Sound in the Round

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:09

      IF YOU’VE EVER wondered how exactly a do-it-yourself punk scene gets built, look to Baltimore’s hyperactive electro maestro Dan Deacon and the Wham City collective for guidance. Since moving to Baltimore five years ago, Deacon has not only worked tirelessly to cultivate a thriving DIY community by hosting events with Wham City in his adopted city, but he´s also toured relentlessly as a solo musician and talked endlessly on the road about Baltimore and the explosion of its creative culture.

    Now, he and a slew of Baltimoreans have embarked on an ambitious “Baltimore Round Robin” tour and are spreading the word about their thriving homegrown scene along the way. More than 20 of the city’s underground acts including Beach House, Adventure,The Death Set,Videohippos and Jana Hunter have banded together for two weeks of sharing what their fair city—too often written off as a backwater soundstage for John Waters films— has spawned in an unusual communal configuration.

    The excessively energetic Deacon, an electronic musician whose wild solo shows have won him scores of fans, has long channeled his passion into local projects. But this is the biggest traveling happening he’s ever coordinated.Though it’s likely to bring more notoriety to the Baltimore scene, Deacon says this wasn’t necessarily the intention in crafting this singular phenomenon.

    “It was just that this would be a fun way to go on tour and more about the show as a whole, looking at it as if it’s a play…It’s more like a series of vignettes from bands,” Deacon says via phone from Buffalo, the third stop on the eight-city tour. “The most fun part about it [is] bringing the culture of Baltimore that we represent… and merging them in a merge world.”

    The “merge world” involves 60 musicians and artists associated with Baltimore DIY spaces like Floristree,The Comfort Dome,Tarantula Hill and The Bank, in addition to Wham City, over two nights on five stages in four rounds, with each band playing four songs each. Each evening, bands set up and perform along the perimeter of the given venue, while the audience members stand in the center, bouncing around the room as they move from station to station, following the flashing lights that signal who is about to perform.

    The two evenings of the round robin are divided along sonic lines:The “Eyes” night consists of groups with more subdued sounds—like the dreamy pop of Beach House and the quiet experimental folk of Jana Hunter—that you watch, and the “Feet” night includes bands that “you’re meant to move around to, be that dance, or thrash around, or do some sort of movement-based activity,” Deacon says, such as the spastic electro groups The Death Set, Adventure, Videohippos and of course, Deacon himself.

    “It´s like a bento box, little samplings of different things,” says Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez—an artist and musician who´s a member of the Wham City collective and performs on the “Eyes” night, as part of Jana Hunter´s band and solo (on acoustic guitar)—from Detroit, the fourth destination on the tour. Alvarez has lived in Baltimore for almost six years, and he’s been focusing on music for the past three, first in a delicate electroacoustic pop band called Cache Cache and now as a solo performer. Alvarez says Deacon’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious and credits him with throwing a spotlight on the city’s burgeoning music scene.

    “He brought a lot of attention to [Baltimore] by talking about it so much,” Alvarez says. Deacon moved to Baltimore after graduating from SUNY Purchase as a cheaper, more manageable East Coast alternative to New York, and started up Wham City, a collective of artists, musicians and other sundry creative types. A couple of years ago, he went on the road with the first round robin, with 30 performers rolling into four towns.

    “It broke down the whole traditional structure of a show, with an opener, then the warm-up middle band and then the idea of a headliner,” Deacon says. “It was like all the bands were on the same page. Everyone plays at the same time, everyone warms up the audience and everyone closes out with the audience. It got rid of this weird hierarchy that exists.”

    Altogether, the two nights present a wide cross-section of music out of Maryland’s largest city in an effort to offset the image that Baltimore is about more than the frenetic electro groups that have drawn the most press, Alvarez says. “It’s sort of meant to counteract the misconceptions about Baltimore music … that Baltimore is a really spazzy neon place,” he says, referencing Videohippos and Ponytail, an experimental art rock band that’s not on the round-robin tour. “I think this tour is a counterbalance for that.”

    > Baltimore Round Robin

    Oct. 17 and 18, (Le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. (betw. Sullivan and Thompson Sts.), 212-796- 0741; 8, $15 (for two-day pass), $8 per night.

    Dan Deacon at a recent McCarren Park Pool performance this past summer.