Surf music is a pick-your-poison genre, split mainly into two camps. You’re either a fan of the Beach Boys/Jan and Dean hot-rod rock, which focused on vocal tunes singing the praises of West Coast surf culture, pretty girls in bikinis and the occasional surf run, or you’re a rabid consumer of the instrumental surf music of The Ventures, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, Link Wray and the like.
Though you might find some crossover in the older fans who grew up in the late ’60s listening to both, modern surf-rock audiences tend to see the divide as incisive. It’s either Twin-Reverb twangy instrumentals (see Dale’s version of “Misirlou”) or it ain’t surf music. These purists have kept the genre alive, while cheesy beach pop died with the era. Excepting the occasional PBS fundraiser, there is little call for original beach-blanket pop.
The popularity of authentic surf has waxed and waned over the years, but now there’s a committed post-millennial wave of bands writing and performing original surf rock for an eager generation. Mask-wearing Los Straightjackets and Daikaiju are two notable examples of bands pushing surf music in new directions. And there’s the line-up of the upcoming Jax Surf Fest II to note, comprising original surf bands playing all-original surf music for old and new fans alike.
Promoted by Bill Sims, guitarist for Jacksonville-based surf band The Crowkeepers, the annual show is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, July 19 at Underbelly in Downtown Jacksonville. The lineup includes Huntsville’s Kill Baby Kill!, Tallahassee’s The Intoxicators, Atlanta’s The Mystery Men?, The Surge and MOONBASE, Orlando’s The Novarays and Tampa’s The Tide.
Kill Baby Kill! is of the hard-edged, quick-tempo variety, while The Mystery Men?, also mask-wearers, play slower, tremolo-soaked melodic surf rock. The Intoxicators, also very tremolo-oriented and speedy, add a bit of funky riffage and time shifts to the traditional framework. In this writer’s not-so-humble opinion, this is the band you should not miss. I mean, the guys wear three-piece suits and play at Tallahassee Roller Girls matches, for crying out loud.
“Surf music is so underground, worldwide,” says Sims, “but is going off in a big way around the country. The bands playing Surf Fest II are a reflection of its reach, with several bands composed of 20-year-olds. So many bands these days label themselves as ‘surf.’ At the most, they are surf-influenced. What you will hear at Surf Fest II is real, original surf music in its third wave since the ’60s. I love it because it is so different from anything else going on, and it’s cool.”
Sims’ band The Crowkeepers has experienced a recent lineup change, and there was a moment when Sims thought the band wouldn’t be able to play the festival. Then, in came multi-instrumentalist and Jax mainstay Jack Ringca to fill the second guitar spot. The Crowkeepers’ current roster includes bassist Pierre Andre, drummer Kirby Hamilton, Jeremy Nix on organ and trumpet, and Ringca and Sims on guitars. Sims says the band will, with any luck, head into the studio to record a new CD in the very near future.