By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
A rock-loving, electronica-hating thug could have eliminated virtually the entire house and techno culture, in addition to the lot of the "Radar Station" staff, with one well-placed turntable bomb last week in Miami, the home of the annual Winter Music Conference (in rock-speak, the WMC is the South by Southwest of electronic dance music). There they were in all their pasty glory, the vampires of the music world, lounging in broad daylight by the pool, waltzing around the periphery, handing out piles and piles of full-color fliers and 12-inches, "networking" and pumping their oh-so-impressive Internet-startup companies.
There was really nothing local of interest for us there, though:
Exactly one (1) St. Louis act was represented (the Superstars of Love, who, typically, failed to return our call to confirm when and where they were playing; in their defense, we failed miserably on our end, too); and exactly one (1) former St. Louisan spun: Terry Mullan, who's gradually climbing to the upper tiers of the house DJs.
Then again, it was a more impressive showing than South by Southwest a few weeks back, where, for the first time in years (and a sorry indicator of the current vision of the St. Louis rock scene) zero (0) St. Louis musicians were represented -- except for the Bottle Rockets, who are actually from Festus and deserve their gig in Austin every year.
The highlights of the four days of electronic music were many, though, and all the various subgenres were represented: DJ Rolando of Detroit's almighty Underground Resistance, who spun during the Planet E Records party organized by E head Carl Craig; San Francisco hip-hop group Blackalicious; subtle London drum & bass pioneer LTJ Bukem (who's playing at Velvet next month); Miami experimental beat-heads Phoenecia and the Push Button Objects; and jaw-droppingly fantastic deep-house sets by Sasha and Digweed, who spun the most amazing three hours of pure dance music we've ever heard. We had planned to call it an early night but ended up dancing until the early hours. Wow.
We left, though, with the simple epiphany that the DJ culture in St. Louis is, on a smaller scale, just as adventuresome, innovative and talented as that in any of the big-league cities. The evidence? Three great mix tapes by Tuesday night Upstairs residents Mark Churchill, Ken Dussold and Don Tinsley, the last of whom was pounding the pavement at the WMC, making connections and ensuring that the city was well represented.
PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE: The debut of the new-school Slammies is upon us, proof being the ballot that will appear for four weeks running in this publication, starting next week. A few things you'll notice: The number of nominees has been reduced from previous years; the categories have been "finessed"; the event itself has been expanded and improved.
No doubt we'll begin receiving furious phone calls from excluded -- and oh-so-deserving -- musicians beginning the day of publication, and we're reinforcing the bunker as we write. Rest assured, though, that we'll patiently listen to all of your ego-gripes and then gently remind you that despite the "oversight," or our "ignorance," the Slammies are ultimately about throwing an annual party to celebrate the musicians who make St. Louis a better place to live. All of them. Even those not nominated.
If you're a fan of an artist who has been unjustly ignored, don't fret. There's space for write-ins, and we encourage organized grassroots efforts to upset the favorites. Most important, though: priorities. Your favorite band is certainly deserving of some sort of award, but spending more than five minutes worrying about said band's not being nominated is, in fact, a total waste of your precious time. We care about your feelings. But only up to a point.
POINT MAN: Seldom, if ever, do we agree with words that exit the "official" mouths of commercial-radio hacks, though often we agree with what many of them say off the record. But last week, KPNT's music director and host of that station's "The Local Show" (Sundays, 11 p.m.-midnight), Matt Costello, let loose with a brutally honest rant on the current state of the local rock scene, and we encourage all you band members to get online and read it (if you can negotiate your way through the confusing, semiprofessional Point Web site -- www.kpnt.com). In a nutshell, Costello captures the problems in his first paragraph: "There are more bands than fans right now. Can you say saturation?
"Maybe you shouldn't play in town every weekend," he continues, "or multiple times in a week ... saturation. Get out of town. Do some regional stuff. You want to build? Get on opening for nationals rather than trying to 'headline' a club you can't even come close to filling. If you can get your own shows at the Side Door and Mississippi Nights, you certainly can get on an opening slot at these places. If you say, 'Oh well I keep trying, but...' you're not trying hard enough. Get out and promote! That ad in the RFT doesn't mean crap."
Though Costello does briefly acknowledge that the reason the rock clubs are less crowded may have something to do with the fact that the hip-hop and dance clubs are packed, he misses one increasingly obvious truth: The reason isn't necessarily that rock bands aren't promoting themselves properly. It's that, to your average kid in the club demographic -- ages 18-30 -- rock isn't necessarily the music they want to hear. They wanna groove to hip-hop and dance music. One glimpse at the recent radio Arbitrons proves this: The combined ratings of both The Point (105.7 FM) and Extreme Radio (WXTM, 104.1 FM) -- the two stations most appealing to the youth rock demographic -- total only 1 percentage point higher than the ratings of the sole hip-hop station in town, The Beat (KATZ, 100.3 FM). And rest assured -- were there were a dance station in town, it, combined with the Beat, would clobber the rock competition. And that has nothing to do with a lack of promotion.
Send local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130; or Radarstation @rftstl.com.