West coasters do SxSW sound check in Durango

With so many bands trekking to Austin, Texas, for next week’s overcrowded showcase of all things music, otherwise known as South by Southwest, some do well to turn their trip into a tour.

For those who love the promise and hipster credentials of seeing the next big thing before they actually are, but don’t want to deal with the mess of musical snobbery that is SxSW, bands that play on their way to Austin give us a chance to catch an up-and-comer before they blow up, get big and inevitably break up.

Opting for the local over the express is the plan for many bands on the indie label 20 Sided Records, whose itinerary from California to Texas includes a stop in Durango. The “20 Sided Records Pre-SxSW Party” on Sunday at The Summit will feature the San Francisco bands Couches and LI XI, Ash Reiter from Oakland, Calif., Former Friends of Young Americans from Phoenix, and local rock bands Black Market Electric and The Freeman Social.

Leading the tour is David Mitchell, frontman for Couches and founder of 20 Sided Records. Mitchell’s ties to Durango go back well before his previous band Slow Trucks played the Derailed Saloon two years ago. The musician grew up visiting his grandparents in Bayfield and skateboarding in Durango. He has always assessed our town as a place with a music scene that is yet discovered. His band Couches, the headliner, has been around for about only four months; their sound is a throwback to early 90s college rock, citing bands such as Pavement and Built to Spill as audio influences.

His record label is a business that he is running as more of a collective than a corporation. It is a labor of love, favoring the do-it-yourself approach to everything and not being driven by a dollar sign. It is that approach that has solidified many a band into a realm of respect among music lovers. Resisting the bankroll that often comes with altering your sound to sell records may not pay the bills, but it does gain the artist props from fans and critics in an industry driven by profit.

“Everybody with 20 Sided is hard-working and doesn’t really care about getting famous or anything like that,” Mitchell said from his home in California. “It’s all about playing music, enjoying the music and touring and seeing the countryside, and meeting awesome people and seeing bands that you enjoy yourself as a musician.”

The mission of labels like 20 Sided is quality. While major labels struggle to provide mediocre crap for the masses much like a fat-laden fast food chain, the smaller labels like 20 Sided Records dedicated to the craft will be the ones serving up the quality cuisine.

“The cool thing about it is, if you create a good name for a record label or a collective, it will stay around,” Mitchell said. “Bands come and go, but if the collective stays strong, that’s what we want. We want to stay around so we can put out good music.”

Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.