Sensitive pop-rockers and the softer, more vulnerable members of the St. Louis punk scene will gather at Washington University this Friday to hear the Promise Ring play the Gargoyle for KWUR Week. It's a small venue for this "emo-core" rock band from Milwaukee, best know for their melodic combinations of punk and pop, but it registered on MTV's radar screen: On the MTV Web site, under tour dates for the Promise Ring, there's a tiny shout-out for the Wash. U. radio station and the Gargoyle.
KWUR Week, an annual fundraiser for the station, invites local and national underground artists to play. You'll never hear these artists on mainstream radio (their lack of commercial notoriety is what makes them underground), but they have loyal followings within their genres. This year's event is held Feb. 15-17, with Thursday devoted to dance music, Friday to rock and Saturday to hip-hop. The shows are cheap -- $7 for rock, $5 for hip-hop and just a buck for the dance show -- and tickets are sold at the door.
Thursday's headliners are acid-techno DJ Jay Sonik from Milwaukee and Chicago-based Helix Turn Helix, a live-PA techno group that creates its own beats and rhythms using digital equipment. Local DJs include Stan Doublin (house), Adam Louis (house), Optikal (house), Allanon (trance), Shen (trance), JenD (trance), Nanos (hardcore) and Weird Science with Fastcode, Pepe and Cable (jungle). On Friday, the Promise Ring is joined by Chicago folk band Songs:Ohia and local Wash. U. band Pure. Saturday features Indianapolis' Mudkids and includes performances by hometowners Bits 'N' Pieces (with DJ K9) and Toyy (with DJ Needles), Vancouver's Moka Only and Chicago's Hi Fidel (with DJ Crucial).
All the events aim to raise awareness of underground music and promote independent artists. Bits 'N' Pieces, a hip-hop group playing on Saturday, got its start through KWUR (90.3 FM). "They have been one of the biggest influences in our career," says Katt of Bits 'N Pieces. "They wrote us recommendation letters, and they have both of our 12s [LPs]. They spin that regularly." By inviting local DJs to play the Gargoyle, KWUR seeks to deflect focus from drug use in dance culture -- the sensationalistic take of the mainstream media -- and bring it back to an appreciation of the music.
KWUR broadcasts a delicious assortment of underground music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their DJs, they boast, are connoisseurs, spinning quality music from smaller record labels most of us would never hear otherwise. KWUR reminds the astute listener that there's more to choose from than the week's No. 1 on the Top 40.
"I'd like to raise some awareness about KWUR," says general manager Leslie Hinyard. "I want people to recognize that we're here." The station's limited power makes that difficult: Broadcasting at just 10 watts, KWUR is a tiny fish in a sea of large commercial-radio stations. Says Hinyard: "On a sunny day, I hear, the signal can reach as far as the airport."