Looking back over the major music-related stories around Houston the past 11 and a half months, 2012 was light on the kind of headlines you'll usually see in a year-end "music scene" recap: Obituaries, arrests, venues closing down, malfeasance, bad behavior, that sort of thing. There was some of that, but not as much as most years.
Instead, it seemed like there were an unusual number of happy endings and other postive developments around here, something that makes Rocks Off a little nervous for 2013. So let's just all try to enjoy the good vibes while they last, because they probably won't.
10. Back to La Futura After shuffling record labels and generally taking their sweet time, in September ZZ Top released their first studio album in nine years, the Rick Rubin-boosted La Futura. It made a more than respectable debut at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 (their highest ever), and most critics applauded the lil' ol' band's good sense to stick to their strong suit: Gutbucket Texas boogie. Writing not about the album but the overall ZZ Top myth, Rocks Off's Brittanie Shey still didn't see the big deal.
9. Old White Guys Still Pack 'Em In Two packed Houston houses saw beyond-their-years, but not past-their-prime, performances by a couple of '60s icons, Sir Paul McCartney and the Brian-Wilson-inclusive Beach Boys. Next year we already know we're getting Eric Clapton, but the rock geezers everyone is really hoping for are named Bruce and Sir Mick. (And Keef, Ronnie and Charlie, of course.)
8. Walters, Alive and Kicking After effectively being run off Washington Avenue, then enduring months of permit purgatory, Walters reopened behind UH-Downtown in late 2011, bigger and with fewer D-bags stumbling in for Jaeger shots at last call. Now that it has a real parking lot, finally, Walters has been fully restored to its place as a linchpin of Houston's indie, experimental, punk/hardcore and metal scenes. Long may it run.
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7. Houston Rap Gets Institutionalized Save the "higher learning" jokes, because this year two prominent Houston universities officially made local rap part of their curriculum. Through the efforts of former Axiom co-manager Julie Grob, a current U of H librarian, the University of Houston completed cataloging its wealth of items related to the late DJ Screw, and in March hosted the Awready! hip-hop conference that included performances and panels such as "Slabs and Syrup" and "The Legacy of DJ Screw." Meanwhile, Swisha House records donated a memorabilia such as cassettes, flyers, and the label's 2009's Houston Press Music Award to the Special Collections department of Rice University's Fondren Library.
6. Nightculture Rising Perfectly poised to capitalize on electronic dance music's seemingly overnight surge in popularity, Houston-based Nightculture, Inc. became a publicly traded company (NGHT) early this year -- supposedly the first-ever EDM promoters to do so -- and bought outright the city's top techno temple, Stereo Live, in May. It saw an immediate return on its investment by keeping the dance floor filled with top names across the EDM spectrum, from filthy dubstep to sublime progressive house, and in the fall brought the Houston area its first-ever electronic-music festival (see below).
5. Something Wicked Although Tiesto had to drop out when the Dutch DJ hurt his back, fill-in Kaskade and other A-list EDM artists such as Zedd, Le Castle Vania, Flux Pavilion, Modestep and W&W helped make Something Wicked's maiden voyage in a field adjacent to Sam Houston Race Park a success. (A personal discovery was Austin's sleek Tritonal.) Certainly a large part of the fun was thanks to the perfect weather, wooded setting, and all the costumes; enough with the Indian headdresses, though. Nightculture announced an impressive official attendance of some 12,000 people earlier this month, and promised to release some info on the 2013 fest soon.
4. The Trae Shooting Leader of the Assholes by Nature rap family, popular Houston MC Trae tha Truth - as soft-spoken offstage as he is aggressive on it - was wounded in the shoulder while leaving a strip clup in the early morning of June 20; he had performed earlier in the evening at a Juneteenth concert elsewhere. The gunfire killed two members of the ABN inner circle, Dinky D and Poppa C, as well as a 30-year-old Houston woman, and wounded two others.
Police arrested a suspect with a long criminal history about two weeks later, and said they believed Poppa C, real name Coy Thompson, was the target. Thompson had previously been tied to the November 2011 shooting that claimed the life of one of Trae's top lieutenants (and Poppa C's uncle), Dominique Brown aka "Money Clip C." If there's a silver lining in this sad story, it's that Trae was back on his feet in time for July's Trae Day, which he turned into a community fair at Emancipation Park rather than a concert. He returned from touring (including Europe) to perform with cousin Z-Ro at an ABN reunion at House of Blues in November.
3. Summer Fest a $14M Big Deal Headlined by Snoop
Dogg Lion, Willie Nelson, the Flaming Lips and an aromatic haze hanging over Eleanor Tinsley Park, Free Press Summer Fest drew an estimated 81,000 people this year, breaking the old record by nearly 25 percent. In October, a University of Houston study commissioned by FPSF founders Free Press Houston and Pegstar Concerts found that the two-day festival brought in about $14 million to the local economy, and that one in four attendees came in from out of town -- a figure that made one of the study's authors tell Rocks Off that the number of cultural tourists coming to Houston for events such as FPSF "may be more than we think."
2. Static There are so many more sophisticated ways to listen to music without paying for it these days that it's a little puzzling to Rocks Off that two of our biggest stories of the year involved the seemingly lifeless medium of terrestrial FM radio. But both the 103.7 sale/selling out in May and this month's Walton and Johnson flap (which wasn't even really about music) were proof that Rocks Off readers love them some squeaky wheels. There's not much else to say, except to add one more word in support of 89.7 FM, Alvin Community College's "Gulf Coast Rocker" and radio done right.
1. Gimme Noise Heard any good noise complaints recently? Last year at this time that was all Houston was hearing, as the controversial noise ordinance revision passed by City Council in October 2011 led to widespread squawking all over the music scene. The amended law gave police much greater authority (unfairly, many said) to enforce the law, and led to numerous fines and even jail time for several bars and music venues.\
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For a while it seemed like you couldn't go to Boondocks, one of the hardest-hit venues, without seeing a HPD squad car in the parking lot. But miraculously -- thanks, we'd like to think, in some small part to our May cover story "Sound Effects" -- and by this summer most of the cases had been tossed.