The torchbearer for club music’s new generation is just getting started
PUBLISHED: MARCH 21, 2012
For a hot minute in the summer of 2008, very early one Sunday morning, Baltimore club music shone as bright as it ever has. The party was the now legendary My Crew Be Unruly bash, celebrating less the venerated label namesake than the whole of club music itself in all its myriad strains and eras: K-Swift, Diplo, Scottie B, Say Wut, and more, all having something different and important to say about the music and how it’s grown and expanded and changed. Spread out over three rooms and an outdoor courtyard at Paradox, you could find art-school kids mixing with old house-music heads mixing with club kids going off on baby-powdered dance floors. If you missed it, that’s a truly terrible thing. The next day, on July 21, DJ K-Swift died in a backyard pool accident and club music has never recovered.
K-Swift was more than a DJ. To many, that might seem as obvious as saying that the “Think” break is more than a neato sample, but it bears repeating. K-Swift was where club music came together. If you were a young kid with a track, you sent it to Swift; she was the one that could make something happen with it. If you were a club DJ, you’d look to Swift for the new stuff and, in particular, her Jumpoff mixes, a regular series of club mixes released by Unruly Records and distributed in large part via Downtown Locker Room. Over 14 volumes, there was no better way—beyond Swift’s weekly 92Q radio show, that is—to hear what Baltimore club was at any given time. And what it was becoming.
One of those young kids with a track was Marquis Gasque, aka Murder Mark. Talking in his Brooklyn Park studio—an upper-floor rowhouse room sporting an array of computer screens, a couple of keyboards, a framed Barack Obama drawing, and a soundproofed closet for recording vocals—the now 22-year-old Gasque seems at once exasperated and mournful when talking about Swift. “Swift used to hit me on Myspace [for tracks],” Gasque says. “She passed July 21st. My birthday’s July 21st.”
You might’ve already raced ahead to what’s coming next—that Murder Mark is/is going to be the face of Baltimore club’s future—but that’s not quite it actually. Club music will probably never have a face in the K-Swift sense again, and besides, Murder Mark would rather you call him a producer than DJ. Even when he does DJ, he’s approaching something closer to live production. And his production is actual production, in the from-scratch sense. Dude builds his own drum sounds. Murder Mark stands at the confluence of technology, club-music history, and Cherry Hill. He’s not the new face of club music, but he is its future. And there’s something else—he’s making club music’s future important again. Baltimore club’s been declared dead in Baltimore probably still more times than it’s been declared a “next big thing” in the pages of fashionable magazines, and that was happening even before K-Swift’s death. For too long, club has been obsessed with its history while staying ambivalent about its future.
And whether you’re paying attention or not, Gasque is convinced that future is going to erupt in the year 2012. It’s going to be great, and historic.
In conversation, Murder Mark talks like a rapper. Not like whatever cliché of “a rapper” just appeared in your brain, but like the way you might imagine a rapper thinks. He talks fast, with a mild stutter, in a measured cadence, and nonstop, like he’s doing a circular breathing trick for 20-minute stretches and always thinking three lines ahead. His talking even has refrains, quick ideas or notes that recur in what feels like measured intervals. In our interview, he’s off before a question is even asked. Within 10 minutes, he’s slipped in at least three chanted verses.
They try to say they got the throne
some people like to brag and boast
let’s see who rock off the most.
He talks about his first club music, dating back a few years to when he was volunteering as a mentor at Future Leaders in Training (FLIT), an organization in Cherry Hill. The kids there bet him that he couldn’t make Baltimore club. “[They were] saying you can’t make the club music,” he remembers, “you can’t make the hard stuff. I can make that any time.” He breaks into another verse. It’s almost like a nervous tic.
I think I’m Big Meech, like Hoover
I run these clubs, I am the future
Bmore goin’ hard, you rock with, Murder Mark.
Murder Mark boasts like anyone else with regular access to a microphone and beats, but “I don’t want to be no king or nothing like that,” he says. “I just want to be that guy that people say, ‘Oh he rocking, I want to make some club music too.’” Which over the course about two hours’ worth of discussion becomes one of those regular refrains: making club music to inspire other artists to make club music: “I wouldn’t mind doin’ a weekly high school party. It starts with the youth. You play a fast club beat [and they go off].”
While he was volunteering at FLIT, the group got a small grant to purchase copies of Fruity Loops, a piece of digital music-production software, and put them on a half-dozen computers available to the community. “Kids come in, I show ’em Fruity Loops,” he says. “Teachin’ producing. They make the beats, and I help them record ’em. It keeps them off the streets.”
Another refrain is the name DJ Juwan, a 14-year-old club producer who ranks on Murder Mark’s list of future-club names to know, along with artists such as Schwarz and DJ Pierre. A month or so ago, Juwan dropped “My Niggaz,” a disorienting mindblower of doomy/creepy synths and mutant drum patterns that could be submitted as “Exhibit A” of future-club music. “[DJ Juwan]’s gettin’ spins every Friday [night, on 92Q],” Murder Mark says. “There’s always somebody out there. You gotta keep acknowledging them.”
This acknowledgement has become the problem, to hear Murder Mark tell it. Club music has become two worlds, an old and a new school, with a rift between them that used to be occupied by K-Swift. “It’s like two different club scenes now,” he says. “There’s like the ’Dox club scene, and the Ottobar scene.” Note that he’s not referring exclusively to the said rock club so much as the general “indie”-leaning new-club culture occupied by DJs such as James Nasty (who’s behind said rock club’s weekly Physical Education party), and DJ/promoters such as Cullen Stalin, the former co-proprietor of the Metro Gallery’s weekly No Rule parties with Scottie B; erstwhile co-proprietor of the TaxLo brand, which made a one of the stronger efforts at indie culture and club culture in the music’s history; and current promoter at Red Maple’s Thursday night party Posh Cavern.
KW Griff now spins Friday night club sets on 92Q, occupying the same slot K-Swift once filled. Griff is a Baltimore club legend in his own right as one-third of the Doo Dew Kids with DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones, and, like pretty much any living club old-schooler you can think of—Scottie B, DJ Excel, Diamond K, DJ Class, and beyond—doesn’t seem particularly interested in rest. Murder Mark is a fan.
“K Dub, he always respond to your e-mail and shout you out,” Gasque says of KW Griff. “There’s no old-school new-school thing with him—it’s nothin’ like that. He plays good club music, and that’s why he’s still here. That Friday night club spot [on 92Q], it’s untouchable. Everybody sends him everything.
“[But] we need more than radio,” Gasque continues. “We need in-house DJs at the club-music spots. The new-school cats who push club out of state and don’t get too much play here, and the legends whose new tracks get played here, but don’t really circulate too much out of state because they other DJs can’t get ’em out of state, at least in my opinion.” By way of example, Murder Mark’s “Bad Bitches Drop It Low”—a perfectly weird club track that blows up a spare palette of vocal cut-up/chant-rap and bass-drum patterns into absolute destruction—has gotten some fairly real traction since it dropped early last fall, but most of the traction happened outside of Baltimore. “It doesn’t get played locally in the clubs,” he says. “It doesn’t upset me per se, I just know it would be good for the scene. And not just my tracks—the new club music, we need that played. People pay attention. But at the same time, there aren’t too many weekly spots that play club music here anymore besides the Paradox.”
As we’re sitting in Murder Mark’s studio, he segues from talking to DJing with alarming ease—as naturally as he’d gone from talking to rapping an hour or so earlier. One second we’re talking about the future of Baltimore club and the next, dude’s standing over a DJ controller—a small briefcase-sized computer interface that makes the standard DJ mixer faders look quaint—and remixing his catalog into the sort of stuttering heart attack only club music can provide. “’Cause I make tracks, everybody think I’m a DJ,” he says. “I get a lot of requests.”
And being a DJ is a new venture for Murder Mark. He started off making music in high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute as a battle-rapper, the origin of the Murder Mark name—“They say, ‘He be murderin’ ’em,’” Gasque recalls—and moved on straight into producing tracks in the studio. It’s different and even kinda strange to consider that Baltimore club music is in a whole different sense moving out of the club. Not the music, of course, but the people that make it.
If you look at producers like Gasque, DJ Pierre, and Thunderbird Juicebox, another young and raw production force Murder Mark can’t say enough about, the suggestion is that at least some vital part of the music’s future involves studio-bound auteurs. Which is a change. Not that club music’s just a thing born out onto a dance floor fully formed every night, but that there’s a new realm of transaction opening up between producers and DJs.
On one of the laptops in Murder Mark’s studio, TweetDeck, the Twitter management software, is open, managing Gasque’s Twitter accounts for himself and his upstart label/crew Z.O.M.E., or Zoo on Mars Entertainment. “When I started making club music, I went online,” he says. Club’s status as an internet phenomenon goes along with its status as an extra-Baltimore phenomenon, but one might catch a quick hint at why Baltimore club’s producers have begun to cut away from the DJ role: It’s not as necessary anymore.
“Bad Bitches Drop It Low” registers about 1,200 downloads on SoundCloud right now, and Murder Mark guesses most of those are by DJs. “[It’s] played everywhere,” he says. Except Baltimore, where it needs to get heard the most. Gasque argues that part of the solution to getting stuff out locally is a label with traction, like Unruly used to be back in the day, or even like Aaron LaCrate’s Milkcrate, which released a record by Da Yo Boys, a club supergroup including Debonair Samir and Murder Mark.
In the meantime, Murder Mark has Z.O.M.E., which is prepping to release a mixtape by young rapper TT the Artist called Money Monsta. Gasque says Z.O.M.E.’s far more than a label, however; it’s more an ideal or way of life. “Basically, we’re a family,” Gasque says. “It’s based on a sound—zoo, wild, animals, mars, out of this world.” He’s free-associating, just at the edge of breaking into a chant or rap.
“Baltimore, we always say it’s a zoo out here,” Gasque adds. “But, I’m still from that zoo. I’m still from Baltimore. I’m still hard-core. I’m still gangsta. I still want my chicken box. I still wear my Nike Foamposites. I’m still like that. But at the same time, I’m not.” He pauses, adding, “I’m on Mars.” That other planet’s where any kind of experimental weirdness can happen, and is already happening to Baltimore club music. And it’s stuff that has to happen and happen here in Baltimore, not only to move the genre forward, but because there’s always somebody out there ready to make it new again.
“Club music has never been dead to me,” he says. “I never think, Aw, it used to be like this.” And, he adds, “There’s always a revolution waitin’.”
by Michael Bryne for City Paper
Please click here to make a donation and help bring TT’s Club Music Film to life. Any amount helps. Below catch some clips from a recent interview director TT The Artist had with StreetSmart Magazine. She speaks on why she is doing the film and names some of her favorite club tracks. Make sure to visit their site for the entire interview and more info on whats popping in the D.M.V. which is the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.
@tttheartist @murdermark @zoment
Dark City: Beneath The Beat is a documentary capturing the rising Baltimore Club music scene by highlighting some of the leading producers, recording artist, dancers, performance venues, and djs within the local community.
Through the voices of a community overshawdowed by hate, drugs, and violence music and dance have become symbols of hope and a way “out of the streets.” Due to the lack of recreation, safe places, and resources for Baltimore city artists to explore their creativity, vacant parking lots, basketball courts, closets, and bedrooms have become the breeding grounds for rising talent. For Murder Mark , a young aspiring producer, Baltimore club music is a reflection of the state of mind of the city “Rough, Dirty, Hard-Hitting…The Struggle.”
Dark City features the raw stories of a community that has been robbed and overlooked by the mainstream music industry. The sounds and influence of Baltimore club music and hip-hop can be heard throughout some of today’s billboard charting records. Major label artist and producers such as Will I Am, Kanye West, P. Diddy, MIA , Beyonce and many more have kept their ears to the brewing streets of Baltimore city anticipating Baltimore club music as the next big musical genre to hit the world.
Dark city sponsor Artistland Productions has a diversified, talented network composed of writers, artists, graphic designers, videographers, entertainers, fashion designers, web developers, philanthropists, and business professionals. Artistland supports youth and provides networking resources for the community at large. We are a community of driven, dedicated young people with the support of well-established community members who have shown interest in our endeavors.
Due to production costs for video equipment rentals, the completion, promotion and success of this project will rely on your donations. Your support will contribute to promoting and encouraging the exposure of the talent of Baltimore City and placing Baltimore club music on the map along with other major musical genres!
We appreciate your willingness to help us in this positive venture to make dreams come true. As a supporter, you can assist us in some of the following ways: provide guidance on how to effectively market our vision to others, suggestions on how to make the many things that we aim for a reality, financial support, and advice on how securing more funding through grants, donations, and sponsorships.
Dark City is scheduled to premiere June 7, 2012 at the Creative Alliance Patterson Theatre in Baltimore, MD.
“This film is dedicated to a city that has impacted my life and inspired me to share its story .” -Tt The Artist, Director Dark City: Beneath The Beat
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Excellent Rye Rye video where she speaks on her roots, her future, the spread of Bmore Club and its dance moves! Very informative.
Ohhh that James Nasty! Karaoke superstar, freaktrain advocate, and lover of all things deep fried – the dude lives and breathes Baltimore club music. You’ve probably read his name somewhere in the City Paper or the Baltimore Sun – he’s all over this city. You can find him punishing some tacos at the local Mexican joint, daydrinking on his stoop, or playing maestro at his Friday night party, Physical Education. Hosted by The Ottobar every Friday night, Physical Education, or Phys Ed for short, is one of the most active parties in Baltimore right now. The fun thing about Phys Ed is that you never quite know what to expect week after week. It provides a different experience every single time. Sure – you can always count on James Nasty to play a full hour of Baltimore club at 1AM, but each week there’s a new guest DJ who can play anything from Top 40 to dubstep to moombahton. These different genres draw so many different types of party people to Phys Ed – from art school kids to ghetto mamis, cowboys to hipsters, nerds to bboys. You can literally assemble The Village People every week.
The myriad of people who roll through The Ottobar on Friday night contributes to a specific dynamic that is truly unique to Phys Ed. But one thing that everybody has in common is that they are all WYLIN’ OUT come 1AM. The moment James Nasty steps up to the decks and the Baltimore club starts pouring out the speakers and smackin’ you in the ass, everybody starts to lose their shit and it truly is a beautiful sight to see. I’ve seen girls movin’ their bodies in ways I didn’t even know was physically possible. I’ve seen people gettin’ freaky and eating cupcakes at the same time. I’ve seen a bride gettin’ down in her wedding gown. I once saw a dude stuntin’ in a red cape. But my absolute favorite sight I’ve seen at Phys Ed was four people gettin’ in on a freaktrain all while sharing McDonald’s burgers and fries. That’s love, people. Or maybe just vodka. But seriously, there’s always at least one point during Phys Ed where I rub my eyes and ask, “Is this real life?” Nope. This is Phys Ed. Every fuckin’ Friday.
But you might need a little something to get you through the week. James Nasty is always in the lab and regularly releases brand new tracks over on his SoundCloud, but if you don’t have The Truth About James Nasty, you need to download it immediately and add it to your mixtape collection. Released earlier this year, this mixtape is bound to make you involuntarily bop your head to the beat. You also might get the sudden urge to shake your ass on the next person that walks down the street. That’s just what Baltimore club music does to a person. Listen for favorites like, “Lemme C Wat U Got”, “Them Do It Horns” and especially “We No Speak Bmoreo”, which is consistently featured on Baltimore club hours on 92Q. While The Truth About James Nasty maintains a classic Baltimore club sound, it’s doing a lot to spearhead the newest transitional movement in Baltimore club music, which involves less sampling, more original vocals, and an overall cleaner, more polished feel to the productions.
But Baltimore club music can only be so polished. It’s supposed to have this grimey feel to it and James Nasty keeps it real. He thrives on gettin’ that bass knockin’, lettin’ them horns blow, and keepin’ it all sexual. Rockin’ his tracks will leave you feelin’ some sort of way and hopefully it involves impure thoughts. James Nasty is all about bringing out your inner freak so don’t fight it too much, ya heard?
Take some time to get to know the guy who’s providing the soundtrack to your Friday night:
Cool Breezy: When did you start DJing and producing and who are some of your influences? Also, why Baltimore club?
James Nasty: I started producing in college in 2001 while still in school at UMBC. I used to make beats and go to the recording studio on campus with my homies, get fucked up, and record them. [I] started DJing in 2006 playing house parties in College Park.
Influences are alcohol, watching girls jiggle their asses and titties, The Neptunes, Armand Van Helden, 2 Live Crew, DJ Funk, and Rod Lee.
I can’t think of any other genre of music that has the energy that club music has. Don’t get it twisted – [it’s] not the only genre I am into but at the end of the day, there really is nothing like it and I’m proud to be from the city [where] it comes from. I don’t understand how some folks around here don’t feel that sense of pride and ownership of Baltimore club.
CB: What’s good with Physical Education? How’d the party get started and what makes The Ottobar the place to be on Friday nights?
JN: The party started about two and a half years ago by a group of guys and was called Moustache back then. I was eventually brought in as a resident DJ. Throughout the course of the two and half years, everyone, besides Ponyo and I, has moved on to other opportunities in other cities.
It’s the place to be because the party is just fun – simple as that. [It’s] more fun than any other party in the city, I feel. Diverse crowd [and] diverse music means [there’s] something for everyone. I want to keep things simple. Come drink if you want to drink, dance if you want to dance and meet people to hook up with if you want to hook up. What more do you really need from a night out on the town? Plus, we happen to play some pretty awesome tunes throughout the night.
CB: I’ve seen you spin with so many different DJs at Phys Ed, from Reed Rothchild to DJ Sega. Are there any other artists you’d really like to work with?
JN: [There are] so many people I’d love to work with. I’ve been really feelin’ LMFAO recently and would love to produce a track for them. And Rye Rye. I have beats that I’ve made already that I can imagine them on, don’t think the time is right though.
As far as people I’d love to come play at PHYS ED – there’s a few DC homies that I know would murder the party: Stereo Faith, Jerome Baker III, Trevor Martin, Will Eastman… Other than that, Oh Snap, Tim Dolla, DJ Tamiel, Roxy Cottontail, DJ Pierre, Murder Mark, Starks & Nacey, and somehow get Blaqstarr to come home and play a club set. There’s so many more people. I see a lot of people doin’ big things elsewhere. I want them all to come play Phys Ed and get their life in my house.
CB: Earlier this year, you dropped The Truth About James Nasty. What’d you want to accomplish with that mix and are you working on anything new?
JN: Most of all I wanted to just put out a mix. I hadn’t put out a mix in a while. I wanted to preview some previously unheard and unreleased tracks. And I just wanted to show people my style and the diversity of the tracks I make and that I had that many good tunes.
I’m working on a longer, more official mixtape right now. I’m working with a lot of difference MCs and vocalists on some tunes. I want to get away from remixing and sampling so much and make songs with people while still making authentic club music. I want this next mixtape to be the soundtrack to the best house party ever. Some shit you could put on at home, invite some people over, start drinking and just get wild to.
CB: What do you think about the current state of Baltimore club music and how would you like to see it progress?
JN: It would be nice to see 92Q add more club music mixes to their programming schedule and hire more DJs (points at himself). DJs in clubs around town need to start playing more new club tracks. We need more new mixtapes. Someone has to come with something that defines what is hot and current in club music like the Jump Off tapes. Club producers need to start thinking bigger and making songs that can be copywritten and pushed as singles. It’s no secret that a lot of major label producers have borrowed a lot of our style. There’s no reason to complain about it or whine that ‘they stole our sound’ or ‘[they’re] making fake club.’ At this point we need to compete and give the listening public a polished but authentic product. We have a special sound in this city. Let’s remind the world again of how amazing it is.
CB: What’s your favorite Baltimore club track of all time?
JN: Really? That’s impossible!