The indie hipster in me (disclaimer: I am not an indie hipster) was very excited last Thursday for Globemed’s Battle of the Bands, a fundraiser that raised money to benefit communities in El Salvador. Four bands performed for the supposedly-coveted prize of being named winner. Each ticket to vote cost $1, solicited as you walked through the doors and later on throughout the show. Mr. Gad’s hosted and Route 9 performed the after-show, rounding off an excellent show.
Globemed is, in case any of you stingy Scrooges want to know, a student-run nonprofit that raises money for its partner organization, El Pastoral. Last semester they had a food-security project for around $5000, money that was directly wired to El Pastoral, who then put it to good use. For any cynics crying corruption, don’t worry: Globemed provides a breakdown of every project of exactly where the money goes and no student gets paid. Last semester, the money went to chicken coops and fishponds to help families generate self-sustaining lifestyles, and another project is in the works.
Battle of the Bands wasn’t just an event with a speaker and free food. Globemed gave us a show, making it all the more disappointing that only a few – maybe 50 or 80 - students showed up. And with that in mind, let me break the bands down for you. Be sad, readers, that you did not go see them.
Railyard Conspiracy: EJ Nisbeth ’13: drums. Dan Webber ’14: bass and vocals. Joe Taff: lead guitar and vocals. Ben Muller ’14: sax, keys and vocals. Ian Stahl ’14: lead vocals and rhythm guitar.
The first band to perform and the only one from Amherst, Railyard Conspiracy was also the winner of Battle of the Bands. To understand what Railyard Conspiracy is, you only need to know their history. Lead vocalist Ian Stahl explains me that, “RYC founded Rome after killing its brother Remus on the Palestine. The band assassinated Mussolini in the very railyards where his trains ran on time. As the group assumed control of the Italian government, they declared themselves Railyard Conspiracy after the railyard and conspiracy that respectively destroyed fascism and Caesar.”
But FOX News documentary aside, Railyard Conspiracy featured impressive technique, most notably during the saxophone solo. Their bluesy eclectic rock feel was a crowd-pleaser and their lyrics thankfully deviated from the average romantic drivel. In their song, “The Debt Collector,” lead vocalist Stahl sings, “You’ve been safe and sound in your burial ground,” a nice poetic twist set to a cheerful melody. The only thing that Railyard Conspiracy lacked was theatricality, especially considering the following acts.
Dérive: Daniel Maxton: guitar, vocals and bells. Paul Schmelz: guitar, bass, vocals and saxophone. Paul DeGrandpre: vocals and drums. Greg Nahabedian: accordion, vocals, guitar and keyboard.
The next band grabbed my attention with the frontman Nahabedian’s bare feet — a clear sign of a bona fide hipster. Sure enough, Nahabedian jumped, twisted, shouted and went absolutely crazy. This spectacle, along with the simultaneously screamed and harmonized lyrics and the improvisational, drawn-out, punk rock music, slapped mainstream-music-listeners in the face.
However, for the more open-minded, Dérive was a treat, performing genuinely enjoyable music with passionate intensity. To describe the actual music, I would say Sleigh Bells meets Cold War Kids (if you haven’t heard of these bands, that probably says more about what kind of music they produce), though the band cites others such as The Blood Brothers and Modest Mouse as inspirations.
As for the band’s goals, Nahabedian says, “We’re interested in inspiration and eventually convincing people to use their abilities and not fall into the easy life that the Spectacle provides.” I don’t know what the Spectacle is, but trust me, Dérive makes more than just a spectacle of itself.
Max Miller: Max Miller: guitar, vocals.
Soloists are always impressive, and Max Miller is no exception. This alternative rocker creates mixes of different beats, bass lines and backing vocals that he plays on his computer while he then sings and plays the guitar. Just like Dérive, Max Miller also gave us a performance: he jumped off the stage and rolled around on the ground. This energy was definitely unexpected, because his almost-monotone singing and dystopian beats give us a rather bleak reflection on life (he sings, “sign you name on the dotted line/put it in a box marked ‘Waste of Time’”). Not to say that his music itself is sad. While experimental, Max Miller is polished and his music diverse but cohesive, which is especially impressive considering he works alone.
What was really a success though was the “dark, brooding intellectual” image he cultivates in both his appearance (long dark hair and black clothing) and music, although his music certainly did not upset me. It’s okay, though. He has plenty of opportunities to disappoint in his upcoming album “Music Doesn’t Exist,” coming out on April 19, which was, of all things, inspired by Jean Paul Sartre’s “Nausea.”
Break Stuff Steal Things: Jordan Persson: synthesizer, vocals. Ian Campbell: guitar. Quinn Morris-Pearson: bass.
Why so serious, Railyard Conspiracy, Dérive, Max Miller? Well I’m glad that Break Stuff Steal Things was the last band to play, because their quirky, bubbly act was a breath of fresh air after the increasingly serious acts. The electro pop-rock group’s guitarist Ian Campbell could have successfully hosted a war council with his awkwardly adorable introductions and dance moves. Vocalist Persson performed a solo with the vuvuzuela, which is a non-instrumental plastic horn. All of the band members wore rings that lit up, and their outfits and one song, “Threshold,” were straight out of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.”
Break Stuff Steal Things is cute and they know it — their songs are about space, robots and not growing up. But don’t be fooled by their kiddy lyrics: while songs like “Aurora Boreality” encourage the audience to “swab the decks of space debris/unfurl the sails in zero G,” they remind us that “it’s not about the destination.”
As Persson says, “I’m creating something I can stand by, even if it’s a little silly.” We could all get behind that.