State Of The Scene Part 2: Welcome To Middle Finger City

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Craig Hlavaty
One Man Wrecking Crew: B L A C K I E at SXSW 2011
Welcome back. Before we proceed with our "State of the Scene" discussion, Rocks Off would like to say a couple of things we didn't get to in our print manifesto this week.

The first concerns our former city of residence. Rocks Off may mention something or someone we heard or saw in Austin from time to time, and we have some very good friends there. But as tempting as it can be sometimes, we make it a point to avoid comparing the two cities and their music scenes as much as possible. For one thing, we have really only been back to Austin for SXSW and the Austin City Limits Festival since we moved to Houston, and neither time is an especially good one to gauge what the music scene is like over there on an everyday basis.

Also, and more to the point: We like it here. Not once in our four-year tenure in Space City have we regretted moving to Houston, or wished we'd reconsidered our decision. The scene(s) here can be contentious, thin-skinned and too nice by turns, it's true, but it's awful hard not to love a place where so much of the city (and the scene) still feels undiscovered after four years, and where you see so many of the same people at B L A C K I E and Robert Ellis shows - not the least of whom are B L A C K I E and Robert Ellis themselves. Carrying on...

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Rocks Off: Is the city, and by the city I mean the music scene, any closer to establishing a distinct identity?

Omar Afra: As for an "identity" for Houston on a national musical scale, we have had one of Southern hip-hop for a decade or more. That is a good thing, but there is so much more to we have to offer. Houston has some of the best grindcore, garage, electronic music, noise, etc., that all developed out of the insular mentality I mentioned earlier.

Marc Brubaker: Maybe in the sense of one that gets it done on sheer will and determination. Houston's music scene has always seemed to pick itself up by its bootstraps and a DIY credo. Other people won't do it, so we do it ourselves.

As far as genres go, no way. Far too much diversity.

David A. Cobb: This is a tough one. Part of me wants to say yes, but I know Houston has too much sprawl to have a totally compact and designated area like Austin has that could help with this.

Jeremy Hart: Honestly, I think it's always had one, even if people didn't realize it. I love this scene here partly because it's the "anti-" scene, where a large number of people involved couldn't care less about fame and fortune but are just in it to have fun with their friends. Houston's identity is one of doing whatever the hell we want, and screw the rest of the world. It's H-town in business and H-town in music, weirdly enough.

Even now, when people are slowly getting noticed by the world outside our borders, what we're going to do is smirk and shrug and, say, stick B L A C K I E up onstage before one of the biggest bands in the last decade to make people wonder what the hell's going on. We're Middle Finger City, all the way.

RO: Given the breadth, diversity and sheer amount of music in Houston, is that even possible?

Cobb: With the cosmopolitan nature of the city, I doubt any single genre is going to take hold. Sure, hip-hop gathered national attention but that's one genre. I think the average music listener here wants to hear diverse styles, and Houston's music scene definitely provides that for those that want to explore it.

Hart: In terms of having a distinct sound, I don't think that's important at all - I think the massive range of music here is one of the best aspects of this scene we're in, and I think the mix-and-match ethos of a lot of booking people and the bands themselves makes everybody more broad-minded in terms of what they listen to and who they play with.

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Ramon LP4
Ramon LP4

I just want to compliment you Chris. 

Shit, here is one huge improvement in the scene - The Houston Press.  A decade ago you guys were snarky and cynical about the scene.  Then you moved into the "woe as us phase" of "what's wrong with the scene!!".  Seeing an article like this is really nice and shows just how far you guys have come. 

Kudos to you and the other writers for all you guys have done. 


I've gotten old. Never thought it would happen. I peruse this site and others and say to myself, "that looks like it might be a pretty good show happening at Fitz tonight..." and then I crack open a beer, yawn, and turn in by ten o'clock. I don't like it, but it's finally happened. Just last week I bought a damned weedwacker. A yard tool for crissakes! I'm just one circular saw away from becoming my dad. Holy crap...

But I've tried. I went to SXSW again this year. Don't know why. My thirtysomething ears are starting to sandblast the sharp edges off all this new music until it dovetails together into a neatly constructed pile of mediocrity. I'm not gonna blame the bands. Not going to do it. I haven't heard them all anyway, of course. I'm not going to become one of those "the kids these days!" adults who think they scored all the good times and everything's gone to shit. But I might secretly wish I was back home with my record collection while your hot new band is playing. Sorry about that. I can't help it. It's just that I've already seen your ironic Poison t-shirt somewhere before. It would be cooler if you really did like Poison. But you really don't, do you? I didn't think so. Nah, I don't either.

Houston's going to blow up musically. Something's in the air. Something new is going to happen. Something dangerous. Something to shake me up, make me feel the earth move under me, scare me a little. I hope so. Maybe I'll end up at Fitz after all and a teenager will crack me over the head with his beer bottle while in the throes of rawk and roll ecstasy. Maybe there will still be teenagers who drink on the sly, and that beer bottle upside my head will make me suddenly forget about the thought I had the other day that I could have more house and maybe a swimming pool if I lived in Katy.


Then, when Houston blows up, and is running a series of articles about the hip new scene down in H-town, and the national army of scenesters flies in from New York and California and Portland to fill the Free Press Summerfest with VIPs, and we can upload picks of Rolling Stone writers having a latte at Agora on our Facebook pages, we can achieve the envious position of complaining about how good it was back when the rents were cheaper and you didn't have to stand with your beer on a Tuesday night at Poison Girl because all the tables were taken.

But I am a big fan of Balaclavas. I wonder if my dad would dig them? I never can tell with the old man.


I'm on a tour of the east coast, today I'm in Washington D.C., with Fernando's solo band, PAPAYA. When people in other cities have asked what Houston's scene is like I cite a show like New Year's at Fitz, Golden Axe and Wild Moccasin's on the same stage and no one thinks of it as odd. Houston's musical diversity is part of what I love. The other more important part is the quality of the bands.

Troy Schulze
Troy Schulze

Hart: "This town burns bands out too damn fast, sometimes."


JW Americana.



Hate to say this to Brubaker but for years Houston has had multiple college radio stations on the FM dial. KUHF's front row regularly spotlights local bands like Two Star Symphony and local musicians like Henry Darragh and 89.7 KACC in Alvin holds it down for rock. Also the amount of diversity in Houston's music community is the best thing about it. Every time I go to Austin to try and check out a local band I come away thinking "they sound like every other Austin band I've ever heard." I think that the moment a city's music scene can be codified into the "___ Sound" it's dead.

And as for Omar's statement about Houston being a Southern Hip-hop town; we certainly are known for it but it doesn't mean that it's going to have staying power in the public mind. Many of the producers and MCs moved on from screw years ago to the next thing (auto tune, electronic beats, etc.) As Astronautilis, a fantastic MC from Florida, said when he was in town in 2009 "I love Houston. The rest of the country moved past Southern Hip-hop years ago, but it doesn't matter to Houston."


I've felt for a long time that Houston, like any other huge city, will have a hard time developing a "scene." In terms of size, we are far more comprable to Chicago and LA and New York than we are to Austin or Seattle or Portland. Big cities aren't as insular as smaller ones and, as a result, have lots of smaller scenes rather than one large one.

Houston has a range of thriving music communities in hip hop, rock, folk, Latin, blues, jazz and country as well as the subsets of each of those genres. We just don't see those scenes integrate all that often, though I'd personally love to see that.

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