I’ve spent more years than I’d care to admit performing at local battles of the bands. Countless hours of my life were slowly bled from my youthful body as my ears and mind were assaulted by an endless, unholy cacophony of amateur music. After what must have been my tenth such battle, I began to notice a few trends. As we complain about how all of music’s top-selling artists all sound the same (that is, like a malfunctioning laptop tossed into a canyon from a great height), it’s important to recognize that everybody at the bottom sounds the same too.
Here are a few bands that I swear followed me from battle to battle, haunting me like the sins of my youth (I used to steal a lot of my sisters’ Halloween candy).
1. The Boss Tuners
These guys want to make sure their set is impeccable. They’re smart enough to know that an untuned guitar is the auditory equivalent of getting mauled by a bear like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, and nobody wants to get eviscerated by a bear: Unless there’s an Oscar on the line, of course.
So they tune their instruments. And they continue to tune. They almost begin to play, but they realize their G-string is a little tight, so they loosen that bad boy before it pops. No member bothers to speak to the crowd during this time, so the audience awkwardly pretends to text or practices their upcoming set through pantomime. Because, let’s face it, the only people in that crowd are in the other bands, anyway. And moms. “Hey, Mom!”
By the time they actually begin their set, The Boss Tuners’ allotted time is already up. As they get down to the business of re-tuning for their second song, the battle’s MC gets up to shepherd them offstage.
Chances of winning: Zero.
It’s hard to win a battle if you only play one song. As good as the band may or may not be, they should really focus on tuning before they hop up on that beer-soaked piece of plywood the bar calls a stage. Stage presence matters, and staring at a $3 tuner you bought from Wal-Mart for fifteen minutes doesn’t exactly evoke Iggy Pop.
2. Pop Some Punk
Pop Some Punk believe music reached its zenith in 2001 with the release of Sum 41’s All Killer No Filler. The antithesis of everything The Boss Tuners stand for, these guys treat tuners like the very machine they’re raging so hard against (“Tuner? I hardly know ‘er!”). After all, there’s nothing more “punk” than an out-of-tune guitar abused by the meaty palms of an amateur guitarist who believes guitar solos to be as pretentious as palm-muted power chords are groundbreaking.
Everybody in the band demands a microphone from the sweaty, slightly drunk sound tech for the night—thereby ensuring every song’s woah-woah section is packed with the appropriate amount of angsty punch—and half the set doubles as an improv comedy routine. Every musician has something hilarious to say about the other members, the crowd, the government or just, like, chicks, man.
Chances of winning: Zilch
Maybe they’d have had a chance fifteen years ago, but the novelty of bro-speak stage banter and blast-beat pop punk has grown old for most listeners. There are a few bands that can still pull this off, but chances are they aren’t slumming it in your local dive bar.
3. The Cosmonauts
Upon first glance, The Cosmonauts look like the real deal. Their guitarists’ pedalboards boast more circuitry and wires than an Apache attack helicopter, and there’re so many colorful, shiny lights you’d swear you were tripping in Vegas. Every cent of these guys’ tax return was immediately poured into the latest Strymon pedal providing not only absolutely essential flanger, but a “Destroyer” setting for when you want your space rock band to suddenly shift into Hawaiian luau music.
The music itself sounds impressive, but in the same way that a waterfall is impressive. It’s just this massive wall of noise and reverbed lead lines crawling all over each other in a mangled mess punctuated sporadically by a drummer who only brought a crash cymbal. Vocals are inaudible, but you’re fairly positive he’s just yelling in Sigur Ros’ Hopelandic nonsense language.
Chances of winning: Mild
While undeniably talented, it’s hard to get overly excited for music that’s incomprehensible with zero hooks. Judges may be on board with a cosmic journey through the stars, but more often than not, they’ll just start picking their nose.
Look, you haven’t heard of these guys before. In fact, you’ve never heard of any of their influences. Inspired primarily by bands who only released one song on cassette back in the ‘90s, they basically just sound like a poor man’s Sonic Youth. Their music is so raw and real that it’s absolutely no fun to listen to. As the guitarist leans over to pour more fuzz onto his tone, 90 percent of the audience suddenly realizes they need to use the bathroom or take a smoke break.
Chances of winning: Variable
If the judges happen to like Unnamed’s dickish attitude and posturing, there’s a good chance they could swing a dark horse win. But music isn’t about competition for them. Other than the competition of finding obscure bands nobody’s ever heard of and declaring them your favorite.
5. Sadsack Singer/Songwriter
Local bands aren’t typically filled with the most reliable members. To be fair, it’s not like rock music pays that much for the vast majority of bands, so maybe your bassist should be forgiven for covering somebody’s shift at Dominoes. Less so for when the drummer ditches to play Halo, but Major League Gaming is paying more and more these days.
It still sucks for the lonely lead singer when they’re forced to clamber up on that stage with only their beat-up acoustic guitar for accompaniment. They make a few jokes about their flaky band members, sing a few sad, weepy songs about love that’s long lost (by a month or two given that they’re 19) and crawl off the stage, eyes downcast.
Chances of winning: N/A
It’s a battle of the bands. Even a solo Bob Dylan would have a hard time scoring high in the “band cohesion” category.
6. The Baby Geniuses
These kids have been bred to be rock gods. As soon as they could stand and hold a Les Paul, these kids were taking music lessons. They may be only 13, but they’re over halfway to their 10,000 hours, and it shows. Raised on Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, there’s nothing they know beyond classic, technically proficient rock. They may not be able to tie their shoes, but they can rip through a rendition of “Cliffs of Dover” that’ll bring a tear to your eye. They all probably met at one of those “School of Rock” music studios where they group a bunch of prodigies into a band and unleash them to conquer every music competition in the area.
Chances of winning: Extremely High
The Baby Geniuses are so talented, they stand way out from the rest of the pack. Sure, it’s more than a little awkward that the lead singer sports braces and sweatpants, but the guy can shred like a coked-up Steve Vai. They may not have any original music worth writing home about, but the sheer virtuosity on display is usually enough to intrigue that bored judge who also happens to be an assistant manager at a soon-to-be-shuttered Radio Shack.
7. The Midlife Crises
Everybody gets to a point in their life when they realize they never achieved everything they wanted to. While some middle-aged men buy sports cars or start a second family in Canada, these guys decided to start a rock band. Sure, they haven’t picked up a drumstick in fifteen years, but they’re positive it’ll be like riding a bike. By the time they start, they’re each about five beers in, but they’re having so much fun messing around up there, you can’t help but smile.
Chances of winning: Low
To be fair, The Midlife Crises are mostly just here to avoid giving into their baser impulses. For them, it’s all just fun and the thrill of performing live for a couple of apathetic teenagers is reward enough. They’re neither talented nor interesting enough to win anything, but that was never the goal anyway.
8. Three Days Old
The founding member of Three Days Old was originally inspired by a poster for the battle of the bands. After inspecting the ad stapled to the wall of the bar he works at to pay for law school (or weed), he decided to start a band. The show is in three days, but, after all, how hard could it be to win a local competition or—for that matter—learn to play bass? After spending a couple hours banging out Phish covers and basic scales, Three Days Old is ready to put their clever name out there.
Every song in their abbreviated set begins with a four count from the drummer before launching into a wild explosion of varying time signatures and keys. Nobody can remember what their part is, but they’ll definitely yell and argue with each other mid-song. You want to look away, but the performance reminds you of an Alien movie and you don’t want to be looking the other way when a chestburster explodes out of the guitarist.
Chances of winning: Nada
They’re not exactly playing “music” in the traditional sense so it’s hard to imagine them winning anything in the traditional sense.
9. Dude Bros
These are the chillest bros you’ll ever see chill on the stage. Decked out in polos and khaki shorts, it’s pretty apparent this band just came from a sweet fraternity gig. They’ve got at least
two brass instruments, and they are here to party. They liken themselves to, like, third-wave ska mixed with Dave Matthews style jam music, bro. What that translates to, though, is basically party-rock for sober men over 40, or drunken men between the ages of 18 and 22.
Chances of winning: Weirdly High
I’ve lost more battles to this band than any other. To be fair, most of the judges at these types of shows probably also happen to be dads. And what do dads love more than Miller Lite and golf shirts? Dad-rock, baby.
10. The Underfakers
This is my favorite band to watch. Faces meticulously painted with blood and stitches to evoke fear, these guys are straight dangerous. Their drummer even wears a WWI-era gas mask. During the band’s introductions, you aren’t sure if the lead singer is rattling off stage names or several half-baked supervillain ideas. “On drums is Dr. Ear Rot! Shredding the guitar is Slagathor, Destroyer of Worlds! This guy slapping the bass is DJ Bloodtearz! And I’m… Jeff!”
Ostensibly they’re a death metal band, but without any of the proficiency to make that style of music interesting. They play at a high tempo, but it’s mostly just loud. Their lyrics make constant, vague reference to war, pestilence, death, famine… the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, basically. It’s like watching a thirteen-year-old regurgitate what they’d gleaned from the Paradise Lost Spark Notes.
Chances of winning: Poor
They could win, except they’re terrible. Just… terrible.
Jordan Breeding is a current Paste intern who also writes for Cracked and the esteemed Twitter.