The next generation of Red River rebels
But a wind of change has swept the music industry in the last decade. In addition to creativity and originality, youth also breeds risk both emotionally and financially. With a shaky economy nationwide for clubs and labels alike, getting a foot in the door has fallen in line just behind getting rich playing music: unlikely at best. Time to start thinking outside the box.
Which is exactly what three bands from Austin and one from San Antonio have done. When nobody was booking these unknown nigh-punks for fear of empty rooms and full kegs, they took matters into their own hands. When no label risked recording the sounds exploding out of their makeshift amps and instruments, they grooved their own records. While other boatmates citywide whined about gigs, they chinned up and took the entrepreneurial road. Keep in mind, these guys are at most 25 years old, with the youngest of the bunch hitting 17. Nothing creates pride like a truly green DIY generation, albeit a microcosmic one.
DIY has been a punk rock creed since the Who. With the advent of "alternative" radio and Hot Topics in every mall, however, hand-printed album covers and Sharpied T-shirts fell by the wayside. Regardless of how much Austin prides itself on not relying on the aforementioned path to the masses, local venues still don't wholeheartedly welcome that which doesn't guarantee profit, or at least sustainability. Risk can propel a business into the green, but more than likely, said business will be seeing visions of red. It's the name of the game.
With Jesse Hodges and his bandmates in Tuxedo Killers standing at this particular helm and Beerland consigliere Max Dropout steering the ship, there's hope for the future. Because when punk rock grows stale and all the longtime Red River regulars hit 40 or have children, somebody needs to grab the torch. There are other members of this club Animals of the Bible; the Sneeze; Yes, Definitely; Numbers on the Mast; I Admit Nothing; Best Fwends but without the battering ram, sometimes you just can't open the door. Here are four acts who've taken said ram by the horns.
Tuxedo Killers: a hardcore fourpiece as concerned with rocking out as with keeping the scene together.
Video Screams: a fresh-out-of-high-school (and two still in) fivepiece sans bass. Perfectly coifed and outfitted, they're ready to go up against anyone.
Skullening: a San Antonio quartet sans guitar. Crunchy bass and perfected rhythms drive the blasting organ of the future.
SteerS: a noise metal threepiece that wants to destroy the audience. Leading with basslines louder than thunder, the guitar is only a backdrop, and vocals are rarely heard.
Welcome to the next generation.
Tuxedo Killers: Paternal Placeholders
Tuxedo Killers are the glue that holds this particular mini scene together. When Red River wouldn't talk to strangers, as we're all taught not to do, Tux Kill threw keggers at RanchO RelaxO, a house on the Eastside where good friend and Numbers on the Mast manipulator Trey Smith built a stage a couple of years ago. If RanchO wasn't available or if more beverages were necessary the accommodating patio at Eastside Tejano bar Red's Scoot Inn was rented for the evening. Quite a sight to see: Selena on the jukebox, scratch punk on the stage. Now that Beerland has opened its doors, with Emo's and Room 710 following suit, RanchO's days are numbered.
Tuxedo Killers draw more respect from their fellow musicians than any of their fathers could ever hope for. Not because of their tendency to organize the chaotic legion of mini Iggys, but because they play punk rock unlike that of locals like the Kodiaks, Ends, and other power-chord-ophiles.
Often decked out in wizard costumes and unicorn horns, Tux Kill plays a hazy brand of Texas punk that throttles rooms with dissonance and discomfort in a good way. Guitarist Jesse Hodges hits chords that build the anxiety forced by vocalist George Dishner into an aural attack. That typical four-four beat doesn't reverberate from Blair Hicks' drums, though. Instead, proggy time changes and pauses creep their way through the measures. Somewhere between the Butthole Surfers and the Stooges, Tuxedo Killers are decidedly unusual.
"It's all high-energy music," Hicks explains. "The MC5 used to say that they played high-energy rock & roll. That's all I ever wanted to do."
"They were right about everything," pipes up Dishner, the 22-year-old throat. Aside from screaming indecipherable lyrics into the mic, Dishner has brought the band a new dimension by stripping down to his skivvies nearly every show. What began as a heat-induced necessity has now become a trademark.
And with newcomer Ben Bellomy, 23, on the low-end, the foursome has transformed from noisy schtick to inextricable rock & roll.
"We went through a period of trying to be more riffy," admits Hodges. "But now we're trying to be more assertive."
"And awesome!" Dishner grins.
Video Screams: Class Clowns
"Have you heard of trans-humanism? We're a part of that project. We're from the late 1800s, frozen, and thawed out. Back then, people had greater attention spans, so we have better attention spans than this new generation Y.
"We process stuff so fast, we don't have the patience for a slow song."
This is Video Screams. Matt Lyons, the lanky 19-year-old with a goofy grin, is no sillier than the rest of the guys, but when they come together onstage, it's seriously mind-blowing. And like Lyons attests, they don't do slow.
Video Screams' use of a Korg keyboard for its low-end and double off-tuned guitars emanates an uncomfortable sensation well-known to headlight-caught deer from Lakeway to Boerne. Add the fact that these teenagers (Korg man Tyler Davis is 22) exude a stage presence usually witnessed only in seasoned rockers, and suddenly you're in uncharted territory.
"We came up with this weird key signature," inventor Ryan Foster explains. "It's futuristic. It's like bees building. I made it up because I don't know how to play normal guitar."
Watching Video Screams swarm onstage, an uneasy urge to flee takes hold. But the music is infectious, and that low buzzing underneath the staccato shouts of 17-year-old vox Roy Tatum only heightens the energy in the room.
Sitting in their rehearsal space otherwise known as a tiny storage unit in far-East Austin the five über-hipsters and one girlfriend/fiancée (depending on who you ask) are as assured as even the most respected Austin musicians. They're invincible five optimists with untouched goals, who don X's on their hands and black Converse on their feet. But they're not scared. They're not flinching. They're not going away.
Skullening: Spastic Geniuses
"Cat screams, knee scrapes, concrete face plants, beer-soaked tumbles, migraine tickles." Singer Leonard Guerra, 25, describes his music. And he nails it. Skullening plays from a place in the furthest corners of the mind. The organ reels with a thousand decibels while the bass rattles the walls. Guerra pogos onstage, every ounce of his body weight vibrating with the snap of the hi-hat. To these San Antonio boys, the omission of guitar was as natural as their roar.
Drummer and, unusually, principal songwriter Scott Jennings views Skullening's stuttering thump as unusual only in that the band members' individual tastes are far from their output. Typical verse-chorus-verse pop songs are fed through the gears of the Skullening machine, and something downright shocking collates.
And that organ. Dan Stevens types out octaves never before reached by a rock & roll band. They pummel with a frequency that's unnerving. That's the point. Jennings' frantic beats drive anxiety as much as Guerra's frenetic bouncing. And once Chris Cates looms his head down over his bass strap, the band's garage-rock perversion explodes out of amps as something otherworldly.
"We aren't trying to ride the wave of whatever's popular at the moment," Jennings implores. "We're a garage band, but we don't really play garage music. Our equipment is held together by tape and is all pawnshop quality, but it doesn't mean we fit into that genre."
Covering their faces with scarves might be a stretch for a trademark, but more than likely it's a barrier between reality and fantasy. Watching them create darkness out of disorder on stage, capes might be more apt than scarves. Cobwebs begin to form between Jennings' toms, and eyes begin to glow. Then again, that might just be the organ talking.
SteerS: New Recruits
On the floor in front of the stage at Trophy's are three men dressed from head to toe in camo ... with pink, iron-on steer heads adhered to their shoulders. SteerS mix multiple genres into a glorious pool of guts and sweat. A song explodes with speed-metal drumming, arrhythmic basslines, and bleeps from 23-year-old one-man band Patrick Turbiville. In three minutes, waves of sludge careen out of the amp, easing the prior anxiety. It's a roller coaster ride of time changes and attacks.
"It's a desire to play a set where after two songs you don't feel like you've heard everything we're going to do," explains bassist and frontman Kevin Livesay. "That's a curse that happens with bands sometimes. ... There's nothing wrong with that, it's just something that bores us."
Boredom doesn't come easily when the SteerS are blowing dust. This night Livesay lines up chairs, stools, and tables as a barrier between audience and band. The barrier becomes a haphazard stage as the possessed man balances on one foot, shredding the thick strings. This isn't punk rock. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
With metal riffs streaming from the makeshift stage, the schtick of the costumes ahem, uniforms is as confusing as the math blast. In truth, it fits with what these Austin transplants are trying to do. They are messing with your mind.
"I like it when a band takes you out of your comfort zone," says Livesay. "I think that by doing the uniforms and trying to keep things a little bit off-kilter, we're providing a different experience than you might get if you just went to a rock show and saw five punk bands."
SteerS are the new kids in this crop. Their metallic tendencies oppose that of their three brother bands, but their mantra is carbon-copied.
"I really just come here to play," reasons drummer Brian Ellison, whom Livesay calls a mutant he will never play without. "I forget we even get paid at shows. I forget we even sell merchandise. I never ask how much money we made. If we could make money off this somehow, that would be great, but I'm just doing this every day because I really love doing it. It makes me happy. That alone makes me do this. Period."
Video Screams, Skullening, Tuxedo Killers, San Antonio's Animals of the Bible, and Steers play this Saturday, Jan. 15, at Beerland.