Living in Brooklyn, it’s easy to develop a tunnel-vision of sorts. It’s not that we become unaware that the same music happening here is happening everywhere; many of those bands turn up sooner or later to play out here, after all. The trap is to start assuming that everyone comes here, that this is the nexus for underground rock and punk, when really New York and its boroughs are no more than a single (albeit significant) point in a much larger network. And so, it is always good to get out of the city for a weekend and delve into someone else’s scene. Hence: a trip to Baltimore last weekend for Artscape and, more importantly, its most impressive satellite, Whartscape.
Perhaps by making these comparisons at all, I’m only reinforcing some kind of Brooklyn-centric worldview, but it seems especially apt here. Brooklyn sent several bands down and many of the Baltimore locals involved are a habitual presence up here. I’m fairly certain that sample-punk duo the Death Set are currently B-more based, but they must be driving up to NYC virtually every weekend these days and now list Brooklyn as a co-location on their myspace (they’ll be at South Street Seaport free with Suicide this Friday, in fact). And furthermore, Baltimore seemed to have all the amenities of my favorite Brooklyn venues: derelict industrial loft spaces, perhaps overboard crowds, visual arts cross-pollination and all. They even seem to have their own answer to Pabst and other cheap-drink standards: National Bohemian, whose winking-Pringles-man logo leers from billboards everywhere. I’m sure I’m getting a limited angle by coming for an art scene weekend, but it was like being right at home, except without a neighboring Manhattan to drive up prices and create demand for high-rise condos. And at only a 3.5 hour bus ride away, the travel convenience wasn’t even all that different from living way the hell down the L. To summarize: Baltimore, I could get used to you.
Alright, alright, you’re here because you wanted to hear about Whartscape itself, no doubt. The vital stats here are that Whartscape began last year to offer a more d.i.y. alternative for crowds in town for the city’s yearly Artscape festival. The “wh” comes from Wham City, whose best-known member, electro-destructor Dan Deacon, pretty much assembled last
year’s gig. This year, the show was a collaborative effort between Wham City (it’s actually a house, and an art collective) and promotion team/label Wildfire Wildfire, who booked the out-of-towners, launched a stylish flier campaign, and have produced even more stylish magic marker drawings of many of the bands involved. And it was a success in the simplest sense: Whartscape completely sold out both nights.
It was also a success in the more important sense: the bands played consistently solid sets, the sound was decent, the audiences danced, fist-pumped, and yelled, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was pleased with the curation: though mostly attached to a similar general scene, there was actually quite a bit of variety between the bands, from the sheets of static and guitar drone laid out by Growing upon my arrival Friday, through punk and pop and psych to Spank Rock’s closing hip-hop danceparty at 2:00 am Sunday morning. Two rotating stages kept the action continuous throughout both nights, with the next band setting up during each set. The event didn’t constrain itself too music, either: Saturday featured an unexpected appearance by a dance troupe and Friday fitted film screenings into its rotation. Specifically, junk culture and glorious/horrible blue-screen abuses from Wham City resident Jimmy Joe Roche and a charming hand-animated music video about not squishing spiders from Gareth Davis.