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Posted at 4:50 PM ET, 10/ 9/2007

DAM! Festival Preview/Mini-Mixtape

By David Malitz

It's almost CMJ Music Marathon time up in New York so you know what that means ... DAM! Festival time here in D.C. Oh, we kid, we kid. But the local indie-rock festival, now in its second year, is obviously timed so that it lures bands already playing just a few hours north in the same week. Of the 25 non-local bands playing the festival this year, 15 of them have a gig during CMJ, while most of those other 10 are in New York anyway.

Festival culture is starting to explode with two distinct main categories: "ridiculously overbooked event featuring hundreds of bands trying to catch a break in front of some industry big shot" a la CMJ and South by Southwest" or "huge outdoor festival featuring bands most people have actually heard of" a la Bonnaroo, Coachella and Virgin Festival. The DAM! Festival certainly doesn't fit into either of these. DAM! Festival founder/booker Eric Boucher has claimed that inspiration has come from smaller ventures like the San Francisco Noise Pop Festival, although DAM! doesn't have quite the singular musical vision, unless you count MP3-blog-endorsed as a genre.

The majority of the shows will once again be held at Englert venues across the city -- those being the Rock and Roll Hotel, the Red & the Black and DC9 -- but the inclusion of two new venues is one of the festival's greater gains this year. Cat Power was going to play at 9:30 Club on Oct. 15 whether the DAM! Festival existed or not, but simply having the festival's name attached to a high-profile show like that should help future bookings. And while Stellastarr* does next to nothing for me, personally, the band has some draw and is coming to town specifically to play the festival. That show will be at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, another new venue added this year, and after taking in the Devendra Banhart show there last week I can say that it's a pretty nifty place to see a show, despite some sketchy sight lines and sound issues.

One of this year's more interesting additions was supposed to be a local rock-and-roll lottery, in which members of local bands were randomly thrown into makeshift groups and given a few days to write some songs before a group concert at Iota. Apparently everyone thought it was a great idea -- just not great enough to take part in it. Alas.

So what we're left with is a weekend of below-the-radar/on-the-verge indie rock. Perhaps there's breakout band on the schedule; Cold War Kids played as part of last year's DAM! Fest at DC9 and are now big enough to play two dates at the 9:30 Club later this fall. That sort of thing can only help a fledgling festival. A full list of bands can be found here, but below I'll offer up a mini-mixtape with 10 of my favorites. Indulge my laziness, as many of these picks came from monthly mixtapes from earlier in the year. In the Internet biz we call that "repurposing content."

"Search Party" -- So Many Dynamos (Oct. 11, DC9)
Indie rock that sounds constantly on the verge of collapse -- in a good way -- with big guitars, shouted vocals and skittery rhythms.

"I Know I'll See You" -- A Place to Bury Strangers (Oct. 11, Rock and Roll Hotel)
New York trio is one of the best -- and loudest -- live bands I've ever seen. Like a more sinister version of the Jesus and Mary Chain, with guitar noise that serves more purpose than to just hurt your ears.

"Harder on Me" -- Via Audio (Oct. 11, Rock and Roll Hotel)
Tidy, tuneful indie pop with some mighty fine backing vocals.

"However Many It Takes" -- Vandaveer, (Oct. 11, The Red & the Black)
Things can get ugly when it's just a dude and his acoustic guitar, but that's not the case with this local singer-songwriter, who channels Sweet Baby James Taylor with his easygoing voice and gentle melodies.

"The Hounds of War" -- The Subjects (Oct. 12, The Red & the Black)
It's always impossible to predict, but this young Brooklyn group seems poised for big things based on playful, poppy tunes like this one.

"Hallelujah the Hills" -- Hallelujah the Hills (Oct. 12, The Red & the Black)
A name so nice they used it twice. This bouncy indie-pop song gets a big boost from some nice brass arrangements.

"Elephantitis" -- The Beanstalk Library (Oct. 12, Rock and Roll Hotel)
Bright guitars, a catchy descending organ riff, pretty vocal harmonies and plenty of big hooks -- the local group does everything right on this power pop gem.

"Breaker" -- Dragons of Zynth (Oct. 12, Rock and Roll Hotel)
Metal riffs, layered falsetto vocals, constantly pounding drums ... there's a lot of weird stuff going on here and I'm not sure if it all works, but I keep listening nonetheless.

"Lost to the Lonesome" -- Pela (Oct. 13, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue)
Why is everyone backlashing on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah but loving these Brooklyners instead? Well, if you like the sound of CYHSY but need something that has more current blog-approval, Pela is right up your alley.

"Cheekbone Hollows" -- The Child Ballads (Oct. 15, 9:30 Club)
Former Jonathan Fire*Eater singer Stewart Lupton finally reemerges in recorded form on this wonderfully laidback indie-folk shuffle that recalls early '70s Stones.

-David

By David Malitz  | October 9, 2007; 4:50 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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