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May 9th, 2012 12:01 am WW Staff | Cover Story

Best New Band 2012

10 local acts that Portland’s music insiders think you should hear.


IMAGE: Mike Grippi

4. Onuinu

  • 68.5 Points
  • Formed: June 2011
  • Sounds like: A slow cruise through a brightly colored Blade Runner-style landscape intercut with spaces of pastoral beauty. 

Dorian Duvall seems to relish his air of mystery. A tall, attractive gent with a penchant for understated black jeans and single-color T-shirts, the 25-year-old musician always seems to have a puckish grin. He often seems content to sit back and drink in whatever conversation he’s around rather than engaging.

It’s a laid-back style that befits the sultry, spacey electronic pop that Duvall recorded under the name Onuinu for Mirror Gazer, his album coming out this summer on Portland’s Bladen County Records. Lyrically, Duvall is as coy as he is in person, hiding lines like “I never wanted to be alone/ I just want to stay and talk to you” behind reverb. But the low bubble of bass; funked-up guitars; wandering, Bernie Worrell-style synth melodies; and hip-hop-meets-IDM beats speak volumes on his behalf.

To break through Duvall’s persona, I tried to get him out of his comfort zone, taking him to a listening party for the new album by local doom-metal juggernaut Witch Mountain. When I came to pick him up, it took him 10 minutes to hear me knocking. Through the door, it sounded like he was trying out new guitar pedals.

On our way to the party, Duvall told me about growing up. Born and raised in a Cleveland suburb, Duvall was surrounded by music geeks who “were always showing each other new things we’d found,” he said. “I was listening to hip-hop, but they got me into prog rock and Frank Zappa.” A skilled guitarist, Duvall moved to Portland after high school with the intention of starting a band that never got going.

“About that same time,” he said as we arrived at the house of Witch Mountain drummer (and WW contributor) Nathan Carson, “a lot of the people I was hanging out with were getting into house music and making dance beats. It was really easy to pick up on that and start making my own.”

Duvall has never been familiar with metal, but at the listening party, he gamely absorbed the waves of bluesy bombast pouring toward us at top volume. He nodded his head to the beat but looked like he was processing it more than enjoying it. On the way out, I apologized for tossing him into the deep end.

“No, no. It was good,” he said. “I might borrow some ideas from that. It was a little weird being around a bunch of people I’ve never met before, but I think I’m going to have to get used to that kind of thing.”

Duvall speaks volumes there. Over the past three years that he’s been performing as Onuinu, he’s seen his fan base grow exponentially. New touring opportunities are coming his way—he’ll be the hand-picked opener for YACHT this summer. He’s looking even further beyond, with one album’s worth of new material already in the can, and his mind turning over ideas for another one. He hints at the influence of old favorites like Soft Machine, but only has one concrete goal in mind: “I want to write lyrics that have something to say. I think it’s time for me to make a statement.” ROBERT HAM.

SEE IT: Willamette Weeks Best New Band showcase, sponsored by Miller Genuine Draft and featuring Radiation City, Pure Bathing Culture and Onuinu, is Friday, May 11, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave. 9 pm. Free. 21+.

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