Scapescape took place this past Labor Day weekend, filling the Station North Arts & Entertainment District with over 70 of the city’s most vital and well-loved local acts. Almost every ragged t-shirt wearing, American Spirit smoking, hyper post-modern weirdo in the city was in attendance, and yes, God bless them (us), each and every one.
We as Baltimoreans must also thank Dave Underhill and fellow organizers for their commitment to making the festival absurdly cheap; 10 bucks per individual day pass, 20 bucks for the whole 4-day shebang.
Earlier in the summer, Station North was host to Artscape, one of the nation’s largest free arts festivals, boasting a significant array of corporate sponsors, as well as the concurrent Ratscape, a showcase of hardcore and punk bands.
Despite progress being made in the area, the transitional nature of the area is still intensely obvious, as evidenced by the jarring mix of bespectacled indie-rock kids, thugs, and junkies you can find sharing the sidewalk on any given evening. One thing is clear, however, that this area is being moved forward by things such as the local ‘Scapes,’ its central geographic location, and the extended group of artists & thinkers who are pouring their time & money into it.
The festival took up residence in four spots throughout the neighborhood: a parking lot on Charles Street, a lot off of St. Paul, the Metro Gallery, and the Windup Space. On Scapescape’s kickoff night, I had two realizations: while sitting, half-toasted, in Jerry Carryout on North Avenue, I realized that I don’t fully understand what egg fooyung is, nor do I want to. Secondly, I realized that, despite my generalized antisocial behavior, I really do like dancing, especially if it’s while Baltimore acid-soul stalwarts Celebration are up onstage. Scapescapers were delivered well into the 1am hour by the dynamic, hovering, shoegaze of Secret Mountains, and with that, Labor Day weekend was, as a distinguished man of letters may put it, Fuckin’ On.
Friday evening, I showed up in time to learn that I could purchase a Flock of Dimes t-shirt exclaiming “Fuck Haters,” which was neat. I had my head rattled just a bit by the psychedelic garage hammer-down of Sri Aurobindo. Katrina Ford was back again that evening, lending her pipes to fellow psychedelic off-your-feet-sweepers, Big in Japan, and Wye Oak, with little surprise to anyone, wrecked minds with a set of forceful, evocative, and intense songs. Friday closed with none other than the Horse Lords, known for their brand of squonky, dissonant, and highly danceable math-rock, and it may have been my favorite act of the entire weekend, but that’s neither here nor there, and neither is how I managed to get myself home that night.
Late afternoon on Saturday, after nursing my aching brain, and taking some slow-time to get my proverbial shit together, I arrived just in time to catch the last groaning & smashing bits of Witch Hat’s skull cracking noise-thrash assault on the St. Paul Stage. They were followed by one of Baltimore’s best known and most popular duos, Weekends, whose set both literally and figuratively brought down the rain, cutting their performance a bit short as sound guys grappled with blue tarps to cover the speakers and monitors.
Roomrunner and Dope Body headlined the St. Paul stage that evening, and if you’ve been to even one show where those two groups share the bill, you know things are gonna get sweaty. It’s hard to say which I enjoy more; the music itself, or the reaction that the music elicits from the audience, namely, fierce moshing, jumping about, and other sorts of spastic, Pan-Punk Rock activities. I caught the end of the free-for-all shitfest that was the Guided By Voices cover band at the Windup, and as a comedian set in on a bit about doing cocaine off an Iron Maiden CD (or maybe it was Slayer, memory’s hazy), I knew it was time to quit before Natty-Boh blindness set on.
Sunday morning found me once again nursing my brain, rendered pudding-like and ineffectual by the evening’s carrying-on, but, with a touch of magic, determination, and eggs, I made my way down to the Windup Space for the early afternoon sets. Romantic States was playing when I arrived, and what perfect morning after music it was; featuring fragile vocals, reverbed-out guitar lines, and a skeletal drum-kit, it was the ideal indie-opium den soundtrack for a hazy Baltimore afternoon. While pots of coffee brewed and couches were lounged upon, slowly, but surely, the good patrons of Scapescape were beginning to drink their hangovers away.
Other highlights of the festival’s final chapter included the free-form noise convulsions of Microkingdom, whose drummer is interested in speaking with you if possess “puppet knowledge,” whatever the hell that is. Bringing everyone back into the more sensible side of jazz were the 4 Cool Blue Maniacs. Soul Cannon, whose blend of hip-hop, dissonant jazz, hard-driving funk, and uncompromising commentary on urban strife is certain to have a strong effect on anyone within earshot, and their Scapescape set was no exception.
With my batteries running low and a real night’s sleep desperately needed, I finally bid farewell as the last gasps of Scapescape tapered off into the muggy late summer night. What can I say that everyone doesn’t already know? There are lots of festivals that happen in Charm City, but few of them are as dedicated to celebrating local artists the way Scapescape is. It’s no secret that Baltimore has good music coming out the ears, and if you ain’t heard it before, now you have. Listen up!
Photos by Theresa Keil.