What's happening in Downtown Durham | News Feature | Indy Week
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What's happening in Downtown Durham 

Durham has grown its music scene in recent years, morphing from that corner of the Triangle not especially known as a place bands call home to a self-contained environment where musicians thrive. What's been going on? There is no simple answer. It takes several things coming together simultaneously to make a music scene blossom the way Durham's has in the last couple of years. Here's a glimpse of just a few of the factors, people and places that are pulling it together.

For a music community to thrive, there has to be an active set of bands and musicians willing to play often, and sometimes together, generating more performing groups. And they have to support each other in their efforts, including recording. Durham is thick with musicians who wear many hats in the scene.

For instance, Aimee Argote of the band Des Ark also assists with the local music show on the Duke University station WXDU, 88.7 FM, a staple of local music. Philip Grosshans of The Ugglians is also a DJ at 'XDU. Left-of-center pop band The Sames claim Zeno Gill, founder of Durham's recent rock label Pox World Empire, and Marc Faris, a composer and performer currently teaching in the music department at Duke. Faris has, on occasion, urged his students to attend shows at local venues for assignments, giving a nudge to undergrads who might not otherwise find their way to a more varied set of local clubs.

A sense of pride in being a Durham band has grown among musicians. So when one sees rabble-rousers like Jett Rink on stage, for example, they remind folks they are from the Bull City, not Chapel Hill, not Raleigh, thank you very much. The Butchies, a lesbian-punk billboard for the reasons Durham rocks, are taking their musical message all over the country and abroad. Bands like politically minded Section Eight like to perform in new venues such as the Durham Arts Initiative, the old Mr. Shoe building, helping expand opportunities downtown. Amelia Burch, another local musician, recently taught a summer day camp on rock music for young girls, recruiting her musician friends to help and providing inspiration for the next generation of Triangle rockers.

Pox World Empire releases records by bands from many points in the Triangle, including Schooner, The Torch Marauder, Jett Rink, Gerty, Razzle, The Sames and Pleasant. And they put out a scene-defining collection to mark all the activity, entitled Compulation. Without at least one label to champion musicians and document their music, there is little glue to hold things together.

Hip-hop collectives work the same way, with the Durham label Nodcraft affixing artists like Spitune, Notik and Living Dead together. Both Pox World Empire and Nodcraft provide recording studio opportunities for their artists, affirming the self-contained DIY ideal. Hip hop is part of the city's lifeblood, and examples like Nodcraft abound. Without DADA, the Durham Association for Downtown Arts, and its annual Durham Music Festival--in its third installment this weekend--there would be lots less exposure for hometown bands.

New clubs like Joe & Jo's Downtown, the newly christened Ooh La Latte and the recently revived Duke Coffeehouse provide musicians, especially rock bands, with stable, local places to play. And there are regular haunts like Ringside for dancing to live bands.

Weaving the patterns of a music scene tightly until there's a seamless cloth tying the city together, Durham's independent musicians have proven it does take a village...to rock.


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