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Beyond Borders

How a former “thug rap” producer from St. Louis is making Baltimore’s musical landscape suddenly quite small

Photo: Jefferson Jackson Steele, License: N/A

Jefferson Jackson Steele

From baltimore Club to a synth score for YouTube videos of girls crying, Schwarz does it all.

Adam Schwarz performs “Why Do I Feel Like This?”

Feb. 26 at the Red Room at Normal’s Books and Records.

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This Saturday almost Certainly marks the first time an artist from the Unruly Records club-making roster has performed at the Red Room at Normal’s Books and Records, a small square space just off Greenmount Avenue that’s been home to the city’s avant-garde/improv/weird community for nearly a decade before the city earned national buzz for musical freethinking. That artist is Adam Schwarz, aka Schwarz, a 24-year-old St. Louis native who in 2008 made the bizarro leap from the Gateway City’s “thug rap” to Baltimore’s west-side noise cabal to the Mark Brown/Deep in the Game-led future-dance movement to, soon, the Unruly Records catalog, home to a tremendous portion of the history of Baltimore club music.

It’s hard to say if there’s been someone that’s fucked with the polarities of Baltimore music culture so hard in its recent history. On a freakishly warm day last week, Schwarz chuckles and offers that he’s probably the first person to have ever played both Scottie B and Cullen Stalin’s No Rule party and the Red Room. (And made hip-hop beats for Rapdragons and ace MC DDM [Dappa Dam Midas]—a track with the latter will appear on his upcoming Unruly debut.) In a city of tight, supportive artistic communities but, at the same time, walls within walls, that’s an ability that counts for probably more than Schwarz even realizes.

Schwarz makes St. Louis sound like hell, at least culturally. Before moving to Baltimore, he was an “auxiliary member” of a gangster rap group. “It’s horrible trying to do anything in St. Louis,” he says. “There’s a punk scene there—there’s a noise scene, but it’s like 10 people. And the rappers. Pretty much everything there is very separated. People don’t help each other very much, no sense of community like there is here.

“Things weren’t going good in St. Louis really,” he continues. “I kinda failed out of college and was working at a pizza place and a bunch of shit got fucked up.” He credits his cousin, Max Eisenberg, aka DJ Dog Dick, with pushing him to make the move to Baltimore in 2008. He landed first at a noise-music cavern/living space near Hollins Market dubbed America. “I was rapping at that point—more straightforward thug rap,” he says. “I don’t really like that stuff anymore—I’m kind of embarrassed by it. I quit rapping.”

He knew Baltimore club music before moving, naturally. By 2008, the music outside Baltimore had already reached its peak, or at least a peak. From the first CD he recorded in eighth grade—which he sold, or tried to, in the school cafeteria for “a buck or two”—he’d been interested in breakbeats, but hadn’t really tried Baltimore club on as an artist yet. “It was cool,” he says. “But I didn’t figure out how cool it was until I came here, and became a part of it.”

Like accents, dance music has its own regional identity. “Different regional scenes have different breakbeats that feel like they’re just made for the city,” Schwarz says. “You could put on the ‘Trigger Man’ break . . . you could put on some bounce shit in Baltimore and people aren’t going to react to it like they would in New Orleans.”

Baltimore club goes with Baltimore. Leading off the upcoming EP, Deep in the Game, is “Lose Your Fucking Mind,” a boiling-over cut built on grimy synth buzz and a vocal sample more psych ward than dance club. It’d be easy to cast it with the extra-Baltimore future-club that’s come from hipper non-locals, but the track manages to get the Baltimore in club perfectly right. It’s more than just using the classic break sample: “Lose” nails both club’s bite/bark and its bare rawness.

The track dates back to fall 2010, when Schwarz was just starting to make his own club tracks. “I’d done remixes, just for me [to DJ with] for a while,” he says. “Then it just occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to make [original club music]. I started doing one [track] every day and putting them on Facebook.”

That practice lasted only seven or eight days, Schwarz says—long enough for Unruly Records’ Derek James to catch a whiff. “He was like, ‘You should come in [to the Unruly offices] and we should talk about doing something,’” Schwarz says. “That was the point when I realized I could stop putting songs up for free on the internet every day. It didn’t take long.”

Saturday, Schwarz performs for the second time his “Why Do I Feel Like This?”—an A/V concept performance that has nothing to do with club or street rap or most anything. The explanation is too simple: “It’s just me playing synth over girls crying on YouTube,” he says. “Soft synth, really bad soft synth sounds. I think it’s pretty powerful, pretty fucked up. It’ll probably mostly just make people feel weird.” (The performance pairs with a limited-run DVD of same concept, out Feb. 26.)

Breakbeats, rap, noise, conceptual A/V art—OK, the artist known as Schwarz can travel, and make it look easy and natural. If that travelling means anything in a polarized music culture—polarized well beyond genre boundaries even—it will probably depend on other artists making weird leaps. Maybe not, you know, dropping Unruly EPs and freaking people out at the Red Room, but just trying on the same pan-Baltimore view.

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