I’ve been booking bands at a San Francisco live music venue, the Hemlock Tavern, for the past 10 years. It’s a small rock club that trafficks mostly in emerging local groups and up-and-coming national touring acts from across a spectrum of genres, subgenres, scenes, and microscenes. The second most frequently asked question by civilians – right after, “Is there anything good on the schedule this week?” – is “How do you find all these bands?”
The truth is, they find me. In addition to word-of-mouth referrals and the occasional band logo spray painted on the sidewalk outside of my apartment, I find out about new music the relatively new-fashioned way: when bands send an unsolicited booking inquiry to the club’s email address. The vast majority of musicians who do this mean well and are generally very nice. They send in perfectly reasonable messages succinctly stating who they are, when they’re looking to play, and a weblink to their music. That’s all very well and good, but it’s not why we’re here today.
You see, contained within this plenitude of “Dear Booker” emails is one particular kind of missive that causes me to involuntarily exhale coffee through my nose, stare at the screen in utter disbelief, or nervously peek out from behind drawn curtains onto the street. This kind of communiqué has become known around the Hemlock as Folder Rock. And Folder Rock is just so deliciously awesome that it’s kind of hard to ignore.
A couple quick examples of promotional emails that have earned a place in Folder Rock:
“Now Tony, I don’t necessarily like to tell you when you’re going to like music, but I think I have to this time. It’s just so deliciously awesome and fresh that it’s kind of hard to ignore.”
“Tony, we will never be a ‘buzz band,’ we’re too awe-inspiring for that.”
"I am a practiced musician perpetuating creative acoustic originals. The sound of these acoustic originals are soul dwelling lyrics, revealing an arrogant, not so humble guitar breaking rhythms and melodies apart piece by piece for your listening pleasure."
“Simply put, her voice is melismatic! Her songwriting is prolific! Her market reach and penetration is gargantuan!"
Historically, the term “Folder Rock” once referred to the breed of overly deluxe, physical demo submission packages (Kinko’s + Office Max + Maximum Rock ’n’ roll’s do-it-yourself tour bible, Book Your Own Fucking Life) that gig-seeking bands snail-mailed out to music venues in the pre-Myspace era. The web swiftly and finally killed physical Folder Rock dead in 2003, but owing to increases in Internet speed and bandwitdth, it then transmuted into the purely digital realm where, unshackled from any physical or monetary constraints, bands became free – free at last to discuss the facial consequences of their music and to brandish glockenspiels.
“We are supremely confident that the concert would be successful by virtue of our draw, and quantity of face melting riffs.”
“Sometimes the audience can't even talk because their face is nothing but a smoldering hole because we rocked them so hard.”
“Think about it Tony, any band that features glockenspiels, flute, and accordion is bound to be kinky when the cameras turn on.”
I’ve perused upwards of three and four dozen general booking inquiries per day for the past several years, and after sadly punching in some numbers on the grimy keypad of my 1982 Canon solar-powered calculator, I figure I’ve read well over 100,000 of these emails at this point in my “career in rock.” Throughout this prolonged period of over-exposure, I’ve observed certain patterns, trends, themes, and strains of Folder Rock language.
For example, by way of an opening gambit, many bands prefer to use the popular shorthand approach of name checking well-known and better-known groups to let you know where they’re coming from. Frighteningly enough, in many cases I understand exactly where that is.
“Hey there, I am a singer/songwriter/guitarist with a solo acoustic-rock project in the vein of Jason Mraz meets Hoobastank with a little bit of John Mayer if he were on speed and acid."
"If you like Silverchair and Helmet but always wished they had a woman singing lead, here you go."
"They’re likely not worth a single ticket in the market at this point. I just wondered if maybe you had anything that made sense that they might be able to squeeze on one of your bills. They sound like U2 meets Depeche Mode meets Coldplay. Let me know."
Other groups, in bold pursuit of originality and sui generis-ness, aren’t content to compare themselves to others. Instead, they cite the genres in which they toil to get the point across. And if the genre doesn’t actually exist, well, that’s what hypens are for.
"A unique brand of Neo-Psychedelic Casiocore, with traces of Civil War–Era Lo-Fi Alt-Vaudeville while attaining a strict Post-Electro-Baroque-Pop background."
"He worked in Skinny Puppy's studio and his new project is a mixture of industrial rock, breakCore & Rage-A-Hol."
"Tony, prepare to have the line between pop and metal blown to smithereens."
Certain acts eschew genres and name checks altogether to wax prosaic.
“His violin skitters across the music like beads of water on a hot skillet – inspired by a legless Polish gypsy he encountered on his vagabond travels.”
Other artisically ambitious bands resort to using genres and name checks plus an opportune slathering of prose.
“Generally nurtured in a pop-rock discipline but with sprouts of placid integrity. Splashes of somber fingerpicking evolve into springy headnod-worthy choruses. Kinksian pop-rock swagger is adorned with zesty four-part harmonies, while a murky contemplative undercurrent ebbs and flows.”
Another leading indicator of Folder Rock is when a band – in hot pursuit of a Tuesday night opening slot – uses either the word “pain” or “suffering” as one of their key selling points.
"Their debut EP is an intense, warm guitar riff dick slap coupled with thick syrup bass lines and sonic boom drum explosions that will make sure you're on your million orgasm. Fellow human beings ... here comes the pain train."
This near-limitless amount of band info-hyperbole is actually a whole new class of unintentionally hilarious communication – replete with tortured metaphors, busted analogies, preposterous fanbase claims, 4,000-word creation myths about a group’s stultifyingly boring dorm room origins, unchecked narcissism, and, yes, even the inappropriate oversharing of gruesome and highly personal medical details.
In an age without shame, where artistic self-empowerment runs amok, reading Folder Rock is not unlike, as one band put it, “watching The Vaselines watching Dock Ellis try to bean every member of the 1974 Cincinnati Reds.” Rest uneasy, music fans, winter’s not coming, it’s long since arrived.
Do It Yourself
Wanna play the Hemlock? First, fire your glockenspieler. JK! LOL! We would never dream of asking you to part ways with such an integral contributor to your sound. All of our general and specific band booking guidelines can be found at www.hemlocktavern.com.