The musical portion of Artomatic kicks off Saturday with local hip-hop artists J Berd, DJ TwoTeks and Stitch Early and continues until Friday, June 10, when Time Columns (above – building look familiar?) are slated to headline the final show of this year’s event. We recently caught up with Roy Ghim and Soren Dodge, the two guys tasked with booking and organizing the 2016 music slate. Among the things we discussed were some of the pitfalls the duo has faced, which nights standout as must-see lineups, and, well, world peace. Each show starts at 8:30 p.m. For more, visit artomaticfrederick.org.
First, let’s begin with how you guys got involved with booking Artomatic in the first place. Who came to whom and how did the process begin?
Soren: Ryan Nicholson, who had organized the bands for Artomatic in 2013, approached me when he realized that his schedule and obligations wouldn’t allow him to participate in the same way this year. He also approached Roy, and in fact the three of us had worked together in a casual capacity discussing the future of the local music scene in regards to venue spaces here in Frederick over a year ago. Ryan and I had met a few times to kind of talk about the history, how he did it in 2013, and threw around ideas on how we could improve the process or maybe bring something new to the event. After Ryan stepped down, Roy and I began meeting regularly (and regularly meeting incidentally) to really get started.
Roy: For me, it was kind of an accident, as Ryan Nicholson was heading the team initially. He had to drop out as the team leader when it was difficult for him to juggle a number of projects, including writing and recording a new Heavy Lights album. Soren and I stepped in, and with Ryan helping us in deep background, started first with a list (that Soren and Ryan came up with. From that list, we looked to see if certain bands would like to curate their own lineup. That’s how Old Indian and Retro/Ricole started out when they joined the lineup — they wanted the chance to curate their own concerts. We tried to piece things together after that with the intent on getting great local bands that represent the music scene very well in their own different ways, and if possible, to mix things up as far as genre representations go.
Compared with what the job turned out to be and what you thought it was going to be before you got involved, what are some of the differences? Has it been a harder/larger task than anticipated? Smaller/easier? Why?
Soren: Oh man, it turned out to be a much larger task than I had anticipated. Not harder than I expected, necessarily, but there are a lot more moving parts than I had considered when I signed on. I mean I’ve booked bands and set up shows before, but not on this scale. For some reason, in my head, I was seeing this as somehow isolated from some of the other aspects of Artomatic, and that was naïve, I think. Like it would just be booking bands. There’s a lot more that goes into something like this.
Roy: I knew it was going to be difficult to a degree. We wanted to see if we could improve certain aspects of the concert experience from Arto 2013 — better sound by using stage curtains to dampen the echo chamber effect in the room, creating a more intimate atmosphere, having more options, keeping it all ages, and seeing if we could get a more diverse array of acts to represent some of Frederick’s best. It was slightly more difficult of a task than anticipated; just a tremendous amount of back and forth communication that made me dizzy from texting, e-mailing and talking in such a short amount of time. But part of me enjoyed that non-stop action.
What were some struggles you guys experienced while going through the process?
Roy: There was so much juggling around the puzzle of the schedule to see how to get these bands to play on all these different weekend nights. We almost got Miss Lonelyheart to play with Old Indian but logistical logjams prevented that from happening. It was a damn shame, but still, we have a stellar lineup, and we owe that to the bands and their willingness to see the vision through to the next stage of event planning.
Soren: Yeah, what Roy said. Juggling communications between something close to 30 bands, and between Roy and myself, and between the directors and other organizers was difficult enough, not to mention working out the calendar in between all of that — it was a pretty serious task. In addition to that, it was tough to have these ideas of what we wanted to do and realizing that logistically, we couldn’t really do it all. You know you start something like this with these great ideas and then it comes down to scheduling and the timeframes we have to work with and some things just turned out not to be viable. On a more personal level, I also have a full-time job managing a record store downtown and Record Store Day fell right in the middle of this whole thing, so trying to manage this store coming up on the largest day of the year for an independent record store was rough. Those were a tough couple of weeks leading up to that (laughs).
Speaking of the process, how long ago did you start working on the lineup?
Roy: Good God, we had such a short turnaround time to book the sound, lights and bands. I think in late February we started after the go-ahead from Artomatic (they were waiting to secure a building-use contract by Marvin Ausherman). Booking a music festival really ought to properly start like a year in advance — six months at least. People might not know just how difficult logistics are when booking bands.
Soren: Ryan and I had actually met even before the first official Artomatic meetings began and came up with a list of something like 40 or so bands. These were not only local, but regional bands as well, from all genres. And yeah, like Roy says, we had a really short window here. We could only really start booking in earnest in late February after we got the go ahead from Artomatic.
Are there any acts/nights you are excited to see more than others?
Soren: I can’t answer that question! Every single band we have for this event is extraordinarily talented. I am, however, excited to see the chemistry between the sets of Gilbert Lee, Middle Kid and New God on May 20.
Roy: You’re putting me in a tough spot. I’m going to practically every show and want to see every band performing, but if you put a bb gun to my head, I guess I have a few: Old Indian on May 21, one of their farewell shows. I anticipate epicness. J Berd and AJ Naylor’s TwoTeks show to kick off the fest on May 7. They were like OG in Frederick hip-hop and it’s been years since those two played together on the same night. It should be an interesting collaboration. May 28, Fun Boys, featuring survivors from the Seaknuckle breakup — it should be their public debut and word on the street from those who have been lucky enough to hear their demo is that they’re going to kill it that night.
If there’s one night of music people should take in during Artomatic, which night would that be and why?
Roy: That’s really tough to answer. OK, I think one night (out of many that shouldn’t be missed) would be May 13 with Retro/Ricole and Da’Mood collaborating with Cheshi and DJ Mathais from D.C. That is going to be a hella show. That has what we really want to be representative of Artomatic music: Frederick area artists of different stripes and backgrounds cooperating and blurring the genre boundaries that sometimes keeps crowds and scenes from playing with each other. 21st century Frederick should know no boundaries with race and music styles. It’ll be a good experiment, a great experience and a really rad outcome.
Soren: Another question I can’t answer! I do want to say that I’m in complete agreement with Roy here. The May 13 show is going to have a really interesting dynamic. Plus, how can you miss a show on Friday the 13th?
How about your own personal preference. Can you give us names of some bands we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
Roy: People should take a chance with a dark horse lineup of Artomatic on June 3 with Luna (aka Raven Jackson) and newly named Austin and Olivia (formerly named Bird Watchers Club and before that, Skeleton Twins). To pigeonhole their sound as merely indie folk would be an injustice. I think that’s what they would say as well; it’s original, sparkling and good in so many ways. To me, they kind of channel what I like about Sufjan Stevens, sun kil moon and Iron & Wine, where they may use acoustic instruments but bring a breath of fresh creative swing to their craft. And who I’m listening to most these days? Outside of these bands, Juana Molina, St. Vincent, Prince Rama, Tribe Called Quest (RIP Phife), Thao & get down stay down, Tuneyards, Dirty Projectors, LCD Soundsystem, Black Moth Super Rainbow, African soukous music like Franco, and of course, Prince — RIP.
Soren: I‘m going to echo Roy again on this one. June 3 is going to be great night at Artomatic. My personal preferences are over the place, really. But I do have to say with complete confidence that Hop Along’s “Painted Shut” was by far the best album released in 2015. I listen to that at least once a week. Yellow K records based out of Frostburg also has some really great bands on their roster — acts like William Alexander and Japanese Breakfast. So that’s the newest stuff I’ve been listening to. My staple listening recently has been stuff like J Mascis, Pavement, Cat Power, Built to Spill, and Yuck.
What’s your perception of the local music scene in Frederick currently?
Roy: Growing, pretty decent but stymied — we don’t have a permanent midsize venue (the 200 East Art Haus helps, but its future is uncertain). That really impacts the growth of the local music scene for many reasons; but it’s a solveable situation. All that said, it’s amazing to see what these Frederick bands can do creatively. The diversity of bands is mind-blowing actually. Take, for instance, hip-hop — J Berd, Stitch Early and Retro/Ricole holding things down with their brand of underground hip-hop in a city not really known for hip-hop. It speaks volumes about the drive that area musicians here have, to survive and hopefully to thrive into the future.
Soren: I’m energized by it. I’ve been involved here for the last five years; pretty much since I moved downtown in the summer of 2010. There are so, so, so many talented musicians here. A lot of really great people doing a lot of really great things. I do think we could go further as a music community, as Roy says, if we had a permanent mid-sized venue.
What categorizes a successful Artomatic, music-wise, for you guys?
Roy: A synergy of quality music blowing away audiences and melting people’s faces off. From there, spewing into the streets as a result: A conversation continuing about the legit music scene here and the absolute need for a cultural anchor to the city in the form of a mid-size venue.
Soren: Yeah! Success in this regard is getting people, not just musicians, but people who appreciate music as well, excited about what their peers are doing and about the future of music in Frederick. If we can manage to promote this in a way to find new fans for these bands or get people to experience music that they may not have gone out of their way to see, that’s successful to me, too.
And finally, what can we expect from this slate of music you guys have curated for Artomatic 2016?
Roy: Be prepared for world peace as a result of the bliss people will experience from Artomatic music 2016. Falling short of that, at least more bliss than before the festival started.
Soren: Expect an absolutely killer line-up of super talented super entertaining acts for an entire month. Also definitely world peace.