The Music Scene
Even if you’re a newcomer to the city, the odds are pretty good you’ve heard something about the music scene here already and the city’s musical culture is still growing.
Published: October 10, 2012
Even if you’re a newcomer to the city, the odds are pretty good you’ve heard something about the music scene here. A few years ago, it was a bit more defined as to what exactly that thing might be: Beach House, Dan Deacon, Wham City, club music. Of course, all of these are still the large-font names in Baltimore, but the city’s musical culture hasn’t stopped growing—quite the opposite—and, by now stuff like Fan Death Records, Roomrunner, Dope Body, Phoebe Jean, and Lower Dens may have erupted on your cultural radar. Perhaps Baltimore’s role as an incubator for some of the brightest avant-garde jazz minds in the country will finally get some recognition out in the world. Well, the fun is just now beginning for you the listener, because everything that you might already know about and dig is a signpost to the city’s vast and often underground musical culture. It doesn’t matter if your taste is country or hardcore, rap or ambient—hopefully, it’s some combination—you will never be bored.
It gets easy to forget that most locales don’t have it nearly as good as we do. You just have to look down the road to Washington D.C., which may attract more high-dollar touring artists, but doesn’t have nearly the local music culture as its working-class neighbor to the north. Credit in some part the steady influx of music-making newcomers to Baltimore and excellent music programs at the Peabody Institute and Towson University, but also a landscape built to support DIY culture. Largely this means a cheaper cost of living than many places, making it not just easier to live—shudder to think what kind of living situation you could get in Brooklyn, NY for $250 a month—but easier/less expensive to put on shows, if that means a rock club, dance venue, or warehouse flat. It all comes together nicely into a highly productive and rarely dull culture.
Every week, City Paper tries to give you the best overview possible of what’s going on in Baltimore musically, but let’s start with a primer.
Artists To Know
Alto Verde: Led by former Love Nut frontman Andy Bopp, Alto Verde makes heyday alt-rock with pop allure.
Beach House: Deftly crafted dream-pop climbs from the underground to the Billboard charts.
Caleb Stine: Baltimore’s premiere country/folk songwriter.
Dan Deacon: A hyper-kinetic, electronic pop musician and leader of Baltimore’s new-school community, with a forthcoming soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt Now And Sunrise and his very recent record America, Deacon has taken a more serious, composition-oriented turn.
Dope Body: A crucial art-punk band with an ear for innovation, finally getting some extra-Baltimore attention with help from a recent Drag City signing.
ellen cherry: One of Baltimore’s finest singer/songwriters, you might catch cherry touring through your local historical society or library.
Future Islands: Synth-pop wrought from equal parts sweaty dance love and emotional depth.
Lafayette Gilchrist: A longstanding jazz pianist, whose fire-breathing take on traditional jazz, bridges Baltimore’s rock and jazz scenes.
Lower Dens: Lower Dens’ latest, the sublime Nootropics, is a masterpiece of krautrock-influenced music for the post-human age.
Murder Mark: One of the premiere names of Baltimore club’s new-school. Hard, raw, weird.
Phoebe Jean: An anti-genre purveyor of mutant pop music, Phoebe Jean is on the way to something very big.
Roomrunner: Grunge, the genre as imagined by Nirvana, lives in this band fronted by former Double Dagger drummer Denny Bowen.
Rye Rye: No longer known outside the city just as M.I.A.’s protege, tiny Rye Rye is getting loads of well-deserved attention from the mainstream as a club-rap dynamo.
Say Wut: A workhorse Baltimore club DJ, who is still at the top of the game.
Small Sur: The pretty, understated folk music of this outfit is more in line with the Pacific Northwest than the grittiness of Baltimore.
Thee Lexington Arrows: A classic Baltimore band that was making garage-rock when the cool kids were all still DJs.
Tremors II: Scuzzy, noisy hardcore-qua-garage party band with a growing following.
Ultra Nate: The mastermind of the Deep Sugar party, Ultra Nate is the Baltimore house diva.
Wye Oak: Named after the state tree of Maryland, this duo offers unfailingly pretty dream-pop.
Places to Hear
10 E. Cross St., (410) 625-2000, the8x10.com
A small Federal Hill space that gets a whole lot of jam bands, if that’s your jam.
An die Musik
409 N. Charles St., (410) 385-2638, andiemusiklive.com
A favored room up and down the East Coast for excellent acoustics and booking with love, featuring mainly jazz performers, with deviations into classical, modern classical, singer-songwriters, and beyond.
124 Market Place, baltimoresoundstage.com
An ex-trashy nightclub now focused on mid-level touring acts. You’ll find more soul in an Applebees.
20 S. Caton Ave., (410) 566-7086, catoncastle.com
There’s no smoking in bars anymore in Baltimore, but if a jazz club can make do with vibe instead nicotine for reaching that “smokey jazz club” idyll, this is it.
Charm City Art Space
1729 Maryland Ave., ccspace.org
Baltimore’s home for punk and punk ethos for 10 years. A model for how to do DIY right.
The Copy Cat
A large warehouse space with usually a few spaces having shows at any given time. This is where a great many art-minded bands find their footing.
1 W Eager St., (410) 547-0069; 917 Cathedral St., (410) 244-5122; , clubhippo.com
Actually two separate venues connected in the back and owned/operated by the same folks. Find many a dance party good time, including the Hippo’s monthly Deep in the Game.
830 Guilford Ave., (410) 625-9787, the5seasons.com
A longtime home for local hip-hop with open mic nights, rap battles, DJs.
The Get Down
701 S. Bond St., (443) 708-3564, getdownbaltimore.com
A poshish dance club housed in the former home of Fletcher’s, a local rock ex-institution.
The Golden West
1105 W 36th, (410) 889-8891, goldenwestcafe.com
A Southwestern restaurant by morning, day, and evening, late-night the Golden West turns into a popular music club hosting everything from dance parties to metal and punk shows to indie-rock.
The H&H Building
405 W. Franklin St.
The H&H Building is home to 5th Dimension and the Floristree, the city’s most well-known underground concert venue.
133 W. North Ave., (410) 545-0444, joesquared.com
A pizza joint that hosts everything from hip-hop to singer-songwriters to indie-rock, mostly local, at night.
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral St., (410) 783-8000, bsomusic.org
This is the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which you can find most weekends at the cavernous, state-of-the-art space, at least in-season. Find also the occasional pop act or other big-room visitor.
Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, (410) 715-5550, merriweathermusic.com
Maybe you know the breakthrough Animal Collective album of same name, unaware that it is also a place that exists in the world, hosting amphitheater acts ranging from Poison to Phish to, well, Animal Collective.
2549 N. Howard St., (410) 662-0069, theottobar.com
The city’s rock club standard, the Ottobar, is the definition of live music institution. Find everything from DJ nights to big name metal bands to local up-and-comers.
1310 Russell St., thedox.com
Home to Ultra Nat�’s stellar Deep Sugar party, Paradox is one of the best dance clubs anywhere, specializing in house music and Baltimore club.
Rams Head Live
20 Market Place, (410) 244-1131, ramsheadlive.com
A rather typical mid-market Disneyfied music venue. Find bigger-room stuff like Of Montreal along with local music showcases and charity events.
512 York Road, Towson, (410) 337-7178, rechertheatre.com
A suburban venue that tends to attract a constant stream of “They’re still a band?” modern-rock detritus.
930 N. Charles St., (410) 547-0149, 930redmaple.com
Lots of DJ nights, “New York” style, and a pretty nice little courtyard for smoking or avoiding smoke.
Red Room at Normal’s Books and Records
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, redroom.org
Before the city’s weird music scene exploded in recent years, it mainly lived here, a small backroom just off Greenmount Avenue.
218 E. Lexington St., (410) 659-4130, sidebartavern.com
Punk, metal, and other heavy music most nights of the week, with the occasional movie night curveball.
407 E. Saratoga St., (410) 783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com
Sonar’s big moment is the yearly Maryland Death Fest, the biggest and best underground metal festival in North America. But the rest of the time it functions as a club hosting a wide range of music from hip-hop to indie-rock to death-metal in a collection of different-sized rooms housed within a converted parking garage.
The Windup Space
12 W. North Ave., thewindupspace.com
A crucial space that’s home to one of the city’s best dance parties, Four Hours of Funk, and a great many excellent left-field jazz shows, both big touring names and young, local as-yet unknowns.
Places to Buy
3620 Falls Road, located in the back of Atomic Books (co-owned by occasional City Paper contributor Benn Ray), myspace.com/celebratedsummerrecords
Celebrated Summer moved a couple of years ago from Towson to the back of Hampden’s Atomic Books, giving the city much easier access to a paycheck black hole of punk, hardcore, indie, and things you need to own, right now.
1709 Aliceanna St., (443) 226-9628
A crate-digging paradise in Fells Point well-suited for music lovers with a bit of time to kill.
718 W 36th St., (410) 889-1759, jojosouth.com
A vinyl emporium specializing in most everything, with a particular emphasis on classic country.
Normal’s Books and Records
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, normals.com
Normal’s combines two opposing used record store facets better than most: curation and depth. You’ll not just find a lot of things here—rock, jazz, experimental, new and interesting local music—you’ll find a lot of things you suddenly need.
728 S. Broadway, (443) 844-5896, ownguru.com
Another of Baltimore’s best options for those who like to spend serious time in full-on vinyl dig mode.
The Sound Garden
1616 Thames St., (410) 563-9011, cdjoint.com
The Sound Garden is the city’s consensus local record shop—everyone into pretty much anything can find what they want here—stocking aisles and aisles of new and used CDs and vinyl (all new) like it’s 1990. Notably, the Sound Garden has actually expanded recently.
The True Vine Record Shop
3544 Hickory Ave., (410) 235-4500, thetruevinerecordshop.com
The True Vine is run by experimental music old-hand Jason Willett, and you’ll find a collection of new and used CDs, cassette tapes, and vinyl here to match. Local noise tape with an illegibly scrawled on label, shrink-wrapped slabs of collector’s edition vinyl, a dusty, ancient Baltimore club single—fortune favors the bold.
> Email Michael Byrne