Rest assured: The Santa Barbara music scene is alive and well, and we have the proof. For the second year in a row, we’ve teamed with New Noise Santa Barbara for a three-part battle-of-the-bands-style competition we call Downtown Sound. And so far, 2011 seems more promising than ever. From September 23-30, independent.com played host to an online vote-off between more than 50 area acts. And last Saturday, we tallied more than 6,000 votes to determine the favorites.
Below, we introduce you to the six winners—as well as our two Editors’ Picks—who will move on to Downtown Sound’s live semifinals, to be held this Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones and Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO. On each of these nights, four acts will take to the stage to perform a live mini-set of music, and each person in attendance will have a chance to pick a favorite and cast a vote. At the end of each night, we’ll tally the votes and announce the top two bands that will move on to Downtown Sound’s live finals at SOhO on Thursday, October 20, to compete for a bevy of musical gear, apparel, and prizes. Congrats, guys!
These three Santa Barbara-based youngsters may cite Brit-pop as their biggest influence, but they’re far more than a simple throwback act. We get notes of ’70s dancehall and ’60s surf rock, as well as nods to contemporaries like Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend. This is the stuff rock-and-roll dance parties are made of. Playing Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones.
With 10 years of gigging under their belts, it’s no surprise to see CarriedBySix make the list. Equally unsurprising: the loud, guttural, and in-your-face onslaught that is sure to go down when these synth-toting metal heads take to the stage this week. Playing Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO.
What was once a cute band of preteens is now one of Santa Barbara’s most tried-and-true rising acts. Their sound is a mix of hooky pop rock, smarmy punk ’tude, and ’90s alt guitar crunch that pulls equal inspiration from Metallica and Weezer: slick, sweet, and happy not to take itself too seriously. Playing Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones.
Galloping drums, earnest group vocals, and the added quirk of some seriously beautiful mandolin strumming mark this quartet’s catchy mix of lo-fi pop and folk rock. We liken them to a girl-backed, twang-colored David Bazan, thanks to lyrics that are equal parts poetic and statement-making. Playing Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones.
With a list of players that reads like a who’s who of the Santa Barbara music scene, we’ve got no doubt these hard rockers will bring the heat come semifinals time. Sonically, they’re a dark and twisted take on early Soundgarden, sprinkled with nods to Led Zeppelin, Alice in Chains, and the Melvins. (Read: lots of head banging, lots of epic guitar solos.) Playing Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones.
Proudly repping Lompoc, this psych-leaning trio seems poised for big things. (At the least, we’re certain they’re going to take Santa Barbara by storm.) Their sound is a varied blend of swirling guitar rock and dusty folk, and frontman Jacob Cole lays claim to one of those deep and restrained delivery styles that works well loud or soft, reverbed or effects-free. Playing Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO.
Editors’ Pick: Little Owl
When it came time to choose our picks for this year’s battle, these S.B.-based indie popsters seemed too good to pass up. Stylistically, they’re a sweet and polished twist on the Arcade Fire approach: harmony-filled vocal leaps, instrumentation that surges and swells, and lyrics that sound just as good quietly sung as they do screamed from the top of your lungs. Playing Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO.
Editors’ Pick: Ralph Torrefranca
A onetime staple in S.B’s band scene, Torrefranca in his new solo project is no doubt our favorite incarnation yet. The guitars are fast and furious, calling to mind Fleet Foxes at their most insistent, and the lovelorn lyrics and emphatic deliveries make us think of early Death Cab for Cutie, minus the obnoxious insecurity issues, of course. Playing Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO.
The Downtown Sound Semifinals take place on Tuesday, October 11, at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) and Wednesday, October 12, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). Tickets are $5 in advance, $8 at the door, with all proceeds benefiting The Living Room. Visit newnoisesb.com to purchase.