July 2nd, 2003 12:00 am | Music Stories

Siren's Echo
IMAGE: jason landis
Bind Us to the Mast
The twin towers of Siren's Echo are just...too...powerful.

Every band wishes it had a truly moving song. Siren's Echo, the Portland hip-hop duo of Toni Hill and Syndel, had a song like that once. But it worked a little too well.

"Dutches," the tale of a runaway girl who ends up pregnant by an abusive boyfriend, struck deep chords when the pair ripped it live, Hill's harmonies fitting snugly with Syndel's hardboiled verses. Then female fans started approaching them after shows, sharing stories of molestation and rape.

"We had to stop performing it," Syndel says.

"I'm glad they can think our struggle is their struggle and feel connected, but it's a little overwhelming when you don't know the person," says Hill.

No matter. With or without that particular song, Siren's Echo is busting through hip-hop's status-quo treatment of women, fusing potent urban-struggle tales with female empowerment. They have opened for the likes of Erykah Badu and the Roots, and they're finishing off a distribution deal for a self-titled EP.

Siren's Echo revolves around a careful balance of rap and neo-soul, with the occasional diversion into club-ready drum 'n' bass. Hill, long singer for the live hip-hop crew Hungry Mob, found instant synergy with Syndel, a Seattle transplant who's worked with the sprawling Oldominion family of acts.

"When we enter a room, whether we open our mouths or not, we have a strong presence," says Hill.

Hill admits she struggled to shape her spoken-word style to fit the tandem's melodic, yet beat-driven, sound. The deceptively timid Syndel pounds lyrics home with a ferocious delivery.

Syndel says there's more than enough room for positive female hip-hop in the mainstream. "I think they need it and they want it." (David Berman)

Siren's Echo plays the Warped Tour on Saturday, July 5, at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash., (206) 628-0888. 2:30 pm. The band also plays Sunday, July 6, at Columbia Meadows, 63701 Columbia River Highway, St. Helens. Noon. $30-$31.25. All ages.

Canadian Crunch
Vancouver, B.C.'s Red Light Sting keeps its indie high-impact.

Everyone around the Red Light Sting seems to go onto bigger things. The Canadian band's first release--on keyboardist Zoë Verkuylen and guitarist Andy Dixon's own Ache Records--was a split EP with Hot Hot Heat, now major-label new-new-New Wave sensations.

In two years at Sound-Virus Records, the band saw labelmates go boom: Blood Brothers signed to a major label, Pretty Girls Make Graves jumped to Lookout!, the Sick Lipstick will release its soon-to-be acclaimed debut on Tiger Style, Liars became the most-hyped underground band of last year.

So where does this leave the Vancouver band responsible for records and shows that are momentous blasts of energy, over in less than a half-hour but dense as a black hole? Verkuylen marvels at the band's peers going onto "bigger things"--but, tellingly, does not use the words "and better."

"I prefer playing basement shows over any venue, most definitely," Verkuylen says. "I also completely prefer to play all-ages over bar shows." Furthermore, the band keeps its sets short so, according to Verkuylen, "people leave wanting more. It's always better to leave them wanting more than going for too long and boring people."

For the same reason, the band has three EPs but has left fans waiting three years and counting for its first full-length.

It's easy to sound heavy with a two- or three-guitar attack, but the Red Light Sting isn't merely loud. The band, with its one guitarist, manages to occupy space. The secret lies in the interplay between Dixon and drummer Paul Patko, who have rocked together since 1992 when they were 12 and 13, respectively. Like a more melodic--but no less energetic--Blood Brothers, the Red Light Sting uses guitar chords so demented they lodge themselves in your brain while the drumming, never over-the-top, fills in all the gaps.

Maybe "bigger things" don't matter. Maybe it's just enough to be the Red Light Sting--DIY as hell, capable of blowing away newly minted millionaires you used to open for, masters of the sound all the Kids want. Since the last time I saw them, I know I've been wanting more. (Godfre Leung)

Red Light Sting plays Thursday, July 3, at Stumptown, 128 SW 3rd Ave., 295-6144. Samus Aran, Desert City Soundtrack and Cinema Eye also appear. 8:30 pm. $5. All ages.



When a man, allegedly driving with nearly three times the legal limit of alcohol in his veins, hit three bicyclists on Southeast Belmont Street last Tuesday night, the tragedy sent shockwaves through many strata of Portland society. The music scene may have absorbed the deepest blow.

One of two people killed at 42nd and Belmont just past midnight that night was Orion Satushek, member of well-regarded Portland underground bands Reeks & the Wrecks and Spooky Dance Band. His bandmate, Caroline Buchalter, ended up in intensive care at OHSU.

The accident's aftershocks will continue for days, weeks, months, years. Right now, though, Satushek and Buchalter's comrades in the local music scene are scrambling to rally and lend what help they can.

Reeks & the Wrecks, founded in Bellingham, Wash., were scheduled to play the Blackbird Friday, July 4, with 31 Knots and the Booths. Now, the club plans to donate door proceeds from the show--incidentally, the 'Bird's anniversary--to Buchalter's medical expenses and possibly toward costs associated with Satushek's death.

"Hopefully, it will be a chance for people to get together in a positive way," says Joe Haege of 31 Knots. A third band for the memorial show's lineup--replacing Reeks & the Wrecks--is yet to be announced.


Todd Irving doesn't seem like a menace to Portland's urban peace--he's a 38-year-old father, a former business and theology student, son of a long-rooted Portland family, active in the church where his father's the pastor. Yet Irving, whose brother lays down lyrics with local hip-hop stars Lifesavas, fell afoul of Portland police in recent months.

In fact, the Finest don't want to see him doing business in downtown Portland anymore.

Irving's offense? He's one of three members of Funk Plastic, a hyper-syncopated troupe of drummers who blast out intricate rhythm sonatas on humble five-gallon plastic buckets. The trio's informal shows in and around Pioneer Courthouse Square on hot early-summer days garnered plenty of attention--and not a bad haul of coin, some days--from passersby. Unfortunately, they also drew the eagle eyes of the Law.

After numerous run-ins with Portland cops, Irving says the hammer fell late last month. "They systematically eliminated us," Irving says. "Finally, they told us that if they saw us playing anywhere in the downtown core, they'd arrest us, throw us in jail and confiscate the buckets as evidence."

According to Irving, cops don't like the crowds that gather when Funk Plastic does its thing, claiming sidewalks clog and drugs change hands. (Around the Square? No way!) They also say the group's sonic stylings violate noise ordinances.

Funk Plastic is still rocking the streets at events like Northeast Alberta Street's Last Thursday art walk, even as it makes a move to more formal gigs. The trio opened for Erykah Badu at Roseland in early June, earning an encore, and may nab an appearance at OMSI's IMAX presentation of Stomp.

All the same, Irving says exclusion from downtown puts a major crimp in the band's style--Funk Plastic's members were earning a living with their street beats.

"Now we're not meeting at Starbucks at 10:30 every morning," Irving says. "It's hard to keep the group going when that's been your mainstay."

Anyone interested in engaging Funk Plastic's musical services can contact Todd Irving at 629-6049 or email mojampark@yahoo.com.

Any news? Email hiss@wweek.com.

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