By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It's been a full six months since Swivel and Blush last played together. Simply billed as the July 3 Show, it was the last of several set up by the kids in the bands and their friends at the Bishop Arts District's Oak Cliff Coffee House. With vocals sent out over the guitar amps in lieu of a PA system, and a diverse and devoted group of friends as audience, both acts put on their best performances to date. The audience assembled wasn't the Shiner Bock-swilling late-twentysomething and suburban teenage crowd of The Dallas Rock Show, but 70 or so of the neighborhood kids, old friends from schools and shows, families and grown-up friends of the band members, and others who -- while everyone didn't exactly know how they knew them -- were fast becoming regulars in this microcosm of a scene.
Moon Tunes, 1816 Cockrell Ave.
These ongoing grassroots shows were the greatest things to happen to Blush and Swivel in a while. In this space, the kids cranked out new songs to their friends, a group of people who, as Swivel drummer Raul Espinosa points out, "[would not] want to hang out at some club in Deep Ellum."
Live, it's most evident that Blush and Swivel are doing something different. When Blush is playing, there's a pretty, skinny guy singing, rolling his eyes and coming close to ripping the strings off his guitar, an impish girl with pigtails and rosy cheeks pounding on drums, and a goofy kid with lots of hair playing bass, almost forgetting he's in front of others. And the songs on Blush's The Night Sky EP stand up to their live incarnations. They are poppy and melodic, sometimes reminiscent of Joan of Arc or Austin's Silver Scooter, but the band takes a handful of risks that, in most cases, pay off in creating a sound that not only is larger than one would expect from a three-piece outfit, but that ventures far outside of the mild pop-punk of Dallas bar-rock.
The lack of disaffected self-consciousness so charming in Blush occurs to an even greater degree in labelmates and friends Swivel. There's a constant reminder that the hardest audience for what you're making is yourself. Splitting vocals and melodies, bass player Patricia Rodriguez and guitarist Rene Espinosa function as dependent opposites. Drummer Raul Espinosa, Rene's younger brother, serves as backbone and reactionary on a set of drums put together from a couple of kits and a history of garage sales. It could be called post-rock, but that term strips away all notions of intensity and enthusiasm. It's quiet and noisy, long-winded but muttered, and they're telling the truth. The group's album, Time Framed in Real Time, is one of those unassumingly savage discs that leaves listeners sitting on the floor by the last track, not quite sure of what they have just heard.
Rodriguez and Rene Espinosa met in the visual arts classes at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in 1993. A year ahead in school, Rodriguez "moved him in the direction of Fugazi," and they began playing together shortly after. Raul joined in soon, learning to play drums when he was 13 years old, barely big enough for his makeshift kit. They began playing as Swivel in the fall of 1995, playing house shows in East Dallas and Oak Cliff, doing in-stores at the now-defunct Last Beat retail outlet, and sharing bills with friends' bands during the Major Theater's short life as an all-ages venue.
Dallas was completely different at this time for earnest teenagers with hopes for a "scene." In addition to the Major -- which sat off East Grand Avenue, across the street from the now-vanished Brownie's, and far enough from the reaches of downtown's uniformity -- The Galaxy Club and the Orbit Room booked local acts outside the pop-punk white-boy norm and touring acts that were akin to those now going to Denton's Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, mainly because there is no longer an alternative.
The summer of 1996 saw the self-release of Ten Minutes, a seven-inch single ringing fast, noisy, and idealistic compared with the full-length released more than three years later. "The Swivel Kids," as they were known, began making music in downtown's Arts Magnet high school, surrounded by peers with the same countless aspirations. But those peers have vanished, much like the Orbit Room and the other all-ages venues. As Blush singer-guitarist Cordon Simons says, "There are no kids in Dallas." Their original peers have either left Dallas permanently or left behind the accessible, downtown ideals they once helped thrive for Denton, Austin, or the beery blandness of the half-dozen nightclubs that make up the Dallas "scene."
Cordon Simons began playing with his younger brother's classmate, Aaron Gonzalez, while he attended the Talented and Gifted Magnet and while Gonzalez was an eighth-grader who played upright bass in the Greiner Middle School Orchestra. They became the core members in Blush, a fixture at TAG birthday parties that did pretty good Cure covers and featured a revolving group of up to three other kids, all of whom had grown up in Oak Cliff and attended the Magnet Schools.
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