by Casey Welsch | video by Thomas Yim
Five years ago, a pizza-faced journalism major wrote a White Stripes review and a features editor liked it. A few weeks later that same scrawny kid had his first features assignment. A Lincoln-based band was putting on a brand new festival, and his instructions were simple: Cover it.
That ugly punk was me.
That band was Somasphere.
That event was the first Nexus Festival.
That was more than 500 music articles ago for me, more than 100 shows ago for Somasphere and five Nexus festivals ago. Two days ago, Somasphere played their last show.
I owe a lot to this band, and so does the entire state of Nebraska, even if they don't know it. This is for Somasphere.
The final show is in hours, and Andy Marker's girlfriend gets in a car wreck.
"She got T-Boned by some guy who ran a red light and that sent her into another car," says Marker, one of Somasphere's drummers. "She's thankfully fine, but the car got totaled and our dog, who was also in the car, ran away from the scene and is now missing."
Bands have had happier thoughts leading into a final show, but the four members of Somasphere don't seem too shaken.
"Had this happened on any other day, it would have probably made things pretty bad," Marker says. "But not today. Today can only end well."
That was Saturday, July 21, and the night ended with a packed-house Bourbon Theatre chanting their name, pleading for more music than a 2 a.m. noise ordinance can allow. Somasphere is ended, and Lincoln sent them out on a high note.
“We’re not breaking up for some sort of artistic differences,” Marker says. “We all started this band fresh out of college. We’re all close to our 30s now. So we’re just seeing some other horizons.”
Lincoln loved Somasphere on Saturday as it has always loved Somasphere. The band rapidly became a vital force in the city’s scene, and one of the most requested acts to get on a bill.
"What happened with Somasphere is that we all started playing and right away people were like, 'Please, play us more of your music,'" Marker says.
Demand was almost more than the band could supply.
"We had to write a bunch of songs really quick to keep up," says Brett Smith, guitarist and laptop jockey.
This trend would become a driving factor in Somasphere's career over the next five years. When people outright demand your music, as became the case, you have to deliver.
"You don't want to sit around too long wondering if your songs are good," says Jesse Hodges, the other drummer. "Being so rushed to create helped us like that."
Somasphere never missed a chance to carve out their own secure slice of the scene by always innovating their sound, always playing new stuff and always playing well, above all else.
"We wanted to play electronic music, and in 2006, there really wasn't much of that at all in Lincoln," says bassist and keyboardist Troy Lieberth. "And it surprises me that there still isn't another band in Lincoln that plays live electronic music. We figured someone would see us and think, 'Hey, I can do that,' but we're still waiting."
Waiting for imitators — they may have to wait a long time. The sound Somasphere ended up calling their own was just that: uniquely their own. Although certainly influenced by similarly set-up bands like Pnuma Trio and Sound Tribe Sector 9, only Somasphere sounded like Somasphere. An intensely rhythmic, groovy, spaced out, accessible yet deftly crafted sound.
People tend to notice quality, and Somasphere found themselves on a relatively meteoric rise to regional fame.
"That whole first year, literally every show we played was bigger than the last," Marker says. "There wasn't much discussion for where we were going, we just kept trying to keep up with people wanting us to play."
"We moved pretty fast from basements to big stages," Lieberth adds.
This rapid rise led to some pretty legendary shows for the band, including playing for crowds of thousands at Wakarusa, and opening for some of their idols.
"That first December we recorded an EP, then in January we got runner-up in a Wakarusa contest," Marker says. "The next April we opened for Bassnectar and Pnuma Trio. In a row.
"At that point we were just like, 'Whoa, we've been around for six months, and we're already opening for these great national acts?'"
Fate may have been kind to Somasphere over the years, but keeping a band together that long is usually not without some setbacks and strained relationships. Somasphere seems to have been able to avoid that, however, too.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we're all still friends," Smith says. "We've never had any huge disagreements."
"None of us are assholes, so we did it," Marker chimes in. His bandmates agree.
Still, however they were able to pull it off, it had to come to an end. Lincoln's electronic scene lost a great one, and all it has to remember them by is a few albums and some good dancing legs. And yet, even that doesn't ring true when talking about Somasphere. It's because of that band that there's even a noticeable scene in Lincoln to begin with.
"It's been incredible to see these guys where they came from playing at Box Awesome and just to watch that grow over the last five years, and also to see all the electronic music that came from there," says Justin Kadlec, one half of the Lincoln promoters Rad Kadillac. "I truly believe and I'm a very big fan of the fact that Somasphere is the reason why electronic music is as big as it is in Lincoln.
"What Somasphere did here is something a lot of people are going to look back at and say, 'Thank you.'"
It's not just promoters who realize this either. Even Somasphere's contemporaries in the scene acknowledge it.
"It's been great to see the band come along really being at the forefront of live music and electronic music in this state," says Benton Alexander, aka Bentone, aka one half of Lincoln-based dubstep duo BASSthoven. "They really challenged a lot of artists in a lot of ways, and really challenged the scene in a lot of ways. They really took it to the next level of providing a constant backdrop to the soundscape of Nebraska."
"They represent Lincoln music, Lincoln culture itself," says Travis Villanueva, aka Blac, aka the other half. "To pick an especially beautiful flower out of this awesome garden is bittersweet."
A bit poetic, perhaps, but Blac puts it correctly. Lincoln is fertile musical ground, especially in the exploding electronic scene. Somasphere planted that garden.
"We came into this with no pretention and no set plan," Marker says. "Then what we did just kind of fueled this scene, and now it's huge in Lincoln, not only because of us, but partially because we did this, and kept doing it.
"I think I can honestly say that this Lincoln scene, for better or for worse, was changed forever because we were in a band. That's pretty damn cool."
The members of Somasphere would like to thank the following people for the last six years:
Dustin Dohrman & HLN
Will from Chicago
Norm & Cam
Everybody in Lincoln
Afterthought: Whatever happened to the Nexus Festival?
Somasphere founded the popular Nexus electronic music festival with Jeremiah Moore at Box Awesome back in September 2007. There have been five of them in total, every year, like clockwork. But what’s going to happen to the festival now that Somasphere is no more?
The honest answer is Somasphere isn’t really sure.
“We aren't going to be playing at Nexus, but I can see us maybe curating it with our friends,” says Hodges.
“I hadn't really thought about it, actually,” says Smith.
“The last one was number five, and we all thought that might have been the last one, a good place to leave it off,” says Hodges. “But yeah, someone should keep doing it.”
Casey Welsch is a Hear Nebraska contributor. If Somasphere hadn't been a band, you wouldn't recognize his byline. Thank you, Somasphere.