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Astoria band brings the soul in Queens music match

The Dirty Gems from Astoria performed their ballad, "Automatic Heart," during the Queens Battle of the Boroughs. Photo courtesy The Dirty Gems
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The beat goes on.

After facing off against four finalists, an Astoria-based band, The Dirty Gems, was voted to rep Queens in the annual Battle of the Boroughs music competition this summer.

Now in its fourth year, the Battle will feature super-talented performing artists and bands of all genres from the five boroughs, competing for the coveted grand prize at The Ultimate Battle event in June.

The grand prize: an exclusive concert at The Greene Space, with live video webcast; a professional, multi-track recording session; Tekserve package, including iPads; a professional photo shoot; a produced music video and, for the first time, a guest artist appearance at Amateur Night at The Apollo.

Earlier this month, the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, known as The Greene Space – New York Public Radio’s state-of-the-art open gathering place – exploded with electric excitement as the eclectic sounds of five finalist musical acts from Queens wowed an animated audience of 200 cheering spectators, who came to root for their borough and vote for their fave group or band. For several days following, online voters, who had viewed videos of the concert, also had the chance to cast their ballots.

“Queens came out in full force and the musical acts did not disappoint,” said Indira Etwaroo, head organizer and executive producer of The Greene Space. “Any of the musical acts would proudly represent Queens and greatly contribute to this musical series.”

The winner was announced on Monday with The Dirty Gems taking the top spot. As numero uno, the group will represent Queens in The Ultimate Battle on June 21 and compete against winners from four other semifinals - each one from a different borough.

These days, standing out in the crowd in a harshly competitive music industry is tougher than ever, especially for an up-and-coming band. But Gotham definitely took notice as Queens’ emerging arts and music scene – so vibrant and diverse – welcomed yet another inspiring addition.

“We’re absolutely over the moon to be representing Queens in the final battle. The audience’s response was amazing,” said Jack Goode, The Dirty Gems’ drummer.

“We took a huge risk performing a ballad at a competition. The judges commented on that bold move as well,” he said of their performance of “Automatic Heart.”

“The house was very quiet during the song so it was hard to tell if it was going over well, but the deafening cheer, as we played the final notes, was the best response we could’ve gotten.”

Calling the band’s music style “pop-rock-soul,” Goode said, “We sound like Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe … filtered through Jeff Beck, and blown up to Freddie Mercury grandiosity with more glitter.”

Of the six band members, four met at Hofstra University in Long Island, playing in jazz combos. Astoria resident Cam Underhill, who plays keyboards/synths, was among them.

Goode said the group loves performing live and connecting with an audience “by making you dance, or making you cry.”

“We always felt it’s our greatest strength. We’re a great band because we have that singular combination of technical ability and emotional resonance,” he said.

The “rag tag band of troubadours” is slated to take the stage at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan April 28 (www.highlineballroom.com). They are currently finishing up recording on their second EP, “Vuja De,” and the lead single, “Let Me Loose” is now available at: www.thedirtygems.bandcamp.com.

Battle organizers said that The Dirty Gems had faced strong caliber of musicianship and innovation in their four competitors.

“I always find that Queens seems to offer great musicians, but also a uniquely distinct quality in terms of musical timbre,” Etwaroo said. “I am always reminded of what it sounds like to walk down a New York City street.”

Representing the Latino community in Queens, Battle semifinalist Radio Jarocho was unable to get enough votes to move on to the final, but the group already has a following in the city. According to Astoria band member, Gabriel Guzman, who plays the jarana (a Mexican stringed instrument), the audience loved their popular song, “Café Café.”

Four of the five band members are Mexican, and one is from Colombia. They met in the streets of Corona.

“We play original music inspired by Son Jarocho, a folk style from Veracruz, Mexico. It’s very rhythmic, very intense and fun to play or listen to,” said Guzman. “We love the fact that we can see people enjoy what we do as much as we do.”

Radio Jarocho is scheduled to perform at Terraza 7 in Elmhurst Saturday.

IF YOU GO:

The Ultimate Battle

When: Fri., June 21, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: The Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR

44 Charlton St. (at Varick St.) in Manhattan

Tickets at: www.wnyc.org/thegreenespace

www.thegreenespace.org/battle

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