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Signs of Life 2008: Best Music Scene - Denton, Texas

November 21, 2008  |  8:01am
Signs of Life 2008: Best Music Scene - Denton, Texas
“Best Music Scene.” It’s a slightly absurd claim and unprovable to boot. But before you fire off that missive defending [insert your city here] as more vital and creative than Denton, allow me to refine the argument: Denton, Texas, is simply the paradigm of a healthy music community.

Denton is overrun with artists. With 100+ acts and only 62 square miles inside the city limits, that’s more than one-and-a-half artists per square mile. The Grand Pooh-Bah of Denton bands, Brave Combo, is in many ways the template from which all the rest are cut: eclectic and artistically ambitious, with a high degree of musicianship and a strong DIY ethic.

Denton is a town where artists can live cheaply and refine their creative intuitions. Midlake had played together for seven years—redefining its musical vision many times—before breakthrough album The Trials of Van Occupanther. And you can hear Record Hop guitarist Scott Porter’s jagged deconstruction of Jimmy Page riffology slowly materializing from the straightforward metal punishment of his former band The Fabulous Badasses to its full, staggering maturity on his current group’s new Steve Albini-engineered album. Doug Burr’s masterful On Promenade came after years of soaking up Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson and Greil Marcus. Denton is a music community that incubates talent rather than ratcheting up market pressure.

But none of this would be possible without the music enthusiasts who devote countless hours, often pro bono, promoting gigs, organizing festivals, putting together house shows, running labels and managing studios. Thanks to Mwanza Dover’s Melodica Music Festivals, venue owners like Dan Mojica and Josh Baish, production companies like Gutterth, venues like J&J’s Pizza and Strawberry Fields record store, community-minded studios like The Echo Lab—DIY is not just a hackneyed acronym in Denton—it’s an ethos of community and hard work that’s been sustained for over two decades.

To help you begin exploring this fertile scene, we’ve compiled the following list of 10 noteworthy Denton bands and solo artists:

The Baptist Generals
Somewhere in the vicinity of Daniel Johnston’s bedazzled innocence and Jeff Mangum’s death-haunted poetry lies Chris Flemmons’ shambolic, surrealist folk.
The Baptist Generals on MySpace

The Drams
Reborn from the remains of Slobberbone, Denton elder statesman Brent Best’s ensemble pulls cowpunk, power pop and a heavy dose of Crazy Horse into a paint-peeling wall of sound.
The Drams on MySpace

Record Hop
Ashley Cromeens’ menacing feminine howl creates a subversive tension with the rhythm section’s low-end ballast. What Joe Carducci called “The Heavy,” Record Hop has bottled and kept locked in a closet near its rehearsal space.
Record Hop on MySpace

RTB2
Ryan Thomas Becker drives this duo with slashing, blues-inflected, post-punk guitar work, propelled by Grady Don Sandlin’s MG’s-redolent backbeat.
RTB2 on MySpace

Last Men
In a town as DIY as Denton, Ian MacKaye had to make his musical presence felt somewhere—Last Men carry the Minor Threat/Fugazi torch with tightly controlled dynamics and larynx-shredding pride.

Fishboy
This band’s smart, winsome, infectious power punk sounds something like The Ramones fronted by Babe the pig. You heard it here first.
Fishboy on MySpace

The Heelers
Kansas native Issac Hoskins landed in Denton five years ago to save “Texas Music” from itself, and he may actually pull it off. The Heelers’ muscular rhythm section puts a Bob Mould-y edge to Hoskins’ Flatlanders-influenced songwriting.
The Heelers on MySpace

Sarah Jaffe
Like fellow Texan Jolie Holland, Jaffe is blessed with both a trenchant lyrical pen and a vocal instrument perfectly suited to mainlining her effortlessly crafted, heartbroken tunes straight to the soul.
Sarah Jaff on MySpace

Doug Burr
The best track on Burr’s 2007 release On Promenade is always the one you just listened to, but if you want a chilling experience, read up on the Graniteville, S.C., train disaster while listening to Burr’s song about it.
Doug Burr on MySpace

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