State Of The Scene Part 1: Growth, Splintering & Change

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Fatal Flying Guilloteens, left, in 2007 and their descendents Weird Party (right) at Summer Fest 2011
Thursday is the fourth anniversary of the Live Earth concerts, which Rocks Off remembers today less for any of the music - Madonna and Gogol Bordello is the only thing that readily comes to mind - than because they were on TV in the background while we began packing up our Austin apartment in preparation to move to Houston.

When we got here, we found a music scene (or scenes) at low tide. Rap, Houston's calling card to the rest of the world for the past decade or so, was beginning to stall both creatively and commercially; the indie scene, for lack of a better word, was in turmoil. This week in print, Rocks Off attempts to sum up the past four years in about 1,200 words and it's our pleasure to report that, give or take a hiccup or two, in our eyes the scene is much better off.

Naturally it's a little hard to cram four years of anything into a single page, let alone everything that's gone on here. That's where the Internet comes in handy.

Rocks Off reached out to several of our fellow scene-watchers for their insight into some of the fundamental issues of the past four years: The "passover" by many touring artists; how Houston's diversity has helped or hindered the scene develop a distinct musical identity; whether or not anyone from outside the city will ever pay attention to anything we do besides rap, and whether we should even care; whether local artists can make a go of it in town or are better off moving somewhere else; and, of course, the eternal question of What It All Means.

We got so much good information and opinion back we decided to split this into two blogs, because we didn't want to cut anything but also wanted to avoid the dreaded tl;dnr. Part 2 will be along later this afternoon; in the meantime, we'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

For now, please welcome your panel of Omar Afra, Free Press Houston editor/publisher, Fitzgerald's partner and Free Press Summer Fest co-founder; Marc Brubaker of Rocks Off and H-Town Rock; David A. Cobb of recent Houston Web Award winner Houston Calling and Jeremy Hart of Space City Rock. These guys know what they're talking about, and the floor is theirs.

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Matt Marrand
A typically packed crowd at Proletariat's "Rock Box" night, circa 2005
Rocks Off: How has Houston's music scene changed in the past four years?

Afra: The obvious answer is: Yes, the Houston music scene, or "community" as I would rather refer to it, has changed for the better. But to see it is a monolith is a mistake. The community has grown enough to splinter into various subgroups and factions, and that is a good thing for the incubation process.

Brubaker: Venues gone - the Washington strip turnover, Prolo out. No Westheimer Block Party. Revived Engine Room/Jet Lounge [now Underground Live], Fitzgerald's turnover, Free Press Summer Fest. Lots of band changes, but I'd say we've probably got more artists than ever.

Cobb: I think more people are paying attention to local music, which helps to foster a more supportive and cohesive scene. People like Mark C. Austin, the folks at Caroline Collective, Free Press Houston and Pegstar, SugarHill Studios, and many others that go out of their way to support local musicians - including a more supportive and focused local press - have been instrumental in this shift.

Hart: The scene as a whole hasn't changed that much, from where I sit, although some of the faces have changed; that's the nature of music in this city, unfortunately. I look back at stuff from 2007, and I had high hopes for folks like Papermoons and The Scattered PAGES and The Western Civilization and The Church of Philadelphia and The Dimes and Thee Armada, and none of those bands even exist today. It gets maddening, to tell you the truth - it kills me to see these bands that are great and incredible just explode and then fizzle out and disappear.

At the same time, there're always new bands stepping up to take the place of the bands that're gone, and we've got some truly amazing people making music these days. I used to look back nostalgically to when I first started paying attention to music in Houston, when bands like Celindine and Blueprint and The Suspects and Sprawl were around, but these days there's really no comparison. The depth of good bands in the scene here now is almost ridiculous.



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8 comments
Dr.Demento
Dr.Demento

Houston Music Scene, a.k.a "The Scene that Celebrates Itself."

RamonLP4
RamonLP4

Hey Jeremy,

Granted they've been very quiet but Young Mammals (aka The Dimes) are still around.  I just spoke with Carlos the other day and they are workign on a new album.  

Sam from the Ringwalds
Sam from the Ringwalds

I'd say one of the biggest changes is the transition in popularity from cover bands to original bands in the mind of the average music fan (not music aficionados like the worthies above). Nothing pleases me more as a musician than to attend a packed Roky Moon and Bolt show, or seeing bands like Paris Falls recording more and more material. As a former 6th-warder, I definitely look at the Washington Ave. change as a significant one (the Ringwalds certainly played all those clubs in our formative years), there are plenty of places to hear good live music, and plenty of ears to hear it. While we've lost some great bands (JW Americana, for instance), we've gained some as well (see above), and don't discount music-related projects like Bluefinger, or extremely eclectic genius like the Two Star Symphony (in concert or playing original scores to silent movies). I'd say we have a robust music scene on all levels, and I'm always excited to see what comes next.

Jeremy
Jeremy

And that's different from any other scene elsewhere how?

Jeremy
Jeremy

Dangit, I knew that, too.  I apparently needed more coffee...thx, Ramon!

Dr.Demento
Dr.Demento

No trolling intended on my part, cause I think there are some excellent bands in Houston. The problem is with the lazy, uninterested (and sometimes uneducated/still-listening-to-my-high-school-bands) music fans. While you may also argue "and that's different from any other scene elsewhere how?" I keep seeing the same bands play for the same group of friends over and over again. There are just truly very few people in this town that are willing to explore the local scene. Add the distance and "so-many-things-to-do" factors into the equation, then it's not hard to explain why so many good bands come and go over the years. Just my 2 cents...

Jeremy
Jeremy

Agreed completely -- I think, though, that it's less a matter of people being *willing* to go see Houston bands and more that they still only vaguely know those bands even exist.  It kills me, but even now, with things far, far better than they've been since I've lived here, visibility-wise, I talk to people all the time who honestly haven't got a clue.  Or if they do, they've got this mental equation where "local band" == "bunch of kids who barely know how to play".

I think Summerfest helps a *whole* lot in that regard; you get a crapload of people out to see a band they've loved since high school/college (i.e., Weezer), and hey, along the way they end up seeing a half-dozen bands from here that they've never heard of.

And, of course, there's also the other factors you mentioned; it definitely isn't hard to see *why* bands come & go so rapidly here.  Just makes me sad. :(

Mark C Austin
Mark C Austin

Totally agree on the same bands playing to the same audiences.  One of our goals with Canned Acoustica is to cross pollinate those audiences with diverse and extremely talented lineups.  Come check one out.

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