CAMMIES: Indie/Experimental, Hip-hop, Electronic
Head to these showcases and vote
You have your indie rock, you have your experimental. You have your indie-experimental. How about alternative? The Alternative Nation? What does it mean? It’s all so confusing.
Labels in music are silly, yet they’ve always functioned as a way to help record companies sell their product … back when they sold product. If you took the term “indie” at face value, every band in Chico would be considered indie.
“Indie rock appears to be a very subjective term,” says Nolan Ford of this year’s CAMMIE-nominated The Secret Stolen. “It doesn’t really define what the music sounds like as much as it is concerned with classifying bands by their promotional philosophies.” Fair enough. TSS does it DIY, while putting out some serious rock ’n’ roll—the kind you’d hear if you crossed Melt-Banana and George Thorogood.
Experimental is much more simple to define, although what exactly does one have to do to be considered experimental? Maybe play a double-neck mandolin with your toes? Let’s just be happy there are bands in Chico pushing the boundaries of sound (as we box them into an easily identifiable category). This year’s nominees are eclectic. And the voting was so close that the category has grown by two bands.
First-time nominee Dr. Yes! is one man and an arsenal of gadgetry. Sometimes he brings a band along for the ride (called The Soulgazers). It’s krautrock meets disco meets psychedelic. Categorize that.
Maybe experimental means your band has no vocals—like jazz, you have only the notes telling you what you’re supposed to feel. As is the case with Red Giant and La Fin du Monde—two bands, sans vocals, that tip-toe and stomp over a number of styles including jazz and metal. They’ve made a lot of friends without saying a single word.
West By Swan has the distinction of being louder than any band in this category. And maybe older. That’s a good thing. At this stage in the game the quartet has learned the art of controlling its post-punk noise. Not as easy as one might think. They’ve made a lot of friends by playing so loud that no one can hear a single word.
Bear Hunter is another band that has clocked in some time in Chico. The band’s only record You Will be Heard! took years to complete—the result is a thoroughly well-crafted indie (oops!) rock record. Led by the charismatic Maurice Spencer—who could be considered the second-coming of Wayne Coyne (or Tony Clifton)—Bear Hunter is a band bound for bigger things.
The young and (not-so) innocent Shimmies are the three brothers Galloway and Jack Gingerich, and they have made a name for themselves in a short time. They won a CAMMIE last year. Released a record. They write some damn catchy songs that feel as at home in Chico as they might in the chilly Pacific Northwest. The band’s MySpace page says “Indie/Alternative/Garage.” I have a feeling it’s only a matter of time before “garage” becomes a CAMMIES category.
Hip-hop has been growing in Chico over the last three years. And it’s been against all odds: We lost our one and only hip-hop station. There aren’t many venues or people putting on shows. And … well, when one considers the demographics of Chico, hip-hop isn’t necessarily what comes to mind.
This year we found more than 50 hip-hop artists in and around Chico—more than twice as many as there were in the CAMMIES’ inaugural year. The boom could be attributed to the regular local emcee battles, which bring together kids from the area and as far as Sacramento. See how it works: They network. Community is built. Hip-hop crews are formed. They sell their songs for ChicoBag commercials and go mainstream.
Actually, the mainstream and reliance on record labels are so Lil Wayne. The best beats and the best rhymes are being constructed underground. As Hap Hathaway of CAMMIE nominee The Resonators puts it: “The music is alive and well, and the opportunities for artists to make their money independent of major labels is also expanding, so I refuse to be bummed about the cats that are still selling junk to the kids.”
As with the Indie/Experimental category, there are seven artists this year (all seven are playing the showcase as well). P.AND.A. (“Perspire and Achieve”) is a duo made up of Dash Weidhofer and Shadrach. According to their MySpace page, influences are varied (from jazz legend Thelonious Monk to AM radio rockers Chicago), illustrated by the song “No Matter What”—an R&B love letter to hip-hop that opens with a sample of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.”
Himp C has been at it for years with Dialecs and more recently with The Resonators. He’s intense as a solo artist and is also a talented lyricist who has no qualms with dropping some freestyle on cue (as he did at last year’s CAMMIES showcase).
Like I said earlier, local emcee battles have helped bring together the hip-hop community. Ask TyBox, who started out beatboxing in high school before going on to serve up other emcees at battles. Now he collaborates with others, and has released his first mixtape called Achievement Unlocked. One Up, The Acoustic DJ’s early days were actually spent performing solo at Café Flo. These days the two-time nominee has a full backing band, and no doubt won some people over during his performance at last year’s awards ceremony.
A couple of household names around these parts are The Hooliganz and Dr. Becky Sagers, Ph.D. For The Hooliganz, it’s been a one-two punch of the group’s staunch promotion and talent, which finally all came together with their 2008 debut Welcome to Hooliwood. Over the last 15-plus years the Becky Sagers have followed the path of least resistance to become a Chico institution. Oh, they’re talented all right, they’re funny and they have an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop and music in general—which is all it takes to make their shows events. That and they just know a lot of people.
There’s a sticker that reads: “Drum machines have no soul.” It’s a jab by those who think electronic musicians are just some nerdy recluses surrounded by a MacBook with a Medusa’s head of cables connecting to various gadgets and keyboards. OK, maybe there’s some truth in that. But if you think about it, there are lots of bands out there—with living, breathing members—that have absolutely no soul (basically anything you hear on the radio or see on MTV).
“The bottom line is that the difference between shit music and good music lies with the person creating the music,” explains Owen Bettis, who makes up one half of 2008 CAMMIE-award-winner Anamnesis.
The duo have been creating dance-driven soundscapes since 2005 that are heavy on electro and breakbeat, a music that uses heavy, syncopated beats.
Like hip-hop, electronic music has been steadily growing into a living, breathing community in Chico—championed by places like Velour Lounge and the now-defunct CRUX and newly risen TiON.
MANIC ONE is a regular at Velour Lounge (on the back patio of Panama Bar & Grill every Saturday), and has been making music for almost two decades, getting his start with the Ninja Bass Squad in the mid-’90s. Despite the name, the music is more moody—especially “Shutta,” which turns a camera shutter into a beat.
Going back even further to the days of the Brick Works, Ayrian has been a constant in keeping electronic music alive in Chico. And while touchy-feely rave parties are a thing of the past, Ayrian lives on, blending trance and breakbeat. He’s currently dabbling in bluegrass breakbeat, “produced from organic samples of banjo and slow, funky breaks and basslines.”
Metisyn (pronounced “medicine”) is a relative newcomer who lists far-reaching influences from Dead Can Dance to Alanis Morissette. Just listen to “MOAH,” which starts off with a fuzzy synth line that bubbles below reverbed vocals. To steal a phrase: It’s “hauntingly beautiful.”
Born to Chico jazz musician Deric, Alec Binyon no doubt learned about the ways of the music world early on. In fact, he says it was at the age of 5 when he discovered electronic music. For years now, the younger Binyon (whose day job is advertising manager for the CN&R) has been creating dense works under the moniker Basic. It’s intense and beautiful (listen to “Pulse”)—and anyone who still believes electronic music has no soul, hasn’t seen Basic in the live setting.
Swedish-born Hjalmar Hake aka Holger Honda aka OILPANIC started making music in the early-’90s with a Swedish electronic group with a killer name in The Rotten Beak. Honda’s music tiptoes through ambient and stomps into dub-influenced dance numbers, and the man’s quirky personality is all over every track. He likens creating music to being in the kitchen: “It’s like good cooking; first you need healthy fresh ingredients,” Honda explains, adding “And to say that electronic music has no soul is like saying that lamb tastes like wool.”