Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's Great About Metal In Minnesota?

The Sunday, June 9 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had an article by Jon Bream titled "Big In Minnesota" that explores the reasons why the Twin Cities is a strong, favorite touring city for many artists. One of the examples cited is folk singer Brandi Carlile, who since playing the 400 Bar in Minneapolis in 2005 has built a strong fanbase to support her playing in much larger area venues.

"'Within 12 months, she'll be into the market six times,' said her [Carlile's] manager, Mark Cunningham, who also has worked with John Mayer, Five For Fighting and Train. 'And we're not feeling like she's overdoing it. She'll probably come back in the fall. In other markets, it's not even close. She plays twice in 18 months. I think it speaks to the musical intelligence of Minneapolis.'"

A number of reasons are given for the healthy music scene here:

"The key factors are open-minded audiences who love live music; a variety of venues that help artists build a career, and support from radio and other media." Radio station 89.3 The Current and First Avenue are specially mentioned, as well as "other trend-setting radio stations such as Cities 97, indie record shops such as the Electric Fetus, independent concert promoters such as Sue McLean & Associates, open-eared bookers at clubs such as the Varsity Theater, sharp music critics at various outlets, and fans who buy recordings and pay to see live music."

Not surprisingly, metal isn't mentioned anywhere in the article since Minneapolis and St. Paul are more well-known for pop superstars such as Prince and Morris Day, folk rock, and punk/alternative bands such as The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Hüsker Dü, and Semisonic. The Twin Cities have never been recognized as an epicenter of metal, but certainly not for a lack of a tradition of great local bands. Going back to the regional and national impact Cain had in the 70s, to more prominent bands from the 80s like Powermad, ImpalerSlave Raider, Hericane Alice, and Kublai Khan to scores of others during the last twenty-some years, the area has been a fertile breeding ground for impressive talent.

To put a metal spin on the reasons for a healthy music scene here in the Twin Cities, here are the things I've identified in addition to great local talent:

Fans: Metal fans here are loyal, and concerts are regularly well-attended. Sure, many shows are (disappointingly) sparsely attended, but here I've never been the only person there besides the bands and crew like I have in many other cities. I find it near impossible to get to clubs early enough to catch the full bill on any given night, but when I do, I'm impressed by the number of fans that turn out for local openers.

Venues: St. Paul's Station 4 is unquestionably the area's center of live metal shows. The bathrooms are grungy and stink, it's unbearably hot during the summer, the poles in the center of the stage and floor are really annoying, and it's nearly impossible to watch a show from the bar area, but you come to appreciate Station 4's charm alongside their polite, friendly staff, cheap beer, and quality sound. In every way it's a no-hassle place to enjoy the show, which can't been said for most venues in downtown Minneapolis. We're fortunate here to have many, many other venues of all sizes that host metal and hard rock shows, even if only occasionally—First Avenue, Myth, and the Triple Rock are my favorites, and clubs like the Cabooze, Mill City Nights, Minnesota Music Cafe, the Fine Line, and Neisen's also contribute and support local bands.

Promoters: Independent concert promoters have a tougher job than you think, and you have to admire the love and dedication to both the fans and bands from the top metal promoter here, SwordLord Productions. The SwordLord (Nathan Block) has unquestionably brought the best, most unique bands to the Twin Cities for over ten years. Leo Presents, and many other promoters and booking agents also bring a lot of great shows to the area. Additionally, most promoters here are very generous with the opportunities they give to local bands to support national and international acts to help them build a fanbase.

Record Labels: This isn't mentioned in the Strib article, but we're also fortunate to have local labels that sign local talent and bring exposure to the area. Going back to Amphetamine Reptile and Red Decibel, labels from the Twin Cities have generally signed a wide variety of metal and punk bands. Today, more metal-focused labels like Nightmare Records and Zero Budget Records carry on this tradition.

Great Local Bands: I won't single individual bands out here, but of all the cities I've lived  in across the country, the Twin Cities has the best local bands of any of them. Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, Prosthetic, and eOne are among the top independent labels that have recently signed bands from the area, but it's puzzling to me that agents aren't regularly trolling the clubs here to discover the scores of other great bands. I continue to believe that the Twin Cities is one of the great, unrecognized cities of metal in the entire country.

If you live here the Twin Cities, it's easy to lose sight of all this and sometimes hard to realize all of the things that are needed to support a vibrant metal community. The weak economy and changing nature of the music business have made live music an even tougher business for everyone, so be sure to do even the small things when you can - thank promoters, buy a beer at the clubs, purchase some merch from a band, and arrive at shows early to support the local bands.

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