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.
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.
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.
*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
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/