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  South By Southwest 2011  



Austin, TX


Judgement Day, Rah Rah, King David, Gold Motel, Ólöf Arnalds, Summer Camp, Dry the River, Eisley, Sun Airway, Small Black, and Parts & Labor

Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:



After a Tuesday evening of visiting friends and as part of the EvilSponge master plan to just enjoy ourselves as SxSW, we decided not to push ourselves too much on the first day. Therefore the morning/early afternoon consisted primarily of people watching in Austin, trekking to Whole Foods for sustenance, and, finally, wandering 6th street so we can re-familiarize ourselves with the lay of the land. This was mainly so that we could check out the names of the venues (since Austinís bars rename themselves on a fairly regular basis), but it also allowed us to wander by the various day shows to see if we heard any interesting sounds or bands.

Tracers indicates the clearly marked Fire Lane.


As we walked up to Sixth Street, there was a trio playing in the road.  They had cello, drums, and violin.  They looked like smelly hippies, but the violinist was actually playing some classical piece that I almost recognized.  It's something i have on CD, probably German, from the 17th century or so…  Anyway, he was playing it really fast, and it sounded great with the drums and the cello accompanying it.  The band was called Judgement Day and i enjoyed the five minutes or so we stood there and watched them play.


We continued our wandering, and did hear one group that sounded kind of fun: Kite Flying Robot. We couldnít hear too much of their sound as it wafted out over 6th street, but what we did hear sounded interesting.

  Some kind of catchy pop act.  Absolutely love the band name though!  

Beyond that, nothing too much caught our fancy and we decided to work on our evening schedules instead. This year, for the first time, it seems liked our evenings had more than a few open spaces. This meant that we needed to look through the band listings and then, through a complex algebraic procedure that includes variable such as "probability of annoying crowds" and "likelihood of decent restrooms" and "does the club server decent beer", came up with some random bands to check out.

Having spent awhile doing this, PostLibyan and I subsequently got it in our heads to wander over to the convention center to see what was up with the trade show booths, especially since the handy-dandy promo bags didnít contain much this year. When we entered the trade show, the first thing we came upon was a MapQuest (MapQuest still exists? Who knew?) booth, wherein they were handing out tiny sipping glasses of beer. Nice.

  It was a pretty good beer too.  Some Texan brew that i had never heard of before, but which was brown and tasty, not too hoppy.  I forget what it was called.  
  As I sipped my beer, I turned down the aisle, which directed us to the Canadian music trade booth, where a band that had just set up was beginning to sing. Somewhat distracted, I then stopped dead in my tracks because there in the middle of the aisle was a very fluffy, very white animatronic cat. Next to the cat sat a hand written sign with "Rah Rah" scrawled upon it. I pointed the cat out to PostLibyan who started to giggle with me.  

And you know i had to photo this:


In the meantime, the band (not surprisingly called Rah Rah) was performing and, liking what we heard, we decided to stand around and check out the band.  (O.K. maybe I was really interested in watching people interact with cat, but the band seemed entertaining, too). 

Anyway, although Rah Rah were playing very quietly and without true percussion, I rather liked the few songs I heard.  The interplay between the male lead vocalist and the various female singers reminded a bit of the quieter moments of Venice Is Sinking.  However, when I listened closely, I could also tell that the lyrics were humorous and the music itself was rather appealing, especially with the bounce of the rhythm and jangliness of the chording and keyboards.  Sure, things seemed a little twee-ish at times, but I was fairly certain this was more an effect of the situation and I thought Rah Rah might be even more appealing when they could rock out a little with drums and without having to worry about being too loud. 

We may have enjoyed Rah Rah, but the other people at the booth look bored.

  At this time, I thought them a twee band, along the lines of Windbirds and Peacechimes, or whoever it was we saw a few years back at the convention center.  The lyrics were witty though, and that stuck out.  

Furthermore, I did really enjoy sipping my drink and watching the animated cat, especially when one woman crept up to the cat and began to pet it.

After that little interlude, we wandered around a bit more but didnít see anything else that interested me.


About half of the trade show still seemed to be from the SxSW Interactive side of things, which was fine as both of us work in the general IT world. It was interesting to see what companies had booths.

Some fun pics were taken of the Interactive Booths:

Holy Body Suits Batman, The Riddler is at SxSW Interactive!
What nefarious plot is she planning now? had a huge booth, where they were running some kind of game show with prizes. We stood and watched the mayhem for a bit.

  Bored with the trade show, we wandered outside.  
  We went over to the registrant's tent to get a free shot of Macallan. Yum. While we were there sipping our whiskey, being buffeted by the harsh Texan winds, and watching the crowd, a genuine character came in. This guy had on a seersucker suit and had an elaborate hairdo involving what seemed to be coiled dreadlocks. He stood out in a crowd.  
  We left the tent and went in search of food.  This resulted in a dinner of marginally functional barbeque (nothing spectacular, but it was food), which would at least provide sustenance for the evening ahead.  

I was unimpressed with the BBQ from the truck that advertized Austin's Best BBQ. It was functional, but not worth noting. Then again, BBQ is very regional, and Texas style is a far cry from the stuff i get at home. (These people do not even belong in the same league with Fox Brothers or Williamson Brothers.) If that was good Texas BBQ, then i am unimpressed.

After this we wandered down to the lobby of the Hilton to get a functional cup of caffeine goodness from the cafť. As we walked through the lobby, the interesting guy in the seersucker suit was on the stage there, with a band. As soon as i saw him with a guitar, i expected to hear something a la Devandra Banhart, or at least in the freak-folk vein. Instead, all i heard was him and the band do a mediocre cover of We Didn't Start the Fire, which, if you have to cover Billy Joel, is a truly strange choice. He then said that his name was King David, and talked about where else he would be performing.

King David didn't start the fire...

Huh. So what we have learned is that King David didn't start the fire. So who did? Bet he is going to blame this on the Philistines, isn't he?


With coffee in hand, it was time for SxSW to truly begin. Historically, the first band we see at the evening showcase sort of sets the tone for the entire event. If it goes well and we enjoy the band, then it always seems like SxSW itself will be enjoyable; if it ends up being somewhat questionable, thenÖ

Anyway, this first slot was filled with one of PostLibyanís ďmust seeĒ bands: Gold Motel from Chicago. He was most insistent that we needed to see this band, especially because he thought I would really like their 60s sunny girl-group sound. Now, admittedly, Iíd heard their music before. But, even though it was kinda fun, it just didnít grab me in the way I expected. Still, Iím the first one to admit that, when listening to new music, I really need to hear something live before itíll connect with me. So with that in mind (and recalling that they have a good draft beer selection), we trudged on down to "Billboard at Buffalo Billiards" (try saying that 5 times fast).

After a short wait (and with a nice draft beer in hand), Gold Motel managed to get themselves rounded up. They then bounced out onto the stage, and I was quickly able to understand PostLibyanís enjoyment of the band. While it seemed like they did more mellower stuff from their album, Summer House, I really liked the way the band sped some of it up. Likewise, the female vocalist seemed looser and her voice came across stronger in this live performance (as opposed to via the recorded medium). Furthermore, the band themselves were both entertaining as well as just plain good. On one side of the stage, there was a very young male guitarist who looked like a refugee from an early 80s New Wave band.

  He looked like he was in A-ha circa 1987. Or, rather, he looked remarkably like Axel, a Norwegian exchange student who stayed with a family down the street from mine, in suburban Atlanta, in 1987. Axel was a rabid fan of the new wave band from his country, and i think that my visual memories of the band are blurred with the memories of the exchange student.  

Throughout the set, he postured as he played, making me think that he really needed a wind machine to flutter his hair. On the other side of the stage. the bassist and other guitarist/vocalist bopped around and grinned at each other, while clearly having a blast, even if they hit an occasional off note. This enthusiasm really helped the music out and I could quickly see the charm of songs like Safe in L.A. or Summer House. I made a mental note that we should see them again, just to see if my impression was a fluke.

When Gold Motel ended after the requisite 40 minute set, I was now in tune with the spirit of SxSW and ready to traipse off to the next venue. In this case, PostLibyan had picked another group he wanted to see: Icelandís ”lafur Arnalds. If I recall correctly, he was a bit confused as to whether this was a band or a singer, but, as usual, I was up for anything, so we wandered to our first brand new venue, called The Swan Dive, which had filmy looking white curtains and a vaguely futuristic dťcor.

  Really?  To me it looked like someone had quickly whitewashed an otherwise vacant brick building and slapped a bar in one corner.  I assumed that it was one of those places thrown together to capitalize on SxSW.  

The crowd was a little on the tall side and a little on the noisy side, so I wasn’t able to pick out much once the music began.  In fact, with all of the chatting go around, it was hard for me to tell when the set began.  However, once I could focus on the music, it sounded vaguely folk-ish, with a very prominent female vocalist who had a delicate, tinkling voice.  In the middle of either her first or second song, the vocalist said, "here's where the strings would come in, so I’m just going to hum that part." This indicated to me that this was in fact a vocalist without her normal band.  Unfortunately, without any backing musicians to enhance the sound or bring some depth into the melody, she came across to me as a random singer-songwriter.  This isn't normally my thing, but I was willing to play along.  However, after another song or two, the stuffiness of the venue combined with the sameness of the music, and we decided that perhaps it was time to move on.

  Okay, well, ”lafur Arnalds is a guy who makes post-rock. I have heard some of his stuff, and it is enjoyable in a vaguely Sigur Ros-like kind of way. I swear i heard this little blonde girl say that she was ”lafur Arnalds, but an extensive web search just revealed that she probably said ”lŲf Arnalds. Apparently ”lŲf is a kind of folk singer or something over in Iceland. I have never heard of her before, but i guess i read the schedule wrong. And seriously, don't have they have any more last names in Iceland to spare? I suppose that if i had gone in without confusing her with ”lafur (are they related?) i might have enjoyed the quirky folk music she was doing. As it was, i was confused and irritated that this was not Icelandic post-rock. And with that confusion in mind, we headed out for Plan B.  

For EvilSponge at SxSW, most of the time our Plan B involves heading to our favorite outdoor venue, The Red-Eyed Fly. Iím not sure why this is such a favorite, but I suspect itís because there is a large outside deck where a breeze might be enjoyed (or at the very least it wouldn't be stuffy and hot). Likewise, the deck is built of wood and, after too much time standing on concrete or stone, the give of the wood feels really really nice on my sore feet. Add to that a decent sound system and a nice staff, and you can see why we just like The Red-Eyed Fly.

Anyway, as it turned out, I had already decided that The Red-Eyed Flywould be our destination for our next random band. Since we were headed there anyway, once the Icelandic experience went awry, we decided to go ahead and go on over to catch what remained of the set by the preceding artist. To our surprise, the venue was almost totally packed. Sure, we didnít have to wait in line or anything, but once we got inside, it was pretty much wall to wall people. We quickly squished ourselves on to the outside deck, leaning up against the railing and listened.

The band on stage was a British group called Summer Camp. They were a two piece (I think) with a female vocalist and a guy playing synths and samples. Once I realized the band name, I recalled that Iíd read something about this act in the days leading up to SxSW which indicated that they were in line to be a pretty "buzzy" group, primarily due to the popularity of a few singles in the UK in 2010. From where I stood, which was admittedly not in the best sounding place at the venue, the vocalist's style reminded me a little of Lily Allen, albeit backed with a more electronic/British Indie sound. I think at times they had some technical difficulties, but it was hard to say if the glitches were intentional or not. In other words, it wasnít particularly earth-shaking, but it was pleasant enough to hear as background music whilst enjoying the slight breeze and wooden deck.

  I kind of liked this band, and would be interested to hear their recorded work. One song in particular stood out to me. It sounded like Automatic-era Jesus and Mary Chain, with the guy in the band hammering at his guitar under a wall of distortion, the drum machine cranking out a fast, monotonous rhythm, and the girl creating a keyboard drone while kind of mumbling some lyrics. Yeah, the spirit of The Reid Brothers lives on!  

Summer Camp finished up in a timely manner and we waited for the next band to set up. This was my first random band choice of SxSW. Basically, when I was exploring our options for this empty space in our schedule, I had decided that the description of the UK band Dry the River seemed promising (especially in light of the venue they were playing). I canít recall the words exactly, but I do recall a mention of multiple harmonies and a 60s reverby, but gospelly, sound. With that in mind, I had immediately mentally leapt to "Spiritualized during his gospel phase" and thought that a little space rock could be intriguing, which is how Dry the River got added to our schedule.

Once the music started, however, it was absolutely clear that my original mental leap was absolutely and totally wrong. And this was, in fact, a wonderful thing. To start with, yes Dry the River had a somewhat folksy influence, but it turned out that some of this was because they were missing their drummer, who apparently didnít get his visa on time. Instead, the violinist alternated between his normal instrument and some rudimentary drumming. Similarly, although there were some slow, acoustic parts, the way the band played with tone and volume recalled My Latest Novel (and of course, having a violinist on stage didnít hurt that comparison).

But most importantly, the male lead vocalist had one of the most beautiful voices Iíd heard in a long time. His highest range had a pure, non-theatrical lilt whilst his lower range still had a forcefulness that didnít sound sneering. In combination with the harmonies from the other musicians as well as some very pretty melodies, Dry the River were very compelling and I stood on the deck, straining to hear each inflection, totally entranced by the music. In short, that was a lovely set and immediately PostLibyan and I figured that we needed to find out more about this band encountered at random. More importantly, we also had to see if we could find them playing in Austin again before we left just to determine if we liked them as much on the second go around.

Once Dry the River ended, we caught our breath and, feeling very pleased about the random occurrence, decided to head over to another new venue, Barbarella to catch Eisley. This was another band I had picked out, primarily because I remember someone telling me that Eisley was a little like School of Seven Bells. In retrospect, I suspect this comparison was probably based on the fact that the female vocalists are sister and they do in fact have some rather pretty harmonies. But, beyond this vague familial similarity, Eisley weren't really anything like set up that band. Rather, this band, who were so tiny I couldnít see them from where I stood on the rocky back patio, seemed much more like a somewhat dreamy sounding, Indie pop-rock act. Maybe itís my age showing, but I couldn't help but be reminded of bands like Ultrababyfat or Belly or any one of those female-fronted 90s acts. Truly, the music was okay but it wasn't all that engaging.

  School of Seven Bells are a synthpop act. Eisley are a straight-up indie pop act. I think that in different circumstances, i might have enjoyed them. Tonight, they paled in comparison to the band that had preceeded them, and their distinct lack of synthpoppishness wasn't working for me.  

I think some of myt disappointment may have been due to the joyous surprise of Dry the River and some of it may have had to do with the pain of standing on yet another uneven rocky surface, but in the end, Eisley didnít do anything for me. Still, had we walked into their set after the Icelandic expedition, I might have found them more compelling. But, after the previous set, the music wasn't enough to help me recover from the single the worst bathroom experience of SxSW 2011 at Barbarella. Still feeling a bit green around the gills and in need of fresh air, we wandered on.

Without any real destination, we decided to go ahead and toddle over to Red 7, where we would just camp out in anticipation of the headliner both of us wanted to see, Parts and Labor. We toddled on over and discovered two very important points:
1) Red 7 was steamy like an oven and the front porch was crowded
2) the venue was running rather behind in its scheduling.

Neither of these would have been too overwhelming except that it was really warm and I was getting tired and I really didn't want to stay out too late on our first night. Likewise, as it turns out, the bathrooms there were only marginally better than those back at Barbarella. Essentially, there was no toilet paper or paper towels (much like Barbarella), but at least the sludge on the floor was mostly transparent (you think I jestÖ).

The one good thing about the schedule running behind is that the band on stage, who we thought would be finishing up, was in fact just getting started. This band was Sun Airway. They are apparently from Pennsylvania. And, to my surprise, they were really quite good, performing a synth-oriented spacey, shoegazey sound. In fact, listening to them, I at first thought that they were really just an old-fashioned shoegaze. Then I realized that the sounds was being produced primarily by synths and samples (backed with a real drummer), which made it a bit more impressive. Likewise, the male vocalist had a very pleasing, mellow voice that worked in the context of the music. I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw of their set and I'm interesting in downloading something theyíve recorded just to see if Sun Airway comes across as nicely on record.


Electro shoegaze being a little more my thing, i went and did some research on this band.  Most of them were in The A-Sides, who EvilSponge favorably reviewed a few years back.  This is their new band, more in the vein of Lights Out Asia than their previous guitar-oriented outings.  I thought they sounded impressive, with warm washes of synths and subtle vocals. I was very pleased we made it in time to see most of their set.


After they finished, it was time for a band called Small Black.  Now when you reference a name like that, I’m immediately thinking of Steve Albini-esque, abrasively loud punk kind of music, especially considering I had it in my head that Small Black were from Chicago (it turns out they're actually from Brooklyn). 

But, after a very long set up, wherein PostLibyan and I amused ourselves watching the mayhem on the front porch of Red 7 where people climbed into and out of the venue via a small balcony (which caused the door guy to have a meltdown), Small Black began to play and they were in factÖa dance band. I think they were trying to bring back memories of 80s New Wave and synth pop, but it just wasnít happening. Rather, the sound in Red 7 kept glitching out and the volume was so loud that I was having flashbacks of the insistently loud "thump thump thump" of a rave band. I honestly donít think that sound was intentional, as I just got the feeling the sound mix was simply that bad. However, the volume and the insistent loud beat just werenít working for me. And combined with the increasing heat and stuffiness inside the venue, I decided to retreat to the outside porch again. Surprisingly, out there, the sound didnít seem so bad and I could hear that Small Black were trying to be a somewhat melodic, albeit electronic, dance band.

  I would describe this Small Black performance as the guy from LCD Soundsystem singing for Orbital covering Save a Prayer by Duran Duran in a room made entirely out of tin. The music was pleasant synth pop with shouty vocals, but the treble was turned all the way up for some crazy reason.  

As they continued to play, I was merely focused on the fact that the time was getting later and later, which just made me more impatient. You see, I know Austin closes things down right at 2 AM and every ticking second meant a shorter Parts & Labor set, which was not a good thing to my mind.

And indeed, as time progressed, the night started to take a turn for the worse. Small Black played long (or at least it seemed like a long set) and took a while to break down, which meant that Parts & Labor didnít even start setting up til 1:15 AM or so. To top it off, as Parts & Labor set up, it was clear the sound guy was trying to rush them, which was causing issues with the sound check. In particular, there were definite issues in getting keyboardist Dan Frielís equipment plugged in and working appropriately. Therefore, by the time the band got everything more or less working, it had to have been after 1:30 AM.

Still, Iím used to seeing Parts & Labor under difficult circumstances at SxSW and the pressure always seems to push them into playing a blistering set. And that they did. Despite the challenges of the sound system (which was still turned up way too loud and glitchy) and despite the time challenges (the set was way too short), Parts & Labor managed to combine their usual melodic catchiness with the noisy effects weíve come to expect. As they tour through the set, I suddenly forgot my exhaustion and focused on the band. Additionally, I was impressed when the sound guy indicated that Parts & Labor only had time for 1 more song and the band promptly (with the help of a nicely done, organic sounding drumming transition) tried to manage two more, even though it would push them past the 2 AM cut off. Of course, the sound guy wasnít really fooled and he promptly turned off the PA in the middle of the second song, but Parts & Labor continued to make some melodic noise until they were really and truly shut down. The length of the set and the way it ended was a bit of a disappointment, but the band themselves were brilliant as usual.

So exhausted and with aching feet, we made our way back to the Hotel. Once in the elevator, we ran into two SxSW staffers who were complaining about the mayhem. It turned out that apparently the doors at Red 7 had been totally screwed up in the early evening (thus explaining the reason for the lateness of the sets). The same guy also complained about some band at Emos Jr. breaking equipment and creating a scene. So, glad to know our small amounts of chaos really werenít so bad, we wandered off to bed in preparation for the day yet to come.

Related Links:

Read our entire SxSW11 review:
     The Introduction.
     Tuesday, 15 March.
     Wednesday, 16 March, featuring Judgement Day, Rah Rah, King David, Gold Motel, Ólöf Arnalds, Summer Camp, Dry the River, Eisley, Sun Airway, Small Black, and Parts & Labor.
     Thursday, 17 March, featuring Rah Rah, Little Tybee, Sealions, Simon Says No, Resplandor, Magic Bullets, Royal Thunder, The Wooden Birds, Say Hi, and Maps and Atlases.
Friday, 18 March, featuring The Fling, The Dears, Eulogies, Gold Motel, Pontiak, Shimmering Stars, Los Impostors, Class Actress, Oh No, Oh My, and Elizabeth and the Catapult.
Saturday, 19 March, featuring Matthew and the Atlas, Reptar, Dry the River, Venice Is Sinking, Cheap Girls, Colin Stetson, Wires Under Tension, and Balmorhea.
Band links for today:
   Judgement Day:

   Rah Rah:

  King David:
  Gold Motel:

  Ólöf Arnalds:

  Summer Camp:
  Dry the River:


  Sun Airway:

  Small Black:
  Parts & Labor:


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