(Because of some issues with blogger and length, we're going to split up our 2006 year in review into two parts. This is part one, and part two will be posted Wednesday along with a year end piece from DL.)
If January 2006 wasn't a low point for local music, then Dallas has to be one of the most boring cities in the United States. At this time last year, a very tangible sense of disinterest and disillusionment seemed to be present in every corner of the local scene, from the deserted streets of Deep Ellum
to the suburban cities we forgot to name, and as people began asking themselves why Dallas-Ft. Worth/Denton, the 4th largest media market in the nation, didn't have an underground music community that could generate enough excitement to sustain a decent number of respectable live music venues or more than a handful of interesting bands, fingers began pointing in every possible direction in search of something or someone to blame. Club owners, police, promoters, local radio, bands, local journalists, club thugs, personal conflicts, scene politics and small business economics were all suggested as possible culprits in the case of local music's "mysterious" downward spiral, but it was clear that these factors, individually, were merely small parts of a complicated issue. The writers of this blog started the year by arguing that one the city's main problems was a simple lack of compelling local music, and now, a year since our first blog post, we are inclined to proffer a similar if slightly more positive thesis concerning what we've seen over the past twelve months. But this time, we're putting a big fucking asterisk next to it.
You see, its quite difficult to craft a year end analysis piece like this when you have no real frame of reference with which to compare the recently passed year, and we're well aware that any 2006 summary we offer will lack some of the wisdom that a working knowledge of local music history would provide. We came into this whole project with a sufficient awareness of underground, experimental, and independent rock music (as well as hip hop and jazz) in general, but our experiences with the local scene were almost nonexistent aside from the occasional uneventful local show that friends would drag us to. This has obviously changed over the past year, but it is still difficult for us to look back at 2006 and determine whether things are on an upward or downward trajectory from where they were more than a year ago. At a certain point, it becomes impossible to really assess 2006 without knowing much about what happened in years previous, so we're a bit reluctant to make any strong conclusions about how this year compared to any other.
Furthermore, we know that the sentiments described in the opening paragraph probably don't apply to some of the people reading this blog, not to mention the tens of thousands (or more) of locals who are interested in the kind of music we talk about on here but have never read a local music blog (and barely even read the Observer). To be sure, the problems discussed above probably didn't even occur to most people currently living in Dallas, and many of the complaints we have outlined here mattered quite a bit more to people who were intimately involved in the local music scene than to those outside of it. To put it another way, the doom and gloom picture we've painted here probably isn't as dramatic as we or many local scenesters make it out to be, even if it did seem to be the dominant narrative around the time we started publishing this blog.
Truth be told, the only way to even begin to discern the average Joe's thoughts concerning local music at the beginning of last year is to look at concert attendance and the general mood prevalent around town at the time (an admittedly unscientific approach). By either measure, things didn't appear to be going very well. Local shows seemed to be empty, venues seemed to be closing, and music fans seemed to be either going through the motions or ignoring largely lackluster local output all together, and the worst part was that we couldn't blame them. In fact, our limited experiences with local music at that time were enough to make us so incredibly frustrated with this town that we decided to start a blog in order bitch about it. It wasn't because we wanted to "help out" or "save the scene," nor because we thought "Dallas can do better" or "deserves better." Instead, we just wanted to have fun in our home town, and at the beginning of last year Dallas wasn't delivering for us. Its difficult to get a good read on the attitudes of people around town in general, but by any way you could possibly measure, DFW and Dallas in particular seemed stale and in danger of getting worse.
A quick, surface level glance at what is currently going on in DFWd reveals a place that isn't a whole lot different than it was twelve months ago. There are still a good number of lame local bands getting more attention than they deserve from people who claim to have good taste but actually don't seem to know their asses from a whole in the ground. Local radio still sucks (for the most part). People still find it necessary to go to annoying karaoke nights and bad cover band shows on a weekly basis. Deep Ellum is still a joke. Denton
is still a long fucking drive. Shows are still largely underattended across the board. Clubs are still closing. The Observer's
music section is worse than its ever been, and seems to be falling more and more out of step each week (other than Michael Chamy's
stuff). Scene politics, a hipster version of a small town good ol' boy system, remains an omnipresent force around town. Basically, a lot of the things that annoyed us about local music last year are still annoying us today, even though we realize that most cities in the U.S. probably face similar problems, and that many of these things will never change.
However, the big fucking asterisk we mentioned earlier is an important one: although a lot of things seem to be the same, we have found over the past year that there are a number of musicians, DJs, venues, promoters and artists throughout the area who are doing some exciting things. And although many of them probably aren't receiving the kind of recognition they would in other locales, there does seem to be a refreshing level of enthusiasm thriving just below the surface of the local music establishment, and it is this enthusiasm that gives us pleasant pause: essentially, it feels like the city is waking up.
Very early in the year, after spending some time pointing out the silliness of Belafonte
and discovering the brilliance of DJ Nature
(more on him later), we had the pleasure of hearing the furiously dizzy electo-industrial disco theatrics of The Undoing of David Wright,
along with the screaming cartoonish hardcore punishment of Eat Avery's Bones
, both of whom played well attended and exciting shows with the Strange Boys
and Avenue Arts
, respectively. Only a couple of weeks into writing the blog, we discovered two bands that we'd never heard before but really enjoyed, with one effectively mixing prog influences with post-punk, metal, early industrial and synth pop, and the other sounding as though they were playing hardcore cover versions of Swell Maps songs with a nastier keyboard and a generous supply of speed. What made the experience even better was the fact that both bands were incredible live acts, albeit for very different reasons. While Undoing was about as tight as a band could be, jumping around the Doublewide stage and playing rather complex rock music without missing a note, Eat Avery's Bones was the sound of getting run over by a train, showcasing a reckless mix of violence and smarts that seems to be so rare amongst bands as young as they. These two early shows left us with a surprisingly hopeful outlook on the new year and what DFW/Denton might have in store for us.
A few weeks later, we attended the opening of the Metrognome Collective's
performance space in Ft. Worth and were amazed not only by the dimensions and feel of the place itself, but by the ambitious and truly thoughtful plans that James Watkins
and the rest of the organizers had for it (also caught a pretty good performance from Bosque Brown
). Providing facilities for live music, film screenings, gallery expos, artist studios and band practice spaces, the Metrognome seemed to be exactly the kind of place that a town like Ft. Worth (or Dallas for that matter) needed, a forward thinking centralized venue being operated by people that seemed to actually understand and care about art, music and the cultures surrounding them. Over the past month or so, the place has been struggling with fire codes and financial issues, but their recent year end anniversary is an indication that all is not lost. Despite facing a variety of problems (including criminally small Ft. Worth crowds), Metrognome has consistently booked great shows featuring the kind of music that we didn't even think existed around here at this time last year, and have done it in a fashion that is admirable on just about any level. I can't imagine that there are very many diy venues anywhere in the country with a more exciting and comprehensive vision than Metrognome has, and the possibilities seem endless for them as long as they can get through the growing pains they are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, it is during these periods of financial and logistical turmoil that many DIY venues seem to shut down, but the motivated Metrognome crowd seems willing and able to move past their issues and on to bigger things.
Throughout February and March, it seemed as if more good news was finding its way to our doorstep on a pretty regular basis (other than the disappointing closing of Sanctuary Studios
, which was really the only non-bar rock music venue in Dallas). Aside from catching absolutely unforgettable shows from Akron/Family (Dan's)
, Dinosaur Jr. (Gypsy), Stereolab (Nokia)
and Ariel Pink(Hailey's)
, we encountered several local DJs, musicians and others who seemed to be doing noteworthy things around town. After reluctantly heading up to Denton for an "80's night" at Hailey's, we discovered that Dallas' DJ G
wasn't really playing 80's records in that "video killed the radio star" sort of way, but rather was focusing on the more interesting side of the 80's: acid house, new pop, European disco, and tons of underground electro tracks that we had either never heard before or were only vaguely familiar with. And although some of DJ G's appearances have been shockingly underattended over the past year, his Hailey's residency continues to be one of the best dance parties in town, and his sets remain highly entertaining, unpredictable and even a bit educational for those who are interested in dance music's history. As DJs go, G is one of the sure things in the area, and the records he spins are right in step with many of the noteworthy movements in well known electronic music centers around the world.
Elsewhere, we came across two great non-trad Denton venues, Lars Larson's 8th Continent
and the UNT staple Yellow House
, which is sadly out of commission at the present time. Although the bands weren't always top notch, shows at Yellow House consistently felt like a big event, with the tossed off thrown together vibe of the place adding to the excitement when solid local acts like Strange Boys, Chief Death Rage
, The Pebble that Saved the World
set up shop in the living room and played to a packed house full of enthusiastic fans that seemed to know each band's every move by heart. On the other side of town, 8th Continent acted as Yellow House's dark, art school educated brother, showcasing the more experimental side of Denton and Texas music. Maintaining an independent-minded, anything can happen vibe and putting musically adventurous acts like You Are the Universe
, Undoing of David Wright, Best Fwends
and Cry Blood Apache
on its small stage in front of an equally enthusiastic audience, we found the 8th to be a humble but often exhilarating venue that seemed worlds away from any bar that we know of. A new group has taken over the 8th since the last time we visited ( some of the Strawberry Fields
people and Kyle of the provocative Night Game Cult
), but the fact that they recently hosted the Unconscious Collective
and Wanz Dover
for a Terry Riley inspired improv show indicates that there is more to come on Texas St. in 2007.
Throughout the year, we were also pleased to encounter a few people that made Dallas radio tolerable. Sure, one of them wasn't actually on the radio, another was only on for a couple hours a week and another was on illegally, but Radio UTD
, Frank Hejl
, Meat Radio
and Movin' 107.5
all provided great ways to forget that Yellowcard gets more play on The Adventure Club
these days than any band you actually care about. Radio UTD was perhaps the most consistent of the bunch, bringing true college radio eclecticism to a town that desperately needs it while providing a playlist that would be considered more than solid on any college campus in the United States. Frank Hejl's Frequency Down
focused a good deal on popular contemporary indie rock, but Frank's typically strong selections (both new and old) were a breath of fresh air, keeping listeners in tune with the latest (including local stuff) while avoiding the beat down of too much indie cute overkill.
Meat Radio, an East Dallas based pirate radio station, was truly a compelling story that thrived off of being kept generally on the down low for most of its existence. It was always a pleasure to get into a car in East Dallas and be able to listen to soul, funk, 60's garage, classic indie underground and anything and everything in between at any given time on the weekend, and Meat Radio's clear progressive leanings (as evidenced by its broadcasts of progressive political talk shows) made it a true "alternative" to the Clear Channel empire of Dallas radio that did nothing this year other than provide funds for numerous right wing political candidates. Meat Radio obviously had to stop its regular broadcasts once it got a little too hot to handle, but their brief presence on the air was quite a highlight for our depraved radio dial.
Towards the end of the year and after the downfall of Meat Radio and Frequency Down, Movin' 107.5 became the station that seemed alright to listen to at pretty much any time during the day and absolutely any time at night. Playing a notable portion of the music that you might have listened to while riding in your mom's car as a kid, Movin' quickly earned a spot on our pre-programmed dial in order to help us live our dream of being able to hear Outkast, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam and P.M. Dawn during one of The Ticket's
10 minute long commercial breaks. Void of annoying contemporary commercial R&B and tongue in cheek hipster irony, 107.5 was simply a fun, albeit brainless place to turn when we just weren't in the mood to listen to the Liars record or NPR, both of which were a bit dark for some of our better moments.
Of course, the easiest and most efficient way for us to discover new local
music this year was Myspace, which lead us to many of our local favorites like Mom
, The Angelus
, the sadly disbanded Washing Machine
, Teenage Symphony
and Shiny Around the Edges
. But despite the greatness of these groups and the live shows that we eventually experienced, we were also pleased to find that local bands were making solid old fashioned full length records this year as well. Albums from Chris Garver
, The Theater Fire
were all in heavy rotation around the headquarters throughout 2006, but the two that probably received the most attention amongst our crew were idi Amin's B.C.E
. and Current Leaves' Pastense
, which sounded like they were made on different planets. Realizing that we could listen to one great local album of Bakersfield informed psychedelic rock immediately before another album of sax driven ethereal noise explorations was probably one of the most telling signs of the exciting diversity to be found in the DFWd underground, and one of the best indicators of the talent to be found in the area.(Part two coming soon...)