Fierce vocals, tight chops and explosive energy helped the AbelsonTaylor band Hard To Swallow win the 5th annual Battle for Hope competition at the Cubby Bear on Thursday night.
The Battle for Hope is a live music competition between bands formed exclusively within the ranks of individual advertising agencies. Proceeds are donated to Chicago’s Off The Street Club, an organization dedicated to helping youths in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.
Playing a set that included Outkast’s party anthem “Hey Ya,” Foreigner’s arena ballad “Jukebox Hero” and Nathaniel Rateliff’s jailhouse stomper “SOB,” Hard To Swallow’s eight-member crew seemed to offer a little taste of everything for fans in the sold out crowd.
They were voted the best among a lineup that included bands from Accenture, FCB, Fjord, Havas and Cramer-Krasselt.
A panel of judges determined the winner by totaling points awarded in four categories. Musicianship and performance are each worth up to 15 points; audience reaction and “x-factor,” up to five.
Second place went to Cramer-Krasselt’s Angry Pickles, who won the battles in 2015 and 2016.
Guitarist Matt Slaughter played with the Pickles for both of their victorious sets while working as a digital producer for Cramer-Krasselt. Then he took a job at AbelsonTaylor and played with Hard To Swallow for their winning performance.
When asked if his career move was part of a larger scheme to secure consistent membership in championship agency bands, he denied it.
“I loved my former band mates,” he said. “I worked with them for five, six years. It’s good talent and good fun. I just miss them all.”
Angry Pickles’ guitarist Miles Jappa, a CK art director who wore a shiny secondhand gold female cheerleader outfit onstage Thursday night, congratulated Slaughter immediately after the victory.
“I feel like this probably is the best Battle of the Bands we’ve ever seen,” he said. “The entire crowd was absolutely pumping. Everyone killed it. I could not have asked for a better show.”
At the beginning of their set, the Pickles launched a medley that began with Kanye West’s “Heartless” sung through an auto tuner.
Jappa says that the digitally modified audio was meant to keep things fresh.
“Every year we try to bring something new,” he explained. “The singers sound great without an auto tuner, but it’s a fun little pedal.”
Deciding which songs to play is a crucial choice for any battle of the bands contest.
FCB’s Consolidated Feedback customized ACDC’s “Dirty Deeds” to include lyrics that reflect tasks performed by advertising professionals — “Shopper profiles, radio commercials. Teddy Guns! Done dirt cheap.”
Senior copywriter McCamie Cole said that the process helped him get to know coworkers who he does not normally encounter at the office.
“Our band is just a slice of everybody across every single aspect of advertising,” he says. “There’s a bond that happens onstage that will last a lifetime.”
Account supervisor Marisa Jaeckel, who sang lead vocals for the Havas agency band “Tap That Ads,” had a similar experience.
“We came about pretty randomly,” she said. “A group of people who play music rallied together to pull something off. It’s super interesting because every single member of the band is from a different department.”
Tap That Ads concluded their set with a righteous version of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
According to Digitas LBi vice president Sujal Patel, who founded the competition with coworkers Kris English and Simon Kissler, last year’s Battle raised $92,000 for Off The Street Club.
“Chicago is a great music town and a great advertising town, but it’s more than just a battle of the bands for advertising,” he explains. “We have sponsors like Magnetic, Swoon and Cubby Bear who participate because the funds go to a great cause.”
Check out ReelChicago’s Facebook photo album of the 2017 Battle for Hope here.