Punk, metal and noise lineups fill West Side DIY venues. Hip-hop shows thud from clubs on the St. Mary’s Strip. Indie rock fans seek out new bands at Loop Land bars. The Alamo City isn’t just one music community but several, each segregated by genre, and often, geography.
The rich diversity of the music being created here is something to cherish, but musicians, promoters and fans worry much of it goes unheard. While fans and bands may support music in their own individual scene, they’re frequently oblivious to the talent that exists in others.
The result? Local musicians are making music in silos, which prevents the kind of musical crosspollination that makes for a healthy, vibrant and exportable music scene.
“It seems like most of the younger bands don’t stray far from the bosom of their clique,” said Jeff Smith, owner of San Antonio’s Saustex Records label and frontman for the longtime country punk band the Hickoids.
But bands don’t bear the sole responsibility. Audiences are prone to attend shows for genres they’re familiar with, and many are unwilling to make the trek to hear new and unfamiliar music, local musicians point out. Meanwhile, other scenesters look down their noses at bands in their own genres that are mixing things up or pushing in new directions.
James Woodard, frontman for avant-metal band the Grasshopper Lies Heavy experienced the latter situation firsthand. Even though Grasshopper has toured in Japan and produced a string of critically acclaimed releases, it faced local indifference when it started playing live shows in the late 2000s.
“Especially when we were starting out, no one knew who the fuck we were and no one cared,” Woodard said. “We weren’t metal enough for the metal dudes, and we weren’t indie enough for the indie kids, so it was really hard to find a niche.”
San Antonio-born pop performer Wayne Holtz, a recent transplant to LA, said that skittishness keeps local audiences from discovering new music that they might love. He points out that younger fans are often just eager to see new music, no matter the genre — and that’s the best mindset to keep.
“You’ve got to dip your feet into different pools before you figure out what you really like,” said Holtz said. “And if you think about the real pulse of the music scene, it’s in this huge group of kids that are all going to warehouse shows, who don’t care what they’re checking out. They just want to be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with going in with a blind eye.”
San Antonio’s sprawl also plays a part in the siloed nature of the music scene. While downtown and the near North Side have long had the highest concentration of live music venues, recent years have brought a flood of new venues to the suburbs.
Some, such as Imagine Books & Records near Leon Valley, have adventurous booking policies. Others, including The Rustic in the La Cantera area book not just original local music but renowned touring acts.
Woodard of the Grasshopper Lies Heavy pointed out that younger fans who grew up in the ’burbs may rarely ever get downtown.
“Especially when you’re younger and in high school, you’re totally detached from [the downtown] world,” he said.
But older music fans also need to venture outside of their downtown comfort zone.
“For a city as large as ours, it’s kind of goofy [to think] that the N. St. Mary’s Strip is one of the only places you can see music,” Woodard said.
So, how do bands, promoters and fans start tearing down the silos?
Ultimately, it comes down to having an open mind, music scenesters say.
Bands need to be open to playing new places, even if it means gassing up the van and driving more than a few blocks to the venue. Bookers need to take more chances and diversify bills. And audiences need to step outside of their scenes and cliques — whether those are drawn by genre, location or age — to experience a wider sampling of local music.
While it’s absurd to think a single article in the Current can help sort all those things out, we can at least urge listeners to check out performers making a big noise in their own scenes who haven’t yet broken out.
To that end, here are five artists we think deserve an audience outside of their respective circles. Have fun and get listening.
“Both of my parents are old-school punks,” Danika said. “My dad really likes GBH, so I started out with that type of stuff. … Then I found more hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today.”
The band’s sound reflects that chaotic energy of its ’80s influences. But it was Danika’s introduction to riot grrrl outfit Bikini Kill that became the catalyst for her to launch a band.
“Right away, I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a girl doing all this stuff and being angry about all this shit that’s happening,’ so I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a band,’” she explains.
RATS dropped an eight-song release entitled Demo 2019 at the end of last year, which may have appeal to old-schoolers who have long moved on from all-ages gigs. The frantic energy is akin to that of early ’80s hardcore pioneers such as Minor Threat.
What’s more, the band’s lyrical challenges to the patriarchy and its willingness to sing about the bullshit women and marginalized people have to put up with has obvious appeal to forward-thinking folks outside the hardcore scene.
Stay tuned. RATS is writing new music and hopes to have a new EP finished this summer.
“I think the thing that makes Dylan the most special as a singer-songwriter is he has this great honestly that is joined to a really quirky sense of humor,” said Imagine owner Don Hurd.
After watching Alley start performing at a young age, Hurd witnessed his evolution into a strong showman and songwriter. Alley’s songs crackle with so much imagery they’re likely to win over folks not normally apt to show up at singer-songwriter showcases.
“He came into the store one day to play me a new song called ‘Werewolf,’ which is an incredible song about him and his father,” Hurd said. “And that’s when I saw the change in Dylan. He really found what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Once that happened, he was a different person. His confidence went up and his live performances became extraordinary.”
But Alley’s songs don’t just address his personal life experiences with raw emotion. Humor may be one of his secret weapons. Take the song “Air Hockey Champion,” where Alley describes the rise and fall of, well, a shit-hot air hockey player.
“I think I should be signed wearing sweatbands and jumpsuits and doing promos for Bud Light,” Alley sings. “And the people will all see me and say, ‘Hey, it’s that one guy, he’s the Gretsky of air hockey.’”
Alley’s voice evokes singers from emo and post-hardcore bands such as Thursday and American Football, and his plentiful tattoos suggest an underground rock pedigree. But those wary of mosh pits shouldn’t worry. The folk aesthetic of Alley’s music widens its appeal.
“I don’t really consider myself a singer,” said Alley, who cites English punk and folk artist Frank Turner and singer-songwriter Brett Dennen as influences. “I kind of just not so much talk, but project, my voice. ... And it’s aggressive and it’s angsty, and it’s got a folk-punk element.”
Alley hopes to have new music out soon.
Little surprise then that Baldemar Esquivel III — he just goes by his first name for the eponymous project — has emerged as a favorite in San Antonio’s lo-fi bedroom pop scene, which is largely concentrated around house shows. However, he’s also taken his show to larger venues including the Paper Tiger.
While still building his rep in San Antonio, the artist has amassed an impressive number of streams on his Spotify page, some songs reaching over 50,000 plays. Although the quality of his songs accounts for some of that, much stems from his self-promotion.
“I would just do my best to talk to a lot of people,” he said. “I think it mostly happened through genuine word of mouth and people being nice and sharing my music.”
Baldemar played in bands in the local indie rock and lo-fi scenes before forming his eponymous project in 2015 and releasing an EP called Front Porch Doom the following year. He primarily writes and records his music using the program GarageBand on his phone.
He’s currently working on new music and aims to release something “girthier” than Front Porch Doom, which was only five tracks. He hopes to release Self-Loading — that’s the working title, anyway — before this spring’s SXSW Festival, where he’ll be playing unofficial shows.
Some people have a hard time categorizing ambient as music since it’s so sonically amorphous. It may be easier to grasp solo artist Bestia’s work by considering it sound painting. Instead of trying to pull something from the music, the best approach is letting the sounds themselves pull you in.
Bright, echoing and warm, Bestia creates prolonged movements that breathe and exhale, giving the listener a feeling that they’re being pulled through a field of pulsing waves. Subtle dynamic shifts and texture changes allow the listener to explore and digest each building block of the compositions.
“There’s an economy of composition that he really nails,” said Woodard of Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a fan of Bestia’s work. “I feel like a lot of ambient or noise artists go over the top and they’re so ready to add beats and things and don’t let the compositions breathe. I feel like his minimalism is really powerful.”
Conrad Gonzalez, the musician behind Bestia, played in punk bands through middle school and high school and eventually started recording bands in the Rio Grande Valley. He ended up in San Antonio two years ago by chance — a move that helped him get sober and take the next step in his musical evolution.
“I was a junkie [and] lost a job about 30 minutes away from here, got stranded and had a friend house me,” he explained.
Now two years sober, Gonzalez says he’s cut back on his work schedule as a cook — often 90 hours a week — so he can focus on creating music. The approach seems to be working. He released his debut album Procession Of in October and is likely to drop its follow-up in the next couple of months.
“As much as I like what’s on Procession Of, it’s kind of not what I want to be making,” he said. “I bought a bunch of gear that can [capture my ideas], and hopefully there will be more interesting shit coming out soon.”
“I was only in freestyle battles before that but when I moved up to Minneapolis, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to actually sit down, write songs and do shows,” said the rapper, whose real name is Jose Angel Perez.
While there, the emcee also started Loud Mouth League, a hip-hop organization that facilitates rap battles around the Midwest.
But a 2011 move brought SpyMC back to his hometown. Reacclimated into San Antonio’s hip-hop scene, he dove deep into the indie rap community and started throwing his own shows. His “How We Do at Limelight” showcase still runs every first, third and fifth Wednesday on the St. Mary’s Strip, offering rap up-and-comers a chance to display their skills.
Part of SpyMC’s appeal is how easy he makes his delivery appear. He sounds comfortable firing off his highly technical rap verses, enabling him to navigate beats with the precision of a heart surgeon. That ease of delivery may be key to expanding his audience beyond hardcore hip-hop fans.
The rapper expects to drop a full-length album called Patience in February or March, which could help expand his audience.
The 10-song release exhibits a thoughtful, mature artist. Clearly, he’s aware of his skills yet careful not to show his entire hand in the first song. Over the course of the record, he tells stories of his own life experience in an entertaining and engaging way.
“A lot of people rap about rap and that’s not really a relatable subject, because the everyday listener is not a rapper,” he said. “So, [Patience] is a lot of my life and what I’m going through. Current situations, how I’ve overcome things. … I don’t know everything, but I know what I know, and I know people can learn from my choices, whether they’ve been mistakes or successes. And that’s what I want to do — relate to people.”
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