Towson-Glen Arm and the roots of Animal Collective

tgaf - animal collective

A flyer for a mid-90’s concert held at The Small Intestine in northeast Baltimore which featured the Towson-Glen Arm band The Superstation who also booked the show; the pre-Animal Collective duo of David Portner aka Avey Tare and Josh Dibb aka Deakin opened up at this gig (flyer art/design: unknown)

TGAF - Cory Davolos and Mike Apichella and Chris Teret - Six O'Clock Alarm - spring 1995

A 1995 photo taken by Brian Weitz (who only a few years later, under the pseudoym Geologist, would form Animal Collective with David Portner, Josh Dibb, and Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear). The picture shows Towson-Glen Arm band The 6 O’Clock Alarm performing live at The Loft in Baltimore – May 13th, ’95; left to right: Cory Davolos, Mike Apichella, and Chris Teret (this shot and all other live photos shared here appear courtesy of Brian Weitz)

Music and art defined by a diverse set of influences. Frenetic mercurial live performances. Ecstatic weirdness. Any of these phrases could be perfect descriptions for the work of Towson-Glen Arm or the work of Animal Collective. Initially coming together during the mid ’90’s in Baltimore’s western suburbs, Animal Collective have become one of the most innovative, influential, and beloved bands to emerge from the pop music scene of the 21st century. Their recordings and other creative works have been analyzed, re-analyzed, debated, and celebrated time and time again over the course of the last 20-ish years, so we won’t be going into their story with much depth here as there are plenty of other websites and publications already showcasing articles and essays that focus on AC’s wild mystique.

Recently Animal Collective member Geologist (aka Brian Weitz) dedicated an entire episode of his radio program The O’Brien System to the music of Towson-Glen Arm. Among the many far out tracks played on the show, the episode features the world premiere of “shaft” by Hubcap, the first single from the forthcoming Hubcap retrospective “Jon Woodstock aka Hubcap”. This radio show is far from the first time that a member of AC has been linked to the north County underground, so today we take a closer look at the nascent Animal Collective’s connections to the TGA movement.

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By 1995 Towson-Glen Arm was at the peak of its popularity. The movement’s flagship act The Preschoolers were slowly but steadily climbing to the top of the local ska scenes in Baltimore and DC. The “riot boyyy” music of chaotic grunge band Husky Youth proved that TGA was about more than just weird avant garde catharsis ala the scene’s earliest work. Similarly, many other bands were pushing the boundaries of the TGA aesthetic by using its weird irreverence to make mutated versions of established genres like power pop, post-hardcore, folk rock, indie rock, and pop-punk. This embrace of accessible music ideas naturally caused a much wider awareness and audience to develope around the TGA crew’s output.

Enter Guy Blakeslee* and the band Automine.

Park School is located in Brooklandville, Md. near Owings Mills and the Greenspring Valley. Nestled away on a large acreage of lush farm land, this progressive/alternative school was a mysterious place that the Towson-Glen Arm crew had rarely ever thought about until the Park student/Towson-area resident Guy Blakeslee became a loyal afficiando of TGA music and zines. Blakeslee was a younger kid (probably only around 12 or 13 years old) when he first got interested in the movement in late 1994 after being exposed to it through his cousin Walker Stump-Coale, lead singer of the Towson-Glen Arm band Snatch Attack who shared a practice space and members with another TGA group: Manisex Destiny.

It was through Walker that Guy first met TGA pioneer/Manisex Destiny bassist Lou Thomas and his friends, including Scott Gilmore and Chris Teret. Blakelsee, Gilmore, and Teret in particular shared a love of Beck, indie rock, psychedelia, folk blues, jazz composers, singer-songwriters, and (most of all) emo/screamo music. Eventually these common influences blossomed into the short lived combo Rive Gauche whose line up featured Thomas, Teret, Gilmore, and Blakeslee. Their sophisticated pastiche of sounds was a left over from TGA’s heyday. With the ever evolving scene branching out into genre music, RG’s members were soon committing more time to projects like the dissonant emo group Malaise, early metalcore trio Behind Closed Doors, and the anthemic/poetic folk rock of Woe*Be*Gone and Lou & Chris.

Before their split Rive Gauche gained a loyal fan base both among TGA stalwarts and the cloistered world of artists who were students at Park School, including the kids who played in the experimental rock ensemble Automine. The members of Automine had already been close friends of Guy Blakeslee’s prior to his involvement with Towson-Glen Arm, so once Guy began gigging extensively with the TGA artists his Park School classmates often attended his shows. This then led Automine and its many side projects to start also playing on bills with TGA acts. Automine’s line-up featured future Animal Collective members Brian Weitz, David Portner, and Josh Dibb, along with drummer Brendan Fowler** and bassist Dave Shpritz.

The north County underground and Automine were never enemies, but they weren’t exactly cut from the same cloth either. Unlike Towson-Glen Arm, the band and their friends weren’t overt political activists. This made it hard for some of the more politically zealous TGA kids to fully support the Park artists. They were seen as being reclusive partially because their activity centered around the members’ home neighborhoods in west Baltimore County, rehearsal spaces at Park School, and other spots that weren’t within easy reach for the average/car-less Towson area high schooler. Furthermore, Guy Blakeslee’s interest in mid 90’s emo was not shared by Automine. As Blakeslee formed their main connection to the scene, Weitz and his collaborators developed a distorted perspective that made TGA seem like a slightly off-kilter satellite scene for emo and other trendy post-hardcore movements, all things that the pre-AC crew couldn’t relate to artistically or otherwise.

Some TGA artists (such as Eli Jones, Lou Thomas, and Mike Apichella aka your humble blogger) were more than happy to have these eccentric musicians along to help keep the flame of the scene’s defining aesthetic diversity. Moog synths, free improvisation, and crazy homemade masks were already big unique parts of the pre-Animal Collective artists’ approach. The material made by Automine and co. had a fresh melodic sensibility that was different from most TGA stuff, yet it possessed a high energy performance art element comparable to Towson-Glen Arm’s wildest early 90’s efforts. As mid 90’s TGA music started moving gradually into conventional realms, the proto-type AC were firing up a rocketship bound for the furthest corners of the modern pop galaxy.

Despite their divergent paths, the two cliques respected and supported each other. From 1996 to 1998 the TGA-friendly haunts of the Baltimore indie rock scene regularly featured performances from Park School’s most zoned out freaks. Brian Weitz has stated that the fierce independence and modus operandi of Towson-Glen Arm were major influences for the embryonic Animal Collective:

“Just watching (Towson-Glen Arm) from the outside was super inspiring – putting on d.i.y. shows, home recording, self-releasing music. It definitely pushed us to do our own thing and gave us a blueprint to follow.”

It’s bizarre now to think of anyone involved with Animal Collective serving as an opening act at gigs for the wacky obscure Towson-Glen Arm artists. The fact that Animal Collective counts the TGA crew as a major early influence seems just as surprising. But, like the old saying goes, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

tgaf - animal collective 2

A flyer for another mid/late 90’s Baltimore event booked by and featuring Towson-Glen Arm band The Superstation. The pre-Animal Collective group Automine was the headliner at the gig (though unlisted on the flyer, their side project Albany NY – which featured Automine drummer Brendan Fowler and the Towson-Glen Arm artist Una Kim – also performed that night). Hal Daddy’s was a short lived/shady bar venue that occasionally had all ages shows. According to Brian Weitz of Automine/Animal Collective him and his bandmates and many of their friends and fans were actually kicked out of the venue during this show simply for being below drinking age; consequently Automine never actually got to play their set. (flyer art/design by Mike Apichella)

tgaf - Superstation March 21st laff n spit best flyer

A strange flyer that may or may not have been created by a Towson-Glen Arm artist. This handbill advertises a mid/late 90’s TGA show at the west Baltimore d.i.y. venue Laff’n’Spit. In addition to the TGA bands Behind Closed Doors and The Superstation, this concert was notable for featuring the Automine side project Albany NY. (courtesy of Lisa Starace)

Superstation March 21st laff n spit death flyer

Another handbill for the same March 21st concert advertised by the previous flyer, but with a different design created by TGA artist/Park School student Guy Blakeslee who was also a member of Behind Closed Doors. Its main motif features portions of an occult themed engraving of unknown origin that probably dates from around the Victorian era. [courtesy of Lisa Starace]

TGAF EDIT animal collective flyer 1997 hamilton

A flyer for a 1997 show at the venue Ryan Dorsey’s house; this concert featured the Towson-Glen Arm bands The Superstation and Pedigree (the latter band is unlisted). The opening act here was the pre-Animal Collective combo that included Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear, Josh Dibb, and David Portner. This trio was booked as a result of their connection to The Superstation, friends of Ryan Dorsey who were fans of the work Dibb and Portner had created as members of the pre-AC quintet Automine. More info. on this show and the venue Ryan Dorsey’s house can be found here: https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/councilman-ryan-dorsey-former-diy-house-show-booker/ (photo by Thomas Rouse, courtesy of Animal Collective)

On May 13th, 1995 an all ages concert was held at the Baltimore, Md. d.i.y. space The Loft. All profits from the concert went to benefit the organization Food Not Bombs. The Baltimore chapter of FNB included a mix of local activists, anarchist “crust punks”, and TGA artists. Half of the bands who played at the 5/13/95 benefit were Towson-Glen Arm groups. Their performances at this event were documented in the following series of photos taken by future Animal Collective member Brian Weitz.  

TGAF - Doug Hammond - Manisex Destiny - spring 1995 at The Loft

Doug Hammond performing with Manisex Destiny

TGAF - Lou Thomas and Jeff Duncan - Manisexdestiny at The Loft 1995

(l-r) Lou Thomas and Jeff Duncan performing with Manisex Destiny

TGAF - Jeff Duncan - Mainisex Destiny - spring 1995

Jeff Duncan performing with Manisex Destiny; note the “No Pigs In The Hood” anti-racist sticker on his guitar

TGAF - Mike Apichella in Six'O'Clock Alarm - spring 1995

Mike Apichella performing with The Six O’Clock Alarm

tgaf-non punk 5-13-95 loft flyer by duncan-aaron

Another Towson-Glen Arm flyer with a playful occult theme and mystery source material. This was created and designed by TGA artists Jeff Duncan and Guy Blakeslee to promote the May 13th, 1995 event documented in the photos above (courtesy of Jeff Duncan)

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*Guy Blakeslee has become well known internationally for his work with Entrance Band, and The Convocation Of…

** Brendan Fowler is better known now as a curator of contemporary art exhibits in L.A. and NYC, a member of the experimental rap group BARR, and a performance artist who has worked with Dogg & Pony, comedian Isaac Ramos, and many others

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For more specifc info. on Mike Apichella’s connection to the work of the pre-Animal Collective artists check this recent Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/Buoop4aHOYi/

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The Preschoolers music and the AVAM together on ‘Museums In Strange Places’

avam

The exterior of the American Visionary Art Museum

This notice comes a little late as your humble blogger has so far spent most of the holiday season in transit touring with Human Host in the U.S. thru the southwest and California with, to put it nicely, unreliable internet access.

So back in mid-November Hannah Hethmon (a distinguished Fulbright fellow/podcaster extraordianire) debuted an excellent episode of her series Museums In Strange Places. This program features a comprehensive introduction to The American Visionary Art Museum, a place that looms large as an influence on the work of the Towson-Glen Arm artists. In a nutshell, American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM, for short) is a large gallery in Baltimore, Md. which displays only the work of un-trained artists, also known as outsider art.

Needless to say, for the fiercely (obsessively?) anti-establishment/anti-hierarchichal TGA movement it was a relief and a blessing to know that there was an entire institution dedicated to creative works by outsider artists who had no direct connection to the often elitist/cliqueish/formulaic/capitalistic milieu of “fine” art. To summarize the massive effect that this place had on each and every one of the TGA artists is impossible, but it is safe to say that the north County underground’s d.i.y. stance and homespun/highly personalized approach was validated by the AVAM and its various central imperatives, all of which reinforced TGA’s belief in art as an important form of direct socio-political activism.

Fittingly, Hannah Hethmon chose to use songs by TGA’s own outsider ska crew supreme The Preschoolers on the podcast’s soundtrack – their “Towson-Glen Arm  Freakouts” comp. tracks ‘Scott Chester, Boy Next Door’ and ‘Menorah Ska’. It’s a great honor to know that these wild tunes can be used in such a noble context, so thank you Hannah Hethmon for supporting the TGA legacy!

You can listen to the entire AVAM episode of Museums in Strange Places for free here:

https://hhethmon.com/2018/11/13/a-temple-to-intuition-and-art-the-american-visionary-art-museum-museums-in-strange-places/

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The Return of T.E.A.M.

TEAM magic fire auraTEAM in-studio smallerdevon and me feb 2018

For the first time in nearly a quarter century the Towson-Glen Arm group T.E.A.M. has reformed and recently made a set of recordings which have been released as a lmited edition tape and download by the Glendale, Ca. record label KMAN 92.5.

T.E.A.M. (which stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More”) was a noisy experimental “space funk” band formed originally by Dave Willemain in the summer of 1994 – the group’s early recordings can be heard on both volumes of the Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts music compilation series. The original line-up included Willemain, plus Luke Mysko, Cory Davolos, Mike Apichella, and Jon Woodstock. Only 3 members of this line-up remain: Willemain and Woodstock are both deceased; Luke Mysko is alive and kickin (probably riding his a bicycle in a race or doin something else equally action packed), but he’s no longer involved in the group; Apichella and Davolos made the choice to reform the band.

A new member of T.E.A.M. is Devon Till, a musician/multi-media artist who grew up in the Glen Arm area during the 90’s and was a member of the pre-T.E.A.M. band Retarded Dogs which also included Mike Apichella and Cory Davolos.

The new T.E.A.M. album is simply titled “Together Everyone Achieves More” and it was home recorded in a series of sessions that took place in February 2018 in The Poconos region of Pennsylvania, and in April 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Though the “space funk” aspirations of Dave Willemain were influential on these sessions, these new T.E.A.M. recordings display the Towson-Glen Arm aesthetic mainly in their improvisational nature; all of the tracks on the new T.E.A.M. record were composed spontaneously with little to no rehearsal prior to their recording.

Other than Human Host live shows, the new T.E.A.M. tape will be available via mail order from KMAN 92.5 Tapes, and there are also tenative plans for a more official release show for the album centered around a T.E.A.M. live performance that will happen in Virginia or North Carolina in 2019. Details on this are forthcoming.

You can stream or download the new T.E.A.M. album here:

https://kman925.bandcamp.com/album/t-e-a-m-together-everyone-achieves-more

TEAM fireside 6

T.E.A.M. photo credits:
The top two pictures feature (left to right) Cory Davolos and Mike Apichella; these were taken by Joy Eichert, April 2018

The third picture from the top features (l-r) Mike Apichella and Devon Till; this was taken by Devon Till, February 2018

The picture below the text features (l-r) Cory Davolos and Mike Apichella; it was taken by Joy Eichert, April 2018

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“Bearing Witness” by Fang Peng

The 1994 edition of Dulaney High School’s Sequel literary magazine ran an extraordinary essay called “Bearing Witness” by a somewhat mysterious writer named Fang Peng. At first glance it seemed to be a piece concerning the emotional impact of a visit to the then newly built U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., but quickly the piece took a hard left turn into the kind of subversive twilight zone that TGA artists called home. Instead of offering only praise for the new national landmark’s attempt to create a sensitive and thorough monument to one of war’s most horrifying consequences, Peng uses the description of her experience at the museum as the basis for a scathing critique decrying  the U.S. government’s systematic apathy as it related to the plight of refugees (those who the Nazis referred to as “undesirables”) who attempted to flee Holocaust-era Europe for America.

During the 90’s the American left spent a’lot of time patting itself on the back. The Clintons were practically perceived as the new Kennedys, their mega rich liberal democrat acolytes deflected scrutiny by passionately supporting “band-aid” legislation ala the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and they constantly focused on the demonization of characters like Newt Gingrich whose scandalous indiscretions in and out of the political realm were no different than anything scarring the careers of enemies across the aisle. Consequently it was rare, even in some radical leftist journals and zines, to find more progressive activist writers creating engaging, well informed, detailed criticism of the moderate left’s weak efforts to push the cause of social justice. Few wanted to raise awareness about why and how all political sides and branches of the U.S. federal government had played a big part in maintaining legislation which reinforced nationalistic/”tunnel vision” approaches to foreign policy. Within the context of all this, Peng’s “Bearing Witness” becomes even more intense. This essay is a prime symbol of Towson-Glen Arm’s desire not to tow any existent party line, it stands as a literary act of protest against mainstream politics’ futile connection to the “Us vs. Them” power dynamic.

And to top it all off, it’s a completely entertaining read – Fang Peng is an amazing writer whose poetic sensibility never once becomes tainted by the boring/predictable aesthetics of a rant or didactic “think piece”. In light of today’s extreme lack of political discourse, not to mention the dominance of contemporary issues facing political refugees throughout the western world, Fang Peng’s “Bearing Witness” is arguably more important now than ever before.

tgaf - fang peng - Sequel 1994 Page 18tgaf - fang peng - Sequel 1994 Page 19

(the pages scanned here come from a copy of Sequel ’94 supplied by Graham Dodge)

There’s not much else to say about Fang Peng. I tried to locate her a few years ago with no luck both through independent searches on my own and through some of her old friends and class mates from Dulaney but came up with nothing. She contributed other work to Sequel ’94 that falls a little bit outside of the scope of this blog, but is nonetheless worth checking out if you can find a copy of the publication (which also features contributions from other TGA artists including Melissa Fatto and Lauren Bereska). Other than her handful of Sequel contributions, and the fact that she was a student at Dulaney during the 90’s,  there isn’t much else that connects Peng to the TGA movement.

Fang Peng, if you’re out there, please get in touch, we’d all love to know more about you and your work!

tgaf - Fang Peng 1994 dhs

(Above: Fang Peng as she appeared in her 1994 Dulaney High School yearbook picture; courtesy of Cory Davolos)

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Mike Apichella – live on fri. August 24th at Trophy House in Baltimore

Mike Apichella early or mid 90's1Hi everybody, your humble blogger reporting here, just checkin in to let you know that on friday night 8pm August 24th I’ll be playing my second ever solo show in Baltimore, Md. at The Trophy Room. I’m probably gonna be the only Towson-Glen Arm artist on the bill, but my close friends Blood On The Mercy Seat are playing too. Like me, they’ve got a deep connection to Towson, and their material is predominantly improvised. They feature members of the great ultra weird noisy pop rock bands Rosemary Krust and Yes Selma, so if you like those bands you’ll love Blood On The Mercy Seat. Other great acts playing this show include the great Philly multi-media freaks Sieve and Boothe, so the whole event will be super fun all around.

Donations will be taken at the door, and Towson-Glen Arm recordings and lotsa other interesting creations will be available for sale so please bring some scratch.

The music I’m playing at this event will probably sound something like this:  https://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/mike-apichella-space-bike

(above: Mike Apichella circa the early/mid ’90’s; photo by Evelyn Apichella)

mike a 8-24

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Rabelaisian Hardcore: The Spectacle Of Lard Star

UPDATE – For the first time in nearly 25 years the music of Lard Star has been re-issued. A “new” Lard Star” digital e.p. featuring 8 of the craziest tracks from their split with Eve Pagoda is out now on Nuns Like To Fence:

https://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/album/lard-star

New track notes are included as a part of this release. These fill in some of the blanks left by the piece re-blogged here partcularly in regard to L.S. member Jon Woodstock’s extreme attachment to the work of this infamous ‘Rabelaisian’ hardcore band. And a significantly higher quality copy of the only known photo of Lard Star serves as cover art for the e.p.

All profits made from this download release will be go toward the future educational costs of Penny Woodstock, daughter of the late Jon Woodstock.

Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts

Lard Star-Eve Pagoda Front Tape Cover Original The original front cover art and some of the credits of the spring 1994 Lard Star/Eve Pagoda split tape ‘The Glen Arm Garage Band Hotshots’. The title of this release was created by Jon Woodstock in tribute to a Yazoo Records collection of pre-World War II pop music called ‘Hawaiian Guitar Hotshots’* (art/design: Mike Apichella and Jon Woodstock)

Something very strange happened in suburban teenage America shortly after the 1991 Christmas holiday. The jock boys who used to pick on weirdos, punks, and nerds were suddenly wearing mohawks, Black Flag t-shirts, and ripped jeans. The cheerleaders and preppy girls who once poked fun at all the low budget thrift store styles preferred by arty kids and goth chicks were suddenly showing up to school in clashing plaid skirts and socks, dying their hair pink, and stomping about in the skinhead approved Doctor Marten brand boots. Only a few short weeks before that Christmas skinheads could be…

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TGAF1 now available in NYC, Chicago, Boston, and beyond

Here’s yet *another* updated listing of record stores where you can purchase the first volume of the Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation record series

Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts

A limited stock of the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation is now on sale in the New York City area and beyond

In Brooklyn, NY it can be found on sale at this wild record store:

Deep Cuts Record Shop
57-03 Catalpa Ave.
Ridgewood, Queens, New York

You can check’em out online too: https://www.facebook.com/deepcutsbk

The Wicker Park location of Chicago, Illnois’ legendary Reckless Records is the first brick and mortar store in Chi-town to carry copies of TGAF1. Here’s the store’s address:

Reckless Records 1379 Milwaukee Ave.  Chicago, Il. 60622

You can also find TGAF1 for sale in Chicago via the Rainbow Bridge Distro. table, a fine one-stop for all your far out experimental music needs. Rainbow Bridge’s proprietor Angel Marcloid is one of the Windy City’s best avant garde music makers and they frequently tour with their numerous projects. Everything on their distro table can also be purchased via…

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