We Came, We Saw, We Conquered : Monitor Mix A few days ago, I was having lunch with a friend. He said something I thought was interesting, the gist of it being that San Diego music wouldn't have been what it was if it weren't for the influences of Washington, D.C.'s Nation of Ulysses and Ol...

We Came, We Saw, We Conquered

A few days ago, I was having lunch with a friend. He said something I thought was interesting, the gist of it being that San Diego music wouldn't have been what it was if it weren't for the influences of Washington, D.C.'s Nation of Ulysses and Olympia's Unwound. I agreed, but added that without those two bands, the San Diego sound would have still been unique; it just would have been culled from a smaller pool of local influence, specifically from the likes of Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt. Nevertheless, there was a time in the early and mid-1990s when a bunch of young San Diego bands -- from Heroin to Antioch Arrow to Clikatat Ikatowi -- sounded like their DC and Oly counterparts, only sped up (in the screamo variety) or slowed down (in the Black Heart Procession variety). But either way, theirs was the sound of the melted and the sun-weary.

It's strange how influence infects a town, a scene and an art movement. While Unwound's impact was felt more in Southern California and the Midwest, the band's hometown of Olympia -- where I resided during much of my 20s -- was being swept up in a love affair with Britain's Huggy Bear. The band flew into town in the summer of 1993, sans its handsome and brilliant guitarist Jon Slade, and proceeded to infiltrate basement shows, beach trips, practice spaces, dance parties and, most importantly, song structure. Basically, everyone who was in a band at the time, or who was thinking of starting one, wanted to harness the kind of chemistry Huggy Bear possessed; the sort that left the listener addicted to unsteadiness, vertigo and spontaneous fits. Perhaps only Karp -- an all-male trio -- succeeded in doing so.

Every scene has its story: Some kid sees Joy Division, the Ramones, Bad Brains, MC5 or The New York Dolls, and all of a sudden 10 new bands crop up, each with its own variation on the sound. Often it's a band from out of town, whose influence at home might be nonexistent or taken for granted, but whose music somehow speaks to another city's weather, mindset or sensibility.

And occasionally, specifically with a band like Unwound, its influence and successors far outshine its own story. Which is a shame, because Unwound synthesized all that was exciting about Olympia and music in the Pacific Northwest. Its music dark and often experimental; it had pop riffs that grew out of murkiness only to disappear again; its songs gave you glimmers of light but never flooded you with sun; there was angst but not brutality; it possessed an uneven wilderness, which is all you'd ever want from music, something unexpected emerging from what we already know. One of my favorite Unwound shows took place in Portland in 1994. The band was playing at the X-Ray Cafe and singer-guitarist Justin Trosper got a bloody nose during the song "Valentine Card." There was a red mess everywhere, on his shirt and face and hands, which was the perfect way to witness a song about a strange, tortured kind of love.

Feel free to share shows you witnessed in your cities or towns, or stories you've heard about, wherein bands came in and reconfigured the musical landscape with their influence.