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Punk rock pay dirt 

Cartel leads Atlanta bands on Warped Tour

The best way to experience Cartel is to see the band live. During a recent in-store concert at Criminal Records, the Atlanta band's visceral intensity proved why it won a prime slot on this year's Vans Warped Tour.

"We'll be hanging out afterwards," guitarist/vocalist Will Pugh told the audience, which numbered more than 100 teenagers, punks and industry folk, after wrapping up a few punchy numbers. His announcement generated squeals of delight from several girls in the audience. "Yeah! We can get to know each other!" he added self-deprecatingly.

Then Pugh nicked his nose against his microphone, inadvertently giving himself a small electric shock. "Ouch!" he said, wincing. "Don't you hate it when that happens?"

After that near-disaster, Cartel stopped talking to do what it does best: play music. Cartel cranked through "Runaway," "Burn This City," "Say Anything (Else)" and "Honestly" before disassembling. Pugh's bandmates -- guitarists Joseph Pepper and Nic Hudson, drummer Kevin Sanders, and bassist Ryan Roberts -- headed into Aurora Coffee to sign CDs and hang out. Meanwhile, Pugh walked behind the Criminal Records building to do some interviews.

A former graphic design student at Georgia State University, the 22-year-old Pugh left school to pursue music full time. Since Cartel's second album, Chroma, dropped in September 2005, the band has toured around the country nonstop.

"It's pretty crazy," says Pugh. "Our shows across the country are getting bigger. ... We're the same band, and it's the same songs since a year ago, when there were 20 people at the show. Now it's three, four, 500, up to a 1,000 people." The group's heavy road grind impressed Epic Records so much it poached Cartel from the smaller Militia Group and rereleased Chroma this month.

This is the third year Cartel has played on the Warped Tour, but only the first time it gets to stay on the entire journey. "We did four dates last year, including the Atlanta date, and did the Atlanta date the year before that," Pugh says, adding that you can see Cartel on the Ernie Ball Stage. "It's kind of a big jump in our progress."

"WE'RE JUST BESIDE OURSELVES," says frontman Jonathan Baker of Second Shift. Baker's group, along with fellow Atlantans Last November, Family Force 5, Celeste and Vaya, are four of the 200 bands (chosen from 11,000 applicants) competing in the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest. Each Warped Tour stop features several unsigned groups alongside established artists like Cartel on the Ernie Ball Stage (which is separate from the main stage). After the tour ends, a few finalists will play a showcase in Los Angeles for dozens of industry reps.

"We didn't ever expect to get the nod to make that happen," says Baker of Second Shift's berth. "When you're looking at 11,000 bands that are submitting to this thing, it's never in the back of your mind, like, 'I have a really good chance at this.'"

Second Shift toured the Southeast and played local festivals like Music Midtown, but the Warped Tour date is easily its biggest to date. You can cheer them on Wed., June 28, at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre.

CD RELEASES AND ANNIVERSARIES: R&B sirens Slick & Rose celebrate their mix tape Winter Spells, Vol. 1 with a Thurs., June 22, listening session at the Royal. DJ Rasta Root spins during the night. ... Jam band the Codetalkers performs tracks from its Now disc during a Fri., June 23, concert at Smith's Olde Bar. Jamie McLean and Animal Liberation Orchestra open. ... Heavy rock nightclub the Darkside celebrates its first anniversary with two days of shows. Fri., June 23, includes Bullhead Clap, Indorphine and Moses Jones. Sat., June 24, features Lowdown, 7 Day Sun, Colossick, Threshold-- and Dear Enemy. ... Screamo band With Horses in Her Eyes brings its Prologue EP into the world with a Mon., June 26, show at the Shop. Flames, Over Broadway, and Behold a Pale Horse open. ... Rock group Bon Vivants celebrate their 10-inch Soul Action EP with a Wed., June 28, gig at the Earl. Marshall Avett and Jude Stevens also perform.

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