Local X-posure may be a competition, but don't call it a “battle of the bands.” If you do, someone inevitably will get bruised feelings or be unhappy with the outcome.
Instead, radio station 102.1 the X downplays the competitive aspect of the eight-week event, positioning it more as a showcase for local music. Considering that 35 bands have the opportunity to get their music out to a wider audience, you can discount words like win or lose. Sure, one band will be selected to perform at the 27th annual Chili Cookoff, but the ultimate goal is for every band to walk away with a few new fans and to sell a CD or T-shirt.
And how do you get Richmonders out to support bands they don't know? “Your average dude may not go check out a local band and spend five or eight bucks,” says Casey Krukowski, the station's program director, “So we say, ‘Hey, here's five bands tonight, and it's free.'”
Another selling point is that the night is kept moving along. Each band gets to play about five songs and set changes are short. If you don't like one band, another band will be up in 20 minutes. With such a short time to be on stage, bands must deliver their best material. And the show is over by midnight, so people with day jobs can make it to work on time.
Krukowski gives credit to the Canal Club for the setup. “A lot of times, it's the venue that wants to keep people there until the end, so they can sell more alcohol,” he says. “The reality is, they don't, and it's really unfair to the final bands because they play to empty rooms.”
Getting bands to submit material is easy, but whittling down entries to 35 slots is tougher. So the station gets the entire staff involved — disc jockeys, sales staff and interns. Everyone listens to the entries and offers opinions. As long as the band plays some variation of rock — the X is a rock station, after all — it has a chance.
Bands also must play all original material. Station personnel try to keep in mind while listening that some bands have more access to gear, producers or studios where they can polish songs. That doesn't necessarily translate to being a rock star on stage, just as having a poor recording doesn't always predict a lackluster performance. “We've been wowed both ways,” Krukowski says.
Once the field is set, bands are mixed and matched so each week has a little bit of everything. “We don't want a metal night or a jam-band night,” Krukowski says. “You get exposed to a lot of different genres.” Judges, usually from the radio station or the Canal Club, look at four criteria to cast their vote: originality, stage presence, crowd response and overall sound. The finals are judged using the same criteria by record company representatives.
No band's been offered a contract yet, but Krukowski's keeping his fingers crossed. “We're hopeful,” he says. “The first two years, the winners broke up afterward, so we were concerned that we were like the “Madden” [video game] jinx, or the [Sports Illustrated cover] jinx.” He adds that many of the bands are good enough to be signed by a label, and last year's winner, Searching for Timothy, recently released its first full-length album.
Some bands undoubtedly benefit from the exposure more than others. Some bring hundreds of fans; others are just breaking out of their basements. And many of them would have never been in the same room, let alone on the same bill. Bookers for the Canal Club and other venues benefit too, because they might hear a band that could be an opener or even a headliner.
“It's pretty cool to see bands get together, become friends, and start doing gigs,” Krukowski says. “It's a good networking thing for them.” So no one really loses.
The Local X-posure finals will be held Thursday, April 8, at the Canal Club. It's free and doors open at 7 p.m. The finalists are The Relentless, View From the Top, Medusa Switch, Father of XII, Proverbial and Chuck Shaffer Picture Show.