Austin Technology Council Battle of the Bands: Geeks Who Rock

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By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

There are moments in a person’s life when the stars line up and they are—at least for that moment—totally cool. Take geeks. Geeks used to be completely uncool, juxtaposed against people who played in a band who were inherently cool. But now, geeks are just about the coolest, and geeks who play in a band? Wow. Which brings us to the Austin Technology Council’s Battle of the Bands that will kick off Austin Startup Week October 6 at Mohawk.

Battle of the Bands was a notion ATC came up with last year and frankly, said ATC president and CEO Julie Huls, they didn’t know whether it would fly.

“We were looking for a fun activity to do and a way to showcase our member companies,” she said. “We had been hearing about the crossover between music and tech, a lot of people in tech play music. We wanted to showcase their talents in a way that was a unique, different, fun way for companies to compete with one another.”

But they didn’t know if anyone would show up. As it turned out, 1,000 people attended last year. Battle of the Bands, Huls said, is a great chance for Austin to shine in front of companies that might be in town for Startup Week trying to decide whether to locate here, as well as for companies that are recruiting, to demonstrate some of their internal culture for people interested in relocating.

The Contenders

This year, about 20 bands applied and 11 will play, largely chosen on a first-come-first-served basis. The bands are:

DevDigital– Mitch and the Texas Jam Band

SailPoint—Him and Her Crew & Justin Big and Black Heart

SpareFoot—Boogaloo Grove

HP—HP Austin Rocks

MapMyFitness—Digital Tiger

Spredfast—Golden Solid

Bazarrvoice—Feedback

Reachforce—Vorcha

WPEngine—The L4s

Securenet–$$

Athenahealth—P1

Each band gets two songs in a time span of 15 minutes.

Musicians Who Code

In order to play, bands had to be tech people employed by Austin tech companies, though they didn’t all have to be employed by the same tech company.

Golden Solid from Spredfast, for example, includes drummer Chad Gowan and bassist Zac Kloepping, both software engineers at Spredfast. But it also includes vocalist and guitarist Sam Berniard, storage marketing manager at Dell, and guitarist and keyboardist Ian White, who is a software engineer at T3. Gowan and Kloepping have played with the others in prior bands.

“I think Austin is the big correlation (between music and tech),” Gowan said. “A giant percent of people you meet are musicians or at least have an appreciation for music. And the tech world is really hot in Austin, there are a lot of companies moving in and a lot of good developers…. Being in a band is kind of a do-it-yourself thing and staying up with latest technology is do-it-yourself too.”

Previously Gowan and Kloepping said, they played in bands that focused on complex music, syncopated rhythms, similar to the Police. Their current band is more “melodically driven,” more like a cross between the Beach Boys and the Foo Fighters. Something people can sing along to. It’s less about showing off and more about entertaining people, they said.

SpareFoot’s Boogaloo Grove, on the other hand, leans toward funk.

“We gravitated toward a funk jam thing,” said “let’s just get together and see what happens,” said Ari Dvorin, saxophonist, base guitarist, and chef for SpareFoot. Their music might incorporate a variety of flavors, including hip hop, he said.

“Around the office one of our extracurricular activities is jam sessions,” said SpareFoot developer Alan Nguyen, who plays multiple instruments and hopes to be a professional musician some day. “We thought, ‘We play music recreationally, why not form into something solid for battle of the tech bands?” They also hope to perform at SpareFoot’s SXSW party.

In fact, a lot of tech organizations have loosely organized musical jams and bands, as do Capital Factory and Techstars. That makes sense since, besides the fact that these companies are located in the self-proclaimed Music Capital of the World, research shows a direct correlation in the brain between math and music. Also, Dvorin and Nguyen said, playing music with co-workers builds rapport. “It helps us feel more open and confident around each other,” Nguyen said.

Prizes for the winner include a day of recording at Arlyn Studios, two tickets for SXSW Interactive and two VIP passes for Fun Fun Fun Fest. Judges include Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, Adi Anand, national program manager for DoStuff Media, Gillian Wilson, president of Austin Startup Games and Will Bridges, co-owner of Arlyn Studios.

“Ultimately,” Dvorin said, “it would nice to win. But it’s just awesome to get together and play music with people you work with.”

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