Oakland's Music Scene Is Pure 'Mayhem'

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Back Row L-R: Musician Alycia Lang and Awaken Café owner Cortt Dunlap; 2nd Row L-R: The Seshen’s Akasha Orr and Waterstrider’s Nate Salman; Front Row: Oaktown Indie Mayhem’s Sarah Sexton

Mayhem is a juried music competition, and despite the title, a friendly one among Oakland bands. “We feel that the scene is really vibrant, really on fire,” says Cortt Dunlap as we sit near Oakland City Hall. He owns Awaken Café, whose motto is “Bring people together. Launch movements.” Awaken co-produces the festival, with Oaktown Indie Mayhem, a booking and production company owned by Sarah Sexton.

“You know a lot of Oaklanders are very serious about buying local,” says Dunlap, "and we think people should be coming out to see local music.. and see how it great it is and see how it compares to something you may see at the Fox Theatre for $50 or a $100. Or see it here at a really small venue for under 10 bucks.”

“There’s like an energy here,” Sexton adds, “that is so powerful,” especially with so many young musicians priced out of San Francisco and moving to Oakland. “I hear a lot of people describe it as the next Brooklyn or the next Seattle or the next Austin.”

Check out The Seshen's music video for "Unravel" to get a taste of the kind of music that won this year's contest. Nominations are solicited from the public during the month of September and then reviewed by an all-star jury of Oakland musicians and music professionals. The Winner's Festival starts tonight and runs through Saturday. The Seshen won best in show.


The Seshen vocalist Akasha Orr says young bands like hers know Oakland’s history as a center for funk, hip-hop, and hyphy, but she doesn’t think there’s a dominant Oakland style these days. “You can’t ever look at one band,” Orr says, “and tell what kind of music they’re going to play based on what anybody in the band looks like. And I love that.”

But Orr and Nate Salman of Waterstrider think there is something linking these Oakland bands. Waterstrider’s “Redwood” won in the best song category. “There’s like a seed that travels between every band,” says Salman, "and that’s like a soulful dedication to the craft that comes out. It seems everything’s very heartfelt, everyone puts their heart and soul into their music.”

Mayhem 2014 runs Thursday, Nov. 13 through Saturday, Nov. 15 at Awaken Café in Oakland. For more information, visit awakencafe.com.