Record-label A&R execs devote their days to appraising usually excruciating demo tapes and their nights prowling the clubs, searching for that hoped-for Next Big Thing and often spending their careers without once striking platinum. But that future No. 1 hit each so desperately seeks may already be receiving radio play – by a trio of ex-students from Loyola Marymount University. Every Friday evening on Loyola station KXLU (88.9 FM), Fred Kiko, Tony Kiewel and Chad Misner host Demolisten, a well-researched hour of unsigned artists that's been airing with fairly little fanfare since the mid-'80s.
Throughout that time, Demolisten DJs have sifted through thousands of lovingly prepared demo cassettes, quietly uncovering such local now-icons as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N' Roses and Jane's Addiction, plus a few non-Angeleno surprises (Jesus & Mary Chain, Biohazard). The program was originally launched in 1984 by then-DJ Agent Ava, changing hands a few times before finally landing in Kiko's lap in 1993. Misner came aboard a year later, and Kiewel a year after that. All three hosts have since officially left the hallowed halls of Loyola, now making a weekly pilgrimage back to school to do the show.
Since the installation of this most recent team of DJs, Demolisten has expanded almost into its own cottage industry. In addition to their weekly hour on air, Kiko, Kiewel and Misner have produced a pair of compilation records that not only benefit the station with their proceeds, but allow listeners the chance to purchase the otherwise commercially unavailable cream of the demo crop (plus in-studio performances by favorite Demolisten artists). The most recent, Demolisten: Volume 2 (No Life), features tracks by 22 artists ranging from the Grammy-winning Beck to relative unknowns like Sick Little Monkey and Sloth. There's also a monthly live-music showcase at Moguls, where the three DJs assemble bills of musicians who got their start on the show, whether they're still in their “demo” phase or have since moved on to major-label deals.
“Los Angeles, being the heart of entertainment and media, is so oversaturated,” says Kiewel. “There're so many touring acts that come through here; any night of the week, you can have your pick. So a lot of local bands find it really difficult to get any kind of gigs, and certainly not any radio exposure – not even on KXLU.”
The three are constantly hunting for new unsigned acts, as well as a wide variety of recordings to keep the show interesting. “We get demos from all over the place,” says Kiko, listing sources from local club bookers to overwhelmed record labels. But tapes and CDs sent directly to their show always get top priority, and they make sure to give a listen to every single one that finds its way into their mailbox. “At the very least,” says Kiewel, “we know that somebody out there really wants us to hear this, and they spent God knows how many hours recording it in their garage, and they spent $1.50 to mail it to us. If nobody else does, then we hear it, at least once.”
That means the trio spends considerable time evaluating tapes, plowing through up to 30 submissions per week to find the 10 percent or so that actually make it onto the air. And, though it can make the small KXLU studio a bit crowded, having three Demolisteners with divergent tastes is an advantage for hopeful tape submitters. “It gives bands more of a chance of getting past the personal-preference thing,” says Kiewel, noting that if he doesn't like something himself, he'll often pass it on to one of the others.
Even so, most submissions either don't fit the musical genres Demolisten covers (KXLU-type fare such as indie rock, rap, punk, electronic or anything “off the beaten track,” as Kiko puts it; hair bands are unequivocally out) or they just don't pass muster. “Most of [the tapes] end up in the garbage,” admits Kiewel. “It's the sad, bitter truth.”
Eventually, Kiko says, they'd like to increase the variety of submissions by syndicating the program to other stations nationwide while keeping the basic Demolisten ethos. “I think the main purpose of Demolisten,” says Kiko, “is for me, Tony and Chad to have a good time. And hopefully help out some bands.”
Two pieces of demo-making advice from Demolisten:
1. Always put your phone number on the tape itself. “That's the number-one mistake,” says Kiewel. “It never ceases to amaze me. They'll put their number on all the pamphlets and crap that gets thrown away, and then you find a tape that you really like and there's no number on it. That sucks.”
2. Keep 'em short. “Just three or four songs,” says Kiko. “If somebody wants more, they'll call and ask for it. And don't overproduce the tape.”
Demolisten airs every Friday, 7-8 p.m., on 88.9 FM. Demos should be sent to: KXLU, Attn.: Demolisten, 7900 Loyola Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045.
The next Demolisten Night at Moguls is Wednesday, March 4, and features Gasp, Nebula and 16.