Compared with the well-publicized debacle of the pay-to-play Dallas Music Festival earlier this year, the North Texas New Music Festival is a far superior source of live local tunes. Its intentions certainly are much nobler, as ticket prices are low (free for early birds, even), bands don't pay to participate and headliners are limited to bands with local roots.
What's more, organizers aren't pulling a meaty profit, though they wrangled together 230 local bands (after sifting through more than 900 applicants, no less) for three nights of live music. And beneath everything is a sense that the fest wants to do something positive. It wants to get people excited about local bands and concerts in Deep Ellum. It wants to make a big, booming statement about Dallas' music scene.
But the aftermath of the NTNMF, which took place on 12 stages throughout Deep Ellum this past weekend, is troubling because of the very statement it makes about local music. And that statement is, "YARHGHDLURLIGLHHH!!"
The North Texas New Music Festival
In spite of country, folk and indie-rock stages, the Club Clearview outdoor stage made the biggest impression on pedestrians with a chokehold on punk, hard rock and metal genres on Thursday and Saturday. To be fair, Kirtland Records threw some variety on that stage on Friday with local faves The Hourly Radio, frat-rockers Pat McGee Band and the, uh, contempo-Christian rock of Rhythm, but for the most part, the dominant noises on the streets of the NTNMF were drop-D chords, screams and generic, overemotional voices singing lame lyrics.
That same noise poured out of Trees' and Curtain Club's showcases, but the consistency wasn't genre, per se. Local bands like Deaf Pedestrians ('90s-loving hard rock) and Necrogazm (scream-filled heavy metal) are on opposite ends of the rock spectrum, but what they, along with Neverset, One Up and The Vanished, have in common is a dull, overcooked vibe that has spread across Deep Ellum like VD--the symptoms are gross, painful and seemingly permanent.
There is a stark difference between the lineups at the NTNMF and the resulting mood, a difference organizer Teresa Hale is quick to point out. Aside from the star-studded showcases thrown by Spune Productions, Hale says that solid acts of all genres could be found throughout the fest, an opinion seconded by contributor Jesse Hughey in his Friday night festival review on page 88.
"For example, country music is not usually represented in Deep Ellum, but it doesn't mean country music isn't made in Dallas," Hale says, pointing to the fest's two Americana showcases. "We feel like we had a good balance of genres. I think that the [local] music scene is more diverse than Deep Ellum represents right now. Deep Ellum seems to draw a lot more hard rock crowds. I don't think that's a fair cross-section of Dallas music."
In the past year, Dallas' hip-hop presence has grown heavily, but NTNMF patrons wouldn't have known with the paltry stage given to Pikahsso, Steve Austin and the charismatic, impressive South City on Friday night. These amazing artists were forced to stand on a single wooden block. Given the level of talent, that treatment is sickening. At the very least, Hale agrees and says her hands were tied.
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"The hip-hop clubs in Deep Ellum would love to be paid upward of thousands of dollars to rent their rooms, while the rock clubs get into the community spirit and agree to lessen their room rental fee because they know they'll do better [sales] in the bar," Hale says. "So we can't afford to work with the hip-hop clubs. And unfortunately, hip-hop usually ends up with a smaller stage just because they don't have drummers. We don't want to bum the hip-hop artists out, but we don't want to exclude them, either."
Also, I spoke to members of Denton's Birth to Burial before Midlake wowed the Saturday night crowd at Trees, and they claimed that at last year's NTNMF, their start time had dangled and wavered until only days before the event. This dissatisfaction with the fest's organization in 2004 was echoed off the record by other artists, but this year, schedules were solidified weeks before the show--not perfect, certainly, when local bands often book only weeks ahead, but it's proof that 2005's organizational bootstraps had been tightened. And things were more stable than that other fest.
"There were several bands who came up to us during the festival and said, 'When we got here, we weren't really sure what to expect. We're so glad this isn't the Dallas Music Festival.' I'm glad to hear that," Hale says.
Being better than the worst is good, but the NTNMF still has work to do. Alliances need to be built with clubs like Palm Beach, Nairobi and Tom Cats to encourage live hip-hop and increase business and awareness of Dallas' amazing rap scene. Artists need to be assured that firm schedules and fair treatment can be guaranteed. And putting diverse bands on the bill isn't enough--let's get metal, folk, indie and rap on that outdoor stage. Dallas may not have its own SXSW, but NTNMF has enough heart and determination to promote local bands just as well as Austin's big downtown music fest. See you in 2006.