I recently got a chance to tag along to Baltimore’s annual Free Ball – a vogue dancing event that supports HIV awareness and testing among the city’s LGBT community. It’s a fun event that engages the Vogue community by hosting a free contest, but to enter you have to get tested, and there are a lot of various health resources on site, seems like a great and surprisingly “with it” city-funded event. For more information on Vogue dancing and this event, you can read this article about last year’s event.
I love this band. One of the brightest spots on the Maryland heavy music scene, and a bunch of really awesome dudes as well. It’s been super cool to watch their careers rise, and it’s totally deserved as their records rip (and each one is better and more nuanced than the last). Always fun to hang out and take photos for a couple of hours with this crew, and I think this set shows it.
Gabriel Deloach‘s documentary about Double Dagger, one of the all-time great Baltimore punk bands, is finally streaming on Amazon. I am biased since I am friends with everyone involved in this project, and contributed photography which appears in the film (and was even interviewed, though I unsurprisingly did not make the cut), but I truly think this is a great music doc and worth watching even if you are somehow going in not knowing who Double Dagger was. It’s full of insightful moments and plenty of great live footage from the band’s last tour, a tour I also documented:
- Double Dagger’s last CCAS show
- Double Dagger’s last DC show
- Double Dagger’s last NYC show
- Double Dagger’s last show
“An inside look at the Baltimore underground music scene through one of its most pivotal bands, Double Dagger, this intimate and entertaining portrait follows the band as they complete their final tour and album, tracing the history and growth of the band and of Baltimore’s underground music scene.”
Another catch-up post. This was a great show, two modern classic bands that I hadn’t ever seen before somehow (or, at least I don’t recall seeing them before, anyway!) Brujeria led the crowd in a Fuck Donal Trump chant and brought out a fake Trump on stage, pretty fun antics for the election season. Cattle Decapitation showed off their ever-broadening sound, they really impressed me live, and their newest record backs those live chops up.
Digging through the stacks on this Thanksgiving eve and finding lots of old gems I haven’t posted. Here are some photos of my pals PURE JUNK from last year, playing a show at the Ottobar. Perhaps opening for Fred & Toody of Dead Moon? This was a fun night. Look for more posts soon (I always say that, but for real this time).
Every year I try and post a “Best Of” the year. It’s a good exercise, looking through all your work for the previous year and can only help you going forward. When I started, I would get them done in late december or early January. The last few years… it’s been more like the middle of the next year. 2015’s list is no exception! I started with a big list of photos I liked, then narrowed it down to a smaller list of photos. Maybe next year these won’t show up until 2018. Here are my final picks for 2015, in no particular order:
Baltimore band Dope Body played their last show this past Saturday. I’ve been following their creative output for years, having met Andrew, the vocalist years ago at Sonar and quickly became a fan of their wild live performances, as well as their sound which developed from album to album. A great group of guys who managed to capture a specific and primal sound with their band and also build a devoted following in the area. Sad to see them go, excited to see what they all come up with next. Here are some of my favorite photos of the band I’ve taken over the years, both live shots as well as band photos. UPDATE: City Paper published these as a gallery!
The end of an era. RIP to one of Baltimore’s longest running bands. This was a great show at one of the city’s best DIY venues. Lots of feelings about this, but it was a really nice way for four awesome people to put a cap on eight years of creativity and musical expression. Wonderful to see so many old heads come out for this, what a good night. Go start your own band.
Also: I was going to add them to this post, but it’d be too much so check back tomorrow, when I’ll be posting a retrospective assortment of photos I’ve take over the band over the years.
Big Mouth is one of my absolute favorite Baltimore live bands, they hadn’t played a show for awhile before this one, so I was really stoked to go. I’ve been carrying my Fuji x100t lately, a smaller camera, and I took this show as an opportunity to try and shoot a show entirely with it. It was super challenging, but fun, and I think it came out pretty well.
Watain never disappoints. Always a great show, always a terrible smelling show. I had heard they wouldn’t be as vigorous with the blood and animal carcasses on this tour, but that proved to be wrong. The next day at Thanksgiving Dinner, someone asked me if I had spilled food on my jeans and I had to admit that it was congealed pig’s blood.
Finally got to see Mayhem!
Killer show for a good cause – helping a local member of the metal scene out with some extensive medical bills. Incantation and Old Lines were great this night, as was Putrisect, though my camera wasn’t cooperating for their set.
This week marked the relaunch of a Baltimore institution: the Ed Schrader Show! Long before Ed helmed Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, he was known for hosting the always-unpredictable Ed Schrader Show, a live talk show held at various spots around Baltimore. The show would present various notable (and often unsung) people of Baltimore and sitting them down for a chat with Ed in his unique interview style.
After taking some time to focus on music pursuits, this week Ed brought the show back to Metro Gallery and interviewed artist Dina Kelberman (check out her project I‘m Google) and rapper DDM (who is also in the stellar group Bond Street District), both long-time members of the creative scene here in Baltimore.
It was a great show, full of funny moments as well as heartfelt, insightful ones. I’ll add a podcast link here when it goes up- this is just the first in a monthly series of new shows, so you can come to Metro Gallery in march for next month’s taping.
Trying to catch up on posting photos after an autumnal lull due to life stuff and an ailing laptop – this is one of the more fun shows I’ve been to in awhile, it felt like a wild Baltimore rager that doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore. Dope Body shows in Baltimore are always fun as hell, but this one was an especially great night.
Constant audio innovators Matmos are releasing a new album, Ultimate Care II, that was completely sound-sourced from their washing machine. For the release, their label Thrill Jockey had me work with them to create a series of promotional portraits. I have worked with Drew and Martin before and they are (of course) extremely creative as well as easy to work with, so I was really excited about this shoot. We played with some of things and tried to create a mix of images that ranged from your normal “band photo” to ones that were a bit more oblique or playful. Pretty happy with how this came out, and can’t wait for the album to be out – it’s really good!
Earlier this summer I made the trip down to Carrboro, NC with noted Baltimoreans Kevin Sherry and Mark Brown to watch Future Islands play their celebratory 1000th show. I wrote the following for Noisey:
FUTURE ISLANDS BRING IT ON HOME TO NORTH CAROLINA FOR THEIR 1,000TH SHOW
Future Islands capped off their first 1,000 shows (and a tremendous year) with an all-fam celebration in Carrboro, NC this Sunday, appropriately dubbed FI1000. Not wanting to miss it, I packed into a car with a few other Baltimoreans and road tripped it down there. Though known primarily as a Baltimore band, the boys grew up in North Carolina and started the band there, so it felt right for this party to be down south.
Located at the open air Carrboro Town Commons, the show had kind of a block party or family reunion vibe with a lineup filled with old friends of the band. NC buddies like Valient Thorr and Lonnie Walker, along with Baltimore friend Dan Deacon and Ed Schraderâ€™s Music Beat. Add in Danny Brown and about 4,500 exuberant fans and thatâ€™s a recipe for quite a party.
The relaxed atmosphere was pretty perfect for a intimate fest like this, with the artists mingling with the (mostly young) crowd, who seemed appreciative of even the early bands on the bill. But once Danny Brown took the stage, the energy of the crowd spiked sharply, with people dancing exuberantly, grinding, chanting along. The stage fencing almost gave way at more than one point. I donâ€™t think the Carrboro Town Commons security staff had seen a show like this before.
Dan Deacon kept the energy high, performing a set mixed with both new tracks and old classics like Wham City and Crystal Cat. Iâ€™ve seen him do his audience participation parts more time than I can count, but it never ceases to amaze me how he can coax a huge crowd into seemingly anything. He also took time to speak about police violence and how it affects us all, the most somber moment of the night but delivered in a classic uplifting and reflective Deacon manner.
All the artists told stories about Future Islands, some dating back to even before they were a band. The anticipation was super high for them to take the stage at dusk. Always charismatic on stage, it was obvious how pleased the guys were to be playing in front of friends and family. Throughout, frontman Sam Herring kept the crowd engaged with anecdotes and stories (told in a Southern accent that grew throughout the night) about their time as a band, growing up in North Carolina, and about the other bands who played. It was a great set, full of both intimate moments and big stage moves – confetti and huge balloons kept the crowd bouncing. They played a packed set which of course included songs like Seasons and Tin Man, but also ranged to older, little heard songs like Pinocchio and New Autobahn, to the obvious pleasure of the crowd. They closed the show out with a promise to return to Town Commons when they hit 2000 shows, though I guess theyâ€™ll need a larger venue next time.
Music has a long history of association with activism and politics but traditionally when it comes to the â€˜music businessâ€™ it seems that artists with a political agenda have struggled to find the support that their more mainstream contemporaries receive. Local activist and musician Ryan Harvey seeks to help change that with his new endeavor, Firebrand Records, and to help achieve it, heâ€™s working with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine – one of the few truly mainstream bands who also promote an overtly political agenda. Through the label, they aim to support a roster of diverse, political musicians. I spoke with Harvey at local pub Liam Flynnâ€™s Ale House about the new label, how it came to be, and itâ€™s goals.
Harvey has been involved in activism since the late 90s and music for over a decade, starting with the Riot-Folk Collective, a national group that started in 2004. RFC was heavily involved in going to protests and in his words, â€œwe were singing songs and we felt the politics were very sharp because we were actually involved in what we were singing about, or if we werenâ€™t, we knew about it in a real way.â€ Around the same time Morello, guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, had started a folk project of his own under the name The Nightwatchman. â€œHe got in touch with us and we kind of had an email friendship, so we met him a year later and we started collaborating.â€
In 2006, Harveyâ€™s childhood babysitter was killed in Iraq, which led to him working with the group Iraq Veterans Against The War. â€œThe first thing we did with them we did this tour for a month through the rust belt where we had veterans and student antiwar activists speaking every night and I was playing musicâ€¦ for the the final event in Chicago i had Tom fly out and do two concerts. He was really happy to be part of it,â€ Harvey recalls.
After a decade playing folk punk for other activists and like-minded people, Harvey had already started to realize that he was seeing the same faces in every town when he toured, but working with Morello and other mainstream artists like Eddie Vedder brought access to new people. â€œIt became a strategy of ours, using mainstream musicians and the forums that theyâ€™re able to create through their music to connect with people who might agree with the ideas that we were talking about,â€ he says, noting that â€œThe underground is cool, you kind of have the moral high groundâ€¦ but on the other hand you’re like – â€˜man, there are a serious amount of people youâ€™re able to access when you are in that mainstream world.â€™â€
While touring in 2011, Harvey started meeting artists from around the world who were not satisfied with their reach and the idea for a different kind of record label started to coalesce, one that would be designed to help artists gain more attention (and sales) without compromising their politics or ideals. Last summer, he brought the idea to Morello, along with a list of artists who had already expressed interest and Morello was instantly on board. Firebrand was officially a go.
To facilitate their mission, Firebrand started with the standard (and much maligned) industry instrument, the record deal, and rethought it. â€œWe took the regular recording artist agreements and we hacked them to pieces, trying to craft an artist agreement that underground artists want and need.â€ Harvey and Morello strove to end up with a record contract that protects the artist, which is the opposite of a normal recording contract which generally exists to protect the label’s interests.
One of their first signings was Son of Nun (aka Kevin James), a long-time Baltimore-area conscious rapper, activist, and former public school teacher. I spoke to James about signing to the label, which marks a return to music for him after a several year hiatus. â€œI donâ€™t have a lot of experience with contracts and record labels, but what I’ve heard that is different about what we’re doing is the flexibility in terms of what the artist can and canâ€™t do.â€ A consistent theme when James speaks about Firebrand is that he refers to the label as â€œweâ€, which is not how most artists tend to reference their record labels.
When asked what he thinks Firebrand is doing differently, James breaks it down for me: â€œhonestly, the main thing that keeps me plugged in and makes me excited about doing this project is the fact that its a label thats explicitly about supporting music that’s trying to change the world. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s about for me. And the fact that the people that are leading the label are artists themselves and have been in this movement for years lends credibility and a lot of trust on my part to their behalf.â€ He adds with a chuckle â€œI definitely read the contract, too.â€œ
Since Harvey and Morello are activists as well as musicians, they are also aware that sometimes artists want to release music as part of current events. As Harvey explains, â€œsomeone might write a song about Baltimore Uprising – and they donâ€™t want to wait three weeks for a promotion plan and for emails back and forth with their management and whatever. They might just want to upload it overnight.â€ Firebrand allows their artists the flexibility to release music this way, which also acknowledges the changing ways people discover music in 2015.
Though the goal for Firebrand is to spread ideas and viewpoints through music, Harvey stresses that â€œwe are trying to be a very real record company.â€ They have contacts with artist management through Morelloâ€™s ties to the industry, and are working with Anti-Flag records for vinyl pressing and distribution, though Harvey predicts most sales will be digital, and any vinyl releases will have modest volume to start.
The labelâ€™s first release, a sampler entitled â€œA New World In Our Songsâ€, is available now via their web site as well as iTunes and Soundcloud. It has tracks from Harvey and Son of Nun (his track,â€Itâ€™s Like Thatâ€ is the bracing highlight of the album), as well other Firebrand artists like bellâ€™s roar, Lyka Till, Built For The Sea and the Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, who was arrested by the Egyptian government, tortured and eventually driven to take asylum in Sweden as a result of his music.
Hopefully, the kind of support Firebrand plans to offer will translate into more musical output reaching more ears, as the ultimate mission of the label is to help the ideas and perspectives of their artistâ€™s reach a broader audience. Harvey feels the labelâ€™s support could be instrumental: â€œUnderground musicians can make money on tour, typically- you make t-shirts, you make CDs, you go on tour, you have a good time, you eat and drink, but once you get home you have to go back to work. What if we could sell even a couple thousand albums a year through digital promotion for these artists? That could be thousands of dollars that they werenâ€™t seeing before. That could pay for your recording. That could fund a tour.â€