For Media, band contest is almost a nonevent
There are more than 3,500 bands in this year’s Emergenza Festival; 555 from the Boston area.
One from Cambridge.
That band is Media. But the festival is a sprawling one, an international event spanning months, and although it begins tonight — the local opening rounds are at The Middle East, in Central Square — Media doesn’t play until Dec. 16, the festival’s 11th night.
There’s a possibility that a local Emergenza band will survive the early elimination rounds, which are decided by screaming audiences, and make it through the regional and national rounds, decided by somber albeit hip music professionals, and go on to the international finals in Germany. There’s also a chance it will win and get Emergenza recognition as the “best band on the planet,” a professional production, sponsored tour, musical instruments and technical gear. Media could be that band.
But its members aren’t counting on it.
“We’re a casual band. This is more or less a fun thing for us to do,” said Brian Nevins, the singer and songwriter whose Central Square apartment legitimizes the band’s hometown claim. “A desire for fame and fortune is not something we’re actively pursuing. A lot of bands are trying to get the right look, the right attitude. It’s more about the songwriting with us.”
Nevins grew up in Philadelphia with fellow singer, songwriter and guitarist Kevin Kelly. (In addition to a million other meanings, Media is a nearby town in Pennsylvania.) Nevins recruited bassist Lauren Costello at Boston University.
Drummer Jordan Hoffman was a friend of a friend.
Their music is shaped by the members’ diverse tastes, but much comes from what Nevins and Kelly listened to growing up, providing a Velvet Underground vibe, some Beatles, some Rolling Stones. As Kelly said from playing apartment parties in Allston and bars in South Boston, “we’ve heard [us compared to] everything from Velvet Underground to Dire Straits. I take those as compliments.”
No matter how good Media’s music is, there’s no guarantee they’ll go anywhere in the festival; Emergenza, at its early stages, is universally acknowledged to be a popularity contest rather than merit-based. The bands are given 100 tickets to pass out — there are eight bands a night, each playing sets of about 25 minutes — and the band that best packs the house with friends is probably the band heading on to the next round.
Shred, who oversees Middle East booking and is music director for WBCN-FM, has some simple advice for Emergenza bands: “Enter with an open mind, try to put together the most concise set and invite all your friends, because in the first few rounds it’s a popularity contest. Be loose, have fun. That’s what it’s all about, anyway.”
If anything, Media may be approaching Emergenza a little too loosely.
“To play the Middle East, that’s nice in itself,” Kelly said. Emergenza, for him, is a chance to “share the stuff we’ve already done, we’ve got some new stuff we want to try out … it’s a cool night out for us.”
The band has already had the compliment of being asked to play by Emergenza staff, he said, and there’s likely to be a good crowd, especially considering the shows are 18-plus. The popularity-contest aspect of the show doesn’t faze him. “I don’t think we have a problem. They gave us 100 tickets. I think it’s doable.”
Nevins isn’t too sure.
“A lot of bands have a more solid fan base than we do right now,” he said. “We hope that comes with time.”
Fans may come from the performance. A good night at Emergenza won’t necessarily get a band another gig at the Middle East. Shred, who said he already knows about 80 percent of the performers in the show, won’t necessarily be there. This is the second year of Emergenza shows at the club, and he didn’t attend a single night last year.
He also doesn’t place much stock in whether a band is from Cambridge or not, although he was surprised there weren’t more.
“I would expect more, sure,” he said. “Maybe where the bands are is tied to wherever lower rents are. There are people who live in Inman or East Cambridge, but if you live in that area, you might be more Somerville. If you’re housed in Cambridge, you might not practice in Cambridge. You might practice in Boston.”
That’s actually the case with Media, which has rehearsal spaces in Cambridge (at a home) and Allston (at the Sound Museum Rehearsal Complex).
The band is using the Allston space more, said Hoffman, the band’s drummer, because they had a little incident while practicing on this side of the river.
“One time this guy got so mad, the guy broke in,” Hoffman said. “He broke the locks and ran up the stairs and just started screaming.
“We’ve moved a little more to Allston since then.”