The Thread That Binds 

Tartufi's Thread collective weaves like-minded acts into one promotional draw.

Music journalists are suckers for genre tags. It's a sad truth. The labels ("hyphy," "crunk," "grunge") can be legitimate names of organic movements. They can also be clever marketing ploys by savvy artists fed up with the media ignoring them. Sometimes they make reporters look stupid, such as when The New York Times published an article on "grunge speak," supplied by a disgruntled Sub Pop employee. But often they help launch obscure but otherwise talented musicians into the limelight.

Brian Gorman and Lynne Angel took note of this trend. As members of San Francisco's Tartufi, they were critically admired but continued to toil away in the relative isolation of an unsigned indie rock band. Then, last year, they decided to bring together three similarly talented and like-minded bands — Silian Rail, Birds & Batteries, and Low Red Land — under the moniker Thread Productions. It wasn't just a name — and didn't describe any genre — but a concept that encapsulates a sense of cooperation and community that has injected new life into the bands' attitudes and success.

"It has definitely gotten us a lot more exposure than we ever would have had on our own and put us in contact with tons of bands to play shows with, club bookers, journalists, DJs, that we otherwise may have never come in contact with," wrote Silian Rail drummer Eric Kuhn in an e-mail.

"When we all came together, we met a larger community of artists and musicians," said Angel, who sings and plays guitar. "People are starting to become cozy. It's a warm, fuzzy feeling."

Things aren't always so cozy in the crowded and competitive Bay Area music scene. Since Tartufi formed in 2001, the band had struggled with such experiences. "You develop a mentality of do or die," Angel said. "We were at a point of desperation. There's not a lot of industry here. You have to be selfish to make it."

To combat the competitiveness, Thread established simple rules: Everyone shows up to everyone's shows; an eight-song sampler promotes all the bands; if one band got press, the other bands would be mentioned. They also share tour, press, and label contacts. "It has been a tremendous morale boost to have this very dedicated little family of people who you know are going to come to every show you play and hoot and holler for you and pass around your mailing list right after you play or stand at your merch table," said Kuhn.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the bands are all incredibly good. Tartufi deftly loops and layers guitar melodies and vocals into a groove that's by turns noisy and soothing. Silian Rail, a male-female duo like Tartufi, builds complex progressive guitar-and-drum-built instrumentals that challenge, push, and open new realms of listening. Low Red Land harbors closest to traditional indie rock with subdued melodies opening into emotional, powerful rock, while Birds & Batteries combines elements of country and organic synth textures into lonesome, danceable hooks.

While these bands make up the core of Thread, the shows extend to other bands as well. And it hasn't made Thread any less successful — four packed Saturday shows at El Rio in January proved that. The bands plan to continue playing and co-promoting their music by releasing another compilation CD this summer. Expanding their roster is likely in the works, but for now they'll be exploiting Thread for all it is worth. And who would blame them? So far, it's worked.

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