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Drawn Together

Only a Few Months Old, DIY Hive Wildfirewildfire Is Already Making a Mark On Local Bands

THEY RAN CALLING...: (from left) Kieran Gillen, Devon Deimler, Matthew Papich, and Michael Petruzzo have become almost as well-known for their drawings as for their indie-agitating activities.

By J. Bowers | Posted 4/26/2006

For more information visit wildfirewildfire.com.

“It kind of started with us going to shows and being blown away by how incredible they were for us,” says bespectacled 21-year-old Kieran Gillen over coffee at the midtown Sylvan Beach Café with the other members of wildfirewildfire, Devon Deimler, Michael Petruzzo, and Matthew Papich. The foursome’s brand-spanking-new joint venture strives to bring more DIY activity to Baltimore’s clubs and alternative music spaces. “We were like, ‘We have to figure out a way to get other people in on this.’”

More of a collective than an actual business and still in its formative stages, wildfirewildfire hopes to provide three services to Baltimore’s underground music scene—show booking, grass-roots promotion, and a web site where fans can access a list of local shows. Only a few months old, wildfirewildfire is still the new kid on the DIY block. It’s booked only three shows on its own, and its members devote a good deal of their time and energy to promoting other people’s shows.

But so far, what they have done they’ve done with style. The group’s web site, www.wildfirewildfire.com, is lavishly illustrated with whimsical magic-marker drawings of many local groups—WZT Hearts, More Dogs, Sand Cats, and many, many more. Created by Deimler with help from friend/web master Heidi Gustafson, the images often end up on the bands’ MySpace pages, prompting show-going net surfers to wonder, Who the hell’s making all these awesome drawings? It’s viral marketing at its innocent best.

“That’s like our gimmick,” says Deimler, 20, a blond-haired pixie with an easy laugh. “The drawings really work to get people excited, and the bands appreciate the gesture—that instead of just picking one of their photos, we spend some time and do a drawing of it.”

Papich, 22, a gregarious, lanky redhead who plays guitar in local experimental duo Ecstatic Sunshine (No Cover, April 19), is quick to point out that the group mostly targets local acts for the full wildfirewildfire treatment. “The general idea is if there’s a show at, say, the Talking Head, and there’s a headliner and a local [band], usually we’ll do a drawing for the local [band],” he says. “Lexie Mountain will be playing a show, so we’ll do a picture of Lexie Mountain instead of, like, the Dirty Projectors.”

The show list available on wildfirewildfire’s web site also focuses on local bands, particularly favoring acts associated with the Copycat Building/MICA warehouse scene and student crowd—such as Dan Deacon, the Lexie Mountain Boys, the Death Set, Blood Baby, the aforementioned Ecstatic Sunshine, and Ponytail. As students of Maryland Institute College of Art’s general sculptural studies program—which they describe as more of an incubator for conceptual art theory than a chance to make sculptures—the four collaborators are most excited about music created by their friends and classmates and performed in cavernous buildings just a short bike ride away from campus.

“Most of the time it’s dark, you can’t see the band, but if you get in deep enough, there are people jumping up and down, getting really close to the band, trying to hurt their ears,” says Petruzzo, 22, a sleepy-eyed New Yorker who used to play in Ponytail. “People are so excited about being there and always excited about the music.”

“It’s a completely positive atmosphere, but at the same time sort of reckless,” Papich adds. “It’s not a recklessness that disregards people. It’s totally just, people feel free to do whatever they want, in a positive way. If you saw Kieran dance, you’d understand.”

Unlike pheer.com, a somewhat cumbersome, sprawling online list of shows for music fans in the Baltimore, Washington, and Northern Virginia areas, wildfirewildfire.com only lists a small, “highly subjective” selection of shows and provides helpful MP3 streams that let you preview bands before you plan your evening. According to the group, this small scale is intentional.

“There are good shows going on in a bunch of different places in Baltimore, but there’s a lot of sifting through to do,” Papich says. “I like that web site, pheer.com, but it lists hundreds of shows, it doesn’t matter where or who’s playing. Although that’s cool, and it’s totally democratic, it can be a little bit useless. One of the strange things about Baltimore is you still get the vibe that people who go to shows in Hampden don’t go to shows in the city and vice versa. If you go to a show at the Golden West, you’ll see all these people you haven’t seen before.”

“It’s not like we need to establish a scene,” Deimler says. “We can help establish it, or make it more visible, but it’s already established, and anyone else is a plus. The challenge is facilitating crossover.”

All four see an easy solution in a trickle-down effect that they’ve noticed in Baltimore’s burgeoning music scene over the past few years. With venues like the Ottobar, Sonar, and the Talking Head able to coax high-profile touring bands to make stops in Baltimore, local acts are seeking out alternative places to play music, resulting in more shows for everyone and an expanding underground scene.

“This is totally a hypothesis, but it seems like in Baltimore all the clubs and venues got bumped up a notch, with the bands that they’re booking,” Papich says. “The Talking Head’s booking bigger bands, Ottobar’s booking huge bands, and it’s good for us, because bands that Talking Head used to get don’t have anywhere to go.”

But in a sense, wildfirewildfire doesn’t have anywhere to go, either. Unlike other show-booking collectives—including Philadelphia’s R5 Productions, a DIY show promotions agency that the gang openly admires—wildfirewildfire lacks a physical venue. For now, the group is trying to view this handicap as an asset, enabling it to work with club owners and promoters all over town.

“R5 is the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia,” Papich says. “When someone goes to a show there, they attach some type of reputation to the space. And since we don’t have that, it’s a little bit harder to broadcast ourselves out to everyone.”

“But at the same time, we don’t just want to do warehouse shows,” Deimler says. “We’re bringing through some quieter bands, and they’ll be better-suited to different venues. We have the freedom to do that because we don’t have our own space.”

Wildfirewildfire’s flexibility extends to lower-profile touring bands, as well—they’re working with a few out-of-towners, including New Jersey’s OCDJ and Massachusetts’ Big Bear, and they’re working on bringing through M.O.T.H., a side project of New York’s Zs. Though they hope to increase the amount of shows that they personally book and put on, start to finish, the group also wants to make sure that the music takes precedence over any kind of brand identity. They’re just happy seeing more people at rock shows.

“You can do a good show whether or not everyone who comes knows it’s a wildfire production,” Papich says. “It doesn’t bother me right now if it’s a little confusing when you go to the web site and see all the shows. You might think all of these shows are set up by us, or not any of them, but I think it’s fine either way.”

“When we originally took up making this web site, we found that there was a niche for it,” Petruzzo adds. “We weren’t really expecting that, so we’re trying to take things one step at a time, and things are kind of falling into place.”

Of course, they’re well aware that their magic-marker drawings of flowers and vines, rock bands, and DJs are practically a brand unto themselves, and at the rate they’re appearing it won’t be long until almost every young band in Baltimore—and a few acts from out of town—has one to call their very own.

“We have these awesome markers,” Deimler says conspiratorially. “They’re super. If they didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist. That’s all you need. I’m not even going to say what brand they are. I don’t want anyone else to know.”

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