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Beneath the Underground?

As the CP music editor trying to cover as many live music events as possible -- staying respectful of every genre, of course -- I often feel like the gatekeeper, the sentry, the security guard, the custodian, etc. While it may seem like Dullsville to certain local clubgoers interested only in a specific style of music or vibe, the local band landscape continually bristles with activity.

There's often more going on than I can keep up with in the music pages -- from the beach clubs and wine bars to the warehouse and skate park parties and heavy metal concerts. When people sometimes complain there's nothing going on, I wonder if they've even looked beyond their iPods and desktops to investigate at all. Even when there's no "big shows" with marquee acts, there's usually some cool local songwriter, acoustic duo, improv group, undiscovered rapper, or gnarly rock band to check out -- at little to zero admission price.

To be sure, a buzz of activity at the bars along the main drag or whatever does not necessarily mean there'll be anything of high quality or interest. There's nothing worse than having to endure a lousy funk or reggae band, or a sloppy rock cover band that can't stay in tune, or a clueless and tuneless acoustic singer-guitarist who truly believes he or she is the next Bobby Dylan or Joni Mitchell, etc.

The "proper" venues around the Charleston area provide the majority of live music -- but not all of it. I recently received a colorful but rambling note from a fellow named Clennan who used to live in town and check out bands on a regular basis. Apparently, he misses his love-hate relationship with the Holy City's music sphere, as illustrated here:

"I'll tell you what is funny about Charleston," he begins. "There is an underground movement that never makes the CP. It started on Felix Street. Three to five bands playing in a trashed squatter-like house that would pack every punk youngster in a living-room for two hours until the noise ordinance of 8 p.m. sets in. It's an insider's, word-of-mouth group. That's what I miss most about Charleston. Not the showered, well-to-do magazine cover fluff that seems to be popular in town. I just wish Charleston was hipper.

"I'm not crunching on the town. It has one of the best still surviving indie record stores in the South. I lived there for three years. I know most of the 'downtown' bands ... but they aren't making headlines, mostly 'cause their names are unprintable and unknown. Most make music for music's sake not for riches or glamor.

"I say quit promoting crap and don't look back. I realize that stupid pothead college kids have no taste in South Carolina, or anywhere for that matter. It's been that way since we were told that Nirvana was actually music. Sad to say that the only real shows are house shows where it's not a who's who of the scene, and instead of shots of Grand-Ma three-ways, it's Cobras and Mickey's."

I'm concerned with a few points. An "insiders, word of mouth group" playing and watching live "unknown" bands in a squat on Felix Street is pretty "underground," but as soon as it's featured in the City Paper or another publication, though, it's less underground. I'm not sure what the "showered well-to-do magazine cover fluff" stuff is. I'm not sure what "downtown bands" are, specifically. I'm not sure what makes a band name "unprintable." I disagree that City Paper "promotes crap" -- we "cover" crap, which is entirely different. I disagree that all Palmetto potheads lack taste; some of them have high tastes and simply lack the ability to act on them post-sesh. And what about Pabst Blue Ribbon, is that somehow elitist nowadays?

Thanks for the note, Clennan. Keep it coming, kids. Keep it moving.


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