It’s not easy to grab the attention of jaded, badge-sporting industry types attending South By Southwest.
The annual music conference in Austin is a non-stop party for attendees, and a grind for fledgling bands hoping to be noticed amid endless drafts swilled under the hot Texas sun.
In 2016 however, Diet Cig, a virtually unknown tandem, pulled ears courtesy of its personal, humorous and poignant single “Sixteen.”
The catchy but quirky track was inspired by vocalist-guitarist Alex Luciano’s experience.
“The song is about a problem we have today, which is slut shaming,” she said by phone from Wyoming. “It’s also about the double standard for boys and girls. If a girl sleeps with a guy, she’s a slut. If a boy sleeps with a girl, he’s cool. When I was 16, I was growing up in a small town outside of Albany and I broke up with a boy, and afterward I was slut shamed. It felt bad at the time, but I got a song out of it.”
“Sixteen” helped Diet Cig get noticed at South By and beyond, including a stop Wednesday (9/26) at Gabe’s in Iowa City.
It was evident that Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman have a way with crafting irreverent and rebellious songs. “Swear I’m Good at This” is filled with rousing, wry tunes.
“We write the way we want to write,” Luciano said. “There is nothing calculated about what we do. We just go for it. Nothing is off-limits. We have songs that are funny, and I love that, because humor is a great coping mechanism.”
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The duo’s material comes from an honest place. Luciano writes from experience. The brief but intense “Bite Back” deals with anxiety. “There’s something nice knowing everyone feels helpless,” Luciano belts out.
“Everyone is flawed,” she said. “Not every young person realizes that. So many people suffer from anxiety. We all have our issues. We just have to find a way to cope with things.”
“Apricots” is a nice change-up. It’s a pretty acoustic song that packs a punch.
“We don’t want to just make one type of music,” Luciano said. “We’re eclectic. It’s so much more interesting that way.”
“Tummy Ache” is a plea for gender rights and equal pay.
It won’t be long before Diet Cig starts writing and recording.
“We’re listening to a lot of pop music and indie rock from this century,” Luciano said. “We’ll see what kind of impact that has on us when we start writing.”
It’s been nearly two years since Diet Cig made its debut at South By Southwest.
“So much has changed,” Luciano said. “Any time you play South By Southwest, it’s a blur. When we played there, no one knew our songs. We had to try and get their attention. That wasn’t that long ago, and it’s so different and cool when we play and people are singing along to the songs like ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Tummy Ache.’ We couldn’t be happier with where we are now.”
WHAT: Diet Cig, with Illuminati Hotties and Hot Tang opening
WHERE: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday (9/26)
TICKETS: $12 advance, $15 day of show, Icgabes.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Dietcig.com