Screw SXSW

We've got South By Due East

The proverbial two roads are diverging in that yellow wood for For close to two years, M. Martin's delectably underground Montrose studio/ Webcasting station has been the one spot in Houston where rappers jammed with cowpunks, Mexican rockers partied with their indie counterparts, and Montrosians and denizens of the wards met, mingled and made music. In a city where the various scenelets are often much too insular, Earthwire is a tonic.

While NIMBY neighbors and poor cash flow have Martin in defense mode, for Earthwire the best defense has always been a strong attack. And that's exactly what they have planned for March 14 through 16 at the ramshackle studio at the corner of Fairview and Waugh.

A few weeks ago, Martin wondered what would happen if the music industry gave a party every year in our state and didn't invite us. So he said let there be South By Due East: a Houston showcase of bands that were passed over for the Big Schmooze. As of press time, Los Skarnales, Dubtex, Counter Intelligenz, K'Mante, Giancarlo's Big Stick, Gloria Edwards, Rebecca Torellas, Conscious CoCreation, Opie Hendrix, Sound Patrol, New Jack Hippies, de Sangre and Chango Jackson had signed on to the bill.

While a live broadcast of the event on Houston Media Source and a taped rebroadcast on Austin Public Access fell through, the concerts will be streamed live via Earthwire. And tapes of the events are going to run on a loop at an H-town-friendly spot in the Capital City: Earthwire associates Marlo Blue and DJ Woo are turning Trophy's Sports Bar on South Congress into a Houston hospitality center.

Martin views the hospitality center as a sort of missionary outpost peddling the gospel of Houston music. "What South By Southwest came up with to represent Houston does not represent Houston, and it ignores not just a lot of really meaningful critical trends in music and entertainment here, but in Austin and on the entire planet. They've just gotten too damn insular. The idea with the hospitality center is to try to fill in some of the blanks, to try to show that there is a little more to Houston than Rusted Shut and half a dozen country acts or whatever."

The event is also planned as a benefit for the financially ailing Earthwire. Martin is going to charge a cover and suspend the studio's BYOB policy by getting Rudyard's to cater the event. The SXDE show almost fell through late last week when Houston Media Source pulled out and Martin thought there was a lack of commitment from his cohorts. He even told Racket the show was off, but he changed his mind after gauging that there was sufficient enthusiasm for the showcase -- TV or no.

"After I said I wanted to pull the plug, everybody said, 'We can't do that! We wanna have a show!' " he says. "Well, we're gonna see what happens."

The success or failure of SXDE could have drastic consequences for the future of Earthwire. Will it continue to exist, and if so, what form will it take? "This is kind of a test of what Earthwire is supposed to be about," says Martin. "It's supposed to be a community, a collaborative project -- not there's Martin and sometimes everybody else."

Martin confesses to a certain level of burnout. The past year has seen the retirements of two key lieutenants -- DJ Scout and Kingfish Keith -- and more and more of the workload falling on Martin's shoulders. "If Earthwire is going to survive, I'm going to have to be able to delegate more. I swear to God, if it's just me, we're not going to be around. I'll just find myself another fat corporate IT job and a pretty girlfriend and just be a citizen for a while. But if everybody else wants to go in with me, then it can go forward."

On Racket's last visit to the Earthwire studios, he was greeted by an ominous sight: Martin in a business suit. His worst suspicions were confirmed when the shaven-headed original punker revealed that he had been at an interview with Halliburton that day. After two years of creative unemployment, Martin is now actively seeking a job in the IT sector. Should his efforts succeed, the nonstop warehouse party at Earthwire will be ending a lot earlier each night.

As if that weren't bad enough news, someone -- Martin suspects a new neighbor -- has been phoning in noise complaints regularly to HPD. According to Martin, the complaints have little to do with noise. After all, he hasn't been hosting many live shows lately, and the noise that is generating the complaints is only that of a home stereo turned low enough to not interfere with conversation inside the studio.

"The thing that astonishes me is that we've been making less noise than ever," he says. "A while back we had people on mike, people on turntables, we were using a full PA, and we had less soundproofing, and I have gotten more police calls in the last month than I got total in the six months preceding that. I think whoever is making these calls is just waiting until there's X-number of cars in the parking lot and then they make the call."

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