Morphius Records’ founder talks about his latest undertaking—the Baltimore Independent Music and Arts Festival
Published: August 25, 2010
David Andler started Morphius Records in 1993, developing it over the years into one of Baltimore’s cornerstone record labels—boosting the careers of artists such as the Death Set, Rod Lee, Thrushes, Arbouretum, and J. Roddy Walston and the Business. More recently, Morphius evolved into more of a distribution hub than a highly active record label. To put it bluntly, record labels are suffering and his label isn’t exempt. Turns out, this change has something to do with the beginnings of the Baltimore Independent Music and Arts festival: three nights, 10 city venues, nearly 150 different artists, and, hopefully, the beginnings of a new legacy for a record label on the wane. Last week, we spoke with Andler at Morphius’ lower Charles Village offices.
City Paper: So what’s this festival all about?
David Andler: I wanted to create an event for Baltimore’s music community to help publicize what I’d say is an incredibly diverse music culture, and to help out some of the amazing artists that live here. I’ve been in Baltimore for almost 17 years, and I’ve noticed over the last decade or so, most of the Baltimore musicians that have gone on to become successful, they’ve done so by way of having to go outside of Baltimore for validation.
CP: Who are you thinking of?
DA: Pretty much you name it. Spank Rock and Death Set and Lungfish and Love Nut and Celebration and J Roddy and Beach House. I don’t know of anybody that’s operated almost exclusively in Baltimore and really been successful doing that. For the most part, they sign to labels outside of Baltimore, they have to travel to other cities where they have audiences and big acclaim, and they play in festivals in other cities.
Eventually it trickles back to Baltimore as validation. There’s no reason an artist should have to go somewhere else to showcase for the rest of the world when there’s so much stuff here people should be looking to—the same way that they do in Chicago or Seattle or Austin or New York.
CP: What do you want to get out of BiMA?
DA: My primary goal was to create an event for and by Baltimore that would succeed on its own merits, whether or not there was a single person from out of town to visit or perform. My goal includes validation for the Baltimore music community, and that includes all different factions of it, from indie rock to punk rock to hip-hop to house music to country and pop.
But, yeah, my hope is that it will gradually become a festival that people come to Baltimore to see the best bands in Baltimore, and those bands get recognition that they deserve. Beyond that, I want the artists to get paid, the club owners to have successful nights, and I want people to be able to see as many bands as possible for not a lot of money.
CP: Does Baltimore have a big enough fan base to make something this big work?
DA: Based on the initial response, I think there’s enough [music fans] to make it successful. Whether or not [it’s enough] to make it a multinational festival, I don’t know. [laughs]
If more than half of the people that went [this year] wanted to come back next year and more than half of the people that performed wanted to perform again the next year, I would be very happy. I could tell you that I want there to be 20,000 people, but I’m not thinking in those terms so much as I am about creating something that is sustainable and has the ability to grow. But I don’t know if Baltimore is a big enough music city or aggregator of music culture to create a festival at that large of a scale, but I certainly think there is enough talent here.
CP: You’ve been part of the music community in Baltimore for a long time, so why decide to do this just now?
DA: I felt like now is a time when the value of the record label as an institution has come to the forefront as a question. As in, record labels are ending their usefulness. It seemed to me like part of what I wanted for the [Morphius] legacy. I wanted for its legacy to be involvement in something to help validate the music scene in Baltimore. And that’s something we’ve tried to do since we’ve been here. But the ability to do that as a record label/distributor, at times it’s a challenge.
People still love to go see live music. They don’t necessarily love buying recorded copies of music. It seemed like a logical extension to spread our wings.
CP: BiMA appears to be connected to the Baltimore Music Conference, which has a pretty bad reputation in Baltimore by now. Can you clarify?
DA: That’s fair. The connection is as follows. For three years, a woman named Lisa Chaplin Suit did the Baltimore Music Conference event, which, for the most part, was not viewed by Baltimore bands as a successful event. And I felt the same way about it. But in terms of the electronic music community, it had more of a positive resonance.
Two years ago, I was a speaker at BMC at one of the seminars, and while generally I didn’t think the event itself was very good, the seminars were pretty decent. And from those seminars I met several people I’ve worked with since. For me, it validated the whole experience. At the same time, I went to some of the events and, hey, there’s not many people here, these aren’t bands I’ve heard of. And I talked to people afterward, and for the most part it was negative. It wasn’t well attended, and the reason it wasn’t well attended was because the artists weren’t well chosen.
I was approached by Lisa the third year she did the event to see if I would be involved, and I said no. After the events that year, she called me and said, “Look, I am trying to decide whether to continue doing this. And if I’m going to, I need to get help from someone.” After researching with some people, I said to her after about two weeks that I wasn’t interested in working with her on BMC, but I would be willing to do a new festival. And I set forth some parameters and one of those was that I would have autonomy to do seven venues. And I insisted that it would be a new organization, and not have any legal affiliation with the Baltimore Music Conference.
So, I hope it’ll work out.
BiMA fest runs Aug. 26-28. For more information visit bimafest.com.
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