Bands begin six-month battle for prized title

Abandon Ship performs at the Battle of Bands event at the DNA Lounge located the SOMA district in San Francisco, on Sunday, March 20, 2011. Sandy Ha / staff photographer.

Hercules. Hector. Achilles. Odysseus. Much like the glorious heroes of mythology, champions walk among us today, fighting for dominance in their field. Weapon of choice: electric guitar.

The DNA Lounge in downtown San Francisco served as the venue for the start of a six-month series of “Battle of the Bands” shows. Every month eight bands will play a 30-minute set with the hopes to move on to the finals in early September.

Each band used its time to the fullest, pumping out hits with electric guitars, bass guitars, drum sets and sometimes even a keytar in the mix. Sean Johnson, lead singer of the band West of Sunset, a local band that is less than a year old, said the opportunity to battle was a great benefit.

“You get a lot more exposure from doing this,” Johnson said. “A bunch of new fans make their way out of the woodwork and then start moving to the music you’re making.”

Genres ranged from metal and hard rock to screamo, inciting the audience to haphazardly swing their limbs in a wild dance. However, it wasn’t only the audience with energetic reactions to the music. Eli Contreras, lead singer of Mirrors, was right in there swinging.

“Playing in shows where nobody does anything is boring,” Contreras said. “If a band has the willpower to get up there and play, then I think the least we can do is participate, and that’s why I hope I leave here bleeding.”

Contreras knew why he was there, though, and that was for the passion of the music.

“We played this show because we wanted a show, and also we all wanted to try something different,” Contreras said. “We play this type of music because there’s a passion and strength behind it.”

Although the venue itself was dark, the show had an assortment of lights and smoke that bombarded the stage with special effects.  On the dance floor, projected light shapes darted from the ceiling onto the audience.

While the Battle of the Bands is a competition, there is more meaning for some of the contestants.

“I’d say that the best part of it all is making connections with other bands from all over,” said Will Ehlert, lead singer and guitarist for Raised Threshold. “We love hooking up with newer bands and just letting them know the things that we’re doing.”

Ehlert seemed to lead his band with confidence, at one point pulling out an electric violin. However, the contest was not life or death for Ehlert.

“We’re in this to play music and have a show, if we happen to win, well then that would be so freaking awesome,” Ehlert said.

More than just random fans, Battle of the Bands was home to a decent amount of family members coming to support one of their own. Val Argate said that he came to the show to see his cousin Matthew Estalano’s band Abandon Ship, a newer band composed of high school students.

“They’re young compared to everyone else and maybe lack some of the confidence that experience brings, but it’s good to get new groups out there to interact and get exposure,” Argate said. “The event overall is all right, I’m not quite feeling the screamo bands, but that’s just me.”

Among the heavy and serious music, the band When Eyes Speak Treason excited the room with a metal-infused version of Katy Perry’s “California Girls.”

Elizabeth Simon, promoter representative for Gorilla Productions, the producer putting on the series of Battle of the Bands shows in San Francisco, kept the mood light with jokes and high energy.

“It can be stressful because it’s dealing with musicians and all of their fans in an uncertain environment,” Simon said. “In the end, though, it is fun because everyone I’ve worked with is really cool here.”

After almost seven hours of music, all the bands had performed and a weary-but-pumped audience cast their votes. The members of the crowd chose two out of the eight bands to advance past the first round by applauding for their favorite group. The winners were the last two bands to play: West of Sunset and The Weathermen. The finals are scheduled for September.

“I’m still shocked, even now,” Johnson said after he had found out his band won one of the two spots. “I honestly thought that this was one of the worst shows we’ve ever played, but it’s still an honor to see strangers dance to your music and appreciate it at the end.”

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