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A music council by any other name... In recent years, the Houston Music Council hasn't gotten a whole lot of respect from local scenesters. Part of the problem is its checkered past -- and the fact that every time a musician hears the Music Council's name, all that mixed history comes flooding in. So to provide itself a clean slate, the HMC has taken a cue from more than a few folks who have reinvented themselves, and changed its moniker. From here on, the Houston Music Council is no more; instead, it's the Houston Music Network. Of course, a new set of initials doesn't mean much if what's behind those initials is the same old thing, but according to Network organizer Darrell Clingman, the changed name reflects a truly changed spirit. It denotes the fact that this latest venture will indeed be starting from scratch.

"It's just so hard when you have the negative connotations of the Council involved," Clingman says. "We don't even want to mention it in the same breath."

Clingman and some others instituted the change during a sparsely attended November 2 HMC meeting at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Not surprisingly, the decision was met with little to no resistance. "Basically, we dissolved [the HMC]," he says. "It doesn't exist anymore as its former identity. We're completely gutting everything. [The HMN] will be a new and fresh organization."

To put it mildly, Clingman -- owner of the local Copper Records label and a partner in Third Stone Studios -- is jazzed over prospects for the Houston Music Network. He foresees an office/headquarters for the HMN in the near future, one that will be staffed during regular business hours. Eventually, he says, the HMN will offer an array of networking possibilities to musicians in the area. The idea, according to Clingman, is to keep the new organization practical and to the point, which means ditching all the backslapping, elbow-rubbing mumbo jumbo and vague philosophical jargon that drove its predecessor into the ground. The Network, he contends, will be all business and no bullshit.

"It's going to be based around four or five local guys in the industry, each specializing in different aspects," Clingman says.

When questioned as to who those guys might be, Clingman hesitates, reluctant to throw out names quite yet. "Right now," he says, "we're drawing up a business plan. We're working on trying to get some grants. It's not going to be so hung up on that 'good buddy' thing; it's going to be more constructive and more concrete -- a hard-core information place. It's not going to be some answering machine that might get answered or might not."

It's a safe bet that former HMC treasurer Alice Romero will be involved with the HMN in some capacity. Though she had expressed misgivings to Clingman about sticking around, it appears that after all these years, Romero simply can't stay away. "Musicians," insists Romero, "need something like this."

The Network is working to establish ties with Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference, ties that, for the Music Council, evaporated a few years back. If they can pull off some sort of alliance before next March's SXSW event, that ought to boost HMN's credibility. Clingman hopes to have at least some of the HMN's infrastructure in place by the time of the group's first public meeting in January.

"We want to get back to what was successful about the original Council -- where they had the label conferences, the publicity conferences, the journalist conferences," Clingman says. "Most of the young bands nowadays are sitting at home, smoking pot, watching pornos, talking about how cool it's going to be when they get signed. It's not like we're going to beg them, but we'll be there if they want us to help. There will be showcases -- real showcases. No more contests, no more CD compilation crap -- basically, just a true educational and networking situation."

Raves wave-offs... There was a time -- circa 1993, perhaps -- when the hard-core, surf-crazed miscreants in Sugar Shack could have benefited from the sort of networking Clingman's HMN is touting. As it is now, though, the Houston-based quintet remains little more than a squandered treasure of a loud-and-fast punk band, enjoying more clout in Australia, of all places, than it does anywhere in America (and that includes its own hometown).

No matter. Sugar Shack has found a friend in Estrus Records, a label out of Washington state that has just released Five Weeks Ahead of My Time. This CD is only the group's third long-player in almost a decade, and it's lousy with potential, not to mention a blase desperation that makes it all the more compelling. Recorded in Austin with Tim Kerr manning the boards and the Lord High Fixers' Stefanie Paige Friedman adding considerable bulk on drums, Five Weeks is Sugar Shack's most crisply delivered outing to date -- which, of course, isn't saying all that much.

Granted, guitarist/songwriter Andy Wright offers a fairly remedial take on the punk idiom, and lead singer Mark Lochridge has a tendency to yell himself dizzy, but the combination of foul humor and pent-up energy on tracks such as "Thee Crusaders," "In the Chump Zone" and "All Night Stand" is as flammable as a '75 Pinto. So, yes, maybe Sugar Shack once had a shot at being Houston's less presentable answer to Fugazi. Like they care, anyway.

-- Hobart Rowland

 
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