Local progressive rock band, Gram Negative, will be performing in the 2013 Chengdu International Youth Music Festival July 25-31. The four-member group is made up of two Ahwatukee residents, guitarist Alex Sipes and drummer Chris Kontos, as well as by bassist and lead vocalist, Julian Weinstein, and Christian Merrell, who plays the keyboard.

All four members are current Arizona State students and are eager to share this opportunity with bands from other countries in hopes of building friendships and bonding over what has brought them together; a passion for music.

The festival, which first began in 2007, will be taking place this year in Chengdu, China, one of Phoenix’s sister cities, and bands will be hailing from countries like Austria, Germany, Belgium and South Korea to play for this year’s estimated 5,000-member audience. The bands performances will be divided between three outdoor evening galas and during their days off, they will participate in touring the Sichuan Province and learning about the rich Chinese culture. 

Members of Gram Negative opened their doors to give the Ahwatukee Foothills News a closer look at what it takes to prepare for such an important performance.

“The band practices a couple days a week and usually over six hours a day until late at night, at this point we are just focusing on really perfecting our songs that we have chosen for the performance,” Weinstein said.

The group’s small studio was complete with all of the band member’s equipment and with posters of bands like Metallica and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on the walls.

The band, who describe their musical genre as “progressive rock” explained what exactly this genre means, “Let’s put it this way, it is the genre that suits us best because it is a mix of rock, alternative rock, ballads, blues, and electronic music” Kontos said.

Gram Negative is not your typical band, each member has their own unique style that when meshed together, create a style of music that is typically not heard. Merrell contributes to the band’s electronic sound with his keyboard while Kontos adds the melodic beat with his drumming. Not to mention group leader, Sipes’, smooth guitar playing along with Weinstein’s vocals and bass playing.

This won’t be the first time some of the band members participate in a musical festival, in 2012, Sipes and Kontos participated in Divercities, an international music festival in Grenoble, France, for the Youth Ambassador Exchange Program (YAEP), while Weinstein participated in the YAEP in 2011 in Himeji, Japan. 

The band is looking forward to performing, as they are one of two bands coming from the United States to participate in the festival.

For more information on the Chengdu Music Festival and on the band’s performance, visit phoenixsistercities.org.

• Brenda Carrasco is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.

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