Thursday, January 11, 2007

State of the City: Local Music in 2006 (part 2)

(Part One is here if you'd like to read it.)

Although staying at home and checking out Myspace profiles and blogs is clearly the easiest way to experience new music these days, it most certainly isn't the best way. Yes, even in the middle of the "online revolution" that is currently tearing the music industry up by its roots, live shows were still the key element to our local music experience over the past twelve months, and whether they were exhilarating, painful, predictable or surprising, live shows often provided us with the only sufficient material we could use to assess the local bands we were inclined to seek out. More often than not, Myspace band pages just didn't capture the true essence of their namesakes, and many times, particularly with local music, bands we found online ending up sounding quite different in person. This was a bad surprise as often (and maybe more often) as a good one.

Of course, we can't have a discussion about live shows without first mentioning many of the great touring bands that came through town this year. From the "you can't ever tell what DFW music fans will be interested in" department, The Books' arresting performance at Hailey's in April was surely one of the most exciting shows we've seen in a long time. Using video along with fragmented samples and meditative instrumental passages to tell some kind of loosely structured story while they presented their songs, The Books put on a show that was an emotional high for us and the rest of the shockingly sold out Hailey's crowd. We probably would have laughed if someone had suggested at any point before the show that the Books would draw the largest crowd we had ever seen at Hailey's, but that was exactly what happened, and it still seems quite remarkable. At Gypsy Tea Room, we had the privilege of witnessing unforgettable performances from The Fall (complete with crowd taunting and a Mark E. Smith walk-off), Sonic Youth (of the three times we've seen them over the past decade, this was easily their best performance), The Black Angels (who despite all their detractors have become a ridiculously good live band) and Liars. Just about everyone we've talked to who was at the Liars show seems to have a different opinion on the performance, as some (like us) believe it was brilliant and often breathtaking while others dismiss it as either a poor imitation of the songs on their records or simply a bunch of harsh, noisy garbage all together. Whatever one thinks of the music played that night, however, the Liars show was one of the most noteworthy and important performances of the year, and considering the relatively formless nature of much of their new material, the show's strong attendance was a pleasant surprise. Later in the year, we watched Ratatat put on a rock show that was actually more like a drugged-up dance party (albeit one that involved prog rock guitar parts), Shellac and The New Year terrify and mesmerize (respectively) a packed Sons of Hermann Hall, The Clientele romance a small but spellbound crowd at Hailey's with their quiet, hazy and introverted psychedelic pop, Man Man blow the roof off the often audibly inadequate Cavern, Indian Jewelry frighten and hypnotize roughly 25 people at Rubber Gloves, and Beach House allow their stoned, sleepy love songs to swim through and haunt a stoic Amsterdam crowd on a crisp autumn evening. The only downside to looking back at all of these shows comes when you realize that they occurred at a total of five venues, and that only three of the five bring in decent touring acts on a regular basis. DFWd probably couldn't have asked for a whole lot more as far as touring bands are concerned, but it would be nice if they had more than a small handful of places to play.

Unfortunately, we probably can't list nearly as many local shows that got us quite as excited as the bills mentioned above, but we witnessed several performances from local bands in 2006 that we enjoyed a great deal, and a couple that we consider to be (at least) somewhat important. Tied for the top of the "controversial posting" list on the blog this year is pretty much any post we made concerning the Strategies of Beauty Festival at Rubber Gloves. The anons certainly had a lot of opinions about the show before it even took place, but we felt it was important to reserve our take on things until the show actually, like, happened and stuff.

Strategies was not set up to appeal to a mass audience (Notes from Underground headlining is probably the most obvious example of this), and in many ways, it seemed as though it might have been set up to hijack any UNT frat boy that might have wandered in to Rubber Gloves that day trying to "fuck an art chick." Despite the relative strangeness and obscurity of the music to be performed, however, a very respectable crowd turned up to witness the madness of bands like idi Amin, Eat Avery's Bones, Fra Pandolf, Stumptone, and Hotel Hotel, as curator Michael Seman (of Shiny Around the Edges) took a gamble on the drawing power of bands that a lot of people around town had probably never heard before the festival. His gamble appeared to pay off on most levels, with the decision to close with Notes from Underground's overwhelmingly powerful compositions emerging as the best choice of the night. Notes' set that evening (in front of about 20 tired people no less) was certainly one of, if not the most exciting moment we experienced in local music this year. Anyone that tends to dismiss "noise" or "improv" as snobby, impersonal and pointless would have probably been forced to eat their words if they had experienced Notes taking layers of seemingly formless, abrasive noise and molding them into soaring build ups and bitter sweet come downs while somehow maintaining an emotional and structural core that was immediately engaging and quite generous with bits of warmth and beauty. Although not every act at Strategies was quite as powerful as Notes, it seems that the festival was a moderate success by any reasonable measure, and even if only a few of the bands struck you as interesting or enjoyable, it can at least be said that Strategies helped establish the fact that there really is a healthy market for experimental rock and avant garde music in the area, which can only help to expand on the local talent pool and provide confidence to the bands that are already here so that they might grow and develop in the near future.

Another institution that has done a lot to push the envelope in local music recently has been Denton's House of Tinnitus, a small, simple venue that consists of a house with a living room and a kitchen in a neighborhood that could indisputably and literally be labeled Denton's "wrong side of the tracks." Although we're not completely sure about these things, it is likely that a house very similar to Tinnitus probably opens up in Denton every year and begins hosting shows, meaning that this concept really isn't anything new. The Tinnitus people are aware of this, however, and what you'll find if you decide to venture up to one of their shows is a generally warm, welcoming and intelligent group of people that are truly interested in music as an art form rather than a meal ticket or a commodity. The Dead Echoes festival we took in there on Halloween, featuring excellent performances from Zanzibar Snails, PD Wilder and Oveo among others, was a perfect example of this kind of attitude on display, and Tinnitus' willingness and ability to host touring acts and more traditional rock groups like the ferocious Chief Death Rage indicates that the house's inhabitants are open to expanding their horizons and booking a wide variety of quality acts that might help to raise the profile of the house over the next year. Although some might not want to hear it, the "new weird" Denton noise scene is strong, tasteful, self sufficient, and productive, and at the center of it are a seemingly thoughtful and talented group of (mostly) young musicians that are happy to experiment and explore. As we've said before, the kind of music that many of the Denton experimental bands play is probably never going to have mass appeal, but a lot of the work coming from this sector of town seems to us to be on par with a lot of contemporary free form and avant garde music we hear coming from any locale these days, which is surely an exciting development.

If you took the second to last sentence of the previous paragraph and inserted "Dallas" and "rock" in the place of "Denton" and "noise," people would unfortunately be likely to laugh in your face. Or at least I would. But the good news is that there appears to be a few local figures within the city limits who are gaining momentum in the face of widespread mediocrity, and some of them are almost as new to the scene as we are. Treewave is certainly not a "new" band (as in just started playing this year), but they have emerged as one of our favorites in Dallas, Denton or anywhere else in the area. While many have deemed the group noteworthy because of the way Paul Slocum makes music, their methodology is only a part of their appeal. We caught Treewave for the first time at Red Blood Club with Kid 606 (a show organized and promoted by Stephen Ruiz, who is coming into his own as a DJ and promoter with his Hot Flash Party at Fallout Lounge), and while we were initially impressed with their onstage set up, it was their set opening cover of Brian Eno's "Needle in the Camel's Eye" that really caught our attention. As the band continued to play, our previously held notion that Treewave might be some kind of gimmick band was demolished rather quickly, and their noisy, blipy shoegaze influenced electro shot them right up to the top of our "holy shit, this band is from Dallas" chart (Faux Fox and the Strange Boys are on that chart somewhere too).

Finally, a description of the state of the city in 2006 would be vastly incomplete without mentioning the year that DJ Nature, Sober and Select had with their Central Booking events. As far as overall impact on the area's music scene, no other musicians or DJs came close to what their crew was able to do this year. We first found DJ Nature by chance while we were screwing around on Myspace one day in January, and after looking through some of his set lists and learning about his connections to the San Juan reggaeton scene, Fader Magazine and Arto Lindsay, we were fairly certain that seeing one of his weekly sets at Rubber Gloves was a necessity. What we heard when we arrived at Rubber Gloves on some random Wednesday night was the most tasteful and relevant DJ set we had encountered in Dallas or Denton. Ever. As opposed to many of the local acts we had seen up to that point, which often seemed like dated and poor approximations of sounds that weren't all that great to begin with, Nature's set screamed NOW. Right this second. Effortlessly mixing indie dance stuff like LCD Soundsystem, !!! and Yeah Yeah Yeahs with reggaeton, dub, new wave, Bmore, grime and American hip hop, Nature's set list contained at least one track that would appeal to pretty much anyone reading this right now, and many of his other selections were so new and different that most people probably didn't know what they were hearing, other than something good.

As the year progressed and Nature hooked up with like minded DJs Select and Sober, it started becoming apparent that Central Booking was bringing a built in following, a traveling party of sorts, everywhere they went. Whether they were playing an art gallery, a shoe store, or their monthly Party at Zubar, they seemed to attract a large and fashionable crowd drawing from all spectrums of Dallas night life that was ready to dance open to hearing stuff that they weren't expecting. The quality and diversity of their sets was certainly the most important factor in their quick rise to the top of the pack amongst area DJs, but their knack for clever marketing (including great cross promotion with people like P.E.G., Cultura Fina and Krispee Ones), stylish presentation, fashion and venue selection all played significant roles as well. More than anything else, Central Booking's events, particularly at Zubar, were always simply the most fun things we could imagine attending on any given night. Instead of going to a show to talk with friends, find out about the after party or simply to be seen, people went to The Party this year to go to The Party, and every indication is that more and more people will continue to do so this year. A lot of great things happened in local music this year, but nothing else clicked like Central Booking. At times during their events, it really felt like everything was coming together at just the right time, and the excitement they generated was impossible to ignore.

As we said in the beginning of this piece, DFWd music seems to have a long way to go in many respects, but a lot of the things that have annoyed us about this place (shitty bands, shitty clubs, etc.) seem to have become easier to ignore as we have watched all the movement below the surface and the changes that are slowly starting to occur as a result. On a more personal level, two of the projects we were involved with this year really hammered this point home for us. After assembling the Projection local music compilation, we realized as we sat and listened that it was something we would enjoy even if we weren't writing a local music blog and didn't have any interest in Dallas music. And as we finished off our night at Art Prostitute last month watching an absolutely mind blowing set from The Great Tyrant (a band a lot of people will be talking about this year), we realized that things had either improved over the last 12 months or we just hadn't been looking hard enough before we started the blog. As people continue to debate the merits of Christian venues in Deep Ellum and ask whether Radiant will ever get to play network television again, there are musicians, DJs and other assorted figures all around town who are ignoring all that crap and creating their own art, communities and movements that seem to be gaining some momentum. There is some talent here to be sure, and the small beginnings of an infrastructure to support it is slowly coming together. Its difficult to say whether any of the good things we've found this year will be able to attain the kind of visibility that would be necessary to give this town the face lift it needs, but compared to our attitude a year ago, we're fairly optimistic about the future and the changes that could take place in an area that has left a lot to be desired.


Anonymous Carlin said...

Great write-up. Very well thought out. I and a lot of folks appreciate you and what you're doing. Listing shows, sharing opinions and allowing others to voice there opinions as well. Keep it up...we're watching!

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JR is a D and d master!

watch out Machkovech, JR just got +12 agility

3:04 AM  
Blogger URN said...

Tame..Tame And Quiet snagged a random opening gig with Radiant just before all their new year random hype. How fun will that be?? I consider it subversive infiltration and urge others to do the same, if you can stomach it. I can't wait to start off the night and sit back.

3:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to everyone screaming cliff notes all year, there you go. nothing new here, nothing unexpected for anyone who checks this blog out on a fairly regular basis, but a nice wrap up of a last year's hard work. danke, sr.

8:39 AM  
Blogger creatorlars said...



9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stephen r if a fucking joke. what a total creep.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's up, narrow focus?

10:40 AM  
Anonymous kirkpatrick said...

As I alluded to in my year end list, I was one of the people let down by the Liars show. The thing I love about ‘Drums not Dead’ is that despite the fact that they’re really not very good musicians, they use sheer creativity, songwriting, effects as well as the studio and its space to create an emotional/psychological impact. Live, their limitations were too exposed and at times their sloppiness didn’t enhance the experience but left me under-whelmed. Not to say it was awful, just somewhat of a letdown. Deerhunter, on the hand-whom I knew nothing about before this show—used the stage to create a seemingly infinite space and quite a mind-bending experience. They were one of my favorite road shows this year.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous the other white girl said...

I think Secret Headquarters should have been mentioned. you'll find evey genre represented. And underground movies. It's turning into a really fun part of the Denton experience. and starting early is cool.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SHQ has some GREAT stuff booked for Jan/Feb

11:45 AM  
Anonymous buttfuck l0v3r said...

fuckin flashlight parrrttyyyyyy!

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notes really is the best band this area has to offer.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Tartuffe Calamari Violence said...

it ain't the wrong side of the traXXX it's SOUTH EAST DENTON..FOOL!
Nuff S.E.D.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notes is now a SEVEN piece.


3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yawn part two.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SOUTH EAST DENTON is where its at!!!

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


se denton flourishes with creative grit

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deep Ellum still KICKS ASS !!!

5:07 PM  
Anonymous shq said...

To 11:45

I agree!

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:39 : cliff-notes..

p.s. it's been retired..


5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BOOYAH is the new cliff notes

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hope dallas continues on to another higher level of creativity and music!!!!!what a dope review!!!

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring back The Black Arm Band.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would like to quote aerosmith who said it better than i ever could


7:38 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

my new favorite anons are the people that think they're clever because they've noticed that our year end review mentions stuff that we've already talked about... during the year.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your mom

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about deathmatch?

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hilarious trivia: back when people thought the noize dudes hated me and vise versa, i laughed. now they're talking about SE Denton. I LIVE THERE!!! JOKES ON YOU ANON 45:900

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what the fuck are you talking about 9:24 ?? that dosent make any sence...
please explain yourself ... i think your confused....

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm kinda disappointed to find out the person who shot jr is such a dork

8:18 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

Well, it sure beats us already knowing that you're a dork. At least you had some hope.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just because a band is local doesnt mean you have to like them when they're terrible .
and just because someone is being experimental doesnt mean its good


10:41 AM  
Anonymous Matthewmatics said...

good write up, good blog (like knowing whats going on in D-City)

but I think you might have forgotten laptop deathmatch. Consistent shows pretty good crowds and Dallas was the only city to send two competitors to the nationals (one Dallasite won in Austin and one in Dallas).
It was an awesome scene and something cool to do on Sunday night.


1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, they didn't forget laptop deathmatch. it didn't get written about beacuse it sucks big hairy anteater balls.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Matthewmatics said...

its a matter of taste isn't it though.
I happened to enjoy myself and thought that as far as local music goes it was consistent, cool, and something different for the city.

3:58 PM  
Blogger kidko said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:47 PM  
Blogger kidko said...

It's OK that it didn't get mentioned. Deathmatch received lots of WSJR love this year.

6:48 PM  

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