Area Codes

Area Codes: 515 – Des Moines, IA

Des Moines, Iowa is ostensibly one of those cities caught in the long shadow of another, in this case, Chicago, to the extent that a lot of people in Iowa are devout Cubs fans. But, thanks to a lot of grassroots things going on in Des Moines, that’s changing rather rapidly for a city of their size (about 580,000). Thanks to festivals like 80/35 — named for the intersecting Interstates I-80 and I-35 — and organizations like the Des Moines Music Coalition, more artists and bands are stopping to play shows in Des Moines instead of speeding along to another destination. The downtown area of Des Moines, once a seedy place, is enjoying a resurgence, and more people are staying or boomeranging back home. Marc Hogan, a music writer for Spin and Pitchfork and creator of the Des Noise music blog is one of those people who have done time in much larger scenes like Brooklyn or Chicago, but see Des Moines as an emerging fertile area for the arts.

“One of my very first nights in the city was a pre-party for the Des Moines’ second annual 80/35 Festival,” Hogan says. On the lineup that year: Public Enemy, Broken Social Scene, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Man Man, Cymbals Eat Guitars, among many others. So here I was in a new city, at my new local venue, the Vaudeville Mews. Local indie rock heroes the Poison Control Center were playing, and they totally blew me away. Not only were the songs catchy and kind of gnarled but triumphant, the crowd totally into it, but these guys were trying whatever they could to put on a fun show: doing the splits, playing guitar on their heads. Stephen Hyden at AV Club ranked PCC as his “Best Live Band” of 2011, so you know it’s not just local favoritism. And then, at the end of this show, my first real night in Des Moines, Poison Control Center covers Pavement’s ‘Two States’ with local resident Bob Nastanovich of Pavement on vocals (this is on Vimeo I think). It was a hell of an introduction to this town.”

“For music, there aren’t as many shows as in NYC, obviously, but they’re easy to get to, and you tend to know a lot of the people there,” Hogan says. “And most nights I’m the only music critic! There’s definitely a community — probably many communities, if you count the jam bands and whatever other scenes I’m not as up on. As for how I know all these people, I dunno, it’s just super easy once you’re out and about a lot. I e-mailed a few guys before moving here, and I got to know a couple by volunteering for 80/35 later on, but really just by hanging out and going to shows I was able to make a lot of great friends with similar interests. People are as nice as advertised here.”

Jill Haverkamp, who founded the marketing company On Pitch and is active in DMMC, moved home from Chicago and stuck. “During the first 80/35, I remember standing in the crowd during the Flaming Lips and thinking … I can’t leave this place! I was hooked. I continued to get involved in the music scene and was doing marketing for various promoters and venues. I soon realized that I didn’t need to move to L.A. or New York to fulfill my goal of working in music marketing. That’s when myself and another Des Moines Music Coaliton volunteer, Hillary Brown, launched a music, entertainment, and lifestyle marketing agency, On Pitch in March of 2010. I quit my full-time job one year later and have continued to work with a range of great music and entertainment related clients, all based in Des Moines.”

The scene is small, but Haverkamp considers that an asset. “One of the things I like most about the Des Moines music scene is the camaraderie between bands,” Haverkamp says. “Everyone is so supportive of one another’s projects. Musicians here are all in! You’ll find that many musicians are in multiple bands that are often completely different genres. This creates some pretty stellar “supergroups” that us local music fans really enjoy.”

Des Moines is certainly cheaper than more populous cities, but that’s just among one of its charms; Hogan also cites the fact that he can pretty much walk everywhere he wants to go, and people like Poison Control Center’s Patrick Tape Fleming have developed even more of a love for the city by going out on the road and experiencing other scenes.

“There’s a lack of self-consciousness here that I realize is precious and fleeting, but it’s still valuable to me,” Hogan says. “I want to share that, which is counterproductive in a way, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’m projecting, but there isn’t this crippling self-consciousness or fear of missing out. It’s not Brooklyn, and it’s not Portlandia. It’s ‘just’ Des Moines, and I think that’s maybe where we get the last laugh.”








The Autumn Project – “Of Memoriam”

Christopher The Conquered – “Insane Idiots”

Derek Lambert And The Prairie Fires – “The Woods”

The Envy Corps – “Make It Stop”

Gadema – “One Deep”

Mantis Pincers – “Further Spacequests II”

Mumford’s – “Father In The Sky”

Parlours – “I Dream Of Chicago”

Poison Control Center – “Torpedoes On A Tuesday”


Shit People From Des Moines Say


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