In a world where we're given daily reminders of man's often incomprehensible cruelty and horrifying savagery (war, genocide, Sting's recent duet with the Backstreet Boys), it's heartening to know that the annual New Times Music Showcase can serve as a universal touchstone, a beacon of harmony and consensus that people can rally around. Unfortunately, all that is utter bullshit (save for the part about the horror of seeing the Sting/Backstreet extravaganza -- a move that confirmed my darkest suspicions about ye olde tantric sex symbol Gord Sumner). Alas, in local music circles the NT showcase has historically been as divisive and controversial as anything. In past years, the debate has always centered on who was being included in the proceedings. Artists would bemoan the fact that they were passed over, bands would gripe about just how much they really deserved to be in it. But being that we decided to forsake any concepts of merit, honor and journalistic impartiality long ago, opting instead to take the much easier and lucrative path of sensationalism and mean-spiritedness, those complaints have fallen on completely deaf ears.
No, this year, most of the controversy focuses on the question of categorization. Like any similar process, where to place certain bands is a task fraught with imperfection. Sometimes in an effort to include an especially worthy -- though essentially unclassifiable -- act, we are forced to put them in a category in which they may seem woefully out of place. To wit, the inclusion of Sleepwalker in the "pop" category. This decision was a particularly painful one as we were torn between our desire to invite the band and our consternation over where to place them. Short of creating a specially tailored category -- maybe Best Languid-Trance-Inducing-Avant-Garde-Three-Piece With a Steel Guitar -- we saw no other alternative but to include the group along with a trio of much more conventional pop purveyors.
We had no idea the furor the decision would generate. For the past month, it seems every other person has made an effort to stop yours truly and ask something along the lines of: "Dude, Sleepwalker in the pop category? What's that about?"
Yes, every place I've gone I've been greeted with puzzled expressions and slightly different versions of the same query -- "Why is Sleepwalker in the pop category?", "How do you figure Sleepwalker is pop?", "Hey, you dumbass prick, how much do they pay you to keep your head stuck up your ass?" Frankly, dear readers, not nearly enough.
So far-reaching has the outcry been that even Elian Gonzalez, the young boy at the center of an international political maelstrom, weighed in with his opinion on the matter. Just before federal marshals seized him from the home of his Miami relatives last weekend, the irrepressible little tyke was heard to exclaim, "¿Que pendejo dijo que Sleepwalker es un conjunto pop?" Translation: "Who's the jerk-off who thinks Sleepwalker is a pop band?"
Admittedly, Sleepwalker's turn as a pop competitor isn't the only selection to raise eyebrows. What about Reuben's Accomplice competing under the banner of punk? Or the electric-alt country of Truckers on Speed and the back-porch acoustic Nitpickers in the same Americana category? And exactly how is Walt Richardson considered a reggae/ska act?
Sure, you could go on debating semantics and arguing minute details until yer blue in the face, but really, folks, does any of that actually matter?
If the term "pop" is used for everything from Sinatra to the Beatles, and the word "rock" can serve as the description for both the Kinks and Creed, it only goes to show the inherent futility of genre tags.
So in constructing this year's showcase, we've decided to throw away the old rulebook and start fresh. Six new categories, dozens of first-time participants and a blatant disregard for narrow conventions.
First off, we've eliminated our swing section. But fret not, hepcats and hepkittens, you can still satisfy your jitterbug jones with the bands in our newly constituted "roots" category, which includes jump 'n' jivers like the Rumble Cats and the horn (and hormone)-drenched soul of Glory Revival, not to mention the grab bag of roots styles offered up by Los Guys and the Ramblers.
Also getting a first look is the "rock" category, featuring the trashy sound of the Sonic Thrills, the retro organ noise of the Van Buren Wheels, the arty inclinations of Big Blue Couch, and meat and potatoes work of Ghetto Cowgirl -- all showcase virgins.
Then there's our DJ category. Long the domain of internationally respected heavyweights like Markus Schulz , Z-Trip, Radar and Pete Salaz, it's seeing a kind of rebirth with a whole crop of fresh young faces, up-and-comers like DJ Soloman, Lego, Jon Boy and DJ Michael.
Meanwhile, Radar has taken his talents to the hip-hop category, joining local faves Know Qwestion and Cousins of the Wize, with the much-talked-about FHS, a turntable/rap combo he fronts along with Puma.
Our blues, jazz and Latino categories remain solid, thanks to the enduring efforts of artists like Sistah Blue and Big Pete Pearson, respected pros like Dave Cook and the members of Pripism (featuring several well-known Valley jazzniks, including drummer Rob Schuh and guitarist Chris Champion) and striking new talents like eclectic big-band Chicano Power Revival.
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And what of the Americana category? In addition to the aforementioned Truckers on Speed and Nitpickers, we have rural twangers Flathead, and for those of you who can't seem to satisfy your deep yearning for bluegrass, we bring you the mighty Pearl Chuckers (feel free to insert your own Deliverance joke here).
Never one to ignore prevailing stylistic trends (no matter how much we're inclined to do so), we've also created a new hard/modern rock grouping, rife with angry young funk rockers like Tolerance, rap-metal mavens 46-14 and Bionic Jive, and the hard-core guitar-centric sound of Crushed.
But see, that's the beauty of the New Times showcase. We've got something for everyone -- blues, country, punk, rock -- you name it. As a post-showcase bonus, we also have a special treat for the kiddies, the high-energy kineticism of New York ska-punks the Slackers and the radio-ready sounds of the Flys.
Hopefully, all that will be enough to sate the appetite of even the most ravenous music fan. And if not, there's always the 2001 showcase, where we'll have different categories, different bands and, who knows, maybe even a Hayden Square duet with David Bowie strapping on his red shoes and dancing the blues with young Americans 'N Sync. Until next year, then, bye, bye, bye.