Webbed Feats: A “Best of Cincinnati” Issue Preview

It’s been Best of Cincinnati time here at CityBeat for the past couple of weeks. We’ve been doing research, taste-testing, arguing, crying a lot, tallying votes and writing stories for tomorrow’s paper. We’re taking the issue to the printer at this very second … if we can get out from beneath all of these old pizza boxes, beer cans and other assorted garbage.

This year’s Best of Cincinnati issue, always CityBeat‘s biggest issue, is tied together by a special theme, something unique and great about the city we live in. Is the theme cornhole? You’ll just have to pick up the paper Wednesday and find out.

As a teaser, below you’ll find an expanded version of one of the “Best of” feature stories, a collection of the best places to experience and learn about local music on the Internet, with direct links to our favorite sites. Have fun exploring! And don’t forget to come to the annual Best of Cincinnati party Thursday at Whiskey Dick’s. Besides the usual madness of a CityBeat party, the free 9 p.m. event will also feature live musical performances from Marvin and the Experience and Kim Taylor. Join us!

(photo of CityBeat offices: overhall.com)

Webbed Feats

The Internet might not have changed music itself, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t changed how we hear it. The Web has had a largely positive impact on music — it has made all forms more easily accessible, helped artists who would otherwise never be heard from and it has given everyone a platform. Every music fan can now be a “music critic”; some of the more successful blogs have even shown that often the “everyman fan” has more insight than the pros. And any garage band with a computer can now post their demos and work on building a fan base without every stepping foot in a club.

That brings up some of the downside as well. I don’t have “hard numbers” on this, but it seems that people’s online dependency sometimes interferes with “real life,” meaning music fans are getting so used to being entertained on their computers they don’t actually go see live music as much anymore. They might know more, but they experience less. And sometimes, when they do go out, they’re texting, using their phones and palm pilots non-stop as if they can’t let go of their “second life” long enough to face their real one.

Another problem with the music/Internet convergence was mentioned above — it’s given everyone a platform. There is a strong element of “too much.” The sheer quantity can be overwhelming, making it harder to find quality. Weeding through the bad stuff online to find the good feels like a lifelong endeavor sometimes. And surfing the Net isn’t exactly conducive to patient questing. It’s like having satellite TV, times a million. Bruce Springsteen famously sang about how there were “57 channels and nothing’s on.” For the Internet, it’s more like 700 billion and channels … and maybe a couple of things are “on,” but you have to know where to look.

In that spirit, below are some of the best places online to listen to, learn about and have fun with music coming out of Greater Cincinnati. I’ve surfed the crap, so you don’t have to. In compiling the list, it has come to my attention that the mix of ADD and apathy that this and the past couple of generations have been built upon is well represented online. Domain names are bought and pages built with bold proclamations of how they’re going to be the most ass-kickin’ music sites ever … only to either fold up or dwindle down to only sporadic (at best) new postings.

The sites below have kept to their missions so far. And, while the Internet is a great resource for “researching” the local music scene, please don’t let it become your sole experience with our area’s musicians. Every night of the week, they’re still out in the clubs, offering real-life exhibitions of what they do.

Put it this way: You can read about or watch Discovery Channel specials on the Great Pyramids in Egypt, but you’ll never feel the depth of the experience in full and never have a true perspective unless you actually go visit them. And — lucky you — going to a Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky club is far less of a hassle (and far, far cheaper) than booking a flight on Air Cairo. Think about that the next time you use “There’s never any parking” as an excuse not to go out.

Best Locally-Based Music Blog
At eachnotesecure.com, Joe Long writes about Indie Rock like a fan. A smart, tasteful and eloquent fan. Long’s site has an audience well beyond city limits, but he still finds plenty of time to act and think local. ENS has featured news about and reviews of local artists like The Heartless Bastards and Bad Veins, and Long has written extensive pieces about local fests like Desdemona and the upcoming MusicNOW event. Long was so good at his blog duties, online radio station woxy.com hired him to DJ. Which brings us to …

Best Locally-Based Internet Radio
This is a big “no duh” one: woxy.com. When the “Alternative” music station went online-only in the past few years, its reach became truly global, which sadly meant the demise of the terrestrial station’s long-standing local music shows and the area band contest, 97Xposure. But since the bottom line at WOXY has always been about playing good music and trusting the programmers’ and DJs’ instincts, local music does get included on the regular playlists if it catches someone at the station’s ears. Bands like (in)camera, Ruby Vileos and Bad Veins have received international exposure thanks to WOXY, which, in the long run, is probably more advantageous for local music anyway. Local bands have also been featured on the station’s live music showcase, Lounge Act, which are handily archived at the WOXY site.

Best Local Music Podcast
Hungry Lucy’s Tea With Lucy. The lush, electronic-based “Trip Hop” duo Hungry Lucy not only make great music, but they’re also creators of a thoroughly engaging podcast series. Now up to its 66th episode, Tea With Lucy finds HL principals Christa Belle and War-N Harrison chatting about their current musical projects, extraneous projects like photography and writing, music news, industry issues, British TV and recipes (and that’s just one episode), plus pretty much anything else they feel like talking about. The vibe is casual — on a recent episode, Belle lets out an impressively bellowing belch out of the blue. It’s also remarkably non-self-conscious, sounding like an informal conversation between cool friends.

Best Fest Site
The Web home for the MidPoint Music Festival (mpmf.com) is like a good band site — it tells you everything you need to know about the fest (be you an aspiring MidPoint performer or a potential attendee) and is easy to navigate. At the site, you can check out all of the hundreds of performers beforehand, thanks to links to all of the artists’ Sonicbids Electronic Press Kits (which are better than most regular artist sites because they give you the essence – photos, bio, music, press – without the extraneous). Performers and music lovers can also quickly link to information about registration, workshops and sponsorships and read all of the press written about the festival since its inception in 2002. When the fest – which features hundreds of local and national unsigned artists – comes around (as it is scheduled to again in late September), the site is an indispensable companion tool, offering podcasts, downloadable schedules and many other practical resources.

Best Local Music Site Design
Labrat Web Design. I look at a lot of local band Web sites and, while searching for the one best individual band or artist site for this piece (something I’ve decided is pretty much impossible), I noticed that a lot of the sites that really caught my eyes and ears were all created by the same person. Labrat Web Design is essentially Greg Poneris, a local drummer (formerly of Chalk, now of Eat Sugar) who has one of those playing styles – think “overheated machine” – that is easily recognizable within the first snare hit. His design work is equally singular. Poneris’ designs are visually impressive (he’s an artist with Flash) and practical, a frustratingly rare combination for most local band sites. Labrat’s current client list reads like a who’s who of local music heavyweights: Poneris has designed the sties for Pearlene, The Greenhornes, The Heartless Bastards, Bad Veins and The Sundresses. He has also done work for non-profits and film, fashion and art projects. (labratlab.com)

Best Place To Find Dead Local Bands
Sure, most of you know that MySpace.com has become the place to keep in touch with old friends, make new ones and look up old girlfriends or boyfriends to make sure they’re not too happy. But did you know you can also find your favorite old local bands there, too? Even if members of the band scattered to other parts of the country, chances are there’s someone in that band who will start a MySpace page for the old crew to keep the flame burning. Bands like Schwah, Snaggletooth, Starshaker, Flowerfist, SHAG, BuBu Klan, Roundhead, Ditchweed, Throneberry and countless others live on at MySpace. Dig ’em up!

Best Dead Local Venue Site
HoHo Records’ pages dedicated to the pioneering Northern Kentucky Punk/New Wave/Whatever venue The Jockey Club give a great overview of the crusty history of the bar, which hosted innumerable local bands (including The Afghan Whigs) as well as artists from Black Flag and The Ramones to Love and Rockets and The Cramps back in the ’80s. Don’t believe me? Well the HoHo Jockey site has a day-by-day schedule of who played the club and when (there are a few holes in the schedule, but old-school patrons have been doing their best to fill them). Were you at The Replacements/Active Ingredients/SS-20 show on Jan. 27, 1984? To borrow a paraphrase, “If you do remember, you weren’t there.” But this site should help jog your memory. (home.fuse.net/hohorecords/jockeyclub_history.htm)

Best Club Site
As CityBeat’s music listings compiler for the past 12 years or so, I’ve seen a lot of club Web sites. Most of them have strengths, but almost all of them are missing something. They’re either ugly to look at, bare bones or too hard to navigate unless you have this particular Web browser or that particular program. Check the Southgate House’s southgatehouse.com for the ideal venue Web site. It’s not overly fancy (but still mildly compelling visually), and it has all of the information you need to know if you want to check out a show: price, times, artist Web site links, ticket-sale links and future show listings for concerts several months away. For promoters and booking agents, the site also has comprehensive info about the venue’s history and different performance spaces as well as suggestions for local promotions with links to press, radio, music sites and even poster designers who can help a band get the word out about their show.

Best Club Site With Uplifting Musical Component
As mentioned, I’m the music calendar dude for CityBeat, and my “process” usually involves entering and checking information on the Monday night before deadline. My listings tasks often keep me up until the early morning on Tuesday, so my mind often fades in and out while I’m working. But one of the “special treats” of my delirium is when I go to the site for Oldies club, Jim & Jack’s on the River. Every Monday late-night, I am treated to the tranquil strains of Santo & Johnny’s beachside instrumental hit “Sleep Walk” as I enter the site. My smile broadens even more as I click on the show calendar and The Coasters start harmonizing: “Fe-fe, fi-fi, fo-fo, fum/I smell smoke in the auditorium.” I’m usually annoyed when I go to a Web site and music starts playing immediately; what if I have my volume turned up loud? What if I don’t feel like hearing your music right now? But in this case, I am so familiar with visiting J&J’s site that I am used to — nay, expecting — it. Don’t go changin’, Jim & Jack’s. (jimandjacks.net)

Best “Cincy” Site
There are a lot of sites that use the “Cincy” adjective – cincymusic.com, cincymetal.com, cincyhiphop.com. But cincypunk.org sets itself apart by keeping its site fresh with regular new content. The site runs interviews and reviews (spotlighting Punk, Rock, Indie. Ska and other genres from the local scene and beyond) and the quality of the writing is well above the standards of your usual music site ramblings. Cincypunk isn’t just a Web site, either. Founder Adam Rosing organizes the Cincypunk Fest, showing that simply being the owner of an Internet domain name doesn’t often mean much if you aren’t out at the clubs and promoting music in “real life” too. Those other Cincy sites have their place – most still have active, entertaining message boards. But Cincypunk has all of that, plus new content and frequent editorial updates. What a novel concept.

Best Music Org Site
Non-profit group Web sites can often be a bit clunky and messy — obviously there isn’t always a lot of money in the kitty to pay a designer, meaning if you don’t have a generous, Web-designing friend you’re going to have to just take what you can get. But the Cincy Blues Society’s site — while perhaps not gorgeous from a visual standpoint — gets the job done by providing the necessary resources without a lot of clutter. The site presents useful details about all of the organization’s community outreach programs and musical events, including the annual Cincy Blues Fest at Sawyer Point. It’s a great idea to have a “Local Band Directory,” but so far there’s only five groups listed (on the upside, the handy list of local Blues-friendly venues is fairly comprehensive). The site also contains a Cincy Blues merch section and a solid “press room” for journalists. When getting ready for this year’s Blues Fest, this should be your first stop. (cincyblues.org)

Best Show of Local Music Generosity

The Net has become such a great promotional outlet for musicians that many have taken to simply recording music and giving it away gratis on their own Web sites. Great local acts like The Spectacular Fantastic and Lonely the Seabird have free online albums and EPs for the taking at their sites to go along with their hard-copy releases. But the spellbinding, electro-acoustic Indie act The Sheds have put out all of their “CDs” out in this fashion. Go to theshedsmusic.com to download the duo’s complete discography, which includes three fantastic full-length albums.

Best Place to Buy Local Music Online
Besides signing some local bands and releasing their music on their well-distributed label imprint of the same name, kick-ass Northside record store (remember those, kids?) Shake It has long supported local music by selling locally crafted CDs in their shop. The Shake It Web site takes that support one step further, offering Web surfers from around the world the chance to purchase those CDs. So if you have a friend in Zimbabwe and you’ve been raving about, say, Pearlene’s new album or an old H-Bomb Ferguson song, just send them the Shake It link and tell them to listen for themselves. While it’s usually better to buy CDs directly from the artists (they get mo’ money that way), Shake It is the best second option. (shakeitrecords.com)

Best Local Music Video Outlet
Making a music video is usually one of the first things a young, daydreaming musician thinks about when fantasizing about their certain future fame and glory. Once they actually get in a band, it’s a different story. Being in a band isn’t as easy as it might seem – besides getting up on stage and playing, there’s a lengthy “to do” list of other tasks that must be accomplished (booking, recording, Web site maintenance, etc.). Music videos are seemingly impractical for a poor, starving artist; they’re usually down on the list below “design logo,” “practice Grammys acceptance speech” and “buy zucchini to stuff in pants before gig.” But busy musicians can let local company Mind Ignition shoulder the video responsibility. Along with recording projects, the company offers video production, recording live shows and working with bands on more conceptual vids. The most alluring feature is its “On the MIC” program, which features profiles and live performances from local bands like 500 Miles to Memphis, Noctaluca and The Turnbull ACs. (mindignition.net)

— Mike Breen

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One Comment on “Webbed Feats: A “Best of Cincinnati” Issue Preview”

  1. Kenny Says:

    I love those old Cincinnati band pages on myspace. I never thought I’d hear a Schwah or Snaggletooth song ever again. Great round up.


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