Be There, Don't ... Whatever

Whartscape's Festival For Weird Music Expands - Then Contracts

July 09, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Whartscape is for the weird. How cool is that?

"It's just a weird or experimental music festival," says Dan Deacon, one of those who founded four years ago Baltimore's annual foray into the musical fringe. "It's noise and weirdo dance music, stuff like that."

All weekend, beginning at noon Friday and not ending until the wee hours of Monday, some 140 bands, both local and from throughout the U.S. and Europe, will be cranking it out at various locations in Baltimore. With names like Videohippose, Blood Baby, Obliteration of Eternity and Nuclear Power Pants, it's a safe bet these guys and gals aren't going to be making the Billboard charts any time soon.

Whartscape began as two things. First, it was organized by the folks at Wham City, a local music and arts collective, as a chance for a bunch of musical fringe-dwellers to show off what they've got.

"We wanted to do something that was a bit more expansive than a regular warehouse show," Deacon says. "We wanted to do something that was a bit larger, more insane."

The gathering was also an alternative to Baltimore's annual showcase of the more conventional arts, Artscape. In fact, for its first three years, Whartscape and Artscape shared the same weekend.

"We figured all the cops were going to be down at Artscape, so we might as well have it then," says Deacon, adopting the sort of outlaw posture musicians on the edge have been embracing for decades. "It went off without a hitch, and police were not a problem, nor were they present."

So successful were the first three Whartscapes, in fact, that things got a little out of hand, size-wise, last year, Deacon says. With some 1,000 people coming to the shows on Saturday and Sunday, running Whartscape began to seem too much like a job, not enough like the lark the organizers originally envisioned.

"Last year, it almost grew beyond the point where we wanted it to grow," he says. "Festivals always grow bigger and bigger every year, but we didn't want to go down that road. We wanted it to be something we would want to go to."

Toward that end, fewer Whartscape tickets are being made available, and how counter-culture is that? Mega-passes, which allow admission to all shows, are already sold out, as are shows Friday night in the Baltimore Museum of Art auditorium and Saturday and Sunday night shows at Load of Fun on North Avenue. Tickets are still available, though, for Saturday and Sunday days shows on the Maryland Institute College of Art parking lot. And there's a free all-are-welcome show set for noon to 5 p.m. Friday outside the BMA.

But don't bother asking Deacon what to expect. If you know you like this kind of thing, then come on down. And if you don't, Deacon trying to put it into words probably isn't going to be much help.

"I think expectations are the prerequisites to disappointment," says Deacon, whose Dan Deacon Ensemble will be among 23 acts performing Saturday afternoon in the MICA parking lot, outside 131 W. North Ave. His suggestion: pick a band - maybe Wye Oak, Santa Dads, Soft Pink Teeth or Sick Weapons; there are plenty to choose from - and see if any of their performances have been posted online. If so, watch, listen and learn.

Check out YouTube, for instance, and you might find a sample of Santa Dad's mix of sound effects and electric ukulele, or Pleasant Livers' ear-shattering distortions (check out "Shadows"), or Sewn Leather's taunting "Smoke of the Punk." Tuneful? Sometimes. Listenable? Not always. Provocative? Absolutely.

"I would expect something very bizarre," Deacon says, promising only: "It'll be a very bizarre time."

If you go

Whartscape runs noon to midnight Friday and noon to 4 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Locations include the Baltimore Museum of Art, 2 Art Museum Drive; the MICA parking lot, outside 131 W. North Ave.; and Load of Fun, 120 W. North Ave. Day passes for Saturday and Sunday are $15 each day; at True Vine, 3544 Hickory Ave. or Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul St. Tickets (and a full schedule) are also available at whamcity.com.

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