By Gina Rangel-Gross
As reported in the February issue of the Roosevelt News, the EMP Museum kicked off their 14th edition of their annual Sound Off! music competition on February 13. Twelve specially-chosen youth semifinalist bands performed over the course of three weeks (Feb 13, Feb 20 and Feb 27), with each night one first place and one second place winner chosen. The three first place winners automatically received, and the three second place winners got put into a pool for the chance to receive, a spot performing in the final, big-bash event that is Sound Off! Finals. As it turned out this year, the bands that made the cut this year for the March 7 event were Naked Giants, Emma Lee Toyoda, wildcard band One Above Below None, and Bleachbear which includes Roosevelt’s own Annabella Bird Cooley on drums.
Naked Giants (http://nakedgiants.bandcamp.com/) are a vibrant trio hailing from Mercer Island, WA. Their sound can only be described as “new wave rock”, a made-up but apt descriptor coined by Eclectic Arts Washington. When I first saw this band at Semifinals #2 on Feb 20, I got so excited by them that after their set I hurriedly wrote down a list of words that described the experience. What I wrote was, “EXPLOSIVE. reverb. soul-shaking. vibrating. CRAZY! jumping,” and truthfully, I can come up with no better words with which I could describe Naked Giants. Loud, energetic, and talented, they were able to bring an amazing and frankly impressive amount of energy to the crowd considering they were first up to perform at the March 7 Finals.
Bleachbear (http://bleachbear.bandcamp.com/) describes themselves on their Bandcamp as a “family teen girl band from Seattle, WA.” A trio consisting of Tigerlily Cooley on vocals and guitar, sister Annabella Bird on drums, and cousin Emiko Gantt on bass and backing vocals, their performances were consistently well put-together and professional. Their setup was simple and clean, their outfits were matching, and their instrument proficiency and skill playing their signature reverberating dream-pop was astounding, especially for being the youngest band featured in the competition this year. Overall, Bleachbear’s genuine talent and haunting, angelic sound won over the ears and hearts of the audience as soon as they came on stage and even before, as they brought substantial crowds of dedicated fans, friends, and family.
Emma Lee Toyoda (http://emmaleetoyoda.bandcamp.com/) is a Seattle-based “indie folk” singer-songwriter, who brought an impressive five-piece band made up of several of her best friends along with her for her Sound Off! performances. Among the instruments featured in Toyoda’s setup were standup bass, ukelele, banjo, drums, and violin. Playing well-composed, heartfelt folk pieces, Emma Lee Toyoda was a consistent fan favorite, winning the Audience Response prize both times the group performed. A difficult group to describe but an enchanting group to watch, Toyoda’s passion for music and chemistry with her bandmates made for a special connection with the audience, and the nuances in her music never fell on deaf ears.
One Above Below None (https://oabn.bandcamp.com/), a hip-hop group from Seattle, were the wildcard-winners and last performing bands of the March 7 Finals. Having tried and failed to enter Sound Off! three times, and being chosen 13th this year (only performing because one of the originally chosen top twelve had dropped out), their genuine passion and excitement to finally be performing on the Sky Church stage was palpable. With an exciting, unpredictable stage presence and an entirely never-before-heard set of songs prepared for Finals, the group went hard to excite and surprise the audience as much as possible. Jumping insane heights, talking and joking with the audience and entering rap-battles with each other on stage, One Above Below None had a constant energy that guided their performances.
At the end of these performances, I was amazed by the talent of all four bands that had made it this far. I had my personal favorites, but I truly had no idea who was going to be the winner of Sound Off! 2015 — every single band was amazing, and that is said without exaggeration. The results turned out to be that OABN swept in first place, Naked Giants won second, Emma Lee Toyoda third, and Bleachbear fourth. Although the first-prize band wins some amazing benefits including a performance at Bumbershoot, the point of Sound Off! is thankfully not the competition or winning first place, but the exposure that all 12 talented PNW bands recieve and the experience learned about working right alongside judges and members of the music industry. While Sound Off! 2015 may be over, it’s guaranteed that this won’t be the last time you’ll see these talented bands.