Here's a list of 10 locals you should have heard of in 2011 even if you didn't.
10. Juve Aaron Mollet of Florene has taken trap and screw influences and warped them with dark synth overtones to create Juve. It's always nice to see someone take modern rap music seriously and back it up with some real production knowledge.
9. Rick Simpson An energetic DJ, Simpson came up in the heyday of techno, house, E.B.M. and electro, and even has a release as R9 on Dallas imprint Down Low Music. Occasionally he is booked at darker and more esoteric events, but that doesn't mean he can't rock a set of all-vinyl disco, boogie and Italo.
8. FUR Bryce Isbell enjoyed publicity as FUR when it was a two-piece. After Gray Gideon departed, Isbell immersed himself further into deep and tech house, creating subtle, spacey sounds.
7. Jake Schrock Dallas' Schrock mans the synthesizer for George Quartz and Houston's //TENSE// live performances, and his solo work is extensive and impressive.
6. Cygnus After wowing crowds at Dallas' Laptop Deathmatch competitions, Phillip Washington's Wrowreck EP cleared his path toward much-deserved recognition. Somehow, his hard-hitting, bass-heavy live performances are still outside the scope of Dallasites.
5. Tarzzahn Tarzzahn's freestyling and genius-level recall for lyrics prove he's someone who will not be under the radar for long. His latest release, Jungle Muzik, showcases cleverness and potential mass appeal.
4. Pinkish Black The remaining two members of Great Tyrant decided to keep making music together after the death of bassist Tommy Atkins in 2010, and Pinkish Black is the result. The result is tough, droning and emotionally gripping rock music, with live performances wrapped in a psychedelic haze.
3. Yung God Denton's Colby McCartney Jones, aka Yung God, is a beacon of the Ocean Gang movement. Receiving attention for his work with Soulja Boy, Yung God's freestyles are some of the most impressive among the YouTube rap generation.
2. LDFD Dallas producer/DJ Justin Ledford's ability to blend trap music with garage, dub and even techno results in a unique production style.
1. Prince Will Prince Will achieved notice with "The Party" in the '00s, but since teaming up with Ezra Rubin to create the Fade to Mind label, the pair has turned it into one of the most respected electronic music labels stateside.
Prince Will is moving to L.A. some time in 2012, but he has nothing but love for Big D.
"I love that the only people here that fuck with techno or real dance music are the real techno heads that care," he says.
You've no doubt heard the long and sordid tale of Wilco told ad nauseam by now, so we'll spare you a blow-by-blow retelling. After all, we're sick of it, too, though most of us here at the Observer still love the band.
In fact, "love" might be an understatement. If Jeff Tweedy gets wind of this compendium of fawning press courtesy of Observer writers past and present, it's doubtful any of us will be allowed within 100 yards of the stage when Wilco hits Denton this Saturday.
May 4, 1995: Robert Wilonsky jumps the gun by a few years in a preview for Wilco's first North Texas appearance—the band's debut album had been out for all of one month—and calls Jeff Tweedy "the principal singer and songwriter of the best rock and roll band in America."
August 30, 1995: Wilonsky previews the Dallas stop of the H.O.R.D.E. tour—featuring The Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band and, yes, Wilco—openly dismissing an entire generation of jam bands before offering this nugget of fandom: "Jeff Tweedy's band [is] so good in concert it makes you grind your teeth."
June 18, 1998: Wilonsky reviews Mermaid Avenue, Wilco's collaboration with Billy Bragg on a collection of forgotten Woody Guthrie lyrics. "It's a disk that screams important," he writes.
February 25, 1999: Wilonsky writes a long-form piece on the impending release of Wilco's Summerteeth, centered around their performance at a radio industry conference in New Orleans. "Radio people don't even shut up when the only rock-and-roll band in the world that matters begins performing," he writes. "Summerteeth is too good for radio—so much bigger than the medium."
August 12, 1999: Music editor Zac Crain previews Wilco's show at the Gypsy Tea Room with an understated assessment of Jeff Tweedy's skills as a songwriter: "There are times when you can listen to Wilco's latest, Summerteeth, and hear only Jeff Tweedy's peculiar songwriting genius, the way he can turn a thousand familiar melodies into one perfectly imperfect song that manages to sound like everything and nothing that came before it."
May 25, 2000: Wilonsky reviews Mermaid Avenue, Volume 2, offering that "'Airline to Heaven' is as remarkable a piece of music, words and melody, as you will hear today, tomorrow, or forever."
September 23, 2004: Music editor Sarah Hepola reviews Wilco's show at the Granada Theater, issuing a complaint about the encore's length before checking herself and noting that "bitching about too much Wilco is like whining about being too rich or too fabulous."
October 13, 2006: I review Wilco's show at Fort Worth's Will Rogers Auditorium, leading with my theory that "Wilco is the greatest American rock band, past or present."
January 18, 2007: I use the Observer's music section as a Wilco fanboy bully pulpit, lecturing concertgoers on crowd etiquette, imploring Dallas Wilco fans to refrain from talking and to "make smart requests" so that I might better enjoy Jeff Tweedy's only North Texas solo show to date.
October 12, 2009: Wilonsky reviews Wilco's show at the Palladium Ballroom, noting that "Wilco's still very much a 1970s rock 'n' roll band, maybe every 1970s rock 'n' roll band," before comparing them to Kraftwerk, the Eagles, the Who, Devo, Thin Lizzy, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
November 12, 2009: In the interest of timeliness, Observer contributor Darryl Smyers spends 500 words previewing a Son Volt performance at the Granada by comparing their legacy to Wilco's a full 15 years after Uncle Tupelo called it quits.
May 7, 2011: Wilco play Denton for the first time. We're just speculating here, but it's highly possible one of us will have something positive to say about it. Call it a gut feeling.
This year's best show, I am still convinced, happened in February, when noise rock godheads Swans played Mohawk in Austin. My hearing was left impaired, my spine crooked, my spirit broken. I've never felt more alive. I'd interviewed frontman Michael Gira by phone before the show and asked why he decided to get the band back together after a decade: "I wanted that overwhelming, obliterating rush of huge sounds again."
Fast-forward to early December, when Scratch Acid further pressure-cleaned my cochleae at Trees, to the point where I wondered if I'd actually hurt myself. As I wandered into the street, I felt like I had been parachuted into a war zone, knife between my teeth, and was being sent to kill Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
I guess I'm still a little rattled from 2011, a year in which sonic shock and dissent infiltrated not just music, but politics, art and beyond. Dubstep, the sternum-rattling electronic music that originated in the UK, has become the siren call of bros everywhere. Odd Future frightened America. Lady Gaga continued her masochistic performance-art-as-pop revue. Not that there wasn't some clarity: Tune-yards' Whokill, Wild Flag and Unknown Mortal Orchestra's self-titled LPs and St. Vincent's Strange Mercy balanced some of the static, at least for me.
Since I've been here only the month of December, I don't feel qualified to soapbox about the year in local music. However, I was already enjoying North Texas sounds before I arrived. Earlier this year, I discovered Dreamed, the one-woman project of Jessica Minshew, and had her on repeat for a while. I also dug what New Fumes, Diamond Age and Botany are doing, that one-man-versus-machine approach to layering and stacking and weaving your own soundtrack without having to rely on an actual "band."
I was struck by Sarah Jaffe's CD/DVD The Way Sound Leaves a Room, and can't wait for her new album. Soviet's debut, Heaven, Texas, sunk in a bit more after a few listens. And it was a year when out-of-state labels trained their lenses on DFW, as with True Widow's excellent debut on NYC's Kemado Records and Mind Spiders' contagious self-titled on Portland's Texas-friendly Dirtnap Records. From the month I've been here, I already have a good feeling about 2012.
I asked a few locals what they loved and hated this year, and what they're looking forward to. Check out DC9 at Night for more 2011 lists.
Favorite local song or album
Gavin Mulloy, Granada Theater: "Beard," The Burning Hotels; "Fa Shiggadow," The Mohicans.
Sean Kirkpatrick, Nervous Curtains: True Widow, As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth; The Angelus, On a Dark and Barren Land; Mind Spiders, Mind Spiders.
Sarah Jaffe: "Acts of Man," Midlake.
Daniel Huffman, New Fumes: "Rabid Like a Dog," PVC Street Gang.
Kris Youmans, Tactics Productions: "Sunset," Zhora.
Erv Karwelis, Idol Records: True Widow, As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth.
John Parker Spies, Soviet: Sundress, Sundress; "Duelist," True Widow; "Hammer of Doubt," Power Trip.
Favorite local concert
Mulloy: St. Vincent, Kessler Theater.
Kirkpatrick: Pinkish Black, Double Wide.
Jaffe: Bosque Brown, Wyly Theatre.
Huffman: I'm not sure if it gets much better than The Flaming Lips show [February 3 at Palladium Ballroom] with Neon Indian and New Fumes and all that snow. Too much fun.
Youmans: True Widow, The Nighty Nite and Joey Kendall at Double Wide.
Karwelis: [DARYL] reunion show, Sons of Hermann Hall.
Best musical moment
Mulloy: Gorilla vs. Bear Fest.
Kirkpatrick: Making our new record; playing on the Astronautalis record.
Huffman: Diamond Age.
Youmans: Getting to see Archers of Loaf again.
Karwelis: Black Sabbath reuniting for new album and tour.
Spies: When we were at a house show in Arlington with an audience of one passed-out guy on a couch and the owner of the house, playing our most intense and passionate set of the entire year.
Worst musical moment
Mulloy: When the Cavern became Crown & Harp.
Kirkpatrick: All my gear and I broke down on stage in front of a couple hundred people; hearing that Record Hop broke up.
Huffman: Diamond Age (ha, ha! kidding).
Karwelis: Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration.
Spies: [Bassist Richy Brown] getting arrested before a show in Fort Worth at Lola's and the rest of us having to play anyway, and almost killing each other after the set.
Trend you wish would stop
Mulloy: People thinking the old way and not sharing. Quit protecting ideas like they're the last good ones you'll ever have.
Kirkpatrick: Independent music coverage being driven by PR companies, resulting in a homogenized music media and tons of great bands being virtually ignored; bands considering Weezer an influence.
Huffman: People trying to sing like Thom Yorke.
Youmans: Skrillex and anything dubstep.
Spies: All the bands in DFW trying to compete with each other. Come together, my bros. It's already started happening. Let's do it better in 2012.
Looking forward to in 2012
Mulloy: Falling in love with a bunch of bands I haven't heard of yet. Bro Fest, Homegrown Fest, Gorilla vs. Bear Fest and the Mayan Apocalypse concert series next December.
Kirkpatrick: Releasing our record and touring; new releases from Blixaboy, Pinkish Black, Indian Jewelry, The Young, Disappears, Waxeater and Bloody Panda.
Jaffe: Releasing my next record.
Huffman: More seven-inch releases on Good Records Recordings and hopefully touring.
Youmans: Seeing more Dallas bands get national exposure.
Karwelis: Beach Boys reunion tour with Brian Wilson.
Spies: Touring the Southwest and Northeast a bit with Soviet and taking a break from writing so many damn songs.
The Dwarves harken back to a time when punk was more of an insult than a marketing term. Rebellious teens trafficking in outrage and anything else they might procure with $20 and offers of warm beer, they formed in Chicago during the mid-'80s, quickly making a name for themselves with outrageous stage shows inspired in part by the antics of G.G. Allin, including physical violence and onstage sex acts.
"Back then, we were kind of new and people didn't really know us," says frontman Blag Dahlia from his home in San Francisco. "So if I felt like people were ignoring us, things would get kinda out of hand. They don't ignore us anymore."
Over the last quarter-century the band has released 11 albums with titles like Toolin for a Warm Teabag and the darkly suggestive Thank Heaven for Little Girls. Though the music has morphed, spanning the spectrum from hardcore to pop-punk to rockabilly and garage, the Dwarves have retained their same twisted penchant for crude comic overstatement ("Lesbian Nun," "We Must Have Blood") and serial offensiveness (the statutory rape ode "Let's Fuck"). Like chronic crotch rot, their sick affliction shows no sign of abating. And certainly not as frontman Dahlia dreams up the perfect 25th anniversary party for his band.
"It definitely involves teenage girls with braces, the ritual burning and stoning of the critics and ends with all the record companies we ever dealt with giving us a big refund and an apology for being assholes," he says.
Like Allin before them, The Dwarves have constantly courted controversy, from album covers featuring naked women covered in blood or crucifying a dwarf to slagging Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme to faking the death of longtime guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed.
This last stunt featured a press release suggesting the guitarist had been stabbed to death in Philadelphia and that their third album for Sub Pop, 1993's Sugarfix, was a tribute to him. When the truth came out, the label was not amused and quickly dropped the band. But The Dwarves are not that easy to kill. They returned four years later with Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking, inaugurating a new pop-punk chapter in their story with the arrival of producer Eric Valentine (Good Charlotte, Smash Mouth), who's worked on each of their subsequent albums.
"Sub Pop had kind of jumped the shark on us, and were making boring grunge records," Dahlia says. "They didn't really see the whole pop-punk thing coming up in their rearview mirror. We wound up going to Epitaph and Young and Good Looking was the result. In a lot of ways that's still our most popular record, with pop-punk standards like 'Everybody's Girl' and 'One Time Only.'"
But pop-punk was just a stop for The Dwarves. They'd go off the rails into an odd fusion of punk, industrial and dance, sounding at times like Green Day in the midst of an Atari Teenage Riot on 2000's Dwarves Come Clean. By 2004's Dwarves Must Die they'd settled on a free-ranging amalgam of punk, metal, garage and pop-punk, which also provides a template for their latest, Dwarves Are Born Again.
For this anniversary release, they've brought back nearly all The Dwarves from throughout the years, as well as other guests (Josh Freese, Dexter Holland), creating one of their finest collections of songs, ranging from the electro-punk paean to their legacy, "15 Minutes," through the metalcore "We Only Came To Get High," the hilarious garage-punk "I Masturbate Me" and the boisterous Blink-182-ish "Happy Birthday Suicide."
"[When I was young,] punk had a more anarchistic quality in that it wasn't a genre of music yet — it was more like a way of doing things," Dahlia says. "The people that were outside the mainstream were lumped in as punk, so you had a lot of different genres you could go to. That's the whole Born Again thing. This band survived all the different hypes and bullshit, and represents a real freedom to say anything you want, and play anything you want. You combine the most commercial aspects with the most disturbing aspects and that's what we've been trying to do all along."
On Sunday evening in downtown Denton, as the crowds gathered to catch Atlanta rapper and 35 Conferette headliner Big Boi perform in the Wells Fargo parking lot that had been temporarily converted into a concert space, a different personality entirely sauntered onto the stage. Rather than the final outdoor performer of the weekend, the festivalgoers were treated to an appearance from Chris Flemmons, the mastermind behind the event.
He wasn't there to share any bad news—Big Boi, he assured the audience, would emerge in just a few minutes. But, for the first time in the festival's three-year formal lifespan, Flemmons wanted to speak to the crowd and share his appreciation for their support of his and the city's endeavors. And he was greeted with something of a hero's welcome.
"It's taken us eight years to get downtown to do this," he said, his voice booming through the P.A. system and cutting through the just-turned-to-dusk sky. "You guys supporting this has meant so much to us."
The crowd, which numbered in the thousands, just as it had throughout Friday and Saturday, cheered. Flemmons continued.
"This festival might be about the music," he said, reiterating the same point he'd made so many times in the build-up to this year's event. "But we want real jobs in this town. So you don't have to move—or have a horrible commute to get to your job."
Indeed, that economic-centric mentality seemed to be the overriding theme of this year's 35 Conferette, which, for the first year in its history, was presented completely in the college town's downtown area, just as Flemmons and his fellow organizers had always envisioned it would be. It was a mantra repeated throughout the weekend, as organizers hopped onto the microphones at various stages, pleading with audiences to support the local businesses that allowed the festival to take over the neighborhood.
In the immediate aftermath of the festival, it appears as if that much panned out. Restaurants around Denton's Courthouse-on-the-Square and neighboring blocks were busy throughout the fest's four-day run; other businesses similarly benefited, including the just-opened record store on the Square, Mad World Records, which enjoyed particularly crowded scenes throughout the festival run.
No, the weekend wasn't perfect—opening day on Thursday was especially plagued by late set starts and performances being shuffled around—but conditions certainly improved as the weekend continued, with things running pretty much as planned by the time Sunday evening came around.
Or, as Flemmons put it in his last statement on stage before introducing Big Boi: "We're still figuring it out."
Surely. In this third run, the 35 Conferette was still for the most part perceived by its attendees as the little festival that could—though it likely will be greeted with less and less patience in the years to come. Flemmons, speaking the day after the festival, said as much.
"The execution went about as well as it could, considering that it was the first time we were down here," Flemmons, sitting in his office, said on Monday, acknowledging the mostly amateur backgrounds boasted by his crew of core staff volunteers and himself alike. "We had stuff that didn't work, and stuff that did."
Communication could improve, he said. Some of the production details too. But without question, he said, the behind-the-scenes operations went more smoothly this year than they had in the past. "I'm extremely happy where we were this year, as compared to last," he said. "This is the first year where I haven't been completely exhausted the day after."
That much could be seen all throughout the weekend. As opposed to early editions of the fest, when Flemmons could be seen walking around shaking his head and glaring at anyone who dared step in his path, he looked decidedly calm at this year's performances—some of which he was even able to watch and enjoy.
And why not? From a purely theoretical standpoint, this festival saw all his wishes come true. Hell, even some wishes he hadn't yet conjured came true—like the full-on support of the city, and not just its officials.
"All the comments I heard were, without question, very positive," says Denton Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp of the reaction she's heard from local business owners in days following the festival. "The term that was most used was 'vibe'—that it all had such a wonderful 'vibe.' Even at church—and I heard from all different walks of like—everything I heard was positive. There were no complaints that I'm aware of whatsoever. And I believe that it'll just get better and better every year. We as a city will continue to support it."
After Big Boi's Sunday night performance, Kamp even did her part to show her support. She went backstage, made a beeline to the performer's tour bus, got inside and introduced herself—just so she could thank the performer and his crew and formally welcome them to town.
"When I did that, they all just kind of looked around at each other," Kamp recalls with a laugh. "One of them said, 'I don't know if we've ever been officially welcomed to a city before.' And I said, 'Well, this is a different city. This is Denton.'"
In the past, that small-town charm may have proved an excuse for some of the miscues, but both Kamp and Flemmons say that things will only improve in the future. Flemmons, in particular, has reason to believe so: Representatives from other festivals around the country were in attendance all week long, he said, scouting out the festival and "spending money on their business accounts" with the intention of perhaps joining the festivals' organizational fray as early as next year.
"There's definitely some outside interest now," Flemmons says, noting the scouts' particular interest in 35 Conferette's newfound South by Southwest meets traditional outdoor festival blend. "And I never, ever turn down advice. So who knows? Maybe these people from these other national festivals might come and help us figure this animal out in the years to come."
If nothing else, this much is certain: There will be years to come, Flemmons promises. And for a festival that only now is starting to realize its potential and identity, that's the only news that matters.
One single scene captures the tricky tonal balance of Jonathan Levine's cancer comedy 50/50. Adam, the straightedge radio producer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has just finished his first round of chemotherapy. It was tough, but the kindly gents IV'd next to him (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) made it easier by sharing their brownies. As the Bee Gees play on the soundtrack, Adam wanders through the oncology ward in a stoned haze and giggles at the sad-looking patients, harried nurses and shrouded corpses as they float by.
It's complicated making a movie like 50/50, which was written by Will Reiser based on his own early-twenties experience with a tumor on his spine. That scene, and the whole film really, intermingles anonymous tragedy with blunt comedy, but uneasily — in a way that suggests that though it's OK to laugh, we shouldn't exactly feel good about it. (Indeed, moments later, Adam doesn't feel too good either, barfing miserably as the chemo's side effects kick in.)
Although it veers maudlin in its final act — helped neither by Michael Giacchino's unusually sappy acoustic score nor by Levine's metronomic choice to end every scene with its twangy strains — 50/50 mostly succeeds as a movie about a young man fighting cancer that doesn't give in to sap or sentiment. While it's often quite funny, it's more often angry; indeed, the most welcome transformation Adam makes isn't from sick to well but from milquetoast to asshole.
This is not how it usually goes in Hollywood films, when illness so often turns heroes and heroines into shorn-bald saints. Cancer does make Adam a better man, in a way: Once a DON'T WALK-obeying, nail-biting welcome mat, Adam dumps his duplicitous girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, even more villainous than in The Help), pushes away his overbearing mother (a touching and underused Anjelica Huston), and offers his therapist (Anna Kendrick, fussy and endearing) some bracing sarcasm.
The anger in 50/50 is often so intensely focused that we can only presume Reiser is targeting individuals from his own experience: a doctor, perhaps, who delivered a cancer diagnosis into a tape recorder as if he weren't even there and then described his shattering condition as "really quite fascinating." The script is particularly sharp on the ways that cancer paints other people into behavioral corners, as when Rachael faces the choice of swallowing her doubts about her relationship with Adam or being The Girl Who Ditched Her Brave Cancer Boyfriend.
I'm glad, of course, that Reiser survived his illness, and glad as well that he transformed a truly awful personal experience into something interesting and worthwhile for public consumption. But I sure hope that the part about the horrible girlfriend is fictionalized — maybe a story point that one of 50/50's 12 named producers insisted upon? — because, despite Howard's best efforts to humanize the role, it's a pitiless portrayal of malignant cruelty. No one, not even the cheatingest bitch in the bitchiverse, deserves to be immortalized like this.
On the other hand, there's the movie's only constant: Adam's good pal Kyle (Reiser's actual good pal Seth Rogen). Kyle might only be able to relate to his buddy's illness with nervous jokes, but he sticks with him through head-shaving and surgery and despair. He reads cancer books on the john! He is a Good Person! And this is what makes 50/50 not only a cancer movie but also a Seth Rogen movie. Bros before hos before neurofibroma sarcoma schwannomas.