Matt Bray and the early days of Towson-Glen Arm

anti violence flyer by matt bray

The story of Towson-Glen Arm’s genesis has been explored at length in the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation’s track notes*, and in a recent post contributed by the illustrious author Violet LeVoit**. LeVoit represents one half of the pair who informally built the Towson-Glen Arm movement’s communal framework from scratch, so I figured since she got to share her side of the scene’s origin tale it was time to shine the spotlight on her pioneering counterpart: the d.i.y. promoter/writer/activist extraordinaire Matt Bray.

To celebrate the impending release of Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts 2, here is a pastiche that features excerpts from an essay I wrote about Bray’s work as the first TGA show promoter; the much longer, complete version of this essay is a part of the TGAF2 track notes. Some of Matt Bray’s contemporary ruminations on the TGA experience and other elements of 90’s counter culture are here as well, along with scans of the spirited print material which Bray created during the north County underground’s halcyon days (i.e., the chaotic, early 90’s anti-moshing flyer above).

“The humble town of Lutherville-Timonium, Md. played host to Towson-Glen Arm’s spiritual nexus: The Bray Family house, an inconspicuous suburban structure roughly halfway between Cockeysville and Towson. During the early 90’s…Matt Bray booked a concert series there which featured some of TGA’s most memorable moments. These shows also created a rare direct link between Towson-Glen Arm and 90’s pop culture, a connection that would go on to dilute TGA’s powerful originality despite the positive effect it had in giving the scene unparalleled national exposure. Even worse, when Bray left Maryland for good after closing up shop at the end of ’94 his departure played a key part in the scene’s downfall. Nonetheless, Matt Bray’s basement shows represented the north County underground’s off-the-wall joi de vivre better than any other live events of their time.

Bray’s role as a show promoter developed directly out of his status as a political activist working with left wing groups… During the 90’s, organizations like these had an immense presence in many underground art scenes throughout urban America. In Baltimore County, Towson-Glen Arm provided faithful suburban support for the Clinton-era’s dominant leftist groups and their related causes. Matt Bray was the most zealous booster of this kind of activity in the TGA movement’s earliest days: …he served several years as president of Dulaney High School’s Enviromental Issues Club, he created, self-published, and distributed educational material regarding various social justice issues, and in 1991 he was part of the editorial staff of David Woodberry’s proto-TGA zine ‘Styrofoam’.

While myself and all my Glen Arm area friends knew Bray as one of our weirder classmates at Dulaney High, the Towson underground came to know him through Violet LeVoit. Bray and LeVoit grew up together and attended Ridgely Middle School in the 80’s, but were separated when they went off to different high schools at the turn of the decade with LeVoit ending up at Towson. Despite the separate schools the pair stayed in touch and eventually Bray developed a close relationship with many of Violet’s arty Towson friends all of whom identified themselves as radical leftists. Though his musical taste differed dramatically from that of most of these misfits, Bray and artists like Dave Willemain and Lou Thomas all shared a mutual adoration for avant garde poetry and philosophy, and in general Matt was impressed by the organic cohesion that Violet and her friends maintained as outspoken foils to the THS hierarchy of despotic administrators and jocks.

Enthused by his new alliance with the Towson underground, Matt Bray started booking all ages concerts specifically as a way to create a stronger local activist presence, something which he surmised would be the natural consequence of unfiying his many radicalized friends through their love of art. The TGA artists’ outbursts were prominent at Bray’s shows, but his gigs also featured guest spots from more conventional national acts that held extreme political views similar to ours; really, Matt would book any artist as long as they weren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, or narrow minded, a policy that illuminated Bray’s shows with an unprecedented aesthetic diversity that could only exist in harmony with leftism…”

MATT BRAY: I did actually think that I was exposing the suburban kids to radical politics. and that I was trying to unify different scenes – the increasingly popular emo hardcore scene, the old school crust punk anarchist scene, and the new suburban art scene (Towson-Glen Arm)…

I was simply trying to create community based on movement principles in the place where my parents dumped me. In fact, I was a terrible musician and not at all an artist, and though I loved it and the emotion and the aesthetics, I did want the art to be in service of the movement and a radical community…

A mid 1994 flyer created by Matt Bray which advertises all of the shows he booked during the summer of '94. Some line-ups listed here are incomplete or incorrect, particularly when it comes to documentation of the Towson-Glen Arm bands who filled out these bills, i.e., the pre-Shovel garage punk band Subversion opened up the June 11th show; T.E.A.M. headlined and made their debut at the June 17th show; Grrls Of The Grid Iron played July 9th; The Preschoolers, Ashcan, and seminal Pa. emo band Frail played August 1st (courtesy of Lisa Starace)

A mid 1994 flyer created by Matt Bray which advertises all of the shows he booked during the summer of ’94. Some line-ups listed here are incomplete or incorrect, particularly when it comes to documentation of the Towson-Glen Arm bands who filled out these bills, i.e., the pre-Shovel garage punk band Subversion opened up the June 11th show; T.E.A.M. headlined and made their debut at the June 17th show;
Grrls Of The Grid Iron played July 9th; The Preschoolers, Ashcan, and the seminal Pa. emo band Frail played August 1st (courtesy of Lisa Starace)

“Graduating from Dulaney High in 1993 with honors not only landed Matt Bray acceptance and scholarship money from NYU, but also a’lot of pride and support from his family. As a reward for all of his school acheivements, Bray’s parents let him promote and manage their suburban basement as a concert venue for the entire summer of 1994 …Before finally giving him free reign with their home, Matt’s family let him set up a few “warm up” shows prior to summer ’94. These gigs were carefully scrutinized by Matt’s parents who worried about the possibility of property damage, confrontations with kids on drugs, and other problems normally associated with wild “rock concerts”. Of course, many of the nerdy Towson-Glen Arm kids who came to these shows were far too worried about their g.p.a.’s and college transcripts to really cut loose in any truly embarassing or destructive way, and, more importantly, with its organic weirdness and spontinaiety the TGA scene’s creative work was like a giant, drug-free, hallucinogenic trip and certainly not something which begged for any synthetic garnish.

The resplendent glory of Matt Bray’s basement was a feast for the mind, body, and soul. Along with the unruly atmospherics of loud live music, Bray drenched his basement in images that symbolized Towson-Glen Arm’s political solidarity by adorning the walls with Seth Tobacoman posters, TGA artists’ homespun visual art projects, leftist bands’ promo materials…d.i.y. political leaflets… The basement was also furnished with a long folding table where these informative pamphlets shared space with a veritable flea market of low budget zines and records made by local and national d.i.y. music acts. On that same table you’d also find fresh vegan dishes lovingly prepared by TGA artists and patrons and served up gratis with a smile – a goodwill gesture, and a profound representation of TGA’s connection to the animal rights movement.”

On August 1st 1994 Matt Bray booked his final basement show: a gig featuring the influential political emo-core bands Frail, Floodgate, and Half-Man. Towson-Glen Arm heroes The Preschoolers headlined and the Within/Spastic Cracker side project Ashcan also played; both of the latter groups provided the show’s main draw, and the emo groups were actually ignored by the majority of the people who came to this gig. In Late ’94 TGA was at the height of its popularity, so the non-plused reaction to emo which characterized this show wasn’t surprising at all…

“Though Matt Bray would eventually denounce the political significance of emo-hardcore, summer ’94 was still a very idealistic time for all of us, so, initially, opinions held by Bray and his Towson-Glen Arm brethren were intensely at odds when it came to the common trends of 90’s indie music. That rift was perfectly illustrated by Bray’s dissaproval of this show’s outcome. Bray was sure that his parents’ basement would become a hotbed of radicalism via the promotion of overtly leftist emo/hardcore bands, so he was very annoyed by the fact that most of the 50+ kids who attended this show weren’t very interested in any of the non-TGA groups.

Instead of being defined as a revolutionary spark, many TGA kids critically viewed the emo/political h.c. community as a predominantly elitist, authoritarian crew who comandeered the d.i.y. scene with all sorts of ineffectual, self-indulgent grand standing disguised as political action. The apathy which Frail and co. were subjected to on August 1st was a direct expression of TGA’s lack of respect for emo/h.c., and one of several things which eventually influenced Bray to withdrawal from the d.i.y. art movement forever.”

MATT BRAY: What I took from the TGA scene over that summer was the impression that it would be very easy for (the TGA artists) to become cynical as a defense against sincerity or political commitment. Basically I liked the people who showed an interest in the politics and the potential for…a countercultural movement. I liked Dave (Willemain) because he knew and cared about black nationalism and black political prisoners…Another characteristic of the emo hardcore scene that was poisonous was sarcasm…I was afraid that the earnestness of the TGA kids would sour to sarcasm if they were taught to be indifferent to political conviction as a way of showing you’re “beyond” it, post-it… I mean, this was a time when there was a lot going on in the world to protest and work urgently on!! I was ok with the smart satires of political dogmatism and I was anti-authoritarian myself but the indifference for the sake of being an artist?! I just couldn’t deal. I suspected that the indifference by design and sarcasm as primary tool of communication were rooted in a fear of losing privileges as punishment for defying the system, and in an interest in maintaining the safety net that their parents’ approval won…

Towson-Glen Arm’s creative embrace of tolerance and diversity knew no bounds – case in point: an excerpt from an article by Matt “Neitzsche” Bray that criticized stereotyping through an analysis of heavy metal music. (originally published by David Woodberry in his zine ‘Styrofoam’ – spring 1991)

MATT BRAY: Overall I think the TGA kids were great because…they really forged an artistic community for themselves that was not mainstream, and being a young person in suburban america at that time was stifling so any crack in the armor was welcome…

We were the last generation before the internet, and we had the possibility to invent our own cultures based on our own hard-fought influences – not content to take what was handed to us. There was some great fun and community, and it was an alternative! That is cool no matter what.

Matt Bray at Dulaney High School in 1993 with English teacher Elizabeth Fanto who also served as advisor for DHS' literary magazine Sequel. In the early/mid 90's Sequel showcased many classic pieces of Towson-Glen Arm writing. (from the 1993 Dulaney High School yearbook; photo by Brian Storms)

Matt Bray at Dulaney High School in 1993 with English teacher Elizabeth Fanto who also served as advisor for DHS’ literary magazine Sequel. In the early/mid 90’s Sequel showcased many classic pieces of Towson-Glen Arm writing. (from the 1993 Dulaney High School yearbook; photo by Brian Storms)

(* https://towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/excerpts-of-music-and-track-notes-from-the-first-towson-glen-arm-freakouts-compilation-album/)

(** https://towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/violet-levoit-on-towson-glen-arm/).

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