The Music Scene
Published: October 10, 2011
Among the benefits of the post-hype Baltimore music explosion are the sheer possibilities for exploration. You will find the usual sonic game trails in the city very easily, whether that’s the Copy Cat building, Rams Head Live, Sonar, or Red Maple, but the opportunities for finding and challenging yourself with something new are awesome. The city will turn a music fan into a music obsessive at the drop of a beat.
It’s perhaps a bit of a cliché to say that Baltimore is a DIY city, but it’s too true to not acknowledge. Look no further than Baltimore’s signature sound, club music. While Baltimore club exploded well past the city’s boundaries many years ago, it started out in a small handful of clubs as a decidedly low-tech, raw style that DJs could whip up on the fly. No matter that you’ll now find local innovator Blaqstarr in Los Angeles doing production work for big names like Switch and M.I.A., you’ll still find young DJs blowing up systems from the Metro Gallery to the corner bar.
On the subject of history, the city’s musical roots run deep. The Orioles and the Cardinals once owned doo-wop; city native Billie Holiday once graced clubs up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, at one time a cultural nexus of the city. Both Frank Zappa and Philip Glass trace their roots back to Baltimore. Tori Amos got booted from Baltimore’s Peabody Preparatory, the pre-collegiate arm of the Peabody Institute, one of the best music schools in the country, whose attendees you’ll hear in everything from local chamber ensembles to the rap group Soul Cannon.
Every week, City Paper tries to give you the best overview possible of what’s going on in Baltimore musically, but a primer is in order.
What to Hear
Scottie B: One of Baltimore club’s founders and still one of its most active practitioners.
Beach House: Currently one of Baltimore’s biggest musical exports, the duo is a source of excellent dream-state pop music.
Boat Water: Folk-punk rules many a heart in Baltimore, and Boat Water does most excellent things with it.
Celebration: Soulful, ornate local indie-rock institution. Releases music free online in the form of a tarot.
Co La: The new project of Ecstatic Sunshine’s Matt Papich. A fine source of dubbed-out future reggae.
Double Dagger: Brutally sincere, artful hardcore band that’s become one of the city’s most powerful artists.
Dan Deacon: Not just the artist with the hyper-kinetic, electronic pop music, but a leader of Baltimore’s new-school community as well.
DJ Excel: Excel, an old-school Baltimore club producer/DJ, now runs the Bmore Originals record label and has lately been making strides for both unification and organization in the rap/club community.
Dope Body: Punk this cathartic and fuck-all and instrumentation this creative and artful are seldom found in the same room together, let alone the same band.
E Major: The center of the Under Sound Music family and an all-around ace MC.
Future Islands: Bouncy synth-pop band that is, hands down, one of Baltimore’s best live experiences.
Height With Friends: Somewhere between hip-hop and spoken-word indie-pop, Height With Friends makes buoyant and down-to-earth music.
Ineveryroom: Irritating name aside, a good source of vibed-out electronic-centric psychscapes.
King Tutt: A young producer making future-foward electro/Baltimore club hybrids finally starting to garner some attention.
Lafayette Gilchrist: Jazz pianist who bridges Baltimore’s rock and jazz scenes with a fire-breathing take on traditional jazz.
Lands and Peoples: A local trio following in Animal Collective’s footsteps, but not too closely.
Rod Lee: You will hear his classic Baltimore club lament, “Dance My Pain Away,” at a party or club somewhere very soon.
Matmos: Baltimore is, frankly, the only city weird enough to contain the out-there electronic eclecticism of this former San Francisco big-name duo.
Misery Index: Baltimore’s death-metal ambassador to the world.
Joe Nice: Baltimore’s dubstep ambassador to the world.
Ultra Naté: Baltimore’s house diva and maven of the Deep Sugar party.
Pansori: Screamo plus violin plus postrock melancholy/anxiety equals a terribly effective and promising band.
Pulling Teeth: A city sludgecore standard made even more lethal with an extreme-metal bite.
Rapdragons: A recent entry into Baltimore’s gallery-rap scene, Rapdragons sample liberally from the city’s indieground community, have a quick wit, and boast an impressive flow.
Rome Cee: Another member of the Under Sound family, Rome Cee’s come up from the world of street rap to release sharp, poignant rhymes with a powerful maturity.
Rye Rye: Known outside the city as M.I.A.’s protégé, tiny Rye Rye is a rapping, chanting, dancing powerhouse.
Say Wut: Of the city’s workhorse Baltimore club DJs, Say Wut is at the top of the game.
Secret Mountains: A most-lovely folk-pop ensemble with a touch of things more left field.
Sick Sick Birds: Excellent pop-punk music from Baltimore old-schoolers.
Small Sur: Immeasurably pretty, understated folk music more befitting of the Pacific Northwest than Baltimore’s grit.
Caleb Stine: Country/folk songwriter who seems to play constantly.
Weekends: Lo-fi guitar-pop duo waiting to break out of Baltimore.
Wye Oak: Unflaggingly pretty dream-pop duo named after Maryland’s state tree.
Where to hear
An die Musik
409 N. Charles St., (410) 385-2638, andiemusiklive.com
Intimate, wood-floored room in midtown specializing in jazz and some classical.
124 Market Place, baltimoresoundstage.com
A new space downtown booking biggish club acts.
The Bell Foundry
1539 N. Calvert St.
A DIY space with an epic bomb-shelter-y basement focused heavily on punk shows, with some performing arts mixed in.
20 S. Caton Ave., (410) 566-7086, catoncastle.com
A real-deal, intimate-as-they-come jazz club located inconspicuously behind a packaged-goods store in West Baltimore.
Charm City Art Space
1729 Maryland Ave., ccspace.org
The heart and soul of Baltimore’s punk community. A nonprofit space located in a Station North garage, with numerous shows weekly, mostly on the early side.
2623 Washington Blvd., (410) 644-9668
A smallish hip-hop-centered club—one of the only proper venues to hear hip-hop in the city.
The Copy Cat
A large warehouse space with a steady rotation of illicit venues home to a cavalcade of emerging Baltimore underground music. You can find the address yourself.
10 E. Cross St., (410) 625-2000, the8x10.com
A long-lived tiny rectangle of a venue heavy on local and touring jam bands. You’ll hear it referred to as the Funk Box at least once.
830 Guilford Ave., (410) 625-9787, the5seasons.com
Baltimore’s ground zero for local hip-hop, hosting numerous open mics and MC competitions.
The Get Down
701 S. Bond St., (443) 708-3564, getdownbaltimore.com
Once a rock club called Fletcher’s, the Get Down re-emerged in the last year with a posh dance-club facelift.
The H&H Building
405 W. Franklin St.
The H&H Building houses both the Floristree, Baltimore’s par exemplar of an underground/DIY space, and a space known as the 5th Dimension, another cross-pollination zone for punk and more left-field experimental sorts of sounds.
133 W. North Ave., (410) 545-0444, joesquared.com
Featuring pizza, of course, but also a nightly rotation of free, mostly local music from jazz to weekly dance party the Dig.
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral St., (410) 783-8000, bsomusic.org
This state-of-the-art concert venue is home to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Accommodates other classical performances, large pop acts, and stage events.
Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, (410) 715-5550, merriweathermusic.com
This is actually a place, not just an album title. A large amphitheater a half-hour southwest of Baltimore, it hosts the very big names: the Rock the Bells and Warped tours, Phish, Allman Brothers Band, etc.
2549 N. Howard St., (410) 662-0069, theottobar.com
Baltimore’s classic indie-rock club. A downstairs space with an upstairs bar that regularly features DJs and dirt-cheap drinks. Recent concert highlights: Animal Collective, Sleigh Bells, Dan Deacon.
1310 Russell St., thedox.com
A strictly dance venue in a warehouse district of South Baltimore. Primarily Baltimore club and house music. Home to Ultra Naté’s stellar Deep Sugar party.
Rams Head Live
20 Market Place, (410) 244-1131, ramsheadlive.com
Very large venue embedded in a downtown nightlife theme park. Books big-name acts such as of Montreal, Decemberists, the Dead Weather, etc.
512 York Road, Towson, (410) 337-7178, rechertheatre.com
Suburban venue heavy on high school punk and emo performances with an occasional big-name indie (Hold Steady, say) act.
930 N. Charles St., (410) 547-0149, 930redmaple.com
Mount Vernon club exuding posh coolness, though it seems to have made efforts in recent years at broadening its base with various dance nights.
Red Room at Normal’s Books and Records
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, redroom.org
This bookstore back room hosts regular improv/experimental jams from local left-field royalty and touring musicians.
218 E. Lexington St., (410) 659-4130, sidebartavern.com
Its literal underground location fits its steady schedule of punk, garage, and other rock sounds.
407 E. Saratoga St., (410) 783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com
A cavernous former parking garage down the block from City Hall that shifts modes between rock, dance, metal, punk, and indie like it ain’t no thing. One of the best places—arguably the only—to hear national hip-hop acts, courtesy of enthusiastic promoters such as Busy Bee. Also home to the massive Maryland Death Fest.
407 E. Saratoga St., (410) 783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com
Small rock club in a back room of Sonar, accessible by a separate alleyway door. Specializes in metal, punk, and indie. The Head also has cheapest booze.
The Windup Space
12 W. North Ave., thewindupspace.com
A large, airy bar in the Station North Arts District that’s become a nexus for the city’s booming avant-garde jazz community.
Where to Buy
3620 Falls Road, located in the back of Atomic Books (co-owned by occasional City Paper contributor Benn Ray), myspace.com/celebratedsummerrecords
Baltimore’s home for everything heavy, new and used. Punk, metal of all stripes, indie-rock, hardcore. An amazing place to blow a paycheck.
1709 Aliceanna St., (443) 226-9628
An intense stash of used vinyl with the deepest of crate diggers in mind. Prepare to spend some time flipping through the stacks here.
Normal’s Books and Records
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, normals.com
Large, predominantly vinyl record store specializing in rock and jazz.
728 S. Broadway, (443) 844-5896, ownguru.com
One of the city’s best places to spend a very long time in full-on vinyl dig mode.
The Sound Garden
1616 Thames St., (410) 563-9011, cdjoint.com
An extensive used and new CD and vinyl record store notable for being one of the few music shops to expand in the past few years.
The True Vine Record Shop
3544 Hickory Ave., (410) 235-4500, thetruevinerecordshop.com
Vinyl and CD boutique for adventurous music fans run by local experimental-music cornerstone Jason Willett.
> Email Michael Byrne