By Marco Vera
The desert backroads and alleyways have proven time after time a fertile laboratory for experimentation and excess. As of late, the Coachella Valley has been producing a DIY art & music outpouring worthy of national recognition, with eclectic manifestations that can be recognized in the work of local artists such as the Date Farmers and DJ Alf Alpha. "People always travel to the desert to find themselves at some point," exclaimed Desert Hot Springs artist/muralist Ancient Youth. Still, the Coachella Valley amplified music scene has rarely been issued its proper and well deserved dues as an authentic showcase for musical mischief outside of its incredibly energetic and self sufficient concentric circles. The music that brews inside the Coachella Valley's garages, drenched in over 100 degree heat, is blistering and exciting. Under the suburban roar of freight trains riding over railroad tracks lies a unique subculture fully committed to its own experimentation, misconduct and sonic immersion. These are the sounds of working class Latino and white kids making music and art, creating something from nothing.
Identified the world over by the music festival that bears its name, the Coachella Valley's warehouse art shows and backyard rock 'n' roll shows are more interesting than anything the colossal and overpriced festival has to offer. Nonetheless, the Valley's arts & music community seems to embrace the festival for the most part, and the light it sheds on its unique and profoundly independent landscape, a sign of the community's welcoming spirit towards those adventurous souls willing to look beyond the polo club. The raucous and unpredictable flow of this inspired desert rock in unconventional spaces opens up triumphant possibilities (as well as the possibility of getting shut down). Yet, it is this level of lunacy and cohesion and commitment which allows no room for true obtrusion, another point in favor of the Coachella Valley music scene maintaining such a distinct level of authenticity.
Inspired by a desert landscape nestled by mountains and red skies, in a community where architecture is a throwback, the music can't help but have a multifaceted, intoxicated aural sensibility. The music is loud, fast, young, tough, experimental, honest, bratty, different, all the while embracing being brought up by punk rock and palm trees. Recorded by the music community's own members and supporters, these bands' albums answer to the spirit of immediacy overflowing throughout the Valley, like Quixotes fighting the energy windmills.
Artbound caught up with five excellent bands from the arid playground to chat about their takes on the local music scenery, the desert as influence, and that other music fest in the desert.
Slipping Into Darkness
Slipping Into Darkness have been playing their own brand of bluesy, punky, psychedelic rock 'n' roll for years, representing Desert Hot Springs proudly after being invited to play a slot at this past edition of Coachella Fest. Slipping Into Darkness's current lineup consists of Michael Durazo on guitar and vocals, Nigel Dettelbach on bass guitar, Nigel Carnehan on drums, Adrian Carreño on lead guitar, and Natalie Alyse on vocals. You can follow Slipping into Darkness on their facebook page and listen to their engaging discography on their Facebook band page section.
Slipping Into Darkness have been perfecting their songwriting craft for enough time now to catch the ear of any worthy A&R rep. Like so many other bands in the Valley, Slipping faces many hardships trying to keep a band going and maintaining an active music scene in the community/desert environment. "Being broke all the time sucks, and we all live in different cities," states Durazo. When asked how they feel about the Coachella Music Festival, Durazo replies, "Coachella Fest is really cool and it affects us a lot out here because of all the people coming in, plus it gives us local people something to do." Other bands in the desert Slipping Into Darkness are into and think deserve more exposure: Las Feas, Grease Trap, Planet Lunch, Twerp, Revol Concept, Alf Alpha, Facelift, Irie Junction, Gothic Two Piece.
Los Mumblers have been making music in Indio, CA since 2003, progressing from a deep psychobilly influence to currently sounding somewhat like a teenage version of The Plugz stranded in the desert with surfboards. Los Mumblers's current lineup consists of Jorge Gomez on guitars, bass and mumbling, and Sal on drums and back-up mumbling (they are currently in-between bass players). You can listen to Los Mumblers on their Bandcamp page and follow them on Facebook.
"If we were to try and describe our sound, we would probably like to think that we sound like a cross of The Cure's early stuff with some tropical influences and a splash of 1950's rock 'n' roll mixed altogether with some surf punk. But honestly we'd rather hear what everyone else has to say about our sound and what they think when they listen to our webpage," states Jorge Gomez. "As a musician, this desert is a beautiful place all year long, but when it's over 100 degrees outside and you're rehearsing in a garage with no air conditioning, we try making every second of every minute mean something. Sometimes our creativity may be rushed but it's all a part of our songwriting process. Speaking as a music fan, we don't get the chances that many other music fans in populated areas such as Los Angeles and San Diego counties get to see bands we like come through our area, because our venues are limited and many touring bands don't see the need to travel through our town since our music scene isn't as popular as other areas in Southern California. We as locals have the responsibility to create what isn't here because events like The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival are only in town once a year, so we must work with what we have to create our own music scene so our youth have more to do throughout the year," affirms Gomez.
Jorge speaks of the band's racial roots and its influence: "The Coachella Valley has a huge Hispanic population. All of our members (past and present) have been Mexican-American so it's hard to deny that the music our parents listened to when we were younger did not have any influence on us. We appreciate our heritage as we get older and know that without it, our taste in art, music and anything in life wouldn't be what it is today." Regarding Coachella Fest, Gomez states, "The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a must for any music lover. Other than it being held in our valley, it had nothing to do with the local music scene until recently. It's great to know Goldenvoice is now considering taking on local acts. I think if anything, this might get everyone in the music scene more into what they are doing and help some take it seriously. I know it's caught the eyes of a lot of our valley folk who never paid any attention to up-and-coming bands in this area." Bands and musicians that have been around and do not get enough credit for what they are doing according to Los Mumblers are: Thoughts Contained, Elektric Lucie, What The Funk, Machin, Deadend Paradox, and Town Troubles.
Pagan Powers / Greasetrap
Pagan Powers and Greasetrap are the brainchilds of visual artist Kylie Knight, her inspired messages being driven home by an accomplished gang of Coachella Valley musicians. Pagan Powers is most punk inspired, as they themselves describe their music: "Loud, fast, quiet, slow, ups and downs, highs and lows. Punk rock, palm trees, sunshine, surf breaks." Their lineup usually consists of Kylie Knight on vocals, Ian Townley on guitar, Brandon Gomez on bass and Rafael Rodriguez on drums. Greasetrap is an experimental punk rock and roll project which combines musicians from all over the Coachella Valley desert. So far they've worked with three guitarists: K.C. Bozanich, Bolin Jue and Robby Baldoch, bassist Ian Townley, vocalist Kylie Knight and drummer Rafael Rodriguez. You can listen to Pagan Powers on their Bandcamp page and follow them on Facebook. You can listen to Greasetrap on their Bandcamp page and follow them on their Facebook page.
What would you say you sounded like if somebody couldn't have access to your music?:
Kylie Knight: Loud
Living in the desert and how it affects your creative process.:
Kylie Knight: The desert is the creative process. The desert is a beautiful place, can turn ugly real quick, there's nothing quite like the desert heat, it makes you crazy, and I think we all are, sort of. We all grew up here, summer comes and time literally melts down your back, you have to keep yourself preoccupied, so we play music and make art, to keep us sane, to share our experiences and to relate.
It's very difficult to maintain a positive outlook in a desert devoid of any actual supportive scene. Shows are scarce; there aren't any real venues here, especially for kids under 21, who are typically the type of audience who enjoy shows the most. The Valley is definitely divided into an east end and a west end, and it seems as though bands/audiences rarely support those opposite their end.
What are your thoughts on the Coachella Music Festival and how does it affect the music scene locally?:
Kylie Knight: As of lately, the Coachella Music Festival is affecting the local music scene in a very positive way. Local bands, and our friends, Slipping Into Darkness and You, Me, & Us both had the opportunity to play the festival this past April. This was unheard of! This is also very motivational for other hard working bands here in the desert. Never give up! You never know when your hard work will pay off, so you should always try to be on top of your game.
: What other bands in the desert are you into and think deserve more exposure?:
Kylie Knight: The Town Troubles, Facelift, Terror Cult, The Fat's Sabobah, Fever Dog, You Me & Us, Ed Deline, Batskinners, Labia Minora, Gothic Two Piece, Dani & The Scarlet Fevers.
Las Feas are a four-piece, all-girl surf punk band from the Coachella Valley comprised of Yessenia Luevano on vocals, Alva Valdez on guitar, Perla Martinez on bass, and Bela Valencia on drums. They're juvenile punk females playing attitude-driven garage rockers mixed in with riot grrl character and surf backbeats. You can check out their music on their Bandcamp page and follow them on Facebook as well. "In my mind I think we sound like bratty punk with surfy riffs. Bratty in a sense that I don't like being told what to do," states vocalist Yessenia Luevano. "The desert may seem like a boring place but it has grown so much over the years. So many of our friends are artists and/or musicians. Many of us have become unafraid of exposing our art or committing to it. I think seeing my friends being so deeply involved in their art allowed me to venture into music."
"Living in the desert melts your brain, coupled with the fact that we live in an imposing valley that threatens to sink into the Pacific Ocean each time an earthquake rolls through, it affects our creative process by giving us a sense of urgency," affirms bassist Perla Martinez. "We come up with new songs all the time and are constantly hustling to get shows and exposure. It's an odd paradox: in a sense, we're pushing as hard as possible out of the Valley and at the same time giving the Valley a scene outsiders can dig." Las Feas's Spanish name connotes a pride in their Latino heritage as well as a defiant feminine quality. "There is a lot of art being made by raza and it's a beautiful thing. A lot of the kids at the shows are brown and I think that some of the best shows have been thrown in Coachella and Indio," states Luevano. "We have also gotten a lot of shit for being females. People like to assume we don't know what we're doing."
Regarding the Coachella Music Festival, Las Feas state: "The Coachella Music Festival affects the music scene in the same way that Woodstock affected the New York underground scene in the Sixties. Despite all the pop-oriented influx of acts that these huge festivals attract, the underground and up-and-coming music scenes will always be slightly indifferent to it all and do what we do best: make music our way, stay original, and push boundaries in ways that money-driven happenings can't," affirms Martinez. "I don't think the festival has any sort of influence on bands. People are into music regardless. Personally, I hate the festival. These shoobies [bring] nothing but trash and bad attitudes. The Coachella Festival started to get more involved with the local music scene but I feel a little exploited by it. The festival has become too superficial for my liking," exclaims Luevano. Other bands in the desert Las Feas are into and think deserve more exposure are Slipping into Darkness, Pagan Powers, Tribesmen, You, Me, and Us, Town Troubles, and Ed Deline.
Tribesmen provide a soundtrack to the desert backdrop via their ambient, experimental, psychedelic sounds and jams. Tribesmen are Alec Corral on guitar, Wilber Pacheco on guitar, Leslie Orozco on bass, and Freddy Jimenez on drums. Check them out on Bandcamp and follow them on Facebook.
"The desert is our home and it affects us just like any other home affects the next artist. It supplies us with friends, family and experiences that affect the way we feel and live. Our music is written by a jam out session based on the emotions we're feeling that day," states drummer Freddy Jimenez. "The desert region's Latino influence has a big impact when it comes to art such as the Date Farmers and other painters, but I don't see much influence when it comes to music. Unless it's really obvious that the band is trying to get that Latin based style," affirms Jimenez. "Some of the hardships we face here trying to keep a band going would have to be the lack of commitment at times and financial issues."
"I think Coachella Fest is a big inspiration for local artists these days. It makes some of us work harder because someday we hope to play there and I'm sure many artists feel that way as well. They're also starting to get more involved with the desert; we just hope to get more opportunities like that in the future," states Jimenez. Bands the Tribesmen think deserve a little more attention since they've been around for quite some time and are very talented people: The Town Troubles and The Sons of the Desert.
Top Image: Cover photograph by Cristopher Cichocki.
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