By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The directions lead to a nondescript office building off Central Expressway, just south of Meadow Road--a five-story tan-brick box that saps the life out of you just looking at it. There is no sign on the outside, just an address in large white numbers on the facade, the sole identifying mark separating this building from all the others marking the miles between downtown Dallas and the outskirts of Allen. Inside, it's even more anonymous: Gray hallways lead to rows of offices with men in dress shirts and ties moving among them to a soundtrack of white noise--the wheezing and coughing of computers and fax machines and copiers creating a paper trail. Ceilings lined with fluorescent lights cast everyone in the washed-out pallor of death-row inmates. Men waste decades of their lives in offices like this one, trading their souls for gold-plated Seikos and cookie-cutter houses in Plano.
It's a place for tired finishes, not fresh starts.
Nothing about the suite of offices located on the third floor of the building seems to offer a different impression, from the sterile setup to the white-collar blues emanating from the office equipment. If it's not the last place from which you'd expect new opportunities for the local music scene to emerge, it's definitely near the bottom of the list, literally and figuratively miles away from Deep Ellum.
The offices aren't different, but the people inside of them are, people like Allan Restrepo (who also owns Carpe Diem Records) and Todd J. Anstis, men willing to bet everything, including the future of local music, on the Internet. With a few other like-minded believers, they've launched W3CD and etherStream, online stores that hawk new and used compact discs and MP3s, respectively, focusing much of their attention on exposing local acts.
Since starting W3CD early last year, they have amassed a catalog of more than 50,000 new and used compact discs (for sale through www.w3cd.com), but etherStream (www.etherstream.com) is the more important site to everyone involved. Restrepo and his co-workers want etherStream to be one of the first sites to make sense of all the new technology available, not just MP3s. EtherStream, they insist, is where the playing field is really leveled, where every artist is presented together--and they're all just a point and click away.
"Ultimately, the thing that's attractive to me about this is that, on the Internet, your music--especially regional music--isn't ghettoized by being put in the corner and saying, 'This is Texas music,' or something like that," says Jeff Liles, etherStream's new director of A&R, the man in charge of assembling the talent. "We're allowed to present it within the context of other national stuff, because it is national stuff. To someone outside of Texas, it's not local music, you know?"
With Liles around, it seems as though Deep Ellum isn't that far away. Liles is quietly crouched over his desk, occasionally typing on his iMac, surrounded by remnants of a life spent serving as Dallas music's most dedicated supporter and biggest fan. His stereo is almost disguised by a collage of band stickers, and the wall behind him is knee-deep in tapes by bands such as End Over End, Three on a Hill, and the New Bohemians. Above the stack of tapes, Liles' gold record--which he received for his appearance with his former band, Decadent Dub Team, on the soundtrack to 1988's Colors--hangs proudly, a testament to the fact that bands from Dallas can make it nationally.
For more than a decade, Liles has believed that the bands he was seeing on stages around Deep Ellum deserved more attention, and he has spent his adult life helping them get it. He's done everything he can do--running the Theatre Gallery and Prophet Bar, booking shows at Trees, setting up record labels (Deep Ellum Records and HEIRESS-aesthetic), and organizing local-band compilations for Island Records (1987's The Sound of Deep Ellum) and Triple XXX Records (1990's Dude, You Rock!). With W3CD and etherStream, Liles believes that he and his co-workers will finally "be in a position where we can raise the profile of the artists around here higher than it's ever been before."
"One of the things I was hoping would happen was that this would be the first step to kind of galvanizing the scene," Liles says. "I mean, there's a lot of really good bands in town, and there's a lot of really cool little labels, and there's a lot of little pockets of activity. The thing is, they're not all collectively on the same page. It's a very fractured scene. What I was hoping is this would be like the first step of everybody looking at it as one group of people. Even if the only thing we have in common is where we're from, we still need each other.
"Looking at the performance of all the different labels in town, they've all kind of reached this level, and then stopped," he continues. "A lot of the One Ton bands, the most they've sold are three or four thousand copies of their records. That's how many copies you can sell in this area. The idea is to try and broaden the area that people are into our stuff. If there's some way to just get everybody together and all on the same page, it will benefit all of us at the same time."