New York, L.A., Nashville, Austin, etc.: these are all cities that get written and sung about. The dirty streets where our rock n roll icons get strung out, and get rich, and die trying. The places whose streets, or bars, or saloons and studios harbor, hold, and heave with musicians. They are cities we think of as being some of the music capitals of the world. While all of these things are true, it barely scratches the surface of the American music scene. In an attempt to capture a more accurate geography of your record collection, we've reached outside of New York for a clearer perspective on the past and present of some of the underrated cities of the American music scene. A few hooked-in journalists have been kind enough to contribute sketches of the musical landscape of their city, concluding with an artist recommendation for our Share the Sound segment.
This week's contribution comes from Matt Stieb, Music Editor at the San Antonio Current. Here in New York we're still a little sore about the early 90s Pace Salsa adds slamming our city slicker salsa game, but we gave the Texas town a chance to prove it's more than just cowboys discussing the authenticity of tomato products (see, whatever, we're so over it). Turns out the Alamo City has more to its musical legacy than "The Ballad of Davey Crockett" and coontail caps.
Post up at the North St. Mary's taco truck, under the neon glow of the Hardbodies male strip joint, and you'll hear the clash of cymbals and piercing snares bursting out from half a dozen nearby venues. Situated just north of downtown San Antonio, St. Mary's is the central artery of SA music, where bands and solo singers vie for the attention of booze-soaked crowds. Though it's been the home to SA music for some time now, in the past two years the street has seen a sea of change in attitude and style. Known for a long-ass time as a mecca of punk and metal, the Alamo City has recently taken a look back into it's '60s roots, investigating psychedelic styles.
Influenced by the dominant psych scene in Austin, SA artists have been investing in reverb, tremolo and weed, looking to branch out from the psychedelic success of The Black Angels and like-minded ATX neighbors. At a 2014 "Texas Psych Night" showcase, the warbly stuff was on full display, with SA bands proudly strutting their newly recorded material. The heavy, pounding crunch of SA trio Crown, as confirmed by their forthcoming debut Are These The Good Days
; the rabbit-hole wanderings of Creatura's Open the Door EP
; the lotus-loving psych-pop of Flower Jesus Quintet's Cosmic American Music
— it's all emerged in the past two years to revive the strain of SA music dormant since the '60s.
In the Nuggets-era heyday, San Antonio teamed up with Austin to produce a stable to spar with the lysergic artists emerging from California, London and New York. Though the style's certainly changed in the interim, the revival channels the spirit of acts like SA's Bubble Puppy and Texas cult icons The Thirteenth Floor Elevators.
Like all healthy music communities, it's an organic and ever-evolving cadre of musicians pursuing their own tastes and talents, vibing off each other to create a loose body of work. Bargain-basement rent and dirt cheap beer allow artists and musicians to do what they do and afford to do so without much financial strain. For some time now, it's been a paradigm decision for young musicians to either stick it out on pennies in SA or export to a city with a larger creative class, a longer history of cool, and a suffocating cost of living. But that stigma's changing. Whether or not San Antonio's "city on the rise"
campaign is for real or rebranding spin, Alamo City music is experiencing an exciting new outlet in the form of pop-up shows.
It's the common tale of former industrial spaces turned into ideal creative venues. Non-residential, relatively cheap and able to pack in the crowds, unused warehouses south of downtown have found new life in the art and music communities. Promoters like Mondo Nation
are putting in stellar work finding touring artists to top bills of SA artists experimenting in new styles. Best to catch it now before the area is whored out to yuppies in the coming years.
Matt Stieb's San Antonio Share The Sound selection:
Though he's since relocated to Austin, San Antonio native Marcus Rubio
is an electrifying experimental artist on his way up, bringing jolts of pop energy to the stylings of sound art. Dicking with banjos and delay pedals, fractured field recordings and drone-meets-autotune, Rubio can weird out with conceptual precision while keeping crowd interest intact. Most impressively, through the experimental excess, the Cal Arts-trained weirdo retains an eternal love for pop forms, refusing the regurgitated feedback loop of too-serious experimenters. On his newest LP, Land of Disenfranchisement
(out on Already Dead Tapes), Rubio muses Zappa-like, his panned guitar licks as cutting as his tongue-in-cheek humor.
Listen to Marcus Rubio's "welcum 2 hell" below, and sample/buy his full album here.
Matt Stieb is the Music Editor for the San Antonio Current. Check out the San Antonio Current
for more on music and by Matt
Check out last week's segment of Share the Sound featuring Madison.