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  South By Southwest 2012  



Austin, TX

  River City Extension, Typhoon, Apparat, Films of Colour, Soft Swells, LightOuts, Blue Sky Black Death, Daughter, Dry the River, Mahogany, and The Spinto Band  
Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:



Ah, SxSW. My vacation. My time to see all those bands I like who never come to Atlanta. My moment to hear random new music in genres I don't normally experience. All in all, SxSW has been this music fan's Mecca. Admittedly, over the years I've been going to SxSW, the crowds have gotten larger and less contained and the nexus of the festival, Austin's 6th street, has become more of one giant Spring Break party. It's been manageable, if irritating, but certainly worth it in the context of the music. So, once again, we headed out to Austin to listen to music and eat good food and, based on prior experiences, have a grand old time.

As usual, we got in on Tuesday, so that we could settle in, visit with friends, and get some sleep before everything started rolling. So it was a bit of a surprise to get our badges and discover that the music portion of SxSW began on Tuesday this year. In fact, one of the bands I wanted to see was only playing on Tuesday evening. However, we already had made dinner plans with the afore-mentioned friends, so we decided to just wait until Wednesday to get the show on the road, so to speak.

On Tuesday, we just wandered around The Trade Show for a while. It is a strange place.

This is, apparently, Glomper.

I have no clue what Glomper is about.

A crane machine that has beer cans in it. Brilliant! We need one of these at The EARL.

Giant army man.

Nice textiles at the Dutch booth.

I like this logo.

There were random hot spots about, and near each
there were a bunch of people on their laptops.

This is a heat lamp. I love the lamp shade.

On this fairly sunny Wednesday, we had several options for day shows. However, PostLibyan really really wanted to see German band Apparat, who just happened to playing the Paste magazine party. So we traipsed over to the venue at a relatively early hour in order to catch them. Once we got in and grabbed some floor space, we noticed a fairly extensive band setup going on. Being not familiar with Apparat, I didn't suspect that anything was awry, so I was taken aback when one of the organizers got on stage and announced that there was going to be scheduling change. Instead of Apparat, the band that was loading in was instead called Typhoon. Apparat would then go on in the next time slot.

  A minor setback to start off our seventh SxSW adventure. Hey, whatever. We got there early enough to grab a free beer (Paste ran out in 20 minutes on this day), so we took our beer sand wandered out to the back patio of the venue, where we could hear music already happening.  

This group was called River City Extension and they were from New Jersey, I believe.

Ostensibly, I think you could call the band "Indie folk" and get close to the style of music they played; however, their live performance was more of a hootenanny. The band walked out into the crowd and sang.

This is what the drum head said. I guess they really like spicy food.

They bounced around and looked to be having quite a good time, which is always a recommendation. I'm sure that a long long set may have been a bit much, but the amount we saw was charming and vaguely reminiscent of the old school, everybody is part of the band ethos of the groups which made up the Elephant 6 collective back in the mid 90s.

  We caught two songs by the band, one on stage that was pleasant and catchy, and then one where they wandered in the crowd singing and clapping. Fun.  

We then wandered back inside where Typhoon were almost done with their setup. Looking at the stage, it appeared that this band had a lot of members, even if I was too short to count them all.

But once they began to play, I immediately thought that this was a band to remember. The music again fell into the vague notion of "Orchestral Indie Rock", primarily on account of some lush sounding string instruments and lovely harmonies. The music was prettily done and the interplay between the lead singer's voice and the melodies reminded me of British band Dry the River (who we planned to catch later on the same night).

This is definitely band I'd like to hear more from, as I suspect that their recorded output will capture the nuances of the ebb and flow of their song even better than the live experience. Score one for the random band!


I liked this band as well. They had a lot of members, including two violinists, but it all worked together rather well.

Typhoon, violin, chair 1.

Typhoon, violin, chair 2.


After Typhoon's set, we stepped outside again to see who was playing on the patio. However, the act seemed very old school country, so PostLibyan and I took the opportunity to begin our plan for the evening shows. After a few minutes out in the sun, we quickly retreated inside and watched Apparat's setup and move close to the stage.

Perhaps we shouldn't have bothered. The band continued to setup and were obviously having sonic difficulty with some of the synths and samplers. The strongly Teutonic drummer looked annoyed, the Jean Reno lookalike synth player looked like he was waiting for Godzilla to show up, and no-one was able to find Apparat (aka, Sascha Ring) himself.

The keyboardist was setup quickly, but it just never sounded right to Herr Ring.

Eventually he showed up and voiced some of his complaints (In both English and German) to the sound guys, who now looked like they wanted to fry some Germans. It was a tense scene, made even more awkward by Apparat's complaint that it was unreasonable to expect a electronic band to set up in 20 minutes (shades of Stars of Track and Field, anyone? I guess I should be happy no-one had on a cravat).

He did have on light purple pants...

Eventually, after much German dialogue and fussy delay, the band began to play and I thought it sounded very nice: electronic, moody, yet catchy at the same time. But after a minute or so, Mr. Ring cut everything out and complained some more.

Eventually things got figured out (and still more complaints were aired) and Apparat began to play again. And again all was right. The music continued to be poppy and shoegaze and dark all at the same time. It was vocally ambient and very intriguing (the guitarist even split his pants from knee to crotch, causing me to say out loud, "I hope he has on underpants").

But after just a few songs (five? six?) , Mr. Ring again called a end to the proceeding and thanked us sarcastically for seeing a live soundcheck. Yeah, whatever German dude. Apparat were one of those sets I wanted to like and, when I heard the music, I knew I would like, but the attitude oozing from the stage was a bit much. Still, Iím glad we stuck around to check out.


I have enjoyed Apparat for a few years now, enjoying their infrequent records. Musically, the five or so songs we heard recreated the recorded sound remarkably well, which given the complex layering the band does is quite a feat. This included a great rendition of Rusty Nails, which i really enjoyed.

However, well, i guess it just wasn't good enough for Herr Ring. Whatever. I figure that every year we see at least one prissy prima donna at SxSW, and that way we learn what bands to avoid if they ever come through Atlanta. The music was great, but the attitude sucked.


We then toddled back to our hotel, so that we could finish our planning for the evening.

Perhaps at that point, it should have struck me that as we looked through the various evening line ups, we had many open spaces (which was something that never occurred at SxSW before). But I was in the spirit and we listened to music samples and checked out band names as we figured out our plans. We wandered down after a while to go grab dinner and came upon a band playing in our hotel lobby.

The band, called Films of Colour, were British and had some lovely melodies and pretty harmonies. Admittedly, they were playing an acoustic set, but they called out PostLibyan (who was taking photos) and told him he had to come to their official evening show on the next night.


: I was the only person there with a camera, as they played to the lobby bar at The Omni. Still, they sounded great, with effected guitars in layers reverbing through the lobby. I really liked what i heard, and was more than willing to add them to the list for Thursday evening.

The drummer (closest to the camera) mostly played by tapping on an iPhone,
but on the last tune he kept time by beating on a ukele, and playing it some. Fun.


After they finished we wandered to the Chi'Lantro truck for Korean/Mexican fusion (Kim Chee Fries rule!). It was then that we realized that the coffee shop attached to our hotel closed early. So, uncaffienated, we took our time and went down to the 6th Street to catch our first band.

Even before we went into the venue, it struck me that for so early, 6th Street was already crowded and chaotic. But I pushed that to the side and we trotted up to Trinity Hall (also known as the Canada House, which will star in future day shows) to catch LA Indie Pop act Soft Swells. This was a fairly random choice, selected because they were on the same showcase as The Pomegranates, who we like, and because the place they were playing was close to another venue to which we were headed.

The Soft Swells began to play and well, here's the thing: they were good. They were Indie Pop. They were enjoyable. And, in the end, they were totally forgettable. It pains me to say it, but since we got home and started working on these reviews, I've been hung up on writing this one. Why? Because I couldn't tell you anything about The Soft Swells. I wasn't intoxicated. I wasn't sleepy. I have absolutely no excuse, because I know I liked the band when I was listening to them. In fact, I recall telling Postlibyan as we talked over this evening in retrospect that I liked Soft Swells more than many of the bands we saw. But after 2 or maybe 3 days, they were utterly unmemorable.


Curses! I was hoping you had some comments on this act. I can't think of anything to say. They were enjoyable, but not memorably so. Oh well.


After The Soft Swells finished, we wandered back to 6th Street to go to our next venue. Even in the short walk, it seemed like there were more people out than normal and they were much more party-oriented than I recalled from previous years. But those thoughts were driven from my mind as we got to the venue and waited. LightOuts were another fairly random act. When we were searching for shows to fill our remarkably empty schedule, we'd come across this band. During my basic Internet search, I came across two similarly named acts: LightOuts (who were from Brooklyn) and Lights Out, Brooklyn. We weren't entirely sure which band we were going to encounter on this evening, but I was willing to go with the uncertainty.

But alas we were in for another long wait, mainly due to technical issues with the setup. Specifically, it seemed like one of the two musicians (both of whom played guitars) couldn't either get the laptop to play appropriately or get his amp to turn on.

The guy in the plaid is wondering why the guy in the white shirt can't remember to turn on the damned amp!


I was annoyed at another long wait, but when one of the guitarists (the one who had figured out his amp!) starting picked out the line to a Billy Bragg tune (i think it was This Guitar Says Sorry) i was impressed.

His guitar says sorry for the wait.


As we stood, pondering the likelihood of two electronic meltdowns in one day, I began to notice some mayhem around me. First, a cop entered with a purposeful stride and went to the upstairs balcony, where other bands were playing (in fact, this was where we were headed next). Second, at least twice, film crews emerged from upstairs, filming the movements of two different individuals who I did not recognize. Finally, at increasingly short intervals, crowds of people would wander in, head for the upstairs, and then end up standing in an increasingly long line. This suggested that our next group would be interesting, to say the least.

Eventually, the band got things more or less figured out and began to play. Even with the programmed drums (of which I am not a fan), LightOuts came across as fun, 80s-style pop band. Think of music that would have been on one of those iconic John Hughes films, sitting right alongside Echo and the Bunnymen and you're in the right music vicinity. Likewise, the band got extra points for being self-deprecating and fairly laid back despite the difficulties of their set up. I rather enjoyed them and liked their set. I think I would have liked them even more had they managed to dig up a live drummer, if only to make their set up easier.

  They were two guitars, a lot of effects, and a drum machine. The music was catchy post-punk. I love that kind of stuff, and they played it well.  
  Pleased with this random band, we then moved to the upstairs (where the line had dissipated). The next random band in our evening of randomness was called Blue Sky Black Death. We chose this act mainly because of the really cool name. In our research of the SxSW website, they were classified as "electronic" and the swirling music sample they submitted seemed to support this description. However, once we got upstairs, I thought it seemed odd that an electronic group would playing at an all hip-hop lineup. Stranger things have been seen at the festival, so we settled in and waited only a short time until the music started.  
  The first song they played was an electronic collage, a mess of swirling sounds all colliding with one another. I found it odd that some heavily tattooed guy holding a mic stood between the two guys with the tables of electronics...  

I'm sure if someone had been looking at my face when Blue Sky Black Death began, they would have seen the shock on my face as this guy began to rap loudly and heavily about drugs and women. Oh my. This was not a place I wanted to be. In case, this first impression was incorrect, we gave it another half a song and then Postlibyan and I gestured at each other and we escaped into the night.


So, yeah, the first song they did was interesting ambient electronic. Then a rapper joined them, and the music became bland -- they toned down the ambientness as focused more on just beats. The instrumental song had been different, but with the rapper they came across as generic.

Why is it that hip-hop acts tend to take most of the interesting things out of their music when they have a rapper? Do they expect that the rapper will be so interesting that people will not notice that the music behind him is so stripped down? This is one of the things i dislike about modern hip-hop. Then again, i am a middle aged white guy from Amish Country in Ohio, so i am not exactly their target audience. Oh well. I will say this -- i could have stood in the crowd listening to 40 minutes that were like that first song they played, but i was not willing to stand there for 40 minutes listening to stripped down music and some guy rapping about how much of a badass he is.


We now had an empty timeslot in front of our next band. Reverting to our usual plan, we decided to head over to our favorite Austin venue, The Red-eyed Fly, to see whatever band was playing before the much anticipated (by me at least) set of Dry the River. And so we began to minor trot of maybe four blocks up to The Red-eyed Fly.

As we dodged amongst the hordes of people, it finally occurred to me that the crowds we were seeing were the types of crowds we normally would see on the last night of SxSW, when the college kids come back and 6th Street turns into a mass of drunken revelers. But, this was only the first real night, which suddenly implied that things were only going to get wilder as the week progressed. This was not an auspicious omen for the rest of the festival.

Anyway, although our walk took much longer than usual (dodging drunk, texting hordes will do that), we slide into the familiarity of The Red-eyed Fly. On stage (not that I could see it particularly well from my vantage point on the outside patio at the Fly) was an act called Daughter.

From our earlier research, it had appeared that Daughter actually represents the female singer/songwriter who is the basis of the group. However, on this evening, she appeared to be backed by other musicians. I thought her music was nicely done and almost ambient/electronic in nature. In other words, it didnít have that confessionally earnest feel that I tend to associate with the modern singer/songwriter genre and that is a good thing. So for a last minute band substitution, this was not a bad selection.


Daughter was interesting. Live them came across as a folky dreampop band, with lush layers of sound. However, The Red-eyed Fly was not the perfect venue for this type of delicate music. I found it hard to hear the band with all of the other noise going on (The Red-eyed Fly is open to the outside on two and a half sides, so sound seeps in). I would like to see this band in a quieter place where is could sit at a table with a nice cup of coffee.


But ultimately, we were at The Red-eyed Fly. to see Dry the River, so I was happy once Daughter ended. PostLibyan and I waited for the mass exodus of the crowd (Daughter apparently had some kind of buzz going on about them). Then we hopped off the patio and moved into the venue proper and onto the very rocky, very uneven floor. As we stood, watching the band set up, I have to confess I had a sudden wish that I had worn shoes with a padded sole (like my Docs), as the rocks on the floor were slowly cutting into my feet and causing me to lock my knee so I did not accidentally sprain an ankle or something. But this was a small price to pay as Dry the River took the stage.

You see, one year ago, at SxSW, we had randomly picked Dry the River as a band to see. I think at the time the description I read sounded vaguely like Spiritualized and I thought that sounded pretty durn cool. When we saw them, I recall being taken about for two reasons. First off, they sounded nothing like Spiritualized at all. Rather, this band had a musical interplay that managed to be delicate and cathartic at the same time. Ans secondly, the lead singerís voice (and the way it harmonized with the other musicians in band) was breathtakingly beautiful. Seriously, he had the most lovely male voice Iíd heard in years. Anyway, suffice to say, I became something of a fan and waited to see them again.

Now, one year later, it seems like Dry the River have gotten a fair amount of press and notice in Europe. However, their first album has not yet been released in the U.S., and they seem to be a bit under the radar over her. This impression was born out at The Red-eyed Fly, where the crowd wasnít exactly sparse, but they werenít wall to wall in the manner I would have expected.

Still, once the band began to play, I heard that delicate music and gorgeous voice once again. I was surprised at how many of the songs I recognized, either from the previous year or from the EP or two I managed to acquire since then.

I know they played History Book (which I adore) as well as other tunes that seemed familiar. I recognized the riff and chorus of Family tree (which I had loved back in 2011), although the song seemed to have be re-written and re-lyriced to some degree. But none of that matter as I watched this band come together and ebb and flow and invoke a feeling of joy not only from themselves but from the people who stood around me in the crowd. It was the first absolutely brilliant set of SxSW and I was well pleased with the bandís offering.


They sounded really good tonight. This band continues to get better.


Once they finished and the haze of music cleared, I realized how much my feet and knees ached from the stone floor. However, PostLibyan really wanted to send a band called Mahogany, who just happened to be playing at the midnight slot several blocks away.

Already exhausted (remember the lack of caffeine?) and now in severe pain, we hobbled off to a venue called Karma, which seemed like a nice enough place with air-conditioning, a decent beer selection, and very few people (unlike 6th Street, which had gotten even more chaotic while we were holed up at The Red-eyed Fly).

However, when we entered the venue with a couple of minutes to spare before the midnight slot, we found Mahogany already well into their set. This was disappointing as I was in the mood for some dream pop to take my mind of my tiredness.

We only managed to see a few songs from this group, then. I liked what I heard, especially once I moved from in front of the bar and over to one of the benches that lined a wall (it probably also helped that I was finally sitting down). It was sort of swirly dream-poppiness, which probably comes across better recorded than it did live on this evening. Still, the effects and swirls worked well in the context of my brain at this late hour.


Mahogany are not the most productive of bands, only having released a handful of material in eleven years. However, i saw them open for Ulrich Schnauss in New York back in 2007, and they were amazing. Their recorded work is a swirling mass of syncopated rhythms, tinkling keyboards, effected guitars, and light vocals. I saw them re-create that sound live once...

But that is not what we got tonight. When i saw them in New York, i think there were six or seven people on stage. Tonight, Mahogany played as a four-piece rock band. Andrew Prinz sang and played guitar, the female lead guitarist and bassist were both the same. They had a different drummer though, one with a heavier touch. The overall effect was less dreampop and more shoegaze, less ethereal, more rock. Not what i was expecting or hoping for, but oh well.

  Since Mahogany ended early, and we still had another band to go, and those benches were indeed rather comfortable, Postlibyan and I decided to stick around for the next group. They were called The Spinto Band and Postlibyan swore, from his research that we had seen them in a previous incarnation.  
  They used to be called Free Beer back in the 1990s, and i remember thinking that the name was a brilliant piece of marketing.  

I wasn’t so sure until I saw the band members on the stage and I thought I recognized a few of them. So, apparently, this was a group we had seen before. Who knew?

Anyway, The Spinto Band were exactly what I needed to hear after a long day in Austin. They were happy and bouncy and they had fans! The were quirky and poppy and reminded more than a little of Austin band Oh No, Oh My. I sat happily on my bench, bopping my head along with the band, smiling despite my sleepiness. Seriously, even when I’m half-asleep and in a fugue state, I can appreciate some good pop.

Still, even though The Spinto Band (who I keep calling the Squinto band) was entertaining, after just a few minutes, the exhaustion hit me hard (and it hit PostLibyan upside the head as well), so we decided to call it an evening and hobble back to the hotel. Clearly, if things were going to be this mayhem-y, we needed a good night’s sleep before dealing with Day 2.

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:
   River City Extension:
   Films of Colour:
   Soft Swells:
   Blue Sky Black Death:
   Dry the River:
   The Spinto Band:


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