This weekend, I headed out to scenic Sparks, MD for a photoshoot with my friends in Baltimore metal band Putrisect. It was a great time, featuring classic suburban fun like sneaking into an abandoned building, drinking beer next to cars and being harassed by local teens. You can check out all the photos HERE and check out Putrisect’s tunes at their BANDCAMP PAGE. As always, get in touch if you need some band photos or portraits taken.
Paradox owner Wayne Davis posted today that Paradox, the legendary Baltimore nightclub and after-hours spot, will be closing in 2016. Sad to see it go but after 25+ years, I imagine Wayne is ready to move on to something new. I took the opportunity to assemble some just a few of the photos I’ve taken there over the years…
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 Schrader’s Music Beat. Add in Danny Brown and about 4,500 exuberant fans and that’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 don’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. I’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 they’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 ‘music business’ 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, he’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 Flynn’s Ale House about the new label, how it came to be, and it’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, “we 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 weren’t, we knew about it in a real way.” Around the same time Morello, guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, had started a folk project of his own under the name The Nightwatchman. “He got in touch with us and we kind of had an email friendship, so we met him a year later and we started collaborating.”
In 2006, Harvey’s childhood babysitter was killed in Iraq, which led to him working with the group Iraq Veterans Against The War. “The 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 music… 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,” 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. “It became a strategy of ours, using mainstream musicians and the forums that they’re able to create through their music to connect with people who might agree with the ideas that we were talking about,” he says, noting that “The underground is cool, you kind of have the moral high ground… but on the other hand you’re like – ‘man, there are a serious amount of people you’re able to access when you are in that mainstream world.’”
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. “We took the regular recording artist agreements and we hacked them to pieces, trying to craft an artist agreement that underground artists want and need.” 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. “I don’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 can’t do.” A consistent theme when James speaks about Firebrand is that he refers to the label as “we”, 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: “honestly, 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. That’s what it’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.” He adds with a chuckle “I definitely read the contract, too.“
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, “someone might write a song about Baltimore Uprising – and they don’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.” 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 “we are trying to be a very real record company.” They have contacts with artist management through Morello’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 label’s first release, a sampler entitled “A New World In Our Songs”, is available now via their web site as well as iTunes and Soundcloud. It has tracks from Harvey and Son of Nun (his track,”It’s Like That” is the bracing highlight of the album), as well other Firebrand artists like bell’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 artist’s reach a broader audience. Harvey feels the label’s support could be instrumental: “Underground 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 weren’t seeing before. That could pay for your recording. That could fund a tour.”
Shot UK rapper/wordsmith Kate Tempest for the Washington Post. Good show, was expected to not be too interested in her music but was pleasantly surprised by this one. Those are the best assignments- when you go in blind and find something cool that you didn’t expect.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a show at American, this was a really odd place to have a show, seemed like a glorified cafeteria, but it was a fun night all the same. Always love seeing the Repulsion dudes, and of course Pig Destroyer and Noisem are always great.
Laibach is a pretty weird band, one I never really expected to see live nor expected to actually be good, but this was a great show. I first heard of them from watching this video years ago, as part of the Wax Trax box set. It blew me away with how unlike just about anything else it was… their more recent material is less esoteric than that era of the band, but was really stoked to see this show.
Last minute assignment, really fun. I love shooting legendary artists like this. You’re always nervous they might not live up to their reputations, but this was a pretty great show – huge band, she was full of energy and joking with the crowd. Good times.
PACKED house, right after the curfew was over… it was great to see so many people having a great time at this. Also cool to see Domo Genesis play, the first time I ever saw and met him was on the very first Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All tour.
Finally catching up on some photos from before Baltimore Uprising… the Buzzcocks have always been great, since the first time I saw them in 99 or so with the Lunachicks in New Orleans, they always put on a great show… fun seeing them in a big room again after the more intimate Ottobar show last time.
Did a studio session at my Hampden studio with Baltimore recording artist Aldous Huxley aka AHUX, formerly known as Bigg Patch. Hit me up if you need photos for album art, promo, or the like.
Consistently great metal shows at Baltimore Soundstage. I had never seen either of these bands before. Yob was a band I’ve heard alot and enjoy, thought they might have been a “relaxed” band life before I saw them, but the life show was good. Made me want to crank the albums up when I got home. Enslaved is a band I’d always heard a lot about, but wasn’t super familiar with – they were great! Amazing stage presence, with little to no ‘kult’ stuff that can sometimes be a little much with European bands. They loved the crowd and played to the crowd (and the photographers) perfectly, really great performance.
This was a great show – Screaming Females are always amazing, and Downtown Boys have to be seen to be believed – so much energy. Post Pink is rapidly becoming a favorite local band as well. Great times all around!
Government Issue, the legendary DC hardcore band fronted by John Stabb, played a surprise show at the Ottobar recently. Pretty cool getting to see them play just blocks from my house, on a icy Sunday evening.
Great show, stacked line-up. Napalm never disappoints, though I was curious why Mitch Harris wasn’t touring with them. Hopefully that’s temporary, though Eric Burke filled in nicely. Voivod was really good and fun, though I am not a big fan of their later material, they played a bunch of classics… as did Exhumed, who even joked from stage that they would play the old material if the crowd didn’t object to a new song or two. It’s fun to see bands have a good attitude about the fans wanting to hear “the hits”. Iron Reagan, solid as always – Tony joked about how often he is at Soundstage in one band or another.
Found these photos of a Noisem practice from 2013 lurking on my photo drive, never posted before. This Baltimore metal band has come a LONG way since these were taken…
THE SOFT PINK TRUTH (aka Drew Daniel)
Two of the most interesting people making experimental music today performed to a packed Metro Gallery last week. Pharmakon’s two full-lengths, Abandon and last year’s Bestial Burden, both made it to close the top of my best of lists in their respective years. She has a way of making challenging music that easily fits into the realm of noise but also is very listenable in a way that most music from that genre is not. “Listenable” is probably not the best way to describe the hellish soundscapes she creates, yet they are extremely captivating records that seems to be able to cross over to metal listeners as well as avant-garde/experimental. I’ve seen her perform three times now and each performance she seems to bring in new elements and work with the crowd aspect more and more – at Metro Gallery, she wound her way through the crowd, getting her microphone snagged on people and furniture, at one point the audience had to struggle and pull on the microphone cable en masse as she ascended back onto the stage – it was pretty interesting to watch.
Drew Daniel (of Matmos fame)’s the Soft Pink Truth project flew under my radar for many years, but when he announced that his most recent record would be a series of Black Metal interpretations entitled Why Do the Heathen Rage?, I took notice. It’s a really odd record, idiosyncratic electronic/dance versions of classic black metal tracks. And, lest you think Daniel is making fun of the genre… well, he is, sort of, but it’s the loving sort of jibe that comes from a true fan who has encyclopedic knowledge of his source material. The record won lots of accolades, including “Best Thing Ever” from the City Paper, and has led to several pretty amazing live performances, the latest of which is the one pictured above. Really unique artist that I recommend you go see if you have a chance.
BUY PRINTS HERE (including a few from this show)
Scaled down a little this year, but still a blast! I was only able to make it to half of the 4 shows that comprised this year’s event but still managed to catch a bunch of great performances, see some homies, and dodge some fireworks at Haymaker. Seeing them in that small, smoke-filled room was really a surreal highlight of my show-going so far this year.