Deadbeat Darling, McAlister Drive Dominate Xconomy’s Battle of the Tech Bands 2008

1/25/08Follow @wroush

It’s a good thing I’m a writer and not much of a talker, because I’m still hoarse after my big stage debut as emcee for Xconomy’s Battle of the Tech Bands at the Middle East Tuesday night. It was a fantastic night of jamming from some of the local technology community’s most talented musicians, and we were thrilled by the huge audience turnout of nearly 350 rockin’ techies, VCs, and other music lovers, not to mention the amazing energy of the bands that competed and the generous support of our sponsors. We made some great new friends among the bands and their fans, and I’m still buzzed from my big chance to live out every boy’s dream of being Ryan Seacrest for an evening.

Now that we’ve gotten past our hangovers and caught up a bit on our sleep—as well as the week’s regular technology news—we wanted to give you the official debrief. For those of you who couldn’t make it, or had to leave early, I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you who won. Akamai’s Deadbeat Darling, an ultra-cool pop/dub/electronica band founded by singer/guitarist Joseph King, dominated the voting all evening long and eventually took home the prize for Audience Favorite band. The award for Most Innovative Performance, handed out by a secret cabal of Xconomy editors and guest judges, went to McAlister Drive, a proudly cheesy indie pop band representing Linedata Services and led by budding heartthrob Christoph Krey on guitar and lead vocals—capped by a special guest who leapt off the stage doing a Jonathan Papelbon-like river dance.

For a taste of Pap and all the talent on hand, check out our YouTube video, which was expertly shot by Mark Woit, son of Xconomy publisher Steve Woit:

Click for video of Xconomy’s Battle of the Tech Bands 2008

Once the playing ended, Giles McNamee, co-founder of Boston-based investment banking house McNamee Lawrence & Co., was in the house to announce the winners and their prizes (we understand that Giles is a musician himself, handling guitar and vocals for local group The Rockhoppers). For winning the Audience Favorite vote, Deadbeat Darling snagged one full year of free retail service from Nimbit, a Framingham, MA, company that helps independent artists promote their music and build their fan bases by selling songs, merchandise, and concert tickets online. McAlister Drive won seven hours of free studio time and audio engineering assistance at Boston’s Bristol Recording Studios, a local institution that’s hosted artists as varied as Meatloaf and Yo Yo Ma. Each prize carried a monetary value in excess of $1,000, and we were delighted to have Nimbit CEO Patrick Faucher and Bristol Studios sales manager Kevin Patey on hand to present the awards in person.

We wish we’d had more prizes to give away, because all of the bands played their geeky hearts out. One Hand Free, a hardcore ’70s rock band based in Portsmouth, NH, and representing IBM, wowed the crowd with their authentic long hair and soul-ripping guitar work. (One Hand Free’s appearance coincided with the release of their latest album, Quadraphonic.) The Knuckledusters, a swing-a-billy band based in Somerville and representing Bioprocessors Corp. and Veritas Medicine, revved up the audience with their rendition of “Rockabilly Rebel.” As an erstwhile trombonist, I was personally thunderstruck by the high-energy performance and professional sound of Bose’s Souled Out Superband, a 9-piece group—including five horns—that belted out a seamless set of Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder covers. (We want to extend an extra-special thanks to the Bose Superband for the invaluable production advice and equipment provided by their drummer, Bud Maclellan.) The final band, Sad Marvin, a black-clad alternative/grunge group representing Smiths Medical, won geek points from me for being named after Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and impressed the crowd with great vocals by lead singer Amanda ZW.

For the record, the final tally in the audience voting was:

Band Percentage of total votes
Deadbeat Darling
27
McAlister Drive
22
The Knuckledusters
17
Souled Out Superband
15
Sad Marvin
12
One Hand Free
8

We hope that all of the bands will enter the Battle again next year—and we also expect to be hearing from great new competitors at local companies like EnerNOC who missed this year’s deadline. Thanks to a great film crew from Boston.TV who were on hand for the entire Battle, you’ll be able see more clips from the event online next week, along with interviews with Bob, myself, and the band leaders.

We couldn’t have pulled off the Battle of the Tech Bands without the terrific support of our prize donors and event sponsors. In addition to the grand prizes from Bristol Recording Studios and Nimbit, we had eight fabulous door prizes to give away to lucky audience members, including five Zune music players donated by Microsoft, two Rock Band Special Edition video game bundles donated by Cambridge’s Harmonix Music, and two tickets from Bedford, MA, to Nantucket Island donated by Concord, MA-based air taxi service Linear Air (a fascinating company that we wrote about in October). One of the Rock Band Special Edition bundles was won by our friend Tito Jackson, industry director for information technology at Massachusetts Office of Business Development; Tito informs us that he’ll be donating the prize to Freedom House, a community development center in Dorchester, MA, that includes a computer learning lab.

Our headline event sponsors were Akamai, Microsoft, and Invest Northern Ireland (a rowdy crew who definitely know how to have fun). We also had help promoting the event from Bandsintown, Nextcat, and MITX (the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange).

And while I’m acknowledging everyone who helped with the event, I have to single out the extraordinary crew at Cambridge, MA-based Aerva, builders of a software and communications system for interactive digital displays. Aerva CEO Sanjay Manandhar, engineer David Crow, designer Rafael Mendiola, and technical architect Mark Renouf were all on hand throughout the evening at the Middle East to manage the text-messaging-based voting system we used to determine the Audience Favorite band.

Aerva’s SMS-driven voting screen. Photo by Mark Renouf.Aerva’s system added immeasurably to the evening’s geeky coolness. The company set up a big flat-screen TV near the stage, and audience members could register their votes for each band by texting messages such as “banda,” “bandb,” and so forth to Aerva’s short code (227359—I’ve got it memorized, after repeating it so many times on stage; apparently, 867-5309 was taken). The audience could also use their phones to send text shout-outs that appeared in a chat area on the screen, and were able to e-mail photos to the screen from their camera-phones.

All in all, attendees sent nearly 1,000 messages over the course of the evening, according to Aerva’s logs (about 800 of those were votes). The voting system added a special sheen to the whole event, as well as an interesting layer of strategizing: since listeners could vote up to three times for each band, and could cast their unused votes at any time up to the very last minute of the competition, the tallies kept changing until the very end.

It turns out that Aerva’s Renouf is also an ace photographer, and Aerva has posted a slick slide show of his shots. Speaking of photos, audience member David Fisher posted an amazing Flickr photoset with more than 60 photos of the event. In fact, we’ve been psyched by all the attention the Battle has gotten across the Web (for example, here, here, here, and here). The Boston Herald previewed the Battle last Sunday, and Boston Globe reviewer Jonathan Perry gave the competition a nice writeup in yesterday’s edition.

To everyone who attended the inaugural Battle of the Tech Bands: thanks for coming out on an icy January evening and showing your support for Boston’s talented musician/technologists. You can bet we’ll be back next year with a bigger, better version of the event. Until then, rock on!


Top photo by Mark Renouf, courtesy of Aerva.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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