With Animals Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion being labeled as a potential album of the year in Janurary and their profile raising and following this up with gigs in high profile London venues such as the O2 Academy Brixton it is not surprising that their small home city of the Baltimore is becoming more recognized as a hotbed of musical creativity and moving beyond it’s association with so real it hurts drama The Wire. In the UK, Baltimore primarily has an association with the institutional setting of The Wire and not much else. Yet in the US, Baltimore has garnered national attention with it’s artists bringing forth a new wave of colourful psychedelic pop. Furthermore it seems like ‘blogs worth blogging about’ are already sighting Baltimore-based bands as a potential record of the year 2010 material just as Animal Collective were sighted as such early in 2009.
The fact that news of Dan Deacon’s cancelled US tour popped up on the NME website suggests an increasing awareness of the Baltimore-based artist in the UK. Deacon’s playful live shows have been getting more recognition to the point where he played a well publicized concert in London in June this year. His live shows often take place in the midst of the crowd and involve dance circles, human tunnels, over-the-top countdowns and other playful interactions with the crowd. This colourful aesthetic pervades the scene that’s emerging from Baltimore, and is in direct contradiction to the stereotypically bleak images of Baltimore that is in the consciousness of the British public.
These stereotypes are however being blown away by Deacon and Wham City, an art and music collective made up of Deacon’s dearest friends and most frequent collaborators. This attempt to spread joy and technicolour manifests itself quite prominently at shows as Deacon often hands out the lyrics sheet to his “national anthem” for Wham City and encourages mass singalongs:
There is a mountain of snow
Up past the big glen
We have a castle enclosed
There is a fountain
Out of the fountain flows gold
Into a huge hand
That hand’s a held by a bear
Who has a sick band
Of goats and cats and pigs and bats
With brooms and bats and wings and rats
And great big dogs like kings and queens
And everyone plays drums and sings
Of big sharks, sharp swords
Beast knees, bees lords
Sweet cakes, mace lakes
Although Wham City represents only the tip of the iceberg in Baltimore’s tangled scenes collective creativity, they are at forefront of this smorgasboard of pop culture, 15 members of which went on tour with Deacon as a whole in the US this summer forming a playful orchestra. Wham City even has it’s own festival, Whartscape which has been putting on regularly since 2006 during Balitmore’s Artscape art festival. The anti-festival turned oddball indie magnet covers four nights, two full days, and four venues, is backed by a list of sponsors, and brings in headliners whose individual payment guarantees could probably cover a month’s rent for everyone involved in organizing the fest combined.
This powerful and expanding artistic influence in the city of Baltimore occurred organically around 2004 as the Maryland Institute Colleage of Art started giving classes again. This in combination with large and cheap warehouse spaces in Baltimore, which has created the perfect environment for young people to have the space and time to create, such as Wham City’s below interpretation of Beauty and the Beast which came from finding cassette tapes of the soundtrack.
There is an argument to suggest that a gentrification cycle occurs because of these artistic movements towards cheap spaces that eventually develop an aesthetic of cool, which then drives up the prices of the properties and brings in more wealth forcing the artists to move elsewhere for cheaper rent. Although this is yet to happen with Baltimore, it can be suggested it has already taken place in Brooklyn, New York and Shoreditch in East London. In this way it might be suggested that the creative desires of young people might bring a greater sense of safety and affluence to the community that they creating within. This places a large amount of responsibility in the hands of those young people as to how their community will be shaped.
Here’s a video about whartscape:
Bellow are some myspace links to the Baltimore scene and some of the bands and collectives mentioned:
- Wham City
- Beach House
- Teen Girl Fantasy
- Pony Tail Tunes
- Ecstatic Sunshine
- White Williams