Now in its 12th year, Sound Off! (EMP's battle of underage bands) has helped launch the careers of many talented musicians—Dyme Def, the Lonely Forest, Kithkin, Sol, Tomten, Brite Futures... the list goes on.
All from the Pacific Northwest, this year's pool of 12 semifinalists includes everything from experimental hiphop, to quaint, stripped-down bedroom pop.
Four bands play each night, and the winner—along with one wild card band chosen by the EMP Youth Advisory Board—will move on to the finals on March 2 for a chance to win studio time, gear, and a slot at Bumbershoot. For tickets and more information, visit empmuseum.org.
Here's your cram session on who's who, so you can start placing your bets now!
From: Renton. Sounds Like: Hiphop with a solid and smooth flow, R&B hooks that'll make you groove uncontrollably. Fun Fact: When Dave B. found out he made it to the semifinals, he "ended up having a 10-minute celebratory dance party. It was awesome."
From: Seattle. Sounds Like: Classic rock with a blues vibe—sometimes sounds like it was heavily inspired by later Beatles, while other times sounds like they really enjoy the Doors. Fun Fact: If Mister Mista could summon one superpower during the show, singer and guitarist Jonah Simone says, "I'd opt for collective mass synesthesia, causing everyone in the audience to hallucinate the music in congress with each other." Whoa.
THE FAME RIOT
From: Tacoma. Sounds Like: The soundtrack to an eight-bit video game based on the Strokes. Fun Fact: With vintage fur coats, teased-up hair, glittery scarves, and skintight jeans, the Fame Riot are bringing back that Jesse Camp circa 1999 look without a hint of irony.
From: Tacoma. Sounds Like: A gritty burst of sonic confetti played by enthusiastic kids who really love Of Montreal but felt it needed a bit more of a punk rock edge. Fun Fact: Their song "Yes & No" has a bit of a RVIVR vibe to it, so of course I love it.
THE FEMALE FIENDS
From: Kent. Sounds Like: They'd fit perfectly on a bill with the dynamic and architectural indie rock band Nude Pop, who just so happened to win Sound Off! last year. Fun Fact: When the Female Fiends found out that they made it to the semifinals, they "went a little crazy," says singer Michael Yin. "It was kind of scary, actually. I think at one point, Ricky turned into an ape."
From: Seattle. Sounds Like: Manser layers her smoky, seductive voice with electronic noises, strings, and piano, sounding at once like something coming out of a Victrola and the speakers at a Belltown nightclub. Fun Fact: Manser was also quite excited when she found out that her group made it into Sound Off! "I was on the 72 bus. First, I stopped breathing," she says. "Then I kept repeating 'WHAT?' Lastly, I wanted to jump out of that bus window and run a marathon."
From: Puyallup. Sounds Like: Music that happens when a band loves both the Killers and John Hughes movies. Fun Fact: The band's interest on Facebook is "Cuddling everyone." Be prepared for hugs!
From: Portland. Sounds Like: Experimental, DIY hiphop with a choppy flow and clever lyrics about burgers and fries and stealing your boyfriend. Fun Fact: Though still a teenager, Rose has already gotten props from Spin.com for her song "Ride for My City," which it called a "bass-heavy hometown-pride anthem."
AS IT STARTS
From: Bothell. Sounds Like: Piano-laden, dramatic indie rock with a trombonist. I vote all indie rock bands get a trombonist ASAP. Fun Fact: They've already released their first EP! It's called What a Concept, and it's available at asitstarts.bandcamp.com.
I FOR EYE
From: Gig Harbor. Sounds Like: Paramore. Fun Fact: I for Eye have already won one battle of the bands—last year, they took away the grand prize in the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound's competition.
From: Bellingham. Sounds Like: The Monkees! The Beach Boys! The (early) Beatles! Total '60s pop with mock turtlenecks and jangly guitar. Fun Fact: They sound like the Monkees—what else do you need?!
From: Bellingham. Sounds Like: Soft, uncomplicated pop that sounds as if it's being played in a living room or in the woods or on a beach, depending on the song. Fun Fact: According to Vervex's Facebook page, the band used to bring a live ram onstage during its shows, "Until that thing took somebody's eye out." I doubt it's true, but let's pretend it is.
This article has been updated since its original publication.