World Beaters:

Natives of the New Dawn

by Matthew Chernus


Joe Fikany, guitar player for one of Detroit's funkiest rap/rock/soul hybrids, Natives of the New Dawn, made a phone call one morning after repeatedly hearing aa radio ad for a company offering success to local bands. Of course he made it with reservations and thoughts of stardom firmly in check, but that one early morning phone call ended up being one of the most important he may have ever made.

The phone call was to a company named Emergenza, which puts on showcases and "Battle of the Bands" competitions. Emergenza was hyping its upcoming International Showcase: a series of band competitions held throughout the states and cumulating in a big old battle in Rothenberg, Germany as part of the internationally-revered Taubertal Open Air Festival.

"We didn't really expect much out of it," Fikany candidly admits.

But the band entered the competition anyway, ponying up $70 to compete with 150 other Motor City artists. Having gigged around metro-Detroit with a ferocity often unseen in their genre of DJ-accompanied rock, Natives of the New Dawn were no strangers to the clubs that hosted the first three local rounds.

The Natives blew past the competition in all three rounds. First at Alvin's, then the Magic Stick, and finally, they moved on from the last of the local rounds at the Majestic to travel to the semi-finals in Boston, which took place in July where they once again surprised themselves by winning, and advancing to the finals in Germany this past August. Out of nearly 10,000 bands who entered the competition from around the world, Natives of the New Dawn took second place overall.

Before they ever got on a plane to fly overseas, Natives of the New Dawn were a band with high expectations. The band was born in the musician-filled town of Ferndale in 2003. Native's charismatic Emcee Vince Mann and DJ Goo had worked previously together on a hip-hop project and were anxious to move their music in a more experimental fashion. They recruited Ryan Coomer to play the upright bass (something rarely seen outside of the long-side burned rockabilly circuit), Tom Wachter on drums, Tony Nouhan on keyboards and Fikany on guitar (Nouhan and Fikany also share vocal duties).

Just a short time later they found themselves playing such high profile shows as the Vans Warped Tour and showcasing for big money labels like Epic and Arista. Still, even with such fast success, they never could have guessed a battle of the bands would lead them to playing in Germany... in front of nearly 10,000 people.

The road, or should we say flight, to Germany was not an easy one though. The airline the band was sent off on went on strike as they were in the airport and, like local hockey fans can attest, strikes mean nothing but trouble.

"We were stuck in London for, like, two days and we lost all of our equipment and luggage," Fikany says, just days after returning home to Detroit. "So we didn't have any clothes, guitars, or instruments while we were in Germany."

So, after arriving two days late and without their equipment and personal belongings, how did a band, traveling thousands of miles to play one show--and a really significant show at that, deal with the situation?

"We were rock and roll about it," says Fikany as if surprised he was asked. "We wore the same outfits for a week and we used whatever instruments we could get a hold of."

It's this type of attitude that brought the band smashing success while at the Emergenza showcase. After all of that hardship, Natives of the New Dawn went onstage and delivered their set of genre-bending rock (think De La Soul getting stoned with 311) to a very enthusiastic crowd. Once off stage they tried to stay cool and keep their heads on tight, but this proved difficult.

"We're not a cocky band," Fikany says. "But, right after our set, everyone was coming up to us and saying, 'Oh you guys totally won!' We stuck out from the other bands there. We had the most people watching us, the most people going crazy. All of the judges were coming up to us saying, 'It's in the bag.'"

In the bag it was, almost. The band came in second place, losing by a mere two votes.

Still there's not a hint of bitterness in Fikany's voice as he recounts the story.

"The band that won, they were great too," he says. "And we won so many different prizes." Among them another live showcase in Germany at a time yet to be named.

Natives also scored high in three other categories. They took home first place awards for "Best Singer," "Best Performance" and "Best Guitar Arrangement." No one was laughing at these Detroit kids; no matter how bad their clothes smelled at the end of the week.

"Beside from the placement, it was the connections we made from being in the festival, promoters worldwide and DJs," Fikany continues. "So we were totally content with number two in the world."

They are now back home, and they'll continue playing every weekend with or without their still-missing gear (some of which has been returned although the band is still waiting on the entire bulk to get home to them).

"It's been a pretty hardcore this summer," Fikany says. "We've been on Warped Tour and we've done 60 shows."

Next on their agenda is releasing a live CD, recorded right here in Detroit, but, until then, Natives of the New Dawn can be content knowing that they overcame enormous odds at Emergenza and the rest of us can be content knowing that the second best band in the world resides in Ferndale, Michigan--unless, of course, we demand a recount.

For more info on the Natives, check out this site. Send comments to

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