There's no giant neon arrows pointing to the raddest of rad warehouse spaces in Baltimore. Smartly, the people who live in these spots know how to keep quiet. When they throw parties they try to keep everyone inside or on their way elsewhere, clearing the sidewalk with the passion of 1950s Irish New York cops. Sweaty students in Day-Glo tank tops and homemade sweatshirts cutting butts on the corner can still cause a stir with the authorities, despite the crime and trafficking that the city sees day and night. But if you spot a few roguish art-college escapees, you'll at least you know you're at the right place, since Baltimore's warehouses are quickly becoming the best place to dance, mosh, and sweat to an ever-expanding roster of bands that blur the line between punk and electronic, hard rock and performance art.
"We started Wham City about two years ago [when] several friends and I moved down to Baltimore after we finished college at [SUNY] Purchase," says the collective's Dan Deacon, on the phone from his tour bus in Georgia, and probably wearing the most retarded t-shirt you can imagine. "We moved to Baltimore because there was a lot of available real estate, and the art scene was always very unpretentious, we had found." These artistic pilgrims–not just musicians, but also a couple playwrights, a sculptor, and a painter–would eventually get the party started in Charm City. But not right away.
"We didn't know anyone so we didn't really do anything except sit in our house and break whatever items we brought with us from NY, and that got very boring," recalls Deacon. To break this destructive cycle, the crew christened their loft space Wham City and began hosting shows, musical and otherwise. The first Wham City event was a production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast; a number of stately theater and lecture nights followed, regularly mixed in with the balls-out shows the space has become known for. In turning their loft into a dual-use space–a limitless creative outlet/six-pack social club–Wham City quickly made nice with the locals, and it's been a fruitful love affair ever since.
"Because of our building's proximity to the [Maryland InstituteCollege of Art], people just started coming," explains Deacon. "Eventually it started to seem like there was a scene, and that we were one of the regular venues having shows and doing things."
MICA students and Baltimore natives alike gravitated to the freedom and energy of the space and its approach, which in turn encouraged a variety of similar endeavors.
"When I started school at MICA none of this was really going on," says Mark Brown, an art student and DJ/promoter who throws the Are We Not Men? parties. The nights are held at The Depot, one of the few scene spots that isn't a warehouse space; rather, it's a bar that only recently let go of its '90s layover gay-goth positioning. ("It used to be called 'The Creep-o,'" says Brown.) Now Brown books a cross-section of DJs, local bands, and even touring acts (including Matt & Kim and Baltimore's own Barr). "Things are interconnecting more and more," says Brown. "The dots have been connected between Wham City, Wildfire, and what we do at our party."
The Wildfire in question is the duo of Matt Papich of Ecstatic Sunshine and Devon Diamond, both MICA students. Together as Wildfire Wildfire, they promote shows, and release records like a Cex-produced mash-up/mixtape of Baltimore bands. "The warehouse situation in Baltimore definitely sprouted the scene," says Papich. "That's where [Ecstatic Sunshine] started playing. It's easy because you can just do it yourself, and everyone goes because they can all drink and it's cheaper than going to the bars. For us, it seemed like there was room for [Wildfire Wildfire] to book even more shows. No one else was going to do it."
The importance of cheap rent and the availability of warehouse spaces cannot be scoffed at–indeed, it's what keeps this scene fresh and fun. "There's more willingness to participate in the show and have fun," says Kevin O'Meara of the band Video Hippos. "People have more inhibitions in a public space. When you're in someone's home, people like to get crazy." One of O'Meara's contemporaries, Samuel N. Ortiz of Thrust Lab (a duo that can only be described as Paul Hardcastle raised on NES and Pizza Hut) concurs. "To me, it's kind of mysterious," he muses. "If you compare shows in Baltimore to shows elsewhere, people are really more willing to spazz out, go crazy, and get sweaty and get into it!"