Northwest music future alive, kicking

EMP's Sound Off! competition shows region's 21-and-under bands are set to overachieve.
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Great Waves, winner of EMP's 2010 Sound Off! competition

EMP's Sound Off! competition shows region's 21-and-under bands are set to overachieve.

The kids are alright.

Those words of Pete Townshend rang true during the finals of Experience Music Project'ꀙs Sound Off! competition, which showcased some of the brightest rising stars in Northwest music Saturday night (March 6).

The final round of the four-week, underage battle of the bands featured four groups that showed remarkable talent, musicianship, and poise, all delivered with the passion and vigor of youth.

Sound Off! is more than your typical battle of the bands. The contest focuses on young musicians who are 21 and younger, and at stake is more than just getting to be the cool kids in the cafeteria. The winner of Sound Off! gets a slot at Bumbershoot 2010 (although I suppose that might earn you popularity points in the lunchroom, too).

Great Waves, a sextet from Sammamish featuring the soaring vocals of Ashley Bullock, took home this year's top prize. The band uses tinges of bluegrass and folk, and heavy doses of influences such as Radiohead and the Pixies to create lush soundscapes that accompany Bullock's remarkable voice. Along with the Bumbershoot spot, the band also won radio play on 107.7 The End, a song to be featured for download in the videogame "Rock Band," and other prizes.

Hooves and Beak, the stage name for self-taught harpist Whitney Flynn, finished second. She has perhaps the most unique voice in local music; while at first just a girl and a harp might seem like a gimmick, it's almost impossible to avoid becoming enamored of Flynn's music in a live setting. Hooves and Beak was awarded a performance spot at the Folk Life Festival and other prizes.

Candysound, a guitar and drum duo from Bellingham, finished third. They follow the tradition of locals like Death Cab for Cutie and Sunny Day Real Estate in that they produce powerful, emotional rock music. I was impressed by how they were able to create such a full sound for a two-person band. This should serve them well on their upcoming West Coast tour. Candysound was awarded a slot opening for a national touring artist at Hard Rock Seattle and other prizes.

The fourth place finisher, SEACATS from Kelso, was the youngest group, with members ranging between the ages of 14 and 19. The band's powerpop is extremely contagious thanks to the help of catchy choruses and a distinctive guitar sound. They also feature an adorable bassist who always seems to be smiling while rocking a McCartney-style Hofner instrument.

All of Saturday'ꀙs performers have bright futures, and each won complimentary recording studio time.

In total, more than 130 entries were considered for this year's Sound Off! and those were whittled down to 12 acts that competed for a slot in Saturday's final round. Bands as far away as Kennewick and Vancouver, B.C. made the cut for the semifinals. Having seen all 12 Sound Off! 2010 performers (full disclosure: I served as a judge for a semifinal round), I feel comfortable that the future of local music is in good hands, and I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Between bands Saturday, Jim Keblas of the Mayor'ꀙs Office of Film + Music, who was one of the night'ꀙs six judges, fired off a tweet that echoed the feelings I had after watching every round of the competition. It read in part: 'ꀜEMP's Sound Off! gives me hope about tomorrow's local music community.'ꀝ

Pete Townshend couldn'ꀙt have said it better himself.


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