by: Sam Sinister
New Castle, PA

Hey kids!! Do you wanna promote ideals like competition, swindle, and shit-talk, in what should be a networking community? Wanna play in front of people who probably don’t give a fuck about or even understand what the hell you’re doing up there, and probably hate you based solely on the fact that you’re the opposition to their family or friends’ band? Wanna sell tickets on a gamble that you might be one of the 2 or 3 bands playing who actually gets paid? Wanna sell your soul??

Well then!!

Sign up for The Douchebag Night Club, in association with Steal Your Band’s Innocence Productions, 42nd Annual Battle of the Bands!!!

It’s been a few years since I first felt inclined to tackle this subject. My band (at the time called The Disliked, now Dead City Dealers) was scheduled to play a "Battle of the Bands" event at the now burned-to-the-ground Club Creation, formerly Bingo’s, in beautifully scenic New Castle, PA.

I have to say now that it’s totally my fault. I made the call to the venue and inquired. And the next day we picked up our tickets.

At the time, selling tickets didn’t seem like a bad thing to me. In fact, I hate to say it, but in New Castle it’s almost a requirement, to ensure that young people will actually stop smoking marijuana and drinking long enough to leave the comfort of their homes and attend a live music event.

Not that half of them would actually show up even if they did purchase a ticket, but hey, who cares? You got their money any way, and isn’t that what’s really important in these types of situations?

**Temporarily end sarcasm here.**

Those who could actually pass a driver’s test the third time around came out to show their support. The winner was already determined based on how many people they could convince to pay for their right to cheer the loudest.

All those in favor of carbon-copied modern rock and/or nu-metal band number 3, say "yay".


The three (or four or five, depending on which curtain you peeked behind) judges then, in turn, based their decisions for who would go to the next round on the audience response, along with their own experience in the music industry, such as listening to the radio on their way to work, and comparisons to their own performance in the shower that morning.

The two bands who didn’t waste their time on stage during the first round were required to perform what they felt was the strongest song in their set a second time, and then more applause was required of the audience, which, by now, was mostly tired, bored, and drunken fans, along with the members of the other 18 bands who either morbidly awaited confirmation as to which finalist ultimately "robbed them", or were gracious enough to stick around, ready to cheer half-heartedly for whichever band they thought sounded more like the last CD they purchased at Wal-Mart.

The winner received a cash pot of one- to three-hundred dollars (I honestly can’t remember), a headlining spot at the club the following week (WOW-WEEE!!), and studio time donated by some remotely local, semi-professional recording technician (who probably passed out business cards to all the other bands by the end of the night, anyway). The runner-up received much less. All other contestants were awarded the right to scurry off with their tails tucked firmly between their legs.

Our set was the first one of the evening, in front of about 20 people around 8:00 pm (I’m not bitter about this in the least, as we were a late entry, and set times were based on the ever-so-capitalist incentive of "Who can hustle the most tickets?". All the other bands beat us to the punch). I spent the rest of the evening sulking, not because I had any delusions of my band actually winning this small-town popularity contest, but because, for the first time, I realized that punk music wasn’t welcome at this type of event. What I felt was a truly *pure* form of expression, raw energy, and -- let’s face it -- rock and roll’s last fighting chance, others viewed as a joke. A farce. Tasteless, talentless drivel.

Punk was dead.

On this particular night, I viewed my band as representatives for an entire subculture. I should not have felt this way. What started out as a ridiculous idea ("Hey, let’s call Bingo’s and see if we can get on the battle of the bands this weekend"), simply something to entertain ourselves while simultaneously annoying and bewildering the locals, had somehow, with the aide of alcohol and some snide remarks from fellow contestants, mutated into a full-scale culture war.

Well, at least in my mind.

We might as well have been a hip hop crew at a country music festival.

And listen, I’ve never been a competitive person. I typically hate competition, especially when it comes to music, except in the special case of friendly rivalry. But since I had become rather reclusive in the last few years before this contest, and various other members of my band were always that way, I had no friends in these other bands; only acquaintances. Which sort of rules out any notions of "friendly rivalry".

"Hey, Sam!! Was there a point to all this??" Oh, yes, the point.

The point is this: "Battles" do nothing to promote unity in a music scene, only to undermine it. Any camaraderie you have with your fellow bands will be gone, even if only for that day. In a lot of cases, back-biting and even physical confrontations occur (Luckily no fights broke out that night). If it could take someone like me, who’s normally all about bands helping each other out and supporting each other, and make him into a self-involved, pretentious prick, it could do it to you, too.

I have to admit, for clubs and promoters alike, it’s a lucrative business endeavor. You get ten to twenty bands to sell a minimum of 5 - 10 tickets, at five, ten, fifteen, some times even twenty dollars a pop. And that’s if they sell them before the day of the show. After the specified "return time" of all unsold tickets to the promoter and/or venue, the price goes up. And the people who buy these tickets think they’re getting a great deal.

"Ten bucks to see 20 bands?? That’s a STEAL!!!"

Yeah, it’s a steal alright, since some greedy bastard just got those same 20 bands to each sell a shit load of tickets, and he only has to pay one or two of them for bringing people into his club to buy shitloads of beer for 12 hours.

Some of the more industrious of these bands might have even designed, printed, and handed out flyers or handbills to promote the event, in addition to peddling these little red strips of cheap-ass card stock like girl scout cookies to all their family and friends.

Don’t do it. Sure, you could take that money and use it to get equipment, a van, maybe some merchandise. You could probably even use the free studio time to record a single or an EP.

But when it all comes down to it, you’re only contributing to the breaking-down of your music community, all the while lining the pockets of small-time businessmen who don’t give a shit about you or your music.

The choice is yours. I just hope you make the right one.

--Sam Sinister

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