June 4, 2010: Ilsa, The Coits, Guzzlemug, At the Graves and DJ Macaulay Culkin

Some people call me the space cowboy; use yr allusion, ftw.

A typical example of the proto-Coits in action.

Here was a show to behold, one of the more confusing and strangely enticing shows of recent memory. Ambitiously dubbed the “first Corpse Fortress Summer Showcase”, the lineup included Ilsa, The Coits, At the Graves, the dub-step DJ and local producer known as DJ Macaulay Culkin, and the Minneapolis technical grunge juggernaut power-trio, Guzzlemug.

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The crowd resembled the miasma of influences purveyed by the musical ensembles, and a highlighted blurb about the show on the popular website Brightest Young Things ensured that a small throng of hipsters would be drawn like moths to the flame of novelty.

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DJ Macaulay Culkin delivers a deceptively casual-but-smart appearance: unique shirt, cowprint baseball cap, long blonde hair, and a massive set of PA speakers. A high-level amateur breakdancer, he boasts an impressive knowledge of tunes, from underground ’60s funk, folk-rock and psych, to ’80s J-metal and New Wave R&B, to the current wave of pro DJs and electronic producers in the house and dub-step worlds. An expansive internal library of musical knowledge is any DJ’s best weapon and one that DJ MC uses to his advantage. His first set kicked off with a warble-y Iron Man remix that was heavier than the original and then proceeded to syncopated dub-step, a juxtaposition characteristic of the music he played throughout several intermittent sets. His appearance was a rare scene crossover treat, and he’ll be spinning another twisted scene party on July 4th — one which you’ll find if you believe.

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At the Graves is the intense doom-sludge metal project fronted by Ben Graves, the drummer of crucial Maryland thrash crew Revolta. It needs to be mentioned that this band was too loud to even assess their music properly. I couldn’t withstand the decibel blast, and the few poor souls who called cowardice on my ear-drum concern were doled many a punch to the kidney – the only non-visual, non-auditory universal form of communication. From outside the band sounded solid: I credit Revolta and At the Graves with having very well engineered guitar and bass tones; truly gravelly tube-amp sounds, detuned and grizzled. I’d like to see this particular crew again to get a better idea of how they sound. There are so many sludge / doom / drone bands these days, it takes something substantial to stand out, but I have confidence in Ben and company’s discretion and future development. If I wanted someone behind the wheel of a metal project in this area, it’d be this guy.

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Now I’d like to take a moment, just sit right there, and I’ll tell you all about how Charlie Werber became the drummer of a band called Guzzlemug. Once, when D.C. was younger, Charlie played in a blackened death metal band called Empurious, featuring Time of the Wolf alumnus the brothers Griffiths, one authentic Norseman, and local session vocalist and Pentagon frontman, Alex Martin. Empurious was a respectable project, but Charlie’s calling lay elsewhere, geographically, and he booked it Minnesota to become a percussionist student, or a doctor of drums, or something like that. That was eons ago, and things have come to this: Charlie Werber was always a beast, but now is a monster.
He physically resembles the Hulk, replete with ripped purple shorts, and is a percussionist of substance — a real drummer’s drummer. He is surprisingly quiet, gentle, amiable and low-key for a person of such imposing stature. He has the physical presence of a bouncer but the demeanor of a Yoga instructor — and the musical craftsmanship of a maestro. Guzzlemug is a trio; their songs are math-metal nerd’s dream (and remind me strongly of the unknown but amazing technical instrumental-metal trio, Maximum Indifference).

 

Guzzlemug is gutter grunge played with grad-school sophistication; an aesthetic treatise on modern metal cults, tastefully avoiding but achieving a pristine equilibrium between the blatancy of overproduced Dream Theater prog, nerdy power metal and the low-end distorted death metal bass sounds that swept the punk-metal basements of yesteryear. In other words they have a goofy sense of humor, are insanely badass musicians, but keep it heavy and interesting and don’t show off too much. While there are a lot of hacks out there, there are a lot of non-hacks. Guzzlemug is one such group of non-hacks, who have no bones to pick, nor I with them: nice guys, unpretentious, well-practiced, much appreciated.

 

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There is nothing new that can be said of Ilsa, except that this was one of their better sets. I’ve heard positive and middling reviews of the band, but I know that they take their trade more seriously than most, are more seasoned than many, and have some fine tricks up their sleeves for the near future. Their vocalist Orion is one of the best singers of ghoul-gospel in the underground D.C. extreme music scene. Furthermore, their drummer Josh is a seasoned percussionist, and much lesser-known — is a fine draughtsman who is occasionally keen to dole out his services at a price, on request (but don’t take my word for it). What can certainly be said of Ilsa is that they are now a formidable scene staple and have gradually won over skeptics inside and outside the scene. Buy their new CD; you won’t be disappointed: It’s loud.

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And the last band of this particular evening was none other than the Coits of the Future, aka the Power Coits, aka the Jazz Coits, aka the! Fuckin! Coits!
If there are any similarities between the Guzzlemug and the Coits, it is that they run a similar driving line between genres. The Coits have created endearing stylistic blend that is based on unapologetic punk, yet aims to evolve the genre and meld outside funk, country and “shrapnel shred” influences.
Early Bad Religion, classic Megadeth and Nirvana are spliced with something else catchy and angsty — I would say the New York Dolls, but the lyrics here are on showcase as a much more of an item. Guzzlemug dizzies the audience with polyrhythms and strange arrangements, moving nimbly along walloping rhythmic phrases with Fripp-like composition; the Coits also use chord progressions of extreme alacrity, but the progressions are total archetypes found over and over in rock history. The Coits’ “classic” riffs are burnished with innovative chordal ornamentation and moments of explosive technical guitar virtuosity that hold little subtlety beyond melodic bliss.
The Coits are a risky band to see live (at least one person suffered a broken nose during this set), and are sure to assemble a uniquely motley crowd: the mild-mannered 9 to 5’er; the upper-crust sport ’n’ violence junkie; your classic D.C. punks, hipsters and kiddies out past bedtime; the handful of stray metalheads and indie rockers, new Coits guitarist Chino, a partridge in a pear-tree, and, of course, babes.
The crowd was a writhing mess, glistening with too much sweat from D.C. swamp weather that had summoned an unwelcome, makeshift nightmare-sauna. Yet the melodic guitar solos, lovingly finger-crafted works from the tome of Becker and Friedman, held the crowd in a Pied Piper-like reverie, for they were completely shit-faced.

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Let me conclude by scrubbing your mouth out with soapbox. The tenants of the Corpse Fortress may have changed over the past couple of years, and the house has had its share of critics and its history of abusive show-goers and downright sinister bands and users (when a family graciously gives you a place at their table, do not steal from them). But to my knowledge no other area residency has opened its doors as generously to the local music scene while asking for so little in return. Such things are few and far between.

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Any day could be its last. The same is true for you.  –Slyfrog

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