STS9's Not The Jam Band You Think It Is

Sound Tribe Sector 9 just can't shake its perceived "jam band" associations, and all the dreaded hair, patchouli, hemp clothing and smelly baggage that comes with it.

It's a serious problem too: Discerning electronic music audiences have largely ignored the computer-enhanced post-rock ensemble. Techno snobs are missing a group whose live sound is closer to Radiohead or Chemical Brothers than Umphrey's McGee.

STS9's new self-produced and -released album, Ad Explorata, blends progressive rock and primal funk styles with spacious ambient motifs and programmed beats. There isn't a wanky banjo solo in sight. In fact, STS9 is perhaps the most non-jam band of the live jam circuit.

What the instrumental quintet group is, however, is successful. All five members live solely on the group's earnings, with additional money donated to various charitable organizations. In the last year alone, they raised $100,000 toward building a new house for a Katrina-displaced resident in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Still, skeptical listeners wonder: Is this a jam band? And what's with those fans?

"There's a lot of people who haven't checked us out because they've pigeonholed us into a category already," STS9 bassist David Murphy says. "We take it with a grain of salt. Every artist deals with that to a certain degree."

He points out that in the past few years, the band has toured with such diverse acts as Ghostland Observatory and Prefuse 73. The group also runs a label and digital download store, where it sells music by respected electronic producers The Glitch Mob, Eskmo, Lazer Sword and The Flying Skulls, to name a few.

"Those are the artists that we like personally and have become friends with," Murphy says.

And it's true: DJs or electronic artists often open STS9's solo shows. But despite the commitment to electronic aesthetics, the jam fan issue lingers. Murphy is mostly unconcerned by the connection.

"We've tried to embrace the audience," he admits. "We love playing music, and we want to do it for people who enjoy our stuff."

And jam band fans sure do enjoy it. They've propelled STS9 from playing 500-person clubs to headlining Colorado's enormous Red Rocks amphitheater.

"After being in a band for 13 years, you end up with a pretty wide variety of people coming to the shows," he says.

And, as its audience broadens, STS9 has gained more respect in electronic circles—despite some dabbling with New Age mysticism in its early years. The band used to perform with large crystals onstage, and the "Sector 9" in its name refers to the Mayan calendar. So maybe the hippie jam band tag is appropriate?

"At this point, it's like, 'Call us what you will,'" Murphy says. "We've got people coming to our shows, and we're selling records. We're here to stay."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tomas Palermo