Despite the unconventional setting, these awards were done right. The fliers and tickets looked professional, sponsors were secured and the awards themselves were made of blue-lit Plexiglas. Someone who didn't know what the awards were about would have thought the affair was a glad-hand party for executive sales personnel. About 1,100 votes were counted through the contest's Web site, www.heavyfrequency.com. Even more surprising is that it was the brainchild of a 20-year-old named Heather Bashaw.
She's the editor in chief of Heavy Frequency, a 'zine she started four years ago (when she was 16). Since then, it has evolved into an online magazine and resource for bands all over the Midwest. The willowy blonde and Grandview native is a full-time student at Mizzou, majoring in advertising and public relations, and she takes supporting underground hardcore music seriously. After all, how many 20-year-olds do you know who would organize an awards ceremony, at a cost of about $4,000, for his or her favorite type of music?
"There's so much talent here that goes virtually unrecognized, and it's unfortunate," Bashaw said in a post-awards conversation. Hosting the awards show at the convention center, Bashaw says, afforded a little class to the occasion and also allowed families to take part. "We wanted to have something more elegant," she said.
Nationally as well as locally, this is a scene where tattoos cover the arms and crawl up to the neck, where bangs are long and sides are short, where black is the once and future black, where the only good D is a dropped one, and where earrings come in lobe-distending sizes. So it was downright weird to see these kids parade in front of a packed room of a couple of hundred grown-ups seated before a stage that normally is the setting for Linux workshops. It was like watching the Nelson kids punk out in front of Ozzie and Harriet.
Adding to the strangeness of the event was host Michael Miller, probably the sole black person in the room, who kicked off the ceremony by saying, "Welcome to the 2006 NAACP Image Awards!" The suave host capitalized on his out-of-my-element humor, bringing some welcome irony to the proceedings. After all, it's not nearly often enough that a band of death-obsessed teenagers gets described as "pimp."
Miller, a professional dancer and voiceover artist, introduced the presenters, various well-known scene supporters who made earnest, Hallmark-meets-academia speeches chock full of truisms. ("To captivate an audience, a band must exhibit charisma and enthusiasm onstage" was one.)
One presenter, Ryan Red Corn, chose to forgo the established pattern, giving his speech for Best Frontman in the language of the Osage Tribe. Then the stage partitions were muscled away and the first featured band, Taken in Vain, started its set.
What wasn't funny was that the band's singer, Justin Sims, had been up for the award Red Corn had presented and had lost. And it didn't help that the audience sat like stunned rabbits in the bright stage lights. It had been all talk up to that point, but now it was all rock, and earwax was getting loosened. Sims seemed to be holding back a little, however. Perhaps it was the motionless audience, the agony of defeat or the sunflower-yellow pinwheels projected onto the wall behind them. Still, TIV rocked hard, propelled in large part by its backup screamer and guitarist, at least one of which every emo-hardcore band needs.
Miller's take: "I couldn't hit some of those high notes if Chuck Norris gave me a roundhouse kick to the nuts and Chuck Norris knows roundhouse kicks!"
Another round of award-giving followed, then it was SideWise's turn to throw down. The Lawrence band's local popularity proved to be well founded. SideWise rocked with precision, its members in lock step as they dashed across brainy time changes with confidence that contrasted their obvious youth. Meek-looking but with a powerful set of pipes, floppy-haired singer Nico fronted the energetic six-piece, bolstered by Jason Foster's gothy synthesizers.
Miller: "That was actually pretty pimp. I want them to play my bar mitzvah."
The third and final performance was by the Leo Project, a group whose name had been getting lots of cheers (but few awards) throughout the ceremony. The LP, a four-piece, was the event's smallest band, but it definitely packed the hardest punch. Pudgy singer and guitarist Tyler Lyon is almost cuddly in appearance, but his vocals soared, clean and plaintive, giving actual weight to the music's emotional drama. As Lyon nailed down harmony guitar riffs with guitarist Nic Trotter, Lance Bennett jackhammered the double-kick and battered his drums like a mad cannibal pounding on skulls, making for the most exciting performance of the showcase. Or, as Miller put it, "I had a gay moment there the drummer was nuts!"
Bashaw presented the final award, for Achiever of the Year, herself. The nominees were the Esoteric (a band that lost most of its equipment in a house fire last year but persevered), Club Wars overlord Jim Kilroy, El Torreon booker "Metal" Mark Mathison, and bands Flee the Seen and the Leo Project.
Having lost no momentum from its sweep of the Pitch Music Awards, Flee the Seen took this one home, too. Now that it has signed to the credible label Facedown Records, this young, openly Christian band is hotter than Madonna making out with a black Jesus.
Bashaw believes the overall scene is resurging. That's evident by the fact that this year's awards profits doubled last year's take, according to Bashaw. Expect to see better attendance at metal shows, and don't be surprised when a bottle of black hair dye shows up in your teenager's medicine cabinet. She¹s So Heavy Heather Bashaw's Heavy Frequency Awards bring the noise.