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Battle With an Upbeat : High school rock bands will compete in a program designed to boost skill levels and careers.

June 02, 1995|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's tough being in a rock band when your mother has to drive you to gigs.

Then there's that homework that has to get done. And the three part-time jobs that you have to schedule rehearsals around. And finding someone's bedroom/garage/living room to practice in.

But for one Valley high school band, all that might pay off.

Nine rock bands, chosen with the cooperation of high schools from El Camino to North Hollywood, will compete tonight in the first Home Grown Battle of the Bands in Northridge Park. The contest, sponsored by Guitar Center, Marshall USA and Electric Babyland Productions, will take place during the first night of the 13th annual Salute to Recreation.

"I think it's cool that a bunch of high school bands get a chance to perform in front of a lot of people," said Tim Deschaine, a senior at El Camino High School in Woodland Hills. "I haven't had the chance to do that because I've been in high school."

Deschaine, 19, said that playing with his band--Puppy Mill--has allowed him to open up: "When you let somebody listen to something that you made and that you like, it makes you more sociable."

Though singing in El Camino's choir helps satiate Deschaine's need to perform, he hopes the Battle of the Bands helps fill his other need: to communicate his own message.

"I just want people to listen to what I have to say," Deschaine said. "Everyone has problems. I'm just telling people what my problems are. The music is very aggressive . . . but it's emotional too." He described Puppy Mill's music as "dark techno."

Like their schools, these bands' styles are all over the map. The musicians draw from influences as diverse as Elvis and Slayer, and the results may well represent the future of music: hard-core lounge, ambient punk and metallic funk.

The person who brought all these musical styles together is Shay Baby, 40.

Baby was floating in the pool behind his Woodland Hills home last summer when he suddenly felt blessed. Here he was, a kid from a rough neighborhood in the Bronx, living in a house with gold and platinum records hanging on his wall.

Baby spent 12 years as a music engineer, working on albums such as the Scorpions' "Crazy World" and Whitesnake's "Slip of the Tongue." He started producing records about three years ago and has recently completed projects with Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden) and Tribe of Gypsies.

"I'm one of the few people who has fun and makes a living at this, so I'd like to give something back," Baby said.

He started out with a map of the Valley and a goal: to encourage music at the high school level. He thought it would take two months to organize the Battle. It took 10.

His intentions were greeted with skepticism from both school administrators and students. With the help of Anne Newman, a health teacher at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, he pitched, pleaded and persuaded until he got nine Valley high schools to host mini-battles.

Newman made calls to advisers and vice principals to get permission. "Some schools were very cooperative. They went along with the idea, it worked very well, and everything was terrific," Newman said. "Some places, you couldn't get past first base."

For those that agreed, the rules were simple: At least one band member had to go to the high school the band wanted to represent, and a band could audition at only one school. From demo tapes, Baby selected two bands from each school that played during a lunch-hour concert for their classmates. The winners were selected by applause.

Tonight, the judges will be professionals, including record producer Keith Olsen and guitarist Warren DeMartini, who played with Whitesnake and Ratt. Baby's company--Electric Babyland Productions--will supply the winner's prize: a professionally produced demo tape.

There are a few bands for whom a new demo could prove useful. The group Plain, representing Monroe High School in North Hills, has played at the Alligator Lounge and the Troubadour and released a seven-inch record. Flammable Liquids, representing North Hollywood High School, plays fairly regularly at the Whisky and the Roxy, and has already recorded its first demo. Others play in local coffeehouses or at private parties.

Brian Judah, a junior at North Hollywood High School, is the singer and writes most of the songs for Flammable Liquids.

Brian, 17, wants to keep Flammable Liquids together, but it won't be easy. Los Angeles bands have an average life span slightly longer than that of a tsetse fly. Graduation and the ensuing decisions about college and jobs make staying together more of a challenge. The band is already looking for a bassist to replace Tim Baca, who plans to go to college next year. But the effort is rewarded.

"The best feeling is getting the responses from the crowd. Seeing them singing your song--that is the biggest high," said Brian, who has already decided on a career in music. "By having such a big gathering, more people will know about these bands. There's a lot of talent in these high schools, but they need help. So maybe if someone sees them, they'll get that."

Indeed, at the Salute to Recreation, where attendance is usually 25,000 over the whole weekend, these bands may have their biggest audience ever. Lucky for them, it's not on a school night.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Home Grown Battle of the Bands.

Location: Northridge Park, 10058 Reseda Blvd., Northridge.

Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. tonight.

Price: Free.

Call: (818) 349-0535.

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