From a dark studio strung to the brim with Christmas lights comes a music that seems as if it could have originated in an Indian temple, yet it resonates with the charm of American Folk music. A barefoot guitar player taps his foot on a pedal as he strums along flawlessly next to his bandmate, who is playing an instrument of his own creation — a sitar with some strings and a bell removed, frets added and a homemade capo fashioned out of plastic rollers and a piece of a lampshade.
As Dawg Yawp plays its song “I Wanna Be a Dawg” in WNKU’s Studio 89, the duo emits a powerful sound that blends together traditional Folk instruments with electronic elements. Their John Cage-esque ability to reinvent new ways to play music (minus slapping a dead fish on a piano) sets them apart from any other folk artist. It’s the perfect combination of worldly and psychedelic.
“It sounds amazing to sit there and listen to all of the different elements coming together,” says WNKU’s sound engineer Matt Moermond as he watches a video of the performance on his iPad. “They did big things this year. Their new music has even more of an electronic side with a lot of samples and layers.”
The video is part of the station’s promotion of local music. Dawg Yawp is one of the artists that has been featured as the station’s Local Discovery of the Month, an honor that has also been spotlighted other Cincinnati-based artists such as Jeremy Pinnell, Multimagic and The Yugos.
Moermond remarks on how the Local Discovery videos — all filmed in Studio 89 — have become viral on social media. With the help of sharing and instant viewing on Facebook, a WNKU video of a Jeremy Pinnell performance has had more than 13,000 views.
Along with the monthly spotlight, WNKU plays a song by a local artist at least once an hour. However, it isn’t just music from Cincinnati. For WNKU, local means as far as their radio signal goes out. Artists from areas nearby Cincinnati, such as Columbus and Indianapolis, can also enjoy being aired on the station.
WNKU’s Assistant Program Director Liz Felix sees playing local music as the convergence of the station’s mission.
“Ultimately our mission is two-fold: play awesome music that’s not necessarily exposed anywhere else and tying into the local community,” Felix says. “Playing local music is both of those things together, and I think that’s what exciting about it.”
Both Felix and Moermond say they are blown away by the quality of recordings they receive from local artists. So much so, that it is difficult for them to pick who they will feature each month because there are so many great artists to choose from.
“This is music that I would have no problem telling other people in the record industry, ‘Here are the great bands from Cincinnati,’ and I think they would stand up against any national release,” Felix says.
The local artists featured monthly are chosen from the pool of local artists already being played on WNKU. The station also looks for artists who are actively releasing new music and who may be familiar, but not too widely known.
“It is extremely important that we play the local artists and support the local scene,” Moermond says. “That’s one of the main reasons that we’re here. It gives bands a voice that they may not otherwise receive in broadcast. We were the first ones to ever air Walk the Moon.”
Local artists can submit their music to WNKU in order to be played. Moermond says when he is listening to local music submissions, he looks for quality. While quality production is a requirement for airtime on WNKU, he says this does not mean that music has to be expensively produced, as there are ways to make quality recordings within your home.
Moermond also explains that local music submission should clearly be marked as local recordings. The station receives so many submissions a day, it is easier to find local music that is marked as such.
Aside from submissions, Moermund and Felix say they try to attend shows throughout Cincinnati at least a few nights per week to stay in touch with the local music scene and discover new artists. They enjoy artists who present lively, energetic performances no matter how small or large the crowd. Both agree it is as much fun as it is necessary to be in tune with the local music community.
“I like how everyone seems to know each other, and builds off that,” Moermond says. “It’s fun to see everyone help each other to grow and expand. It’s neat to see how they work together.”
The vibrant scene also gives them a unique sampling of the many local artists making great music.
“There’s such a diversity of sounds that there doesn’t seem like there is an overarching sound of Cincinnati,” Felix says. “Everyone is kind of doing their own thing and there’s so much good stuff and so many different genres.”