This morning I arrived at the Gambit offices to a watershed surprise waiting in my mailbox: a note from the New Orleans Indie Rock Collective announcing next weeks inaugural NOLA Indie Rock Fest. It was accompanied by a smartly named mix CD, Rock Beats Paper, artfully sequenced with two songs each from the artists who will headline the three-day, multi-venue festival Theresa Andersson, The City Life, Big Blue Marble, Rotary Downs, Antenna Inn and MyNameIsJohnMichael among them. The note went on to explain the collective as a group of music industry professionals dedicated to raising awareness of and building an infrastructure for the New Orleans indie rock scene. Once upon a time a very recent time the belief in such a scenes existence required wishful thinking while wearing rose-colored glasses. Today, to even my surprise, not only does that scene exist, it has a well-organized collective looking after its welfare with the tenacity of a Washington lobby.
More important than when and how this happened is the why and the who. As in, why do these industry professionals need a collective in the first place? For all its musical muscle, New Orleans has always had a considerable number of high-quality independent rock bands fall through the cracks of more traditional local tastes. And, for the unfamiliar, who are they, exactly? This is where the mix CD proves its worth. The once-imaginary scene now claims eager-beaver freshmen (MyNameIsJohnMichael, not yet a year old) and distinguished upperclassmen (Rotary Downs, relative graybeards at nearly 10); international pop/rock soloists (Andersson, who is from Sweden) and homegrown jazz/rock ensembles (Antenna Inn, which is at least half Marreran). For the first time ever, a fine collection of their best songs is available in one place. The compilation has, in my estimation, the top two rock songs to come out of New Orleans this year (the City Lifes White Elephant and Antenna Inns Ernest Borgnine), as well as the top two from 2007 and 2006 to boot (Big Blue Marbles Muses and Rotary Downs Sing Like the Sun, respectively). It has Anderssons beguiling new Na Na Na, whose homespun video sparked a YouTube firestorm (above, with 728,712 views and counting). And its a gratis giveaway. As far as scene-builders go, it along with its parent collective's newborn festival may just prove to be the mortar weve been missing.