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

One Man Wrecking Crew: B L A C K I E at SXSW 2011
One Man Wrecking Crew: B L A C K I E at SXSW 2011
Craig Hlavaty

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...

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

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.


Souvenirs of the "Save KTRU" rally at Rice University, August 2010
Souvenirs of the "Save KTRU" rally at Rice University, August 2010
Brittanie Shey

RO: Where could the local music scene stand the most improvement?

Afra: The best thing that could happen is for a culture to rise among fans where they randomly go check out bands they have never heard of, much like a movie or a sandwich. Going to see what you know you like is all good, but if you venture out a little bit, you are bound to be pleasantly surprised.

Brubaker: Still needs some more organization. Definitely needs another FM college radio station. More acts getting out on tour.

Cobb: Change Free Press Summer Fest to "Winter Fest" or "Spring Fest." Summer in Houston is no time for a music festival unless it's inside, and even then we need sno-cones and air conditioning.

Hart: Radio. Despite my comments above about the increased attention, Houston radio has always, always sucked, and now it's even worse, with KTRU getting shunted off the airwaves. I think the music scene here as a whole would benefit a ton from having at least one radio station that would play music by more indie bands; I think the crowds at Summer Fest to see people like Beirut and Explosions in the Sky and Peelander-Z are proof that Houston listeners are listening to a lot of bands they're never, ever going to hear anywhere on the dial in Houston.

It's a little ridiculous. This city has the worst, blandest, least-current radio of any big city I've ever even heard of. If there was a station people could turn on that played stuff from at least the last five years that wasn't bland alterna-rock or country, people would tune in, and when those bands came to town, the shows would be nuts.

But then, hey, I'm told The Kids don't listen to radio anyway. So what do I know?

RO: Sum up your opinion of the Houston music scene, circa June 29, 2011 (when we asked these questions), in 10 words or less.

Afra: "We play from our heart."

Brubaker: People that will always try like hell.

Cobb: Coming into its own.

Hart: Holy. Fucking. Crap.

RO: Finally... where do we go from here?

Afra: Nowhere, we are already here.

Cobb: It's early enough in our expanding scene that continuing to do what people are doing - supporting bands through video and radio shows, fans singing the praises of their favorite local bands, good local coverage in the press, and bands taking chances with their music - should be enough. People outside the city and state are taking notice. It'll just take some time.

Hart: Um. Upwards? Hell, I'll be happy if the bands I really, really like, folks like Buxton and listenlisten and Co-Pilot and The Literary Greats and Muhammad Ali and Fat Tony and several dozen others would just stick around for another four years. This town burns bands out too damn fast, sometimes.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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