By Sarah Bennett
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By Alex Distefano
Digging who’s onstage at OC Music Award Showcases—and wondering who isn’t
It’s pretty cool that Orange County has its own music awards. We don’t have anything like that where I’m from. The closest we had in the Phoenix area were the AIM (Arizona Infusion of Music, I . . . think?) Awards, and those were for the whole state—and haven’t taken place since 2005, and yes, plenty of award-worthy music has come from there since then. (“We’re more than just the Gin Blossoms!” should have been the tagline.)
The OC Music Awards showcase on Jan. 13 at Detroit Bar with Stereofix, Venus Infers, Aushua and the Sweet Sweet Things provided compelling evidence that there’s indeed enough talent ’round these parts to merit its own ceremony. I had admired several of those bands from afar for a while (sounds kind of creepy, but it isn’t—honest!), but it was my first time seeing any of them live.
Stereofix (from Orange County, but their MySpace claims, “Los Angeles, California”) are extremely polished, down to their natty attire and carefully sculpted coifs. On record, their Killers-esque nouveau new wave can seem almost calculated, but it has a bit more of an edge when performed live. It doesn’t really help that, as far as names go, “Stereofix” is pretty generic.
Huntington Beach’s Venus Infers have had a lot of praise thrown their way (their MySpace is full of assorted fawning from critics), and here comes some more: Their latest, November’s The Truth About Venus Infers, is one of the best local releases I’ve heard in my short time here. They were able to match my expectations live, infusing a vitality into such Britpop songs (don’t worry, no affected English accents!) as “You’re Makin’ Me Nervous.” They’re playing the Gypsy Lounge on Friday, and going to that would probably not be the worst thing ever.
Aushua, from Orange, also impressed, in a much mellower way, with pretty, peaceful vocals evoking the Snow Patrols or Travises of the world. And in the interest of full disclosure, I missed the Sweet Sweet Things (since when do shows start on time?), which was a bummer.
But in talking to a buddy outside the venue between sets, one thing did seem kind of odd, and it wasn’t the ponderous amount of “Yelpstick” being given away (user-review website Yelp was one of the night’s sponsors; free is always good, but I’ll probably be sticking with Burt’s Bees): It was how similar all the acts were. Not just that night—because that was intentional, I’m sure—but from the week before at the same venue. It was all melodic indie pop strongly reminiscent of many acts who have populated FM rock stations the past five years. I’d be hypocritical to complain too much, since I enjoyed these bands and am a fan of a lot of that music (I’m not ashamed to admit rocking out to Coldplay on some lonely, lonely nights). The week before that was all folksy singer/songwriter types—certainly in the same genus, if not species.
Looking into the future—including this Tuesday’s lineup with the Living Suns, Sederra, Starving for Gravity and Champagne Blvd.—things aren’t much different, despite the Living Suns being a little harder than any of the bands we were talking about previously. Nothing against any of these guys, but it’s still ultimately rock & roll. After this past week at Detroit, the concerts move to Chain Reaction, and the pattern seems to hold. So, where are the electro artists? Metal? DJs? Hip-hop? Latin?
That night, I caught up with Luke Allen, the guy now in charge of the OC Music Awards. I asked him if there was a chance of seeing the genres getting a little more mixed-up in future concerts, and he said that though there would be representation from other genres at the awards—there is, indeed, a Best Hip-Hop category—for the most part, the showcases are looking like mostly rock bands because, well, that’s the kind of music that people in Orange County play.
I’m not trying to criticize Allen for this. He’s one of the nicest guys in the music “scene” here I’ve met thus far and has been doing well with the showcases (the one I attended was packed—on a Tuesday). I wonder, though, if the OC music scene is quite as homogeneous as these lineups tend to suggest. I can’t really offer up enough evidence at this point to argue either way; most of the bands I’ve written about since getting here fall into the “poppy rock” category, as do many of the bands from here who have broken nationally recently, like Japanese Motors.
Check with me again when the 2010 OC Music Awards roll around.