The Rocks Off 100: Crystal Toliver, Source of That Yello Echo You Hear

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who? There is no voice in Houston like that of Crystal Toliver, maybe even the world. Think of it as a combination of Poe and Mary J. Blige, or maybe Aretha Franklin and Nina Hagen. It's a high, powerful instrument that dances the line between girlish and wanton, and Toliver delivers every note through an infectious toothy grin that makes seeing the weird indie-pop/disco thingamajig that Yello Echo does live a veritable hoot.

Toliver grew up around music. Her mother taught her and her sister to sing when they were very young. She performed in the church choir, banged around on whatever musical instruments were lying around, and wrote poetry. Sometime after Toliver's first band, A Temperamental Muse, split, she teamed with Mani Nezami (on his wife's advice) to form Yello Echo. They hit it off musically and have been putting out their particular brand of pop ever since. Their first music video is scheduled to be shot this month.

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The Rocks Off 100: Mr. Castillo, Song-Sniping DJ

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who? Dan Castillo, Mr. Castillo to you, is one of Houston's most consistent DJs, and can always be counted on to keep a dance floor going. He specializes in... well, he doesn't specialize actually. That's what makes him such an effective DJ.

Hearing a set by Castillo will involve everything from Nu Disco to minimalist wave, post-punk to Italian Disco. That potent mixture that comes out of nowhere yet never misses a transition is why you see his name on all the posters for the good shows in town. He spins from the blindsides like a song sniper.

Castillo actually got his start in posters. He began working in the music industry in 2003 as a graphic designer, making flyers and ads for The Proletariat, Danseparc, and Boys and Girls Club as well as most of the East End's larger live-music venues. A computer crash in 2006 coincided with a desire to find something creative to do outside of his graphic-design day job, and when a client offered to let him try a set a Proletariat, he jumped at it.


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Rocks Off 100: DJ Big Reeks, The Chief Waxaholic

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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http://www.facebook.com/djbigreeks

Who: At first glance, Rican McGusty is an imposing, even intimidating character. However, spend any time speaking with him or observing him at work, and you will encounter one of the nicest, most soft-spoken, and all around good dudes in H-Town's DJ scene.

Known as BIg Reeks, this aficionado of all things vinyl rocks the party with a true concern for "the vibe", that intangible factor that packs dance floors and leaves party people with an unrivaled satisfaction.

Reeks was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, son of Guyanese and Portuguese parents, as one of four brothers. His West Indian roots drew him into reggae and soca music, the latter being a Caribbean style originating in Trinidad and Tobago. We'll let him continue his story from there:

"I have been into music since my mom and dad played Isaac Hayes and Bob Marley records in our living room in the early 80s. I can remember when Thriller came out and I loved the music, but I was scared to death of the video.

"I have to credit my older brother with putting hip-hop into my life at an early age. I remember him owning the debut Beastie Boys album when I was five year old. I loved the cover of the wrecked plane. I kept a little red boom box to run and record radio jams. It must have taken me at least a hundred attempts to get "Children's Story" from the very beginning. When I was thirteen, he went off to college and left me two crucial albums: Biggie's "Ready to Die", and Tupac's "2pacalyse Now".

"I have always been drawn to East Coast Hip Hop, but Biggie solidified my preference after a few listens of that album. The first two records I bought with my own money were "The Score" by The Fugees, and "ATLiens" by OutKast. DJing became apparent to me when I frequented clubs with my good friend DJ RedSoda. We could not understand why the DJ wouldn't play the songs we wanted to hear (how ironic). After a while, we bought equipment and our careers were born.

"After years of playing free parties, getting booed, and having the worst equipment know to mankind, the struggle finally paid off."

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Home Base:

Reeks' weekly lineup includes a jazzy/R&B steak night at Fedora Lounge on Mondays, Waxaholics Thursdays at Double Cross Lounge, KISS Saturdays at The Living Room, and Chocolate Sunday Funday at Fox Hollow. Also, the third Saturday of every month with The Southern Gents at Fox Hollow, as well as many one off events with them. He says that the randomness of his events really makes him laugh, butt that he's the kind of guy that if you inquire about his services because you have heard him play, he will try his hardest to make it happen.


The party continues on the next page.


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Rocks Off 100: Melane Gutierrez, The Coffin Queen

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who: 13 Black Coffins is a band that has always had a lot of problems. They were formed out of the ruins of several other acts that had fallen apart, mainly due to internal drama. Yet no matter how awkward their birth, any time they can get it together, they manage a pretty impressive psychobilly sound that plays nice in recordings and is even more amazing heard live.

Melane Gutierrez is the voice of the whole shebang, a dynamo who rolls over a listener like a Mack truck carrying a load of FEMA caskets. It's the sheer force of her singing and personality that enables the group to continue to exist, despite the constant changes. She's back with some new members to show off, and hopefully once again make a mark on the local scene.

Make no mistake though, whether she's out solo as Miss Melane or fronting her boys, hers is a talent that you will want to catch.


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The Rocks Off 100: The Illegal Wiretaps, Listening to You

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Photo courtesy of the Illegal Wiretaps
Who? A long way from Edward Snowden's favorite band (though that could well be true), the Illegal Wiretaps are the sort of audiovisual anarchists that represent a direct hyperlink to Houston's more adventurous musical past -- anyone from the Red Krayola to Future Blondes. They first appeared on our radar a couple of years ago with a disc they mailed to Houston Press HQ, the aptly named Jesus, What Have You Done?, which didn't have a label and left us sleeping with the lights on for a couple of weeks.

That was amid a frenzied period of output that has left many listeners with their mouths agape and the Wiretaps themselves gasping for breath. We had nothing to do with their recent HPMA win for Best Instrumental/Experimental, we swear. The Wiretaps did that all on their own.

Currently the partnership of seasoned musicians Stephan Wyatt and Anthony June, the Wiretaps describe themselves as "consummate shut-ins who managed to create an arranged marriage between obsessive voyeurism and disparate sounds that can only be made in claustrophobic settings. We exist to find and create discomforting noises with the primal hope of resolving them."


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The Rocks Off 100: Jacqi Kil, The Bad Drugs' Screaming Bitch Creature

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who: Since 2011, Houston has had a great little proto-punk outfit in the form of The Bad Drugs, fronted by the vocal death punch that is Jacqi Kil. You've got to love a woman that feels secure enough to not only admit she puked in your car, but who screams it at the top of her lungs in a hate anthem. Screaming Bitch Creature was a tremendous record full of these sorts of sentiments, and Kil consistently proves herself a force not to be trifled with.

Her career started almost by accident. She has sung since she was a teenager, and been invited here and there to contribute vocals on various friends' recordings. The experience prompted Kil to strike out on her own, and a Craigslist ad teamed her with bandmate Ryan Kelley to birth The Bad Drugs.

Previously, she rocked the boards in The Alley Queens with Britt Harris on drums, and Porter Smith, who would go on to found The Freakouts with a similar ball of fire, Ash Kay.


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The Rocks Off 100: Folk Descendent Kevin Taylor Kendrick

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who? Kevin Taylor Kendrick is a family man. From a young age, he learned the tricks of the trade of country and folk music from the generations of his elders who were involved in the music one way or another. Kendrick is also of his generation, though, reflecting the restlessness of Gen Y.

"My vision changed from time to time, wanting to be the next Mozart, to wanting to be in a punk band, to being obsessed with '50s and '60s pop," Kendrick says. He even played in an instrumental progressive-rock band throughout high school called Rise Over Ruin.

But at age 17, he returned to his roots and started writing his own songs on the acoustic guitar and learning banjo. What changed for him?

"After high school," he explains, "I had a lot of free time and discovered my absolute love for writers like Townes Van Zandt and [Bob] Dylan."


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The Rocks Off 100: Eloy Contreras, Deathrazor's Sharp Thrash Vocals

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who? Deathrazor had a rocky road to getting their particular brand of thrash-metal off the ground. They started playing around town in 2009 under the names Violent Resistance and Immortal Assassin, playing some originals, but mostly covers. It was the band's first gig after yet another re-structure when singer and guitarist Johnny Arce asked his cousin Eloy Contreras, who was attending the show as a fan, if he would mind coming up and singing some Metallica covers since he knew the words. He mostly certainly did not, and the newly christened Deathrazor was born.

Contreras always loved to sing whether it was out with friends, alone in his room, the shower, really just anywhere and everywhere. He developed a love of metal at an early age, with particular focus on the three Ms: Metallica, Maiden, and Megadeth. He'd half formed a band here and there, but joining the ranks of Deathrazor on a moment's notice was the first real band experience he had.

Currently the band just has a few home recordings lying around, but those show Contreras' potential well. He has a brutal, fast-paced delivery that may lack in elegance but makes up for it in a kind of sincere, spoken rage that feels like the narration of a particularly gruesome police report over the thunder of his mates.

It's unapologetic, and definitely appropriately named.


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The Rocks Off 100: Robert McCarthy, Guitarist From Beyond

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Who? Now, I got to know Robert McCarthy because I fell in love with a band called Thunderkunt. Why wouldn't you? That was a good time, and McCarthy assures me that the band will be back this Christmas, but until then he's been rocking guitars and vocals for From Beyond, the excellent, underrated lo-fi metal act. 2012's One Year was one of the best metal releases I'd seen in a decade, full of lots and lots and lots of dooooooooom.

McCarthy grew up with your standard classic-rock background, but it was Silent Hill 3 composer Akira Yamaoka who really led to his particular, hopeless style of playing. The mesmerizing horror soundtrack unleashed an equally hypnotic pit specter of the guitar. After Thunderkunt he wanted to explore that side more, and used From Beyond to tackle a psychedelic vibe as well as a more metal approach. He plays all the instruments on From Beyond records except drums, emboldened by the power of controlling so much of the band's ability.


Home Base: McCarthy sets up wherever he can, but his main workspace is Digital Warehaus. He tends to be struck with inspiration at the most convenient times, and his neighbors hate having him wake up in the middle of the night to drop '80s VHS horror riffs quickly into his little analog rig before the ideas fade.

His favorite place to play is Fitzgerald's, particularly upstairs. It offers a chance to blast sound from a wall of amplifiers, adding a grandiose spectacle while not losing the coziness of the local hot spot. He's also a fan of the lighting setup.

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The Rocks Off 100: Justice Tirapelli-Jamail, The Manichean's "Quiet One"

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Jason A. Smith
Who? The Manichean? Easily one of the top bands in Houston? They just did LOVERS at the Alley Theatre again? Good, glad we're all caught up.

Where Cory Sinclair is the haunting wordsmith who lays out the lyrics and the spoken-word, it's Justice Tirapelli-Jamail who cobbles out the music that becomes all those avant-garde compositions. He brings the basic bones to Sinclair, and after hashing out the more-or-less finished concept he instructs the rest of the band in exactly what they're doing. He's also responsible for all the basic managerial paperwork, a quiet genius in the back making brilliant contributions to one of our best acts. You see him in the back of the show, playing with subtle intensity.

As to how they met, well...


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