Junior Circuit

In a bizarro world, in the Dallas of an alternate, and perhaps better, universe, The Lash Outs' "The Kids Don't Wanna Dance" is the city's breakout hit of the summer.

A bouncy track that's catchy enough to latch on in its own right and through its own merit, the song also serves as the anthem for the struggling rockers in the local music scene, lamenting the fact that "it's no fun playing for no one," and, specifically, crying out about the lack of fans in the once-lauded Deep Ellum music scene. Whines lead guitarist and vocalist Joey Holbrook in the song's chorus: "And when I walk the vacant streets of Ellum/I can't help but feel a little sore/And you know what hurts the most?/My heart's a-breakin' 'cause the kids don't dance no more."

A poignant observation? Maybe not. But an important note of the times? One that should be recorded by a Dallas band, if just to take a historical snapshot of the current scene? You betcha.

And yet, there's this: In actual Dallas—you know, the one in which we really live—at the bizarro world-like, western-most tip of the Deep Ellum neighborhood, the kids are dancing.

Who knew?

Even more odd: There are tons of them.

Around 400 or so people packed into The Door on Friday night to watch a roster of mostly local acts perform in honor of the venue's 10 years of existence. Only, it wasn't so much a celebration of the past 10 years at the venue.

Much like The Lash Outs' song, this night, too, served as a snapshot of the times. The bands on the bill weren't the bands that The Door had built its at-times shaky reputation and three-venue franchise upon. And the people in attendance, for the most part, were—as the high school T-shirts and fruit-scented perfumes proved—almost certainly not even 10 years old when the place opened in its initial east Deep Ellum location 10 years ago.

But here's the thing that makes it so weird, so foreign: With these fans stands a thriving, if often overlooked, part of the local music scene. And for—OK, I'll say it—understandable reason.

It's the tight jeans-wearing, angular haircut-sporting, style-over-substance emo pop-punk high school scene. In it, the music all melds together, and each band shares common threads with the ones performing alongside it: heavy-handed, sing-along pop hooks, power chord guitar riffs and, aside from perhaps one tattoo-sporting lead singer, a fairly clean-cut, parent-approved image.

Yeah, it's all pretty disheartening to witness firsthand.

But, on some level, you have to pardon these bands for their choices. First off, they're young—and, thus, they're impressionable. In their eyes, these acts are simply following a model of success.

At least three local products of this scene—The Rocket Summer, PlayRadioPlay! and Forever the Sickest Kids—have signed major-label deals. That, for better or worse, puts this set right up there with the local metal and hip-hop scenes, at least in simple black-and-white terms. And a large reason for that success is teenage support these bands receive in the local scene.

Forever the Sickest Kids, for instance, didn't sell out its recent House of Blues show just because the lead single on its just-released debut album, Underdog Alma Mater, is receiving airplay on KHKS-106.1 FM (although that helps). Almost certainly, it was the result of the band reaping the same benefits that the bands that play The Door and, just as often, the Plano Centre do (just as previous incarnations of FTSK's lineup once did): When you're an 18-year-old wannabe music fan and only a few local venues in town cater to you by offering all-ages shows, you, quite naturally, gravitate to the venues that put on shows just for your age group; you go to the venues that all the other kids from your classes are going to on Friday and Saturday nights because you want to be seen and you want to be a part of a scene (you sheep, you); you listen to the same local bands that your classmates are supporting because you're starving for a local act to get behind and support.

When you're 18 and you are starting to really get behind this "music thing," all of that is a big deal. And with the advent of MySpace and the almost incestuous nature of these same Forever the Sickest Kids knockoff bands performing together on a weekly basis, you actually do get to know the bands and their members, which, as a young fan, is actually quite thrilling.

So, last Friday night, it did make sense to see throngs of kids singing along to the works of Christian rock act Fatal Formality, to the kinda-bratty anthems of A Bird A Sparrow and to the power-pop single-ready songs of headlining act Kessler. Sure, for the most part, the fans looked like they were faking their sing-alongs and faking their familiarity with each band but, hey, the innocence of it all? It was kind of sweet...


...OK, let me fix that...

It was sickeningly sweet. Seeing high school girls swoon at the all-too-practiced rock star poses and off-pitch sounds of these just-formed rock star dreamers was a little off-putting. And, of course, it reeked of naïveté.

Even The Door's booking manager, Joel Furth, sees it to an extent.

"For the underage crowd," he says, "it's really just a scene. Kids get into it, and their friends get into it. So they do it too."

But what Furth also notes is that the bands being booked to these shows at least seem serious about what they do: "They're trying to make it big," he says with a shrug. And, perhaps more so than in most genres in town, they're feeling a glimpse of the stardom spotlight because of the way these teenage fans treat them.

It's enviable, Furth says: "Bands that play The Prophet Bar [the 21-plus other half of The Door's complex] are always coming up to me and saying, 'We wanna get that crowd.'"

And yet, for the bands that eventually graduate from playing a packed Door to performing at a near-empty Prophet Bar once their musical tastes expand, it's a lesson in the harsh realities of making music one's career.

Austin Brown of Austin Brown Sounds, whose band was performing at The Prophet Bar on the same night as The Door's celebration, was once a player in The Door's scene; he's quite familiar with it. And when his musical tastes expanded into a funk-based indie rock sound, Brown says his once-upon-a-time fairly large following all but deserted him.

"I had to find a whole new audience," he says. Chances are, for most of the bands currently performing in this scene, that's the upcoming reality they'll have to face.

For now, though, as their dreams of pop superstardom still ring true, there are worse arenas in which these musicians could cut their teeth—I mean, they could be getting booed off The Double Wide's stage, right? At least they're developing a stage presence (if all of these bands have one thing going for them, it was their ability to keep one's visual attention), and they genuinely seem to be having some fun.

(Oh, and to their credit, they weren't all terrible. Kessler, for one, has pop radio potential, and Fatal Formality, despite all its nauseating God-talk, consisted of a fairly talented teenage crew.)

But when reality sets in—the foolproof formula fails and, as The Lash Outs sing, "the kids don't dance no more" to their music—you have to wonder if these bands, too, will start to "feel a little sore" about this scene. You have to wonder if—when the crowds are only in attendance for the scene and not for the love of the music, when these bands start realizing that there are only so many similarly stylized acts major labels will sign to a deal, when their own musical tastes change slightly—they're just being set up for a terrifying, earth-crashing fall.

Unless, of course, that bizarro world is the real one. In that case, we're all screwed.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman