To verbalize a raison d'etre for Steel City Scene: Dead End World, his new compilation CD of Pittsburgh-based bands, 20/20 Proof zine founder Peter Divito needed look no further than our fair city's eponymous online directory. "According to Pittsburgh.net," Divito writes, " 'family values' are the number one reason to visit ... while 'fresh ideas' come in at a lowly number eight. 20/20 Proof strongly disagrees, and presents its argument in the form of Steel City Scene ..."
Argument? Shot across the bow, more likely. As the seemingly annual stream of local rock-band comps go, Steel City Scene runs like Jerome Bettis: Tell 'em -- with small talk, regular articles on the dying scene and the deafening silence of local-band radio -- that the music's washed up here, and Pittsburgh indies are gonna run you over with the gasface on.
"This shows that we've got all this quality music that, wherever you're from, if you listen to it, you're going to like it," says Divito. "I think people [elsewhere] don't look twice at Pittsburgh, but if it didn't say 'Pittsburgh comp' on it, and I played it for anybody -- people'd be really surprised that all these groups are from here."
Whether it's with snarl (Miroslav's spit-sung "Small Metal Statues") or snicker (My Sexiest Mistake's King Kong-esque "Me Llamo Caliente"), a soft word and a plucked guitar (Boca Chica's "Undertow"), or a cheap synth and a big beat (Harangue's "N'est Front Pas"), SCS is a declaration worth signing on to.
It's hard to like every track: While Jack can get with Two Sexy Beasts' instrumental half-stack-and-overdriven-synth blast, and Jill can dig Ennui's Keane-style triple-A songsterism, they only meet in the middle to dance to "Me Llamo Caliente." But there's a certain self-confidence present on SCS, a step in between not-taken-seriously and egomania, whereas other local artist compilations -- particularly those, like this one, of the young-rockist slant -- fall on one side or the other.
To Divito, that in-between phase is perhaps the most important one. If there's a defining Pittsburgh-scene aesthetic, Divito says, "It's less about business in Pittsburgh than a lot of places.
"A lot of bands you come across, if you ask them, 'What are your plans for this that and the other,' they'll all tell you, 'Oh, we're gonna blow up, just you watch -- we're gonna be huge.' People in Pittsburgh are satisfied to get people to listen to their music, maybe sell a couple of discs locally. Everyone just enjoys what they do."
The theory of these sorts of compilations -- one subscribed to by Divito -- is that with a good-sounding document of what's going on here currently, maybe we can see a little interest stirred up in the music centers of America -- say New York, Chicago. But while often the goal is a little short of domination, Divito, who plans on using his zine contacts with publicists and record labels to put SCS in front of some bigger names, sees things a little more modestly.
"There are bands on [Steel City Scene] that are way better than some stuff getting reviewed in pretty reputable places, like Filter and Pitchfork," says Divito. "If one out of the 19 bands on this disc gets any attention on a national scale, that would be [success]. But hopefully it'll get seen more as an annual review, because I think it's a great representation of what's going on here now."