- Randy Harward
Adam Tye said that the Bandemonium drawing would be uneventful. Yet, Diabolical Records is fairly cramped, presumably with local musicians and non-musicians anticipating the 10 p.m. drawing that would match them into ephemeral five-person ad hoc bands for the fifth edition of the downtown record store's popular semi-annual show. And yet, as the show winds down, most everyone files out of the store, saying goodbye to Tye and his wife, Alana Boscan. When the shop is pretty much clear, I ask if it's time to draw.
"We've already drawn," Boscan says, nodding to the Choosing Bucket, a Tupperware-style container filled with names and numbers on folded sticky notes. "We did it during the show," Tye says, punctuating the anti-climax with a what'd-I-tell-ya smile. Bandemonium. Woot.
Tye suggests adding dry ice to the bucket next time for dramatic effect. I propose dumping the sticky notes on the store's turntable and letting centrifugal force decide; the first five names to fly off the deck? That's a band. And so on. We try it for shits 'n' gigs. The rotating felt turntable mat prevents any from flying off. But at 33.3 rpm, the yellow and orange papers on the hot pink mat make a satisfying swirly blur.
Done messing around for the time being, Tye lays the notes on the counter according to their groups. It's different this year, he says. There are fewer recognizable local music names and more random, off-the-street participants. That's part of the beauty of Bandemonium. As Tye puts it on the Diabolical Records Facebook event page, "YOU DO NOT NEED ANY MUSICAL ABILITY TO TAKE PART! Believe me, I have zero talent and have played twice."
The first time was Bandemonium 1 in 2014. It being late December, Tye knew it would be tough to book bands to play in the store. So he improvised, figuring that at least some local musicians would be around and willing to play during that time. The rules are simple: Once the names are drawn, the bands have two weeks to come up with a name and a 10- to 15-minute set of original music to perform at Bandemonium. That year saw 14 bands perform between 6 and 11 p.m.
Jeremy Devine plays in a ton of bands—'90s Television, The Nods, Hyrkanian and Sally Yoo. He dropped his name in the Bandemonium 1 bucket with some apprehension, and says he wasn't the only one. "Everyone thought it sounded cool," he says, "but we were unsure how everything would go down." His band, Nobody, was a post-rock trio comprised of himself, Benjamin Kilbourne (Tavaputs) and Boscan's non-musician brother Eric. "I remember wanting it to be perfect, but of course it never is—especially with something you've made in two weeks."
Tye landed in a band with his missus on flute and keyboards, Madison Donnelly (Big Baby, Sculpture Club) on vocals and guitar, both Casey Hansen (Cult Leader) and Douglas Wood (no affiliation) on bass and drums, and Andy Cvar (Jackie-O Motherfucker) on guitar. Calling themselves KR▲TT▲RZZ, they played noise rock—the perfect genre for a non-musician like Tye. "I banged on a guitar and talked into a microphone. I was terrified. I wore sunglasses and kept my hair down in my face."
Ultimately, he, Devine and the other participants had a blast. Bandemonium became semi-annual, with a second go scheduled six months out. As word spread, participants came out en masse. Fifteen new bands and one touring band, Downtown Boys (who were passing through), performed until 3:30 a.m. That's not something Tye is keen to repeat. But again, it was good fun for everyone—especially the musicians and non-musicians who've wanted to play in bands, but didn't have the time.
Devine, with all of his commitments, never plans on playing. "Each time, I'm usually pressured to do it. But I get in there, anyway, and I always have a good time." This year he almost got away clean; his name wasn't even in the Bandemonium 5 bucket the night of the drawing. "I almost took this year off," he says. "But I felt bad. After doing it so many times before, I felt like I should be in all of them if I can." For Bandemonium 5, he's paired with Landon Young (Strong Words, Pet Library), Cisco Garcia (Burmese Python) and two others whose names he didn't know at press time. "We haven't met yet, but we're gonna meet soon." As with past years, "I have no idea how it's gonna go."
But that's why they call it Bandemonium: It's random, it's noisy and it's fun. Tye continues to not practice an instrument, but plays every year. And they continue to attract non-musicians; Tye estimates, between all five Bandemoniums, that it's been a 70 percent musician to 30 percent layperson mix. The vortex of personalities and visions adds to the unpredictability. As Devine puts it, "Anyone can collaborate, if you just try something without any preconceived notions."