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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Show Review: Dum Dum Girls, Young Prisms, SISU

Malia James, New bassist for the Dum Dum Girls Photo is From SCENE IN THE DARK

Dum Dum Girls
Young Prisms
@ The Belly-Up Tavern

   Yesterday, as I drove up and down the freeway from San Diego to Santa Ana to San Diego to Solana Beach  to San Diego, I had plenty of time to reflect on Pitchfork's 6.1 hammering of Best Coast's The Only Place.  One thing that came to mine was my own post from October 3rd of last year, discussing the drawing to the close of the so-called "Lo-Fi" revival from 2008-2011.  Certainly, this review of the new Best Coast LP is the nail in that particular coffin, FOR WHAT ITS WORTH. (1)

   It is the nature of Artistic trends and revivals that they have a fixed time period where new Artists emerge and are then introduced to the general Audience via a series of pre-existing institutions.  These institutions: Record companies, Venues,  Media Outlets extend beyond the limit of any specific Artistic trend.

  It is only natural that ruptures and traumas will occur when a specific Artists moves from a fringe or specialty Audience into the general Audience.    Issues can include "not appealing to a larger Audience,"  "Alienating early fans of your Art,"  "Conflicts with existing institutions that are responsible for mediating your relationship with the general Audience."

  The choices a specific Artist makes influences the relationship between the Artist and their Audience.  For example, if you are Best Coast, and Bethany makes a deal to design clothes for Urban Outfitters, you could predict that it will assist Best Coast in gaining access to a larger Audience AND that it will alienate early fans. Neither consequence is "good" or "bad" but they are both predictable.

   When I saw the choice of venue and night for this show I raised my eyebrows, I'll admit.  Wednesday night, Belly Up Tavern... I suppose the idea from the perspective of the Artist is to get out of your Venue comfort zone in an effort to reach new fans.  From that perspective, it's hard not to see a Dum Dum Girls show at the Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA. as a small triumph of indie rock.  It wasn't a packed-out Belly Up show, but the looping slide show provided by the venue demonstrated the type of Artists who pack out the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA., Dum Dum Girls are not Karl Denison's Tiny Universe-level big, not yet.

  Being well familiar with all three bands, my attention was more focused on the Audience.  I saw a collection of "girl's night out," "couples on dates," and "local music fans."  Other then Jeff Graves, McHank and a tweet I saw from Edwin Negado (Edwin Himself) the downtown crowd was absent.  C'est la vie.

  Belly Up Tavern has to be one of the most well-run venues in the Country (2) It's great that they are independent and Live-Nation free.  Between sets I considered that an equivalent sized venue is either House of Blues San Diego or SOMA.  Belly Up Tavern's staff is highly professional and they treat their patrons with respect.  It's surely not the "coolest" place to see a show, but it is one of the best.

Sandra Vu of SISU and Dum Dum Girls

   The first band to perform was SISU, featuring Sandra "Sandy Beaches" Vu on vox and lead guitar.  This iteration of SISU was five pieces strong with an added keyboardist.  The individual songs ranged from "needs practice" to really good and affecting. I had heard good things about their performance at the Austin Impose Imposition this  year, so I made sure to watch.  SISU's Demon Tapes, Volume 2 is available FOR FREE on their band camp, and it's worth a listen.

Young Prisms live, photo from Ellen's TUMBLR

   Second band was San Francisco's Young Prisms, who are doing their best to make a case for themselves on a national level.  Young Prisms possess a refreshing authenticity and lack of affectation that goes well with their trad-indie use of My Bloody Valentine derived song-writing technique.  I, for one, am a huge fan of both My Bloody Valentine AND bands that have My Bloody Valentine as a primary influence.  I will probably be "into" that sound forever.   Young Prisms are so committed to touring and recording that is hard not to see a pay-off somewhere down the line.

  Dum Dum Girls headlined.  This was the first time I had seen the post-Bambi version, with Malia James replacing her in the line up:

Malia James
Dum Dum Girls Bassist Malia James

  You can follow a tag of "MALIA JAMES" on tumblr of course.

     Other then that Dee Dee dyed her hair blond.  They looked to be in good spirits and having fun.  I know they have a new EP coming out in fall on Sub Pop.  It was cool to see Dum Dum Girls connecting with an older, less "cool" audience.  The fact is that a rising Artist is going to generate friction between potential Audience members, and playing a venue like the Belly Up is a good strategy to prevent inter-Audience friction.  The problem with the "cool" audience for music is that it is severely limited in terms of number and per member resources.   Illustrated by the fact that many people who likely consider themselves Dum Dum Girls fans didn't make the trip.

      The only way I care to look at a show of this size is in terms of the Artist connecting with a new or different Audience.  I think until you are pulling 500 or more, it's better to play different areas and maybe not do as well, vs. selling out a 2-300 person size venue for the 2nd time. Certainly the Belly Up's combination of geographic diversity and quality reputation make for a compelling opportunity.

     Presumably, when major festivals and similar opportunities are considering various Artists they review that information.  I'm sure everyone who can't pull more then 500 people is the same but you can def. show that you can pull a measurable Audience in different markets or at different venues in the same market.

  I see a vast difference- across genres of music for the Artists in the under 500 category vs. the 500-1000 territory.  There are many more markets where you can play a couple different cool "under 500" capacity venues, and you options get severely limited between 500-1000 people.   Just in San Diego you go from being able to play the Casbah, Soda Bar, or a billion other places to basically being able to pick between House of Blues and SOMA.  That difference is repeated a thousand times over.
  Something I've noticed about my local San Diego market is the overwhelming influence of the season that extends from roughly two weeks before SXSW through the end of Coachella.

  So, to take next year- SXSW music is between March 12 and 17.  So starting on March 1st and then running through two weeks after Coachella- which is the end of April.  Also, Record Store Day is the middle- which severely impacts the production and distribution of vinyl records.  Basically, between the beginning of March to the end of April you can't get anything made or booked without allowing for the influence of SXSW-Coachella.

   Starting in May it is the "Summer Festival Season" which is a nightmarish hellscape but lucrative for bands and great for general Audience. Dum Dum Girls will be making that transition on this tour as they head for Sasquatch, with Lollapalooza also scheduled.  But not Bonaroo.

  Really, if you wanted to do a weekly in San Diego, you'd schedule it in the weeks of March and April on a dead night, and then bands would just roll through on their way to wherever.



 As 2011 draws to a close, the so-called Lo Fi revival is closing with it.   Between 2008 and 2011 a number of Artists and Audience members embraced the Macintosh recording program Garage Band, and succeeded in gaining entrance to the music industry.  Like other musical revival movements, lo-fi trafficked in nostalgia  and limited budgets.  Artists who emerged from under the lo-fi banner in the period of 2008 to 2011 faced challenges similar to those faced by Artists who emerged in other revival movements.

      The Lo Fi Movement drew from American, British and European influences, but the sponsoring institutions were largely located inside the United States, with New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Southern California all seeing the growth of separate lo fi "scenes."   All of these separate scenes contributed Artists and institutions.

    Lo Fi is characterized by a heightened interest by the Artists in the institutions of the music industry- Lo Fi Artists have also been Label Owners and Writers/Thinkers.  Like other musical revivals, Lo Fi benefited from generational change over among  publications covering the music industry and technological changes in how the Audience listened to music.

(2) By "Country" I mean "United States" not a mis-spelling of the word county.

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