Twin Cities Year in Music 2011

Howler, Astronautalis, Pink Mink, and more

If 2010 was the year of hyper-collaboration in the Twin Cities, then 2011 was the year of the meteoric rise. Minneapolitans Elite Gymnastics and Austin, Minnesota, native John Maus became recognizable names in the indie blogosphere this year, the former fueling and experiencing their success almost exclusively online. Poliça, too, had a full album recorded and a healthy roar of buzz accompanying them before they had played a single show, and by their third gig they were opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on a sold-out tour. But no act had a more incredible rise than the young quartet Howler, who were plucked out of obscurity by a Rough Trade A&R rep while they were still in their infancy as a group and have since been shipped abroad to tour the U.K. with the Vaccines and accumulate enough press clips to fill a small library.

While this trend says plenty about the internet's effect on the industry—which has leveled the playing field for artists of all stripes—it also serves as a comforting reminder that even in a post-"industry" world these kinds of music stories are still possible.

When Howler began, it was a side project for Jordan Gatesmith, who spent most of his time gigging as the guitarist in locally popular folk-pop band Total Babe. Barely out of high school, Gatesmith has already kicked around in several projects, and in many ways Howler's debut EP is the next logical step in a progression of young Twin Cities indie bands like Total Babe, Nice Purse, One for the Team, and the Battle Royale, who married an ear for pop melody with a penchant for lo-fi garage fuzz. Could any of these bands have enjoyed the same success as Howler, given the chance? We'll never know. What matters now is that Howler was handed the tow rope and told to hold on, and now they're waving down at us from the clouds.

B FRESH Photography
Ms. Lauryn Hill at First Avenue
Steven Cohen
Ms. Lauryn Hill at First Avenue

So here's to an incredible year, one that has trampolined bands on to the next level and left us here in the Cities feeling invigorated and inspired. Something tells me 2012 is going to be a ferocious one.

For now, let's take a look back at the last 12 months and see where this all started ...


The year gets off to a rough start in clubland. On New Year's Day, 2011, the Turf Club calls off its gig with Marijuana Deathsquads, turns out the lights, and hangs a sign on the front door that reads "Closed for repair." A few hours later, word gets out that Turf manager Dave Wiegardt, who had been with the club for 15 years, has been fired. Rumors start flying about the future of the club, but by mid-month the doors are back open and new manager Josh James is at the helm. Though James pledges that a "focus on local music will remain the cornerstone of the business," one of his first orders of business is to can the weekly Fat Kid Wednesdays residency in the Clown Lounge, which had hosted a revolving array of local and touring improvisational musicians in the club's basement bar throughout the past 12 years. By mid-year, attendance at Turf shows dwindles noticeably and the street in front of the club is completely decimated from construction of the new light rail line, but the club starts to rally by year's end.

On January 8, the 501 Club has one last hurrah before shuttering for good. Appropriately, the club, which had been open for only a year and a half and was a side project for 331 Club co-owners Jon and Jarrett Oulman, invites dissolving hip-hop duo MC/VL to play their farewell show on the final night. By fall, the Oulmans will announce a new venture: the expansive Amsterdam Bar and Hall, which aims to bring concertgoers into a dead area of downtown St. Paul.

Other notable January events: Ms. Lauryn Hill makes her way to Minneapolis for the first time in almost a decade to perform a very sold-out show in the First Avenue Mainroom; longtime Twin Cities R&B act the New Congress disbands; and blues-folk group A Night in the Box call it quits.


Adam Levy's curated celebration of lyricism and melody, the Southern Songbook, enjoys one of its most successful nights yet, making it all the more heartbreaking when news breaks a few months later that the Southern Theater is in serious financial trouble. By mid-year the theater cuts most of its staff and scales back its programming significantly, but thanks to some aggressive fundraising efforts the space is still managing to stay in operation.

Word gets out that Prince's first drummer Bobby Z is in critical condition following a heart attack. He spends the majority of the year recovering, and by fall he announces that he will reform seminal early Prince band the Revolution on February 19, 2012, at First Avenue to raise awareness of heart disease. The "Benefit 2 Celebrate Life" will be the Revolution's first show together since 2003. In addition to the 10 years he spent playing with Prince, Z has also become known locally for his work at Copycats Media, where he works as a producer for their small in-house record label.

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