frances:!/thefortfrances
   Eli Mardock:!/elimardock
   The Loom:
   Mariana Bell:!/marianabell
   The Ladders:


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