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The end of Whartscape and cultural hierarchy

Dan Deacon

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For the past four years, Baltimore’s Whartscape presented pop music on the edge of the avant-garde: Any hot band worth talking about now and several years from now seemed to play Whartscape at some point. As the festival hits its fifth year, it will also meet its untimely demise, as Dan Deacon told The Baltimore Sun [via Impose]:

“I don’t think it can get any larger,” Deacon said. “We do it for the love of arranging the festival, and I still love doing it, but I don’t want it to become an institution — something that just happens. I’d like to try something new next year and branch out.” …

There’s a bittersweet tinge to Deacon’s statement. Obviously, the man is proud to see his accomplishments grow in the way they have. But it must be weary, and anyone as intelligent as Deacon must be aware of the Icarus principle of pop: What shoots for the sun must come down. Hard. The Baltimore scene found some well-deserved limelight during the later part of the past decade, largely thanks to Dan Deacon.

Yet, unlike many other American towns that get eaten up by the music press for one reason or another, there was always something special about Baltimore that made it seem distinct from previous entrances in pop music geography. There was never a “Baltimore sound” in the way that one could equate grunge with Seattle, post-hardcore with D.C., Motown with Detroit, etc. In Baltimore, Deacon could make his odd mish-mash of glitchy, spazzy electronica alongside the likes of post-punk trio Double Dagger and the ambient anti-folk of Beach House, and it all seemed to work, and it continues to work.

Eventually, the music press packed up and found the next hot item in indie music, and the scene in Baltimore has continued to progress. And though Deacon’s announcement of the end of Whartscape is certainly well thought out – institutionalizing and traditionalizing an event can sometimes hurt creativity – it’s slightly painful to see the event end. I’ve watched it from afar, and felt the thrill of Whartscape through some great coverage by Impose and a number of other websites and blogs.

Perhaps it’s all for the best: If Deacon fears the festival would fall into an uncreative, rote tradition, then more power to him for mixing things up before it reaches such a level. And here’s hoping the future of Baltimore’s independent arts scene will continue to grow organically, limelight or not.

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    I think it’s important to remember that the artistic movement which allowed Whartscape to take root and grow in Baltimore existed in good measure due to the tireless efforts of a relatively small group of individuals who took up residence in the CopyCat building in 2004 intent upon, or happenstantially disposed towards, producing creative work which at its core had a determination to remain irreverant and absurd. The inclination was to produce work which reflected a natural extension of the personalities of the artists rather than to satisfy any particular aesthetic, or even to be paletable. There were many artistic and personal risks involved for these artists. Many of the most critical Wham City members seem not to have yet gained the widespread recognition that many associated acts have (deservidly so) have garnered. Lets hope that all of the individuals who contributed to the events in the CopyCat building continue to have prolific careers, and that the structures in place which are necessitated for the wide dissemination for such work serve to popularize the players, to the betterment of society.


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