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Teenage fans literally were jumping up and down Saturday night at EMP Museum for a six-member Bothell band with a dreamy indie-pop sound and unusual mix of instruments.

As It Starts handily won semifinal round three of EMP’s Sound Off! battle of the bands at Level 3 auditorium, advancing to the finals of the 12th annual competition for 21-and-under bands March 2. It promises to be a spirited contest.

As It Starts was the last of four bands to perform at round three; the others were Vervex (from Bellingham), I For Eye (Gig Harbor) and SoccerMom (also from Bellingham). It was a talented bunch of contestants, each with its own cheering section.

Receiving some of the loudest applause of the evening, As It Starts performed a vibrant set that featured trombone and “wind piano” (with accordion-like sound), as well as guitar, bass, keyboards and drums.

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The band of students 17 to 19 years old was led by Alex Menne, a svelte, blond female singer with a flair for showmanship. At the close of the band’s energetic set, Menne leapt off the stage to join fans who were dancing as if on pogo sticks.

In the last 12 years, Sound Off! has featured more than a dozen notable bands, among them The Lonely Forest, Dyme Def, Schoolyard Heroes, The Lonely H and Tomten.

This year’s first-place winner will perform at Bumbershoot; and all finalists will receive studio time, radio airplay, gear and consultations with music-industry pros.

Saturday’s second-place winner was Vervex, which received high scores from the judges, but a relatively tepid response from the audience of mostly teens and their parents. The band’s buoyant harmonies recalled those of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes. Vervex’s second-place finish qualified the band as a possible “wild card” pick for the finals.

Though it didn’t win, I For Eye boasted singer Kierah Taylor, a vocal powerhouse and potential rising star on the local all-ages scene. Because of Taylor, I For Eye’s set was the sassiest of the evening.

SoccerMom’s sparkling indie-pop sound was danceable and fun, with loops, hints of steel drum and upbeat, expressive vocals. The band, which has drawn inspiration from such groups as Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, was also greeted by pogo-dancing fans.

Round three drew the largest, most animated crowd since the competition began Feb. 9.

Excitement is building for the finals, where As It Starts will join The Fame Riot (of Tacoma) and SHEBEAR (Puyallup). The fourth band, a “wild card” pick, will be announced Sunday night (Feb. 24) on 107.7 FM “The End” by radio personality Bryce, who is serving as the master of ceremonies for Sound Off!

Gene Stout:

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