Wham City has unquestionably changed the landscape of Baltimore music forever. So in anticipation of Whartscape 2008, we sat down with one of WC’s original members, Adam Endres (of Blood Baby & the Creepers) to get a little history lesson and peek into what exactly is driving the Wham City train, and where they are heading.
Aural States: I wasn’t quite sure if we should start with Whartscape history or Wham City history first.
Adam Endres: It probably makes sense if I do a modified, abbreviated history of Wham City. We all moved here in that first summer (2004) from Purchase College where we met.
AS: Who were the core members that formed Wham City at Purchase? You and Dan (Deacon)?
AE: At Purchase it was me, Dan, Dina Kelberman, Josh Kelberman, Connor Kizer, Peter O’Connell were all first members that moved down…but we didn’t really form it up there, we just came down and thought hey let’s call this Wham City. Wham City actually came from this big contest for naming a new dorm at Purchase, “What would be the new name?” So we submitted Wham City, thinking “this name’s hilarious!” We submitted it late so they wouldn’t put it in, but we kind of stole the documents and put it on all the ballots people submitted. It may have actually won but they said “this isn’t one of the official ones” so they named it “The Outback,” which fucking sucks because it’s the name of a restaurant.
Josh and I both weren’t quite there from the beginning. We had to move down in the fall. I wasn’t able to move until a little later because of my lease up in NY. The people who actually lived there were Dan, Dina, Connor, Pete and Abra Aducci (who was there just for the third floor stay at the Copycat). She was definitely the one who was the most crazy. During the summer when I wasn’t here, apparently all they did was smash everything and drink every night. When I got there, I just smashed everything I owned.
AS: That happens to a lot of people when they move to Baltimore.
AE: Yeah, it’s definitely a copycat thing too. But even when we were at Purchase, we were just…different people. So when we got here we wanted to start having shows, just doing, making, collaborating on art which is why we all moved here in the first place. It was just a cheap as fuck place where we could hardly work, still pay rent, and have a lot of time to do what we want to do.
AS: Ever consider Pittsburgh?
AE: We considered Pittsburgh, a few places but Baltimore seemed like the best. Baltimore’s got some other perks. Sure there are things like crime that are a little bit higher than Pittsburgh, but Baltimore had a scene, and we felt like we could add some new dimensions to it.
Beauty and the Beast was one of the first things we put on. We were drunk one night, went to some thrift store and got the tape of the soundtrack for like a $1 and put it on in the car on the way home. We were all just singing it and knew all the words so we decided to put it on. So we rehearsed for 2 straight weeks and put it on. That first show would have been January 2005.
2006 was the first Whartscape. We started in May at the third floor of the Copycat. That was the crazy fucking house that we lived in where we were all sharing rooms, people who weren’t sharing rooms didn’t have doors because they smashed their doors off the hinges, these are all true things that happened. People didn’t have walls because they broke their walls down. So it was all kind of crazy, no privacy, everyone screaming all the time. Then we moved up to the fourth floor in May or June of 2006, and we started putting on more shows. But we wanted to make it more legit so we actually put a lot of time and money and effort into rebuilding the space, to make it look like a good show space rather than another shitty Copycat home that also has parties.
AS: That sounds a lot like the 2007 Whartscape that I remember.
AE: Yeah, that’s kind of a good memory I have of the Whartscape scene, just kinda being hot but no one gives a shit.
AS: What was that first Whartscape like for you? What made you want to hold it?
AE: I don’t remember exactly how it became that we did that. We had been here for two years, Artscape happened and we had been there and it’s nice and it’s cool. But obviously it’s kind of more for adults and families, all things funded by states or cities are always gonna be sterilized. They’re too worried about…whatever.
So we thought, hey we should throw a rad fuckin festival that’s no-holds barred, book all our favorite Baltimore bands, and all our favorite bands around and have toured through us for this big giant thing. Bloody Baby, my band, definitely played that year. Dan played. Big A Little A…I can’t even remember now. Whartscape is always a huge blur for me. But we did that first one in our space, I think it was just a Friday/Saturday show like 8 to 2. Maybe 10 or 15 bands.
AS: So Wham City has always tried to buck against that sterilized nature of things? The dorm name, starting Whartscape as alternative to Artscape…
AE: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that holds us all together, as a collective. We all have different styles, mediums that we work on. But what holds us all together is that we’re not into being sterile, hiding ourselves. We’re into being truthful, even if that’s painful, being emotional and putting it out there. We’re all very true to ourselves.
I remember we did like one show on the third floor, in 2005, we had a 4th of July Christmas party that was awesome. It was one of those days that was hot as shit. You know, it’s Baltimore city and a warehouse… But no one cared and everyone was just dancing as hard as they could all night.
Then the second year, we realized this was something we should do every year. Especially since the Artscape people, Gary Kachadourian and them were all really supportive and asking like “Are you guys doing this again? If you want to be on our program, we want to do that.” We worked with them a little bit last year. We got the alley behind Load of Fun to put on some of the show there. I really liked that portion of the show. I think it’s cool to have a free portion of the show. You have a huge festival with a portion free to everyone, as much as it makes it harder with out budget, it was just really cool to do it. And then the Floristree nights…crazy. We did it so we had the two performances going, constantly setting up and breaking down, and this year is 4 days instead of 2…it’s just gonna be fuckin…crazy.
AS: With the second Whartscape in 2007, you definitely started to be on the map as far as reaching beyond Baltimore. Especially like Pitchfork showing up…
AE: Definitely people came down from New York, like Pitchfork, just to see Whartscape. No one that we knew. Usually people that come down from New York to see an event, it’s because they’re our friends. So it was pretty awesome. Unfortunately Pitchfork is not going to be here again, they’ve got their crazy festival up in Chicago the same weekend this year.
AS: How happy were you with the second Whartscape? Did you feel it went off well?
AE: It went off really well. The negative thing that happened was that Wildfire Wildfire and Wham City kind of don’t get along as well anymore. There’s a weird political angst there now. I don’t even know what it was, it was just weird. The shows were at Wildfire Wildfire’s place, where a lot of them lived, Matt Papich lived there and ran the show.
It ended up a double-edged sword where they were like no no no it’s our place we want to take care of it…don’t worry about it. And I’m usually the guy who types up the work schedules for doors and merch tables and shit, and I remember contacting him, asking the logistics, you know, what do you need from us? But then they were mad that we didn’t help…they felt all the advertisements we did, we weren’t giving Wildfire enough credit. And people in our organization felt the same thing about their ads…and a lot of just people being upset with each other.
But it all went really well. Wildfire, Floristree, they each handled their part of the show really well. We were in charge of the outside portion, and it went off great. It’s awesome to have this huge festival with 50 bands, and the last band is finishing at the time they are supposed to finish, or 15 minutes late at most. And that’s how it went last year.
AS: But other than the Wildfire incident, things were positive?
AE: Yeah. That was just unfortunate. I think there was even some shouting match that happened between Dan and Matt that night. Since then it’s been weird. And then we wanted to put part of it on at Floristree this year and I don’t think it’s going to work out. It’s just this weird political stuff, stuff not just between us. I understand there’s some Floristree politics going on that people are upset with.
But we’re not sour about it or anything. That was the one thing that kinda sucked last year. And we’ve always been separate entities that liked to work together a lot. And that has just diminished.
AS: What are you doing differently with this year’s Whartscape compared to last year’s?
AE: For this year, we’re shifting the focus a little bit to be more Baltimore bands. We were looking at the schedule and it’s a pretty huge ratio of Baltimore to touring bands. Like 7 to 1 maybe. So we wanted to shift that, we were just talking about Baltimore…the scene is just awesome here, it’s really geting just good. Someone was telling me some magazine just rated us #1, like Spin or Rolling Stone or something like that. They said we have like the best scene in the country.
We don’t really care what they say, but we agree. That’s why we live here, because we love the scene, our friends, the music, other artists we know around here. So we just wanted to make it more a festival for everyone in Baltimore.
AS- Are you guys working on anything line-up wise that will be a surprise?
AE- A surprise? I don’t think so. If you look at the list, that’s the list. Obviously, there are some things not on there that we have forgotten, or overlooked somehow, but no intentional surprises. I know the Oxes are playing…
AS- They were just added today.
AE- Oh, that is on the list? We kind of knew they were playing, but weren’t sure.
AS- So, the venue issue?
AE-Floristree is out, which is weird. We thought they were in, but suddenly they were like “You guys never said anything to us. We didn’t talk about it.” I remember playing poker with one of them one night, with a few dudes, and talking about it.
AS- Jason is still playing, right?
AE- Yea Jason is playing, and so is Ecstatic Sunshine. I was just like “Oh, ok.”
AS- I assume you guys were counting on Floristree again.
AE- Yea. Well what it’s going to be is a Thursday show at theater one of the Charles Theatre. That’s going to have video, more theater…
AS- So Centerstage is out for Matmos?
AE- Centerstage is out. They are…for being a professional group like that; it was ridiculous dealing with them.
AS- Were they disorganized?
AE- We got an email from them last year, and they were like “You should do something at Centerstage.” That fizzled out and never happened. They contacted us again, and we met with this woman. She was like “Here is one theater. Here are the in-and-outs of this one. Here’s the other one. So you have different options to weigh. One has greater capacity, but the other is clearly the cooler room.”
Then she was like “Ok, my job is over. I’m just going to ask you to write up a proposal and send it to someone else, and she’s going to be the one that deals with it.” So that day Dan and I went and wrote the proposal up. We had four different scenarios. It was so completely written out and described fully; here are the dates here are the times, here are the things we need, this is what happens, blah, blah, blah. And she didn’t get back to us for a week. And then she was just like “Ok, got it.” And then a week later we get an email asking us exactly what we want to do. I immediately go back and reread this email that we had sent, and it was exactly what we wanted. So I resent that proposal. They get back to us, and say we should meet. They say some things on the phone like “Oh there will be a three thousand dollar rental fee.” We were told all along it would be free, but the woman said, “Oh, I’ll call you back.”
Another week goes by, and at this point we were already kind of distraught with them, and thinking this won’t work out. Centerstage sends us an email that says “Not going to workout, sorry.” That was literally about a month’s worth of interaction…But they are in a totally different world than anything we’re doing. They are used to having tickets be like seventy dollars. That was one of the things they brought up. They were like “So, what, are these going to be like fifty dollar tickets?” We were thinking more like in the ten to twenty dollar vicinity. So instead it’s the Charles Theatre for Thursday. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with Buzz who owns the Charles Theatre…When is this going to be up?
AS- In a few days.
AE- I don’t want to say anything about Buzz because we are in negoation with him, but he is notorious. Anyone who has worked at the Charles Theatre, or dealt with Buzz knows… Rose Chase, one of the people who does a lot for us, was supposed to meet with him today, and it was awful. He just kept calling like “Oh yea you’re here? We’re just going to have to have this meeting in an hour. Ok yea, ok sure. Oooh yea, I got your proposal, it’s in the email. I’ll check that later.” It’s the type of thing where we wanted to have the show there, but it’s weird negotiating with him because he absolutely does not care, and there is nothing we can do about it. We can say “Well what if we do this,” and he will say “I don’t care.”
AS- It sounds like he is in a position not to really have to care about anything.
AE- Yea. Landmark is going to put him out of business eventually. I don’t know about you all, but I go to the Charles for free, and I actually prefer the Landmark.
AS- Are you looking at working with these venues because they simply have the capacity and the facilities, or also to get a sense of legitimacy?
AE- I don’t think we’re looking at it for legitimacy. I just think it would be awesome to put on a show at Centerstage.
AS- In a subversive way?
AE- I guess on some level. It would definitely be a good ego boost. “Yea, we’re at Centerstage.” Have you ever gone in there and seen either of the two theaters?
AS- The Pearlstone and the Head.
AE- It’s like “This would be cool,” but it didn’t work out. The Charles Theatre, I mean the thing is we need a venue that can hold 500 people. There aren’t that many choices for that. And we also want it to be a cool venue. That’s why we are really disappointed that Floristree is out. And without doing it there, we’re probably not going to do it at any DIY spaces at all. That’s kind of like where our roots are from, what we are about, so we are a little disappointed. Friday night is going to be at the 2640 space. That’s the closest thing we have to a DIY space.
AS- I heard Sonar is being considered?
AE- Sonar is probably what is taking the place of Floristree.
AS- The big room?
AE- Well, we are going to have the whole place to ourselves. We’re going to be in the big room, and have the small room...I think our goal–this is on the list of things we want to make happen–we want to have the small room as just a chill out room. Like some awesome weird installation. Make it its own thing. Like you want to get away from the music, then go to this weird room with video projections. Maybe some asshole walking around doing some tricks, or some shit.
AS- Are you using the Talking Head space too?
AE- No. Well, it’s Talking Head/ Sonar? I don’t even now exactly what it is anymore. We have Sonar. I’m pretty sure the whole building is ours Saturday night. Saturday and Sunday are going to be at a lot over on North Avenue…
AS- Load of Fun?
AE- Not Load of Fun. It’s…ah…you have Joe Squared, then a parking lot, then a MICA building, then a parking lot- that’s the parking lot there. It’s going to be outside, Saturday and Sunday during the day. Like noon to nine or ten. We put in a noise permit to shoot for eleven, but it might not be able to go to eleven. Then Saturday night at Sonar. Sunday might also be at Sonar, or it might be at the Oliver Street Annex. I don’t want you to print this yet, because we are still working on it, but the nighttime portion of the shows at Sonar and at the Annex will probably be free. On Monday we will announce all specific details.
AS- So with 2640 will there be issues with people trying to get further into the city to see other acts?
AE- When that show is over, it’s over. They have a registered noise thing there. They need to be over at eleven, but they said that on a Friday- the show is on a Friday- we can push it to midnight normally. And you know Beach House playing at 11:45 shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
AS- So there won’t be any traffic problems moving people down to this area. No conflicting acts?
AE-Well I know there is a big show that Friday. Some big DJ show. I forget who is on it, but you just look at this list and you’re like “whoa.” That’s almost a good thing.
We were trying to do one of the nights at the Visionary Arts Museum, but they can’t go past ten, or something. We’re actually looking at there for next year. At ten we can have a parade that goes to the Industrial Museum. We’re planning that for next year. They could only do Thursday, and we didn’t want to start the show at five. Even now the show for Thursday starts at 6, 6 to 12:30. Saturday and Sunday will be noon to 10 outside, then 11 to 2 inside.
AS- So those are the venues: the Charles, Sonar…
AE- Although we are still kind of talking to Floristree. If we could still do it at Floristree, we would like to do it. Nothing against Sonar, but we don’t want to have it at Sonar. You know what I mean? I’ve seen shows there and had a great time, but it’s a different vibe. But, if we do it there it’s going to be fun and work. Dan McIntosh, the guy that runs it, is into us doing whatever. If we want it free, he doesn’t care. If we put shit everywhere, that’s cool. So what is the deal with the Talking Head? Is it Sonar?
I’m not sure what those guys are doing. Like two years ago they were looking at a space over on Federal and Calvert that Dan is actually renting. That is what Wham City really is, even though we are running into some problems, and we don’t know when we will actually be open. They were looking there at those wrecked buildings. Dan took us out to dinner. It was going to be Wham City, Talking Head, and Sonar all in that one complex. That never happened. The city wouldn’t let Sonar go there, because there is no parking.
AS- It sounds like there will be a lot of changes, and that you are working with some less than optimal venues. How do you feel about that? Like you said that you would like to have Whartscape at more DIY spaces, but you are at more “legitimate” places.
AE- On some level it makes sense. All the notoriety that we have, it’s hard to do it in DIY spaces now. The first time we did it in 2006 at the Copy Cat. We’re not allowed to have shows there, and we had a big write-up in the City Paper. We got a call from the landlord, and he was like “Ah, so what’s going on? Looks like you’ve got 40 bands playing over the course of 2 days. This is not good.” We had to be like “No, no, it will be good.” That’s one surprising thing- how we’ve pulled it together over the years. Because leading up to it, starting a month ago until the last minute, it’s been just crazy.
AS- It’s almost like the maturation process has snuck up on you guys. You guys have definitely gotten a higher and higher profile. Was this something you guys were really ready for, or even expecting necessarily?
AE- Umm..I don’t know if we were expecting it, but we’re ready. I think we’re doing a good job. I think we’re rolling with the punches, and swinging with things.
AS- Do you think that this particular Whartscape will change anything about Wham City?
AE- Well we have this space on Federal and Calvert that we are hoping will come together. I mean it wouldn’t be DIY, because it would have to be somewhat legit. But we don’t want to lose that feeling. We don’t want it to feel like you are going to Sonar. We want it to feel like you are going to some raw space, where there is some…. well raw is the word I want to use.
AS- Something like a very visceral experience, you don’t know exactly what is going to happen.
AE- Well, we had that first show, and the floor felt like it was going to break. I don’t know what to call that. It was intense. One of the landlords was there at the show, and he was totally in to it. He felt the floor shake, and he went underneath and checked it with a flashlight, and was like “These rafters are great. They’ll handle it. They won’t collapse.” A week later we actually had an expert come in, and he was like “Oh my god, I’m glad nobody is dead.”
There is actually one lady who lives on that street, who has said to us–said to me to my face—“I will fight you every step of the way. I do not want music coming out of that building.” So we went to a community meeting of the Greenmount West, just to be like “Hey, in case you didn’t notice, people are there doing some stuff. We are presenting to you what we want to do, because we don’t want to go through with this if the community is going to fight us all the way.”
We did this because our landlord got a letter from this one lady that said, “What the hell is this. I will call every city official, and report you to every single person over every single thing that you could have done.”
So we had the meeting, and she was the first one to speak. She stood up and said, “Do not be fooled by their young, fresh, earnest faces. They are lying to us! They are just another Club Choices.” That’s what she said. Other people spoke up and said they’d think it would be great to have an art center here with classes, and shows, and lectures. Yea, we want to do all that, but that women can’t get it out of her head that one show we did at that space.
AS- So that is the direction Wham City is heading in, in terms of expanding?
AE- We’re bad at looking at our future, and seeing where we want to go. That’s kind of what we’re about–living in the now, and just letting it go. What comes, comes, what goes, goes. We are just moving.
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