The Unexpected Small Names that Stole the Show at U+NFest
Names like Iron Reagan, GIVE, Nothing, and Chain & the Gang played and ruled, but here are the bands that you didnt expect to....
(all photos by Josh Sisk)
“We saw eight really different bands perform today,” declared Brian Gorsegner as Night Birds moved towards the end of their closing set. “And we liked seven out of eight of them. That’s a lot.”
The crowd spent a little time buzzing over who that less popular band might be, but also acknowledged that they were like-minded. How often do you go to a music festival of this size and range, and walk away liking over 75% of the music you’ve just heard?
It’s increasingly rare, but Unregistered Nurse Booking makes it look easier every year. The booking company returned with the third annual U+NFest and filled the Ottobar in Baltimore Maryland with eager, curious bodies and hungry minds both nights. It’s too easy to say that this fest does well because of its headliners, because concertgoers don’t need to be sold on Screaming Females or Night Birds. It’s too simple to say that the quiet formula of the fest (girl band from Baltimore, a couple of foreign punk acts, someone electronic, a solid shoegaze act and strong nationally-known headliners) is responsible. There’s little doubt as to whether or not attendees were already excited to see local darlings Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Chain and the Gang, who have made their respective cities proud on national and international tours. No, the strength in this fest lies in smaller, lesser-known bands that you may not have heard of, the kind that will surprise you.
Most of the room had heard of Big Mouth at the very least, but for many this was their first Big Mouth experience and few were prepared to have singer Angela Swiecicki mill through the crowd as she seethed for most of the set. Swiecicki’s “I dare you” energy overflows and yields a mess of shoving, sweating bodies as she chooses those she approaches very carefully. Her husky voice is distinct, brash and compliments the minimally heavy hardcore sound coming from the rest of the band. This set created a standard to be challenged for the festival’s floor stage, blurring the line between band and crowd and merging energy in a volatile way.
Depending on sobriety levels, the name “Wume” itself could sound either wobbly or smooth. This is the line that’s toed during the drummer and synth player’s set. April Camlin and Albert Schatz created an amorphous, pop freakout laden with driving beats. For being one of the most captivating bands of night one, they actually never looked up from their instruments except the occasional glance over at each other. The two performed as if they were contained in their own Euro-dance bubble, but managed to pull the entire room into it.
Do you recall the scene from 24 Hour Party People when Joy Division are playing “Louie, Louie,” and John the postman yells, “Pogo like a bastard!”? That voice, that line popped into my head within a few seconds of Ausmuteants taking the stage. Fresh off a weekend at GonerFest, the Australian kids were bombastic and jittering with nervous, yanking energy that made them one of the most dynamic acts of the night. It felt wrong to stand still and cross your arms through this set. When lead guitar was swapped for a synth and squalling vocals ruled the second half, the intensity didn’t waver. Shaun Conor is so comfortable in his whimsy that he coaxes it out of everyone in the room in the form of questionable dancing, and a couple of very strong pits.
“This song is about airplanes,” announces singer Katarina Trenk. Within seconds, we learn that the song isn’t actually about airplanes, but rather things that might happen on them. Sex Jams aren’t all about sex, but rather feminism and liberation in a sexual context. Trenk buzzes from woman to woman in the crowd singing too close for comfort, and ends up straddling the stair railing. By making a spectacle of herself, she assures that you can’t ignore what’s being said. Sex Jams self-describes themselves as Blondie crossed with J Mascis, and they’re not wrong. The virtuous, fuzzy guitars balance out Trenk’s prolific style. The entire set creates a strong case for a band backed by the local scene-- Ed Schrader’s Music Beat couldn’t push this quintet onto people fast enough.
For non-white fans of punk, it’s easy to lose sight of what punk had to offer us when we were first drawn to it. When the majority of punk albums are still full of white males, and we listen to the more easily accessible stuff, we tend to forget why we were drawn to it to begin with. Victoria Ruiz and Downtown Boys helped put the brown girl rage back in my heart after a set that was over far too quickly. With political banter between each song that focused on Latino and Spanish issues you wouldn’t normally hear at a show like this, and Spanish lyrics and engagement with as many females in the crowd as possible, Ruiz reminds us that those problems haven’t disappeared, and that there’s still plenty to be angry about. She does this with the help of dueling saxophone players instead of guitars, growing the list of acceptable acts with sax players by one (before U+NFest, it was limited to David Bowie and X-Ray Spex).
The question most ask after hearing Angel Du$t for the first time is typically, “what are they trying to do?” Representing Maryland punk with members of Trapped Under Ice, Mindset and Turnstile, it’s actually more straightforward than you think. Justice Tripp & co. are writing hardcore songs with a pop mentality, simplifying lyrics and songs as much as possible and bringing in their influences in a strong, obvious way. The resulting sound is fun and reminiscent of early 80s hardcore, and the sung-instead-of-screamed lyrics make it that much easier to engage a crowd on the floor stage. From a distance it sounds a bit confusing, but in the pit it’s the most fun many had all night.
More Photos From Day 1
Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs
More Photos From Day 2
Ed Shrader's Music Beat
Chain & The Gang
Quitter at the Aftershow
Post Pink at the Aftershow