The New Paltz music scene is a living, breathing organism. It is fed by the creativity and soulfulness of the people who have chosen this corner of the mountain to call home, and its anthology has been honored and passed down from generation to generation since Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower.”
In honor of the music scene’s successful career, not to mention that of many alumni who were part of it, Gus Gustavo Sandi, an electronic DJ who played in the Hudson Valley-based duo The Kung-Fu Grip back in the 90s, put together a compilation album on Spotify called “New Paltz in the 90’s: A Loud Place.” The album highlights many of the other artists who played at Snug Harbor back in the day and continued making music post-college, including well-known bands like Fidoplankton, Como Zoo and Mearth.
“Back in those days, we were pretty much playing all the time,” said Sandi. “If it wasn’t in New Paltz, we’d get a gig down in the city somewhere, just drive down to the Village to play and drive back in the middle of the night. We used to live behind a beer distributor in the middle of town. We would throw these crazy parties with bonfires where anything went. It was a crazy spot.”
Sound familiar? It seems as though the New Paltz music scene hasn’t changed all that much, just the sounds and the names of the bands. Nowadays, the genre that frequents the back of Bacchus or the front of Snug’s fall into more of a soft-indie category, with beachy sounding guitar riffs, steady drum beats and romantically-poetic lyrics. If not original works, then Grateful Dead or Mac Demarco covers ring out to please the ears of the buzzed bar crowd. Back in the 90s, however, angsty lyrics layered over electronically-synthesized power chords, fast-paced drums and flannel was the norm for most late-night Saturday gigs in town. Whether it was the Cranberries-esque sound of the all-girl band Fidoplankton with their melancholic lyrics and enveloping, sultry wails or Jonas Grumby with his witty Ben Folds-like lyrics, the compilation perfectly captures the headbanging, boundary-pushing and experimental vibes of the 90’s in New Paltz.
“We toured with the jam band circuit, but we weren’t really a jam band,” said Martin Dosh, former drummer of Como Zoo. “There were a lot of guitar solos, but it was more angsty, like Frank Zappa met Aeorosmith or something like that. When we did covers, we did a lot of James Brown, Funkadelic, Modern Lovers and some early 90’s rap like A Tribe Called Quest. The thing that was special about the music scene was that even regardless of band genre, there was this camaraderie that existed between everyone who was a part of it. People liked each other. Everyone was very accepting of the music and all the bands would go to the other bands’ shows. It was a very supportive ecosystem.”
An ecosystem with roots that have now spread all across the globe. With many of the artists from that era still making music and touring to this day, it’s safe to say the uniqueness and unbelievable talent of the people that walk the streets of New Paltz follow them in their future. Even though Dosh is in the U.K. on tour, and Sandi is in Oakland, California working the underground electronic DJ scene, they and many other band members from the 90’s still keep in touch and work on projects together to this day.
“Most of us have stayed active playing either with each other or other projects and Mearth even reunited a few years back,” said Jim DeGrassi, former bass player for Mearth. “We all make our living outside of music, but the skills gained through performing, self promoting and networking have been useful to all of us in our professional lives.”
Be sure to check out “New Paltz in the 90’s: A Loud Place” on Spotify. It is an important part of New Paltz history, and a testament to what makes this quirky little town so special.