"The Portland scene is so huge and there's so much different stuff that's well-supported, that you can totally miss out on really awesome stuff and never know it," says bassist DJ Invisible Touch about the ebb and flow of the 10 years he's spent playing underground shows with his metal band, JonnyX and the Groadies.
JX:ATG have always kept a low—and strange—profile. "We've never been part of the metal scene," says Invisible Touch, who claims the band prefers to play with acts they sound nothing like. The group began as a joke 10 years ago to the day of its upcoming July 4 show, and by 2001—after a few U.S. tours and vinyl-only releases—JX:ATG had settled into the act it is today. The formula is pure spectacle, consisting of strobe lights that reveal flashes of Invisible Touch's and guitarist Travis West's pink tights or zebra-print body-suits, while the hefty and bearded JonnyX, a.k.a. Jonathan Chard, growls into a mic from behind a cloud of fog.
Overshadowed by JX:ATG's entirely self-contained audio system, a man dressed in a lab coat, known as Professor (Jeremy) Romagna, blasts cheesy keyboard riffs over black metal powered by a drum machine that is loud and fast. There is no stage banter, and most shows are over in less than 20 minutes.
Of the band's unique show and personae, Invisible Touch says "We like being whoever we want, especially when it's incongruent." Indeed, JX:ATG is a series of contradictions: A name befitting a ska band and costumes borrowed from Twisted Sister's wardrobe stand in stark juxtaposition to a style of metal often taken way too seriously. At a recent Food Hole gig, Chris Hagerty, an 18-year-old fan who drove from Sacramento to see a series of metal shows in the Rose City, picked up on a subtler contradiction in JX:ATG's sound. At certain moments during the one-minute bursts of hyper-speed metallic-melody, Hagerty would bounce his open palm above his head as though he were at a hip-hop show. Afterward, he told me the band "just has a groove."
In addition to guitar duties, West programs the mind-boggling drum machine beats, and although he cringes when I use Hagerty's word, "groove," he does admit to working electronic dance beats into the music. A song like "Castle/Face," off the group's 2005 eponymous full-length, is a perfect example of their ability to create a familiar, head-bobbing beat and a memorable melody in a song that is at times too fast for any human drummer to play.
In this way JX:ATG is heavy and unpredictable, yet palatable to even a non-metal-initiated ear. So why hasn't everyone in town heard of them after 10 years? My guess is that those who haven't have lost track of—or never discovered—the heart of underground music: small, all-ages shows. The members of JX:ATG grew up in the early-'90s Portland underground, catching most of their shows at all-ages clubs like Thee O and the X-Ray Cafe. As a way to give back and help keep that scene alive, the band never plays in bars. And it surely isn't the only one. So, if you can't remember the last time you were in a club smaller than the Roseland where minors are allowed, you probably haven't heard of JonnyX and the Groadies. And you should really do something about that.
JonnyX and the Groadies play with K.I.T., Abiku and Sour Grapes, Tuesday, July 4 at Food Hole. 8 pm. $5. All ages.